Haas MBA Google Trek and initial impressions of the Droid

Last Friday, a group of 50 Haas MBA students visited the Googleplex. During the 3-hour afternoon visit, we had an enjoyable tour of the campus, and engaged a panel of Googlers (many of them Haas alums!) from various products and functions in a lively round of discussions. A big shout-out for my classmate and former Googler Lauren Gellman for organizing this spectacular trip!

Haas MBA Google Trek 2010

Besides having a great time talking with the Googlers, I was also lucky enough to win one of the 5 Droids handed out in a surprise lottery (you can see the winners showing off their gear in the photo). The phone, targeted for developers, comes with a one-month free trial from Verizon, as well as a nice discount for a 1 year or 2 year contract.

This is the first Android handset I have used, having been a loyal iPhone user since January 2009. There are things I immediately like about the phone, and it really is almost a completely different experience from the iPhone. I know there are plenty of Droid reviews out there (since this device has been out for a quarter now), but here are some of my first impressions:

  • Great support for Google products – really, no surprises here. The turn-by-turn navigation, a coveted app by many, could well be one of the killer apps for this device. (I am curious how well that works on the road, especially in areas with patchy reception – this was a key differentiation point Nokia was trying to emphasize for its Ovi Maps, where the maps are stored locally and require less data transmission – and therefore less dependence on reception – on the go.) And of course the Google Voice app is great, but it does make you wonder how Verizon feels about it.
  • Background apps – Pandora while surfing? No problem. However, it’s not apparent what apps are running in the background, which could both be a drain on your battery and also a potential nuisance – I realized I was always on Google Chat, even though that wasn’t my intention.
  • Poor support for business users. This is not a phone ready for corporate America. It supports Microsoft Exchange, but apparently the “corporate email” app doesn’t support search. That’s right. No inbox searching. That alone is enough for me to hold on to my iPhone. (I could, in theory, forward all my emails to Gmail, but I’m sure there are plenty of users like me out there who prefer to keep their work-email and gmail separate)
  • Very slow charging on USB? I have a habit of carrying only the USB cord, and not the adapter, for my iPhone. For some reason, the Droid charges at a very slow pace via USB – something like 15% an hour, which is not satisfactory.
  • The physical keyboard is redundant. Yes. I’ve gotten used to typing on virtual keyboards. Having to actually push down feels painful, and there is no auto-correct. In this regard I’d probably like the Nexus One a lot better.
  • App market. Good number of apps already, most of the web2.0 services are present, but much less presence of old-school stuff – e.g. WSJ, FT, NYTimes etc.

Reading through the points above, it’s interesting to note how many of them are talking about consumers’ habits. For example the point about the keyboard – if I came from the blackberry world I probably would love the physical keyboard (remember all those people who hated the virtual keyboard on the iPhone when it first launched?), but I’ve grown accustomed to virtual keyboards. Same for the email search – my work-around would solve the problem, but it is asking me to change my behavior, so I have a strong distaste for it.

One final point – I want to comment on how fundamentally different the Droid is from the iPhone. I felt it was a phone for geeks and engineers. The UI was less polished, but there was much more that the user could customize (menus, widgets etc…) You need to spend time to play around with it. The iPhone, on the other hand, is a device ready for mass adoption. It’s frustrating for geeks who want to do all kinds of things (but can’t), but perfect for everyday users who can just use it intuitively. Very different philosophies, and therefore potentially a sharp divergence in consumer segments going forward.