Archive for November 7, 2009

Buying the Verizon Droid: My pre-dawn odyssey

Verizon Motorola Droid phone

A line outside the Verizon Wireless store Friday morning, shortly before opening.

It’s not easy to find a decent cup of coffee—or any kind of coffee, for that matter—before the sun rises in the suburbs of New York City. If it hadn’t been for Verizon’s new Droid phone, I might never have known that (which would have been fine). However, in the interest of seeing the Droid for myself, and gaining some insight into the bizarre, early-morning rituals of the mad-for-mobile crowd, I decided to meet a Consumer Reports secret shopper at 5 a.m. in a dark, empty parking lot outside a dimly lit Verizon Wireless store.

The Droid has sparked all manner of hype in the weeks leading up to its release today, which prompted our secret shopper to get in line early to ensure he’d get a phone for our testers. (Last year, when he went to buy the similarly hyped Blackberry Storm, the line stretched around the side of the building.) A day ahead of he launch he tried to find out how many Droids the store would get, but the most he could squeeze from this store’s salesperson was “we’ll have more than five.”

Fear, hype, and (for me) a small sense of adventure had us racing alongside airport limo drivers and insomniacs to a Droid stakeout. In the end, there was little to fear. We were among only a handful of very early risers, as Engadget can confirm. Others showed up just before opening, but no one was denied a phone for lack of stock. Here’s a rundown of the morning:

5:10 a.m.: Met our shopper at the Verizon Wireless store. We sip burned, acrid coffee. There are four other cars in the lot with passengers, waiting like us. We have an unspoken agreement to stay in our cars for the time being. No reason to line up in the cold just yet.

5:15-6:15 a.m.: Small talk with our shopper. I take in all sorts of secret-shopper stories. My favorite: Our man was once kicked out of a beer distributor for checking the “born on” dates of beer brands we were testing. The proprietor thought he looked fishy, kicked him out, and refused to sell him the cases of brewski already in his cart—about a half-hour’s worth of work. Still no line.

5:50 a.m.: A veritable army of Verizon employees stumble en masse into the store. Lights come on and they start prepping for zero hour, 7 a.m..

6:00 a.m.: The sky suddenly brightens with the sunrise. The birds in the parking lot all wake up at once and start flying formations. Avian bedlam. Still no line.

6:15 a.m.: A line forms. Two overly eager beavers decide to leave the comfort of their warm car 45 minutes before the store’s doors open. That means we all have to get out and stand behind them in the brisk morning air. Thanks, guys.

6:15 a.m.: We all stand by the door, about seven of us, moving from one foot to the other to stay warm. C’mon, Verizon. At least Apple released the iPhone in June.

6:45 a.m.: Some stragglers arrive and get in the line, which maxes out at 15 people.

6:55 a.m.: A manager inside gives all the salespeople high fives as they move to their stations. They ignore our pleas to open five minutes early.

7:00 a.m. on the dot: The door opens. We file in, grateful for the warmth, and everyone rushes toward a salesperson. Our shopper buys three phones–the Droid, the HTC Droid Eris (Droid’s little cousin), and the LG Chocolate Touch–to take back to the labs.

8:20 a.m.: We leave after some delay with phone setup due to our complicated account structure. Not a huge inconvenience, as it lets me play with a number of the phones we’re buying. Cool.

I drive to the office using the Droid’s GPS Navigation, a very nifty free app, though not without its faults. (My colleagues in the GPS and Cars departments have already tested the Droid's GPS capability and posted a full review of its performance.)

If you haven’t already, check out our Mike Gikas’s review of the Droid, with video, and his head-to-head comparison of the Droid and the iPhone. Since this morning the Droid has been undergoing our formal testing. Check our smart-phone Ratings soon (available to subscribers) to see how it fared.

Tonight I’ll sleep well. If you also lined up early for a Droid, let us know how it went. —Nick K. Mandle

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