by Michelle Lentz

An HTC Droid Eris (along with a Blackberry Storm 2) appeared at my doorstep yesterday, and I’ve had just enough time with it to give you my first impressions. After playing with it for a week or so, I’ll make sure to do a more in-depth, thorough post. Keep in mind – these are just initial impressions.

First off, Verizon is really on a bit of a smartphone bender, releasing gadget after gadget between now and the end of the year. Since they seem to like to let me play with their phones a bit, you’ll probably continue to hear a lot about Verizon. (If those other companies would let me test out their gadgets, it wouldn’t seem so one-sided.) Next, their marketing is a bit funky. Droid is the Motorola Droid that I already reviewed. However, Droid is apparently also a series of phones, which thus far includes the Motorola Droid (we’ll just call it the Droid) and the Droid Eris (which we’ll call the Eris). Verizon is slated to release two additional Android devices by the end of the year, so I expect those to be prefaced by the Droid series name as well.  As far as the Eris goes, Eris is the Greek goddess of Chaos. I suspect some enterprising marketer was going for Eros (love) but decided no one would pronounce it or spell it right. After all, it was originally the HTC Desire. So now the phone sounds like it’s named for a robotic goddess of chaos.  Nice.

I had some preconceived notions about the Eris, I admit it. I was so in love with the Droid, and Android 2.0, I couldn’t imagine this surpassing it in any way. In fact, I am guilty of calling it the “lower-end Droid Lite.” It just goes to show – don’t listen to preconceived notions.

Form

The Droid is an elegant little phone. It’s smaller than my iPhone in width, but about the same length. Like the iPhone, it has rounded corners, which just adds to the aesthetic. The Droid is not a large phone, and until today I had no issues with its appearance. Next to the Eris, however, it’s all square edges and chunkiness. The Eris also has a nice  trackball that adds to navigation and serves as the LED for notifications.

The Eris, unlike the Droid, has physical call and end buttons. It also has the Home, Menu, Back, and Search buttons (in the usual order – unlike the Droid) as light buttons. There is a soft, almost rubbery feel to the back, which I rather like. Again, that’s something I thought would be cheesy and instead, it actually adds to the quality of the phone.

I just don’t think I can convey how light and airy this phone seems. The only adjectives I’ve got for it are sexy and elegant. Even ZDnet finds the phone a bit sexy.

Here are the specs:

  • Qualcomm MSM 7600 528MHz processor (By comparison, the Droid has a 550mhz processor.)
  • CDMA/EV-DO Rev A. support
  • 3.2 inch 320×480 HVGA capacitive touch screen and trackball interface
  • 5.0 megapixel auto focus camera
  • Expandable memory with pre-installed 8 GB microSD card (I upgraded to 16 gb.)
  • Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3.5 mm headset connectivity
  • Integrated GPS and a digital compass with a sensor that enables the phone to know what direction it is facing
  • Smart dialer for simplified dialing by name, number or initials
  • Dimensions of 4.45 x 2.19 x 0.51 inches and 4.23 ounces
  • 1300 mAh Li-Ion battery (removable, by the way)

Function

The Eris is running Android 1.5. I’ve read that it can be upgraded to Android 2.0, and it would seem that the hardware could support that. It’s also wrapped in the Sense user interface (UI) from HTC, which basically takes the Android operating system to the next level. For instance, instead of 3 screens, you have seven. There are enhanced widgets. As opposed to some of the nice, but basic widgets included in the Android operating system, this adds to them. In this example, you can see the music widget available in the Sense UI. You can choose from multiple different displays for each widget available. In the clock widget, there are 12 different styles to choose from – everything from a standard clock to more of a steam punk look.

I have no love of virtual keyboards and have always blamed my discomfort with the iPhone on the keyboard. My fingers just aren’t dexterous enough. But, like on the Droid, I had no trouble with the Eris virtual keyboard. I suspect this is because I can turn on haptic feedback, which means I get some sort of physical confirmation that I’ve actually hit a key. The Eris keyboard is available in portrait and landscape, so no worries there.

It loaded web pages rather fast. I always test phones by loading my wine blog, and I didn’t notice any difference in the load time between it and the Droid. I didn’t time it, but it wasn’t slow enough to annoy me.  As with the Droid, I had no trouble pulling in any of my contacts or calendars, but that’s because Google owns me. I easily set up my mail accounts – both Gmail and IMAP accounts. I can’t seem to add, through the GMail app, more than one GMail account, but that’s easily fixed by adding the second as an IMAP. There’s also a fantastic little Sense UI email widget that lets you page through your IMAP emails.

I don’t use Exchange, but here’s what my friend at the Gadgeteer had to say about that experience:

I was not expecting Exchange support since it was added in 2.0, but it does provide support for Exchange accounts. It was easy to set up my exchange mail account. It allows you sync your Mail, Contacts and Calendar. There is also the option to sync to your PC (just your contact and calendar) in case your Outlook mail is not on an exchange server, or you cannot access your exchange server.

He mentioned to me at lunch that, unlike the Droid, the Eris calendar displays his Google calendar and his Outlook/Exchange calendar all in one view, which I consider a plus.

Instead of the standard Android pop-up menu of apps on the screen, there is an arc that also has a touch Phone button, an easy way to add shortcuts and widgets, and access to the pop-up. It actually looks nicer than the standard Android wrapper, and that’s a lot of what the Sense UI has done. It has prettied up Android. I have lovely widgets for email, Google search, my calendar, music, and even the built-in Twitter app.

Yep, the Eris comes with Peep, a built-in app just for Twitter. It only manages one account, but I already like it better than Twidroid. It has a clean interface, is very easy to use, and was obviously built with the lovely Sense UI in mind. I love that the app has an included widget.

The Eris automatically links up with your Facebook and Flickr accounts, which is a very nice feature. I love that they included Flickr, acknowledging that not all my photos are local. For Facebook, it identified 65 of my contacts that are also Facebook friends and asked if I wanted to link them. When that happened, those 65 photos updated, birthdays were added, and any new and additional contact information was added. In my Favorites list, if the contact is available in Facebook as well, a small “F” logo displays. Your Favorites list (of contacts) is also a widget that displays almost like a 9-pane photo gallery. To call someone, you tap their photo. It’s fun. I probably need to go into my Google Contacts and set a preferred primary number for each one though, as it chooses the “primary” number to call when you tap the photo.

I haven’t had a chance yet to play with the 5 mp camera/camcorder or a lot of the other features. I have read that (are you ready for this?) there is pinch-to-zoom in the photo viewer. Multi-touch! I’ve loaded my standard apps on the Eris (Evernote, Remember the Milk, Where, and several others). I also loaded Google Voice but I haven’t set it up yet to work with this phone. I was disappointed in the Google Voice SMS integration on the Droid, so I’m curious to see how it works with the Eris.

Thoughts

This is just my first look. So far I think the Eris is an oddly named but very elegant phone. I highly recommend it to someone who is not on AT&T but wants an iPhone-like device, someone who does not want a physical keyboard or wants a compact phone, or someone who is tied to Verizon (or appreciates their network) but wants an iPhone. This will fill that void for you.

Is it an iPhone killer? I hate that term. Nothing is. To me, the iPhone started the revolution of smartphones. Without the iPhone, we might not have the Droid or Eris. Nothing needs to be an iPhone killer. But it is nice to provide alternatives, right? And this is a definite viable alternative.

After 24 hours, I’d say the Droid and the Eris both rock. The Droid, with its “industrial” shape and size is a bit geekier and the Eris is slimmer and streamlined in form, less geeky. As much as I was convinced I’d buy the Droid, I’m no longer 100% on that, even with the virtual keyboard. Check back with me in a week or so for a more detailed review and maybe I’ll have made up my mind. As with the Droid, the honeymoon will end and I’ll find the not-so-great features of the phone. It happens – which is why I again emphasize – this post is only first impressions.

Droid Eris by HTC will be available tomorrow through Verizon for $99.99 after a $100 mail-in rebate with a new two-year agreement on a voice plan with an e-mail feature or e-mail plan.

Once again, screenshots are shamelessly borrowed from
Bryan at the Gadgeteer. Thanks Bryan!

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Cheers!
Tweet Michelle @writetechnology, send her technology news at michelle[at]writetech[dot]net, visit her wine blog when you’re thirsty, and drop by her day job.

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Discussion

    Rae17 May 2010 7:20 pm

    I disagree… The Iphone wasnt the start of the revolution… the Helio Ocean was. It came before the Iphone and it remains faster and more capable.