Droid as Video Camera? It’s Only So-So

The Motorola Droid (s mot) has been widely touted as Verizon’s (s vz) iPhone killer, and this Android-based smartphone has drawn hordes of fans in the month or so since its release. Many of those admirers love to talk about how the Droid is so much better than the iPhone. iPhone users, meanwhile, just brush off the Droid as another iPhone wannabe.

Well, I have news for both crowds: When it comes to video recording, the Droid and the iPhone 3GS are nearly identical. While the Droid produces video that is a bit crisper and clearer, the difference between the two is not marked, and the video cameras on both phones offer the same features.

Like the iPhone 3GS, the Droid’s video camera is easy to operate, but skimpy on the extra features. You access it through the Droid’s camera, where you just slide an on-screen toggle to switch to video-recording mode. You can then press a big on-screen button to begin recording. So far, the experience is virtually identical to recording video on the iPhone 3GS; the only difference is that the Droid has a physical button on its right side (or the top of the phone, if you rotate it to record) that you can use as an alternative to the on-screen button. The hardware button is a nice touch as it allows you to stop recording without having to move the phone and look at the screen, which can result in a jerky camera movement.

What the Droid lacks, though, is even the most basic video editing tools. Where the iPhone 3GS allows you to trim video clips on the phone, the Droid doesn’t offer anything. If you want to edit your videos, you have to do it elsewhere. But transferring your video clips to another device from the Droid is a breeze. Once you’ve captured a video, you can click a link to share it, and you’ll be presented with a list of all the accounts or connections available to you, such as MMS, e-mail, YouTube or Bluetooth. It’s similar to the way the iPhone 3GS allows you to share video via e-mail, MMS or through YouTube.

The similarities between the two phones don’t end with the experience of using them as video cameras; they also offer similar specs. The Droid’s video camera offers a slightly higher resolution, as it records video at a resolution of 720 by 480, and captures 24 frames per second. The iPhone 3GS, meanwhile, offers a video-recording resolution of 640 by 480, but captures 30 frames per second.

So, now comes the big question: What does that translate to in actual usage? Take a look at these two videos, shot using a Motorola Droid and an iPhone 3GS held side-by-side (video captured by the Droid is on top; video captured by the iPhone 3GS is on the bottom):

The Droid’s camera picks up a bit more detail, and the colors look brighter; the iPhone 3GS video looks more washed-out. The Droid does handle colors nicely. Here’s another clip captured by the Droid in a more colorful environment:


Where the Droid beats the iPhone 3GS easily, though, is when you’re watching videos on the handset itself. The Droid’s screen measures 3.7 inches diagonally, and it boasts a resolution of 480 by 854 pixels. The screen on the iPhone 3GS, meanwhile, is 3.5 inches in size, but offers a resolution of just 480 by 320. Videos look decent on an iPhone — until you’ve seen them on a Droid. It’s like watching a miniature HDTV.

Neither of these phones is going to blow you away with its video-recording capabilities. The Droid will impress you with its stunning screen, though. So if you plan on watching a lot of videos on your handset, the Droid is the phone for you. If you’re looking for a phone that will serve as a video camera in a pinch, however, both the Droid and the iPhone 3GS will suffice. It won’t please the Droid fans or the iPhone-crazy to hear it, but when it comes to video recording, these two phones are equal.