Tips for a New Droid X Owner from a New Droid X Owner

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A few weeks ago I got a Motorola Droid X. It didn’t start out as well as I’d like.

The first phone I got had a bad pixel on the camera’s CMOS sensor that caused a big pink blotch in the middle of any pictures or video I took. I returned that one and got a second phone, which had a perfect camera sensor but a bad pixel on the screen. Third time was the charm, as I returned the bad screen phone for another that has both a good camera and a good screen.

Hardware problems aside, I also had a bit of a learning curve to get over, moving off a BlackBerry Curve, and I ran into some trouble with connecting to wireless networks reliably. All of this left me a little disillusioned but I’ve gotten to a point now where I’m really liking it again.

If you’re a new Droid X owner, I thought I’d offer you some tips to help you skip over the whole disillusioned state. (In some cases, these are good for any Android-based phone owner, but I can’t really speak to anything but my Droid X experience.)

  • Test your screen and your camera. This is pretty easy to do in one go. Switch to the camera app and then point the camera at a white wall. Look to see if any of the pixels on the screen aren’t white. Do the same thing against a black surface (or just cover up the camera with your finger). If you see an odd pixel (it’ll be pretty obvious if it’s there), then push the volume button on the camera to zoom in. If the pixel moves, then the bad pixel is on the camera sensor. If the pixel doesn’t move, the bad pixel is on the screen. If you find a bad pixel, test it a few times to be sure before taking it in to the Verizon store. Reboot the phone a couple of times and potentially reset the phone to factory defaults and try it. (If you don’t try the reset, the Verizon store will before they let you return it anyway, so save yourself a trip.)
  • Update to the latest Android version. They released Android 2.2 for the Droid X a few days ago but they haven’t yet turned on the auto-update for it so you have to manually get the latest version. Go to Settings -> About Phone -> System Updates and you can get the update. The Android update fixed all the reliability issues I was seeing connecting to wireless networks and such. A lot of the features are updated and better, too. (After you update, go to the Android Market and update your Google Mail app because it’s an app now, not just a feature of the Android OS.)
  • Experiment with the power management settings. Go to Settings -> Battery Manager and play around with the different settings in there. Pending on how much you use your phone, you can get some pretty horrible battery life if you don’t fix things up from the defaults. I’m still playing with the settings myself or I’d give you a recommendation.
  • Switch to Swype. The Swype keyboard is way, way, way better than the default hunt-and-peck keyboard. Swype lets you basically just drag your finger around on the screen keyboard without having to push each letter and it magically knows what you were typing. Plus, it’s free and already installed. Start to create a new text message (you won’t actually be sending it) and hold down your finger in the text field. In the list of options that come up, select “Input Method” and then choose “Swype.” You won’t regret it.
  • Enable haptic feedback. With my BlackBerry I had a physical keyboard. With an on-screen keyboard you miss the physical feedback of a button press. To make up for that, the phone can do a tiny vibration when you press an on-screen key on the keyboard. That’s “haptic feedback” and it’s disabled by default because technically it eats your battery. It’s worth turning on, though - go to Settings -> Sound and check the “Haptic feedback” box to get it.
  • Don’t bother with Task Killers. In earlier Android phones there seemed to be a need to manually kill tasks running on the phone. This has hung in the air for a while, but basically the current thought is that you shouldn’t be using these because it messes with the way Android deals with its own task management and can make your phone unstable. If you want more detailed information, this is a good article.
  • The Motorola widgets will make it look like your Google account is being hacked when it’s not. The phone ships with a nice set of widgets you can use on your home screen to display things like your calendar or tasks. The problem is that the widgets don’t talk directly to Google - instead, they ask for the calendar data (or whatever) from Motorola and then Motorola talks to Google. Next time you log into your Google Mail account through a computer, you’ll get this awesome red bar at the top warning you that some unauthorized behavior has been detected. The address will be something like (but it may not be exactly that - use your judgment). That’s the calendar widget doing its thing. You can see more about it on the Motorola Owner’s Forum.
  • You may have to reboot. With my BlackBerry Curve, I really never turned it off. Occasionally it would get something weird going on and I’d have to do a battery pull. With the Droid X, it’s more like a computer - if I find something weird is going on or something isn’t working right, I turn it off and turn it back on again. (After the Android update I’ve not really had to do this, but just be aware. No need to reset or battery pull or anything, just turn off and on again.)
  • Get a screen protector. I’ve actually had two different ones and they both have good and bad aspects. I tried the Verizon one and I liked the texture and the fact that it kept fingerprints off the screen pretty well, but it was a matte antiglare finish and reduced the sharpness of the screen. I’m currently using a Martin Fields protector (which also has a camera protector that comes with it) and it is crystal clear, covers more of the phone’s face than the Verizon one… but is a little harder to slide your finger across due to the glossy finish and definitely fingerprints up more. Either way, get a protector, especially if you thrown your phone in your bag/pocket/purse or whatever. (Right now if I had to choose, I’d go Martin Fields. It’s the clearest screen and with the nice screen the Droid X has, it’s a shame to mute it with antiglare. UPDATE 10/4/2010: After using the Martin Fields protector for a while, I found that the difficulty in sliding my finger caused all nature of problems including a few accidentally sent messages and emails as my finger stuck at one point on the screen and then sort of “hopped” and bumped the “send” button. The Verizon screen protectors, while antiglare, allow your finger to slide nicely on the screen, so that’s what I’m using now.)
  • Pick either a phone case or the car dock, but you don’t get both. They don’t tell you this in the store, but it turns out the “official” car dock for the Droid X from Motorola won’t work with any phone cases on the phone. Even the side of the dock box says it will, but it won’t. This is a well-known issue if you troll the forums. Some people were able to get the dock to work with a case/cover on the phone by using a Dremel tool in creative ways, but I’m not into that. So decide which is worth more to you and go that way. (Note the screen protectors mentioned above won’t interfere with the dock - it’s only if you put a case on the phone when you’ll have problems.) I went with a case since I put the phone in my pocket.
  • Don’t set up all of your social media accounts through the “My Accounts” app. Or, at least, be very aware of what you’re doing when you do this. If you set up, for example, Facebook through “My Accounts” rather than just installing the Facebook app from the Android Market, it starts trying to synchronize your contacts with Facebook and such. At least, it did for me. All hell breaks loose if you’re trying to manage a clean list of contacts on Google and Facebook has incomplete/incorrect/unwanted information in it. Ugh.
  • Be aware of what permissions applications are asking for when you download them. When you get an app from the Android Market or wherever, it’ll put up a screen telling you what permissions the app is looking for. Read that screen. If a card game is trying to get access to your contacts or make phone calls, ask yourself why it’d need that. Most apps are harmless, but there have been a few out there that have been Bad News.
  • Turn on assisted location. By default, only the GPS can provide your location but the GPS doesn’t work indoors well. Go to Settings -> Location and Security and enable “Use wireless networks” and “Enable Assisted GPS” so if GPS can’t locate you or isn’t on, you can still get location from network triangulation. (This lets Google Maps and stuff work inside when you can’t get a GPS signal.) Note that the camera app will still complain sometimes that it can’t locate you. Not sure why this is.
  • Fix your notification settings. By default, just about everything notifies you of something. When GMail gets a new email it sounds a ringtone. New chat message, ringtone. Each app generally has the ability to specify how you want to be notified. I turned off ringtones and vibration when emails come in but I left the little notification icon that appears at the top of the screen. For text messages I left the default notification ringtone running, but for calendar notifications I made the ringtone something shorter and quieter like a little gong because I want to be alerted, but it doesn’t have to be a fanfare. Your preferences will probably differ, just be aware that they exist.
  • Understand the different volume settings. There are different volumes for incoming calls, notifications, media, in-call voice, and… I think that’s it. I think. Anyway, just because you turned up the volume for one thing doesn’t mean all the volumes turned up (or down). Go to Settings -> Sound and check out your volume settings.
  • Figure out how to arrange your home screens. This is actually a two-part thing. First, figure out how to add stuff to a home screen. What widgets do you have? What do they look like? How do you add a shortcut to an application so you can get to it easier? To get going, just hold your finger down on a home screen for a couple of seconds and watch what happens. There’s a lot of cool stuff hidden in there that you wouldn’t otherwise discover. Second, you have seven total home screens you can set up. Think of a plan for each, like a “theme” or something. For me, I made them (from left to right):
    • Settings: Settings-related shortcuts, widgets to toggle things on and off, and testing applications (GPS Test Plus and Wifi Analyzer).
    • Social and Navigation: Twitter, Facebook, Maps, Navigation, Places, and the GPS toggle widget.
    • Entertainment and Common: Games, the IMDb app, Bluetooth toggle widget (so it doesn’t have to be on all the time to connect to my hands-free set), Wifi toggle widget, and detailed battery monitor widget.
    • Main Home: Calendar widget, Weather Channel widget following current location, text message shortcut, browser shortcut, GMail shortcut, GTasks shortcut.
    • Media: Slideshow widget, Camera/Camcorder app shortcuts, Pandora, Gallery, GPS toggle (camera apps use GPS for location tagging).
    • Contacts: Quick Contact widgets for people I call/mail/text the most. Like speed dial, but better.
    • Shopping: Barcode Scanner, Amazon app, Android Marketplace, etc.
  • Learn what’s up in the Android world. There are some great web sites I follow that provide good information about helpful Android apps and other goings-on in the Android world. This is how I learned about the Android upgrade being available early.

From there, it’s just figuring out apps, widgets, and what you want to do. It’s worth taking the time to explore things. There’s a lot of cool stuff the phone can do, but it’s not all immediately obvious, especially if you’ve never had an Android phone.