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Motorola Droid 3
Choosing a Pocket Computer

Jim Carter, 2011-09-12

I have had my HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1 with Google) since 2009-03-26, about 2.5 years, which is several generations in the world of cellphones. The current operating system version, Android-2.3 Gingerbread, will not even fit in its storage, and Android-3.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is expected in a few months. It is time to get a new pocket computer. So which one will I pick?



A lot of pocket computer activities depend more on operating system support than on hardware components. However, the point here is to pick the hardware. The lists below are organized around the hardware that supports the activities rather than grouped by function, downplaying the very important responsibility of the operating system to use that hardware effectively.

Calling Plans

A key decision in picking the phone is to pick the mobile operator, which then determines the modulation style (GSM vs. CDMA) and frequency. This table of mobile phone frequencies was provided by, selling cellular antennas, amplifiers and repeaters. See also the Wikipedia article on cellular frequencies, which has additional information.

Band Actual MHz Function
800 824-896 Traditional cellular voice
900 890-960 GSM Europe/Asia
1700-2100 1710-1755 UMTS Band 4 (T-Mobile 3G)
2110-2155 Split up/down lilnks
1900 1850-1990 PCS
1900 1920-1980 UMTS Band 1 in Europe/Asia
2110-2170 Split up/down lilnks

The 800MHz band is often referred to as 850MHz. Virtually all North American mobile operators use 800MHz and 1900MHz for non-4G service, except T-Mobile runs 3G on 1700-2100 (split). LTE and WiMax are on 700MHz, 1700-2100MHz, or 2500-2700MHz (for Sprint XOMH).

Conclusion on frequencies: any phone should work (2G or 3G) on any North American operator's net except T-Mobile. Internationally, adding 900MHz GSM should be sufficient.

Here is an overview of nonvirtual mobile operators in the USA, ordered by the size of their networks.

Verizon Wireless

Their network is CDMA. They have 4 generations of CDMA: IS-95, CDMA2000 1x, EV-DO, e-HRPT. They are adding 4G/LTE in some areas. They are the biggest operator in the USA and have coverage in the most places; in particular, their signal is good at our house and the places we frequently go, including Redmond. It's understood that mobile operators are all weasels, but Verizon's customer service is a bit less weaselly than others. Their prices tend to be higher than competitors. My wife uses Verizon and coordination with her could yield savings.

AT&T Mobility

Their network is GSM (GPRS, EDGE) with 3G UMTS and HSPA (inclding HSUPA); plans to upgrade to LTE. All protocols are available on both the 850MHz and 1900MHz bands. They are the second biggest mobile operator and are financially secure. Nonetheless, their signal is poor at our house; I can transmit reliably but I frequently miss incoming calls. They are the champion weasels in the business; they lost a sale (of my wife's phone) because it was impossible to get through to a human to discuss the terms of sale (whereas a satisfactory arrangement was negotiated with Verizon). I am currently using AT&T because of their favorable pay as you go plan, despite the mismatch of the HTC Dream's 3G modem, see T-Mobile.

Sprint Nextel

They have two subnets, using CDMA on one and IDEN (800MHz) on the other, the latter being unique to them. They are phasing out IDEN. Due to the IDEN issue I have not formerly taken them seriously. They have aggressively rolled out 4G (WiMax) in Los Angeles. They claim to be the third largest net in the USA (after Verizon and AT&T). Their pay as you go plans are handled by several wholly owned subsidiaries such as Boost Mobile. Their Boost Mobile subsidiary spends a lot for advertising in Los Angeles. Their coverage map alleges a good signal at my house and frequently visited locations including Redmond.

T-Mobile USA

Their network is GSM. They do UMTS (3G) on band 4, 1700-2100MHz (split), unlike any other mobile operator in the world. Their parent is Deutsche Telekom. At present they are bankrupt, and they were negotiating being acquired by AT&T, but the Justice Department nixed the deal. They have adequate coverage and their signal is marginal, better than AT&T, at our house. Their customer service is not too bad. They had a favorable rate plan for the Sidekick product, but when they blocked the HTTP port (requiring to go through their WAP server) and I could not work around that, I fired them. Weasels!


There are several other smaller nonvirtual mobile operators that appear to own their own spectrum. None of them offer advantages for me over the big four, and most are restricted to limited geographic areas which in many cases do not include Los Angeles.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators -- Page Plus

There are quite a lot of virtual operators who resell transport on the real operators, with their own business models and payment plans. As a contingency I may need to pick a virtual operator who resells Verizon. The only credible MVNO for my purpose is Page Plus.

Here are the calling plans from the various mobile operators; I'm focusing on those suitable for a low-volume user. For cost estimates I'm going to assume 20Mb/month data (used every day) and 10 minutes/month voice. I really don't use very much.

Verizon (Month to Month)

Verizon Prepaid Plans: They offer a monthly plan with 450 minutes voice and unlimited data for $65/month; or these daily plans: unlimited voice for $2/day (each day that it is used?), $0.10/min plus $1/day, or $0.25/min with no daily charge. Unfortunately Verizon will only allow the daily plans for dumb phones, but for reference the terms for the last item go like this:

Voice $0.25/min
SMS (each) $0.20 in+out, $0.25 multimedia
Data Unlimited $1 on each day used
Total $32.50/month

Nationwide plan monthly costs:

Voice 450 mins $45 ($0.10/min)
SMS (each) $0.20 in+out, $0.25 multimedia
Data Unlimited $30/mo or $1/day
Total $75/month

Nationwide 65 Plus is cheaper than regular Nationwide. I think this is for grandmothers; they check that the account holder is over 65 years age. There is a two line variant; basically multiply all the numbers by 2. Monthly quotas and charges:

Voice 200 mins $30 ($0.15/min)
(excess) $0.45/min
500 mins Night and weekends, no charge
SMS (each) $0.20 in+out, $0.25 multimedia
Data 300Mb $20 (not on website in 2011-12-xx)
Total $50/month

The data plan of 300Mb for $20/mo is not visible on the website (2011-12-05), but you can get it if you call customer service. On the 2 line plan it is required on each of the lines.

Verizon (Family)

Our present plan with one line costs $35/month for voice (300 prime time minutes plus unlimited night and weekend) plus $30/month for data.

Costs for the multi-line family plan:

Voice 700 mins $70 ($0.10/min) for 2 lines
SMS (each) $0.20 in+out, $0.25 multimedia
Data 2Gb $30 (likely for each line)
Total $100 or $130/month for 2 lines

They are my present operator. I'm currently using their GoPhone plan with voice $0.10/minute, data $15/100Mb (feature package lasts 1 month), SMS $0.20 each. Effectively I'm paying about $16/month. There is an alternative with unlimited voice and SMS for $2.00 each day you use it, not counting non-SMS data.

Boost Mobile (Sprint)

Checking their CDMA coverage map, they claim to have Best coverage at my house but no 4G. Places I'm at in Los Angeles generally have Best coverage. Coverage in Redmond is also Best. Plans I would be interested in include:

Boost Mobile offers the Samsung Prevail (Galaxy series) for $180. This is the first time they've offered an Android phone. Reviewers are underwhelmed by this phone. As of 2011-11-24 they have more Android phones.


Their pay as you go plans all include: use of their network anywhere in the USA; voicemail, caller ID, call waiting. International calling costs extra (duh). Voice: $10 gets you 30 minutes or $30 gets 160 minutes (expiring in 90 days). And up. SMS $0.10 each in and out. They do not offer any data capability.

T-Mobile's monthly plans include the same features. $30 gets you 1500 minutes plus SMS (e.g. 1300 mins chat plus 200 SMS, or vice versa) and 30Mb data, rate limited to non-4G speed. Not clear what happens if I use over 30Mb data. If you go over 1500 mins+SMS you can refill (pay more); refills can be any dollar amount but it's not clear what you get for the money. $50/month gets you unlimited talk, SMS and data (1st 100Mb at 4G speed).

Page Plus

They have monthly and pay as you go plans. In the latter, you pay $10 for 100 minutes ($0.10/min) to $50 for 1000 mins ($0.05/min). $0.05 per SMS in and out. Data $1/Mb (ouch). The best-looking monthly plan is $30/mo for 1200 mins, 3000 SMS, 100Mb data. My actual data usage is around 10Mb/month but it would be easy to inadvertently use more.

Summary of plans, showing the monthly cost I would probably pay:

Carrier Cost/month Modulation Comments
Verizon Daily $32.50 CDMA Best coverage, expensive
Verizon 65+ $50 CDMA Best coverage, expensive
AT&T $16 GSM Poor home signal, champion weasels
Boost Mobile $15 CDMA Only 1 Android phone
T-Mobile $30 GSM Bankrupt weasels
Page Plus $21 CDMA Verizon reseller (MVNO)

My anticipated cellular signal quality, as reported by the Coverage Map Android app by RootMetrics. Data is crowdsourced, i.e. submitted by people using this application who do objective tests on their phones in random locations.

Carrier RootScore®Signal Data
Verizon 5/2 -76 (A) 43/49 (F)
AT&T 3/2 -101 (C) 55/98 (F)
(Actual Test) -93 (*) 858/147
Sprint 4/2 -79 (B) 142/91 (F)
T-Mobile 4/4 -88 (B) 208/564 (D)
Work (UCLA)
Verizon 5/0 -65 (A) 342/186 (B)
AT&T 5/5 -73 (A) 590/434 (B)
Sprint 5/0 -72 (A) 331/34 (C)
T-Mobile 5/0 -75 (A) (No info)


Conclusion: I'm thinking of switching to Boost Mobile (CDMA on Sprint), but not with the Samsung Prevail.

Evaluating Pocket Computers

The following lists are filtered according to my required features: 5 row slider keyboard, field replaceable battery, hotswap SD card. Probably I should restrict to displays bigger than 3.8 inch diagonal. Also I'm restricting to non-ancient phones: introduced starting 2010-06-01.

These features are expected on any such pocket computer: WiFi, Bluetooth, rear-facing camera, wired headphones, GPS, accelerometer, magnetometer.

These features are nice, but not dealbreakers if absent: Dual GSM/CDMA, ambient light sensor, front-facing camera, notification LED, mini-USB or micro-USB charger.

These features are important but are not likely to be discernable in a compact summary list: nice sunlight readable display; competent voice chat; rain resistance.

Mfgr Name(int) Name(ext) CPU RAM/Flash (Gb) Display Cell Comments
Wikipedia's List of HTC Phones
HTC Espresso MyTouch 3G Slide Qc 600MHz 0.5/0.5 3.4in HVGA GSM 4 row keyboard
HTC Vision Google G2 Qc 800MHz 0.5/1.5 3.7in WVGA GSM
HTC Speedy Evo Shift 4G Qc 800MHz 0.5/2.0 3.6in WVGA CDMA+Wimax
HTC Lexikon Merge Qc 800MHz 0.5/2.0 3.8in WVGA CDMA
HTC ChaCha ChaCha Qc 800MHz 0.5/0.5 2.6in HVGA GSM Front + rear camera; only 124 grams
HTC Doubleshot MyTouch 4G Slide Qc 1.2Ghz X2 0.77/4.0 3.7in WVGA GSM Front + rear camera
Wikipedia's Comparison of Android Devices
HTC Desire Z G2 Qc 800MHz 0.5/1.5 3.7in WVGA GSM + WCDMA 4 row keyboard
Moto (?) Atrix 4G nV 1GHz X2 1.0/0.0 4in QHD GSM + WCDMA Front+rear camera
Moto Sholes Droid (OG) TI 1GHz 0.25/0.5 3.7in FWVGA CDMA Keyboard
Moto Solana XT862 Droid 3 TI 1GHz X2 0.5/16.0 4in QHD GSM+WCDMA 184 grams
Front+rear camera, 5 row keyboard, issued 2011-07-14

Legend: Name(int) is the internal codename; Name(ext) is what the mobile operators call it. Processor vendor codes: Qc = Qualcomm; nV = nVidia; TI = Texas Instruments. Display sizes: HVGA = 480x320px; WVGA = 800x480px; FWVGA = 854x480px; QHD = 960x540px.

Check out the Dell Flash: 800MHz 512Mb/512Mb, 480x800px(?) LCD. Dell's Flash, Thunder and Smoke do not have the keyboard I want, but if they did, they look intriguing.

About the Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy S II: Both of them may have dual mode radios. The version of the Galaxy S for Sprint, called the Epic 4G, has a 5 row physical keyboard. A year ago this would have been a wonderful choice, but it was discontinued in 2011-02-xx. All Galaxy S II's and most Galaxy S's do not have the physical keyboard.

Motorola Droid 3

Of the above devices, the new Droid 3 from Motorola meets my requirements best. Let's look closely at it, particularly for any showstoppers.

Motorola's Hype Sheet on the Droid 3

What is the part number of the battery? Looking on Motorola's website, follow these links: Mobile Phones -> Droid Series -> Droid 3; accessories are listed at the bottom of the page. Battery BF5X, 1540mAh at $49.99, replacement battery door (back cover) at $9.99. I should get two spare batteries, but not from Motorola. $13.83 each from JustCellular via Amazon (2011-11-24).

Motorola Droid 3 Review on Engadget

Review by Brad Molen, 2011-07-21. Mass 184g, kind of heavy. (The G1's mass is 159g; Nokia N810 is 226g; HTC Trophy is 140g.) Nice, durable construction: metal edge frame. Gorilla Glass on screen. Micro-USB charger and HDMI port on left side. Power button and 3.5mm phone jack on top. Volume buttons on right side. Rear camera (with LED flash) at top right. You can get an inductive charger, replacing the standard back cover. Easily field replaceable battery. SIM and SD slot are under the back cover but not covered by the battery. SD card can be up to 32Gb (card is not included); internal flash is 16Gb. Processor: TI OMAP 4430 (1GHz dual core), 512Mb RAM, 1540mAh battery. 2 cameras: 8Mpx rear, 640x480 front. Does not have LTE.

The reviewer liked the keyboard. Neither bouncy nor rubbery; he thinks they're natural to type on. It has separate number keys on the 5th row. It has actual arrow keys. All programmer's punctuation seems to be there. Backlit keys. Also has Swype virtual keyboard, which worked out well for the reviewer.

Camera: jimc says the shots of kids in a park at dusk came out very well considering the low light level. No dedicated camera button. Camera app had no way to jigger contrast or exposure, and had bugs. Autofocus took longer than the reviewer would like, causing candid shots to be missed. Reviewer felt the colors were washed out in sunlight, ill-defined under clouds, and shadowy in low light. The Samsung Galaxy S-II camera does better. (Comment poster says: pay $4 for Camera360 app.)

Software: Motoblur is gone, no registration required. Too many long animations in the UI (2 to 3 secs, yuck). (Jimc says: in system 5.5.959, the animations are all well under 1 sec and are reasonable.) They do obey the no animations UI setting, though.

Battery life: Play video continuously, it will run 4hr 15min. It lasted 10 hours in active use.

Posted comments: Almost everyone loves the phone. There is an extended battery available, with an expanded back cover.

CNET's review of the Droid 3

The Droid 3 has a locked bootloader. Check carefully if CyanogenMod can be installed. Some people claim to have rooted their Droids. This is the Sholes (original), not the later Droid models. Update: there is an exploit for Droid 3 and most other recent Droid models, which worked for me.

Verizon's unlock policy is 60 days. That is, 60 days after purchase they are supposed to tell you the SIM unlock code, so you can use a non-Verizon SIM in it. This does not relieve you of the obligation to pay under your contract, nor evade the early termination penalty. Which is fair since they're subsidizing your phone with $200 at least, up to $350, and they deserve to suck your blood long enough to get that back.

Call quality: Their reviewer found incoming voice to be muffled; he could understand the partner but it muddied the overall experience. Partners were generally happy with the results on their end. Speakerphone did well, clear audio and enough volume.

Droid 3 Review on The Android View

The review is dated 2011-10-16, the reviewer is not identified by name.

The full retail price is $460, or $199 on a 2 year plan with Verizon Wireless. I interpret this to mean that the $460 number is for getting it from Verizon also (locked). The reviewer really likes the physical design of the handset; The keyboard's tactile feedback is superior to most others I've used. The micro-USB and HDMI ports are at the bottom (reviewer would have preferred the top, for easier use when charging).

The VGA (front-facing) camera is poor in low light, which is common on front-facing cameras. The rear camera is not wonderful in his opinion, and he would like a dedicated camera button. The rear camera does autofocus, LED flash, fast enough for 1080p video. In snapshots, he thinks the colors were oversaturated, where the Engadget reviewer thought they were washed out.

The stock OS features SD card encryption, remote data wipe, and complex password support. Jimc wonders how much of this is available in CyanogenMod. Verizon gives you a bunch of apps to access their media sources (not free), plus the Kindle app, GoToMeeting, and Citrix Receiver.

There is an app to root this class of phones in one click. Link #1 for root exploit; Link #2 for a howto.

The speakerphone is pretty bad; his partners said they had trouble to hear him. But he could hear the partner clear and sharp.

Hardware goodies: Bluetooth A2DP, WiFi (what variant?), GPS, 3G cell but not 4G LTE, 16Gb internal flash, removeable SD slot (card not included), micro HDMI connector (cable sold separately), 1540mAh battery.

Processor power on the Quadrant benchmark: 2191, where the HTC Magic (next step up from Dream, jimc thinks) is about 180. This is about twice as fast as a Nexus One or HTC Evo. A screenshot confirms that the board's code name is Solana. Link to Quadrant benchmark on Android Market. CyanogenMod users report Quadrant numbers up to 3300.

Battery: starting at 100%, he played live video over 3G for 45 minutes and ran the battery down to 10%. He doesn't get anywhere near the claimed 9 hours talk or 12 days standby.

He liked the Droid 3 well enough to make it his daily handset. He particularly likes the keybaord.

Cyanogenmod Status

Web links:

Pricing and Availability

The target model is the XT862 (see Howards Forum posting below).

Survey on 2011-11-22

Survey on 2011-09-16

Conclusion and Strategy

I'm going to fixate on the Droid 3 (XT862) because it is superior to all others in the required features. However, I will wait a few months for a CyanogenMod stable image to be posted, before actually buying the pocket computer. If CyanogenMod is slow to appear (and I doubt it will be), then I will get serious with other models.

Update on 2011-11-22: It will take considerable time for a stable Solana (Droid 3) image to be finished, this model is now about 6 months old, and I'm afraid that it's going to be discontinued. However, the alpha images are apparently functional for the main tasks, and so I'm going to get the pocket computer now.

I particularly need hands-on experience with these points:

On 2011-11-24 I ordered the phone.


Charging Cradle

The goal is to hold the pocket computer vertically (typically in landscape orientation) so it can be seen while charging. My use-case is to replace a bedside alarm clock, so it can be seen from the bed. Other people put a cradle on the desk, so calendar events can be seen when the window pops up, or so media (movies) can be watched. The following items are listed as being specifically for the Droid 3.

Belt Pouch

I like a horizontal case that attaches to my belt. The term case seems to mean a protective shell that is semi-permanently attached to the device. Pouch is often used for what I want.

Miscellaneous Accessories

Etc. Etc.

How to Unlock a Droid 3

Howard Forums: How to unlock a Droid 3 XT862 (Verizon CDMA) to work on GSM. Networks that it will work on: offers unlock codes (for a price). Procedure:

Gorilla Glass

About Gorilla Glass by Corning: It is an alkali aluminosilicate glass, fabricated by Fusion Drawing (Corning proprietary process), kind of like the Gaia butterfly ribbons. Grinding and polishing is not needed, avoiding expense and surface micro-damage. Typical thickness is 0.5mm. It is soaked in molten salt which exchanges potassium for sodium ions in a thick surface layer, expanding it and putting compressive stress at the surface versus tension in the center. This is similar to verre d'Arques, but caused chemically rather than by the annealing schedule.

Samsung Prevail

Boost Mobile (Sprint) offers the Samsung Prevail (Galaxy series) for $180. This is the first time they've offered an Android phone. Here's a review of the Samsung Prevail by Stephen Tenerowicz dated 2011-05-12:

This reviewer thinks the Prevail is an extremely attractive buy for budget-minded users.

Engadget's review of the Prevail (Dana Wollman, 2011-04-25) is less favorable: she thinks Boost Mobile's $50/month plan is a great deal, but is underwhelmed by the phone. Particularly, the touch screen was overly sensitive and twitchy, causing clicking the wrong link or control. Chat partners said she sounded tinny while the sound she heard was distant and muffled. (Wacked codecs? Inferior mic and/or speaker?)

Samsung's product page for the Prevail is totally useless; for example, on the specs page they don't even tell the display dimensions in pixels, nor the battery capacity.


I suspect without confirmation that the OG Droid, code named sholes, is named after Christopher Latham Sholes, the inventor of the first practical typewriter and the QWERTY keyboard. See this biography of Sholes on Wikipedia.