Droid 4 Review: Incredible Keyboard, Awesome Speeds
The Droid 4 is the most recent of Motorola’s Droid line. The original Droid kicked off the Android revolution on Verizon, so it is good to see that the company is still thinking of users who want a physical keyboard.
The Droid 4 marks the first time Motorola has included Verizon’s super fast 4G LTE connectivity in this line, so there is a lot of interest from current Droid owners, many of whom can’t imagine swapping an on-screen keyboard for a physical one.
The keyboard makes the Droid 4 thicker than the Droid RAZR MAXX, but it shares similar design elements and the same great build quality of recent Motorola smartphones.
We gave the Droid 4 the Best Smartphone of CES 2012 award and have been looking forward to spending some quality time with Motorola’s latest 4G Android phone.
Droid 4 Review Summary
The Motorola Droid 4 has the best physical keyboard I’ve used on any phone, even better than the BlackBerry keyboards so many users are addicted to. The keyboard really is the defining feature of this phone, which makes it a no-brainer for any smartphone shopper that can’t live without an real keyboard.
Motorola made a bold choice to go with a non-removable battery on the Droid 4, one that could force heavy users to invest in an external battery pack or plug in for an afternoon top-up.
Even with limitations on battery life and camera performance, the Droid 4 is still a good fit for many users who demand a physical keyboard. It doesn’t hurt that the Droid 4 will see an Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) in the near future.
Droid 4 | $199 | Verizon Wireless
Droid 4 Review Guide
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Check out our hands on video for a closer look at the Droid 4′s design and solid build. In the latter half of the video I give you a look at how the keyboard feels, and explain why I like the Droid 4 keyboard so much.
Motorola is known for great build quality and the Droid 4 is no exception. Motorola uses a mix of plastic and metal for the body of the Droid 4, giving it a very sturdy feel.
The Droid 4 is 12.9mm thick and weighs 6.3 ounces, thanks to the physical keyboard. That’s still thinner than the only other 4G LTE slider, the Samsung Stratosphere but noticeably thicker than the Droid RAZR and RAZR MAXX. Thankfully you get an amazing keyboard, making the tradeoff more than acceptable.
As for looks, the Droid 4 borrows heavily from Motorola’s latest designs like the Droid RAZR and RAZR MAXX, as well as the Droid XYBOARD tablets. This is a good choice, as users will like the rounded edges and clean look of the phone’s lines.
While the iPhone 4S’ design is inspiring, the Droid 4 looks more like a phone you can take outdoors case free without worrying that it will slip out of your hand and crack on the ground.
The Droid 4 keyboard slides out from the lower half of the phone in a smooth and solid fashion. There is no spring assist like on some phones, which means you will need to push the phone all the way open or closed manually.
Once open, you are presented with one of the best designed keyboards we’ve seen on any smartphone. The keys are edge-lit for easy use in low-light situations and laid out perfectly for a superior typing experience. The keys feel very nice on your fingertips and offer good tactile feedback when pressed, as well as an audible click.
The dedicated number row makes entering strong passwords a breeze and offers fast access to common punctuation and symbols with the shift key. The only thing I would change is to switch out the caps lock key, which I routinely pressed instead of shift.
Some users will prefer the spacing on the Samsung Stratosphere’s keyboard, but the tactile feel and better layout make the Droid 4 a clear winner.
The Droid 4 has a 4-inch qHD display that looks good indoors and out. The qHD display has a 960 x 540 resolution that puts more of a web page, or eBook page or website on your screen so you don’t need to scroll as much. It also means that HD video looks nicer and you get crisper text than on a low resolution display.
If this display is a Pentile display, it is not as noticeable as larger screens like the Droid Bionic. When you get very close to the screen you can notice a small cross hatch pattern on the battery indicator, but I didn’t observe the cross hatches that often make blue hyper links look fuzzy on Pentile displays.
Colors on the display looked good, on par with the RAZR and RAZR MAXX. Text is easy to read in the browser and the screen does a good job of displaying black blacks and white whites.
The viewing angles are fairly wide, though I wouldn’t plan on sharing the display with a friend for more than a few minutes of YouTube hilarity.
As you can see in the image above, the screen is readable outdoors, though there will be some glare depending on the viewing angle.
The Droid 4 has a dual-core 1.2Ghz processor and 1GB of RAM, which is standard for Motorola phones rolling out this year. This combo provides the power you need to not worry about the specs of your new Droid 4.
While navigating around the homescreen, switching apps and unlocking straight to the camera the Droid 4 was snappy.
I played a few quarters of Madden 2012 without any lag in gameplay and graphics looked great.
New to the Droid line in the Droid 4 is Verizon’s 4G LTE, which provides speeds up to ten times faster than 3G. Expect speeds of 5 to 12 MBps down and 2 to 5 MBps up, which may be faster than your home connection.
The Droid 4 does a good job of holding a 4G LTE connection in a low coverage area; better than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is $100 more expensive.
As you can see in the image above, even in this low coverage area, I was able to enjoy a speedy connection. When I took the phone to a better service area on the other side of town speeds doubled.
Users should see similar speeds on the Galaxy Nexus. In the video below Xavier Lanier shows faster 4G LTE speeds which are common in areas with good coverage.
The iPhone 4S does not have 4G LTE, which means you cannot download and upload as fast as on the Droid 4 or Galaxy Nexus. In this speedtest below, I show the difference between 4G LTE speeds on Verizon, a Verizon iPhone 4S and an AT&T iPhone 4S
It’s not clear why Motorola chose to make the battery on the Droid 4 non-removable, but that’s the battery you are stuck with. The battery is 1785 mAh, which is half of the Droid RAZR MAXX, but on par with many 4G LTE smartphones on Verizon.
I’m still in the process of running a full battery test on the Droid 4. With 40% of the battery life remaining the Droid 4 has been up and running for 8 hours and 40 minutes. This includes a single email account syncing, 30 minutes of talk time, 30 minutes of streaming Pandora to a Bluetooth headset, 30 minutes of gaming and web browsing throughout the day.
I expect the battery to last around 12 hours, which is way less than most users need and a far cry from the Droid RAZR MAXX which is able to last a day and a half on a single charge.
I’m anticipating that heavy users, will need to invest in an external battery pack or charge up before heading out in the evening.
I’m testing the battery further, and will update our review with more battery stats as we have them.
I absolutely love the call quality of Motorola devices and the Droid 4 doesn’t disappoint. Callers sound great, even on speakerphone.
While on several calls the recipients reported that I sounded very good while talking with the phone in my hand, and I even carried on a short conference call with the speakerphone without any complaints from other participants.
Listening to movies and music on the Droid 4 is impressive. It’s much louder than with the volume that comes from the small speaker slot on the back of the phone. You won’t be blown away by the audio quality, but it is loud enough to be heard in a noisy restaurant or to pump Pandora through your hotel room.
For all Motorola does right, the cameras in the Droid 4 are still disappointing. On the rear of the Droid 4 is an 8MP camera capable of recording 1080P video, but resulting photos and video are less than impressive.
Colors don’t pop, especially when compared to the iPhone 4S, which is also $199. In the samples shown below, notice the poor colors, especially the ones shot indoors. The Droid 4 sample is on the left and to the right is the iPhone 4S.
When you go outdoors the quality of photos improves, but they still leave me wanting. Here are a few outdoor shots that show off the better side of the Droid 4′s camera.
The Droid 4 can record in 1080P, but it is set to record at 720P by default. In the video below you can see how it handles action as our two puppies decide to escape from their film session. I’m not impressed with the overall performance of the sensor, but it does keep up with fast moving subjects.
The Droid 4 is running Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which most users will be familiar with. The newest version of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich is, “coming soon” according to Motorola. Most users will be fine with Gingerbread, but keep in mind there is no specific date for the upgrade if Android 4.0 is a selling point for you.
The Droid 4 includes a number of pre-installed apps. Some of these apps add to the value of your phone, while others are annoying and cannot be uninstalled. Thankfully Motorola includes more good than bad.
The inclusion of QuickOffice Pairs up with the keyboard for an easy way to get some productivity done while you’re on the go. It can also be used to open up most office documents. I’m also a fan of the Motorola Applications like MotoCast and Smart Actions.
Motocast allows you to reach the files on your computer from your Droid 4 even when you are away from home.
Smart Actions is a cool tool that allows you to change settings and take action based on your location. Check out this guide to Smart Actions to see everything you can do with this free tool. The video below demonstrates some of the actions you can perform with Smart Actions.
Unfortunately there are also apps like BlockBuster, a link to SlingBox’s webpage and several other apps that most users won’t touch. Some of these apps can be uninstalled, but others you will need to ignore. You can hide applications from your app drawer by long pressing on them, but it would be nice if Verizon and Motorola didn’t load Android phones with all of these apps.
The Droid 4 has an attractive $199 price when compared to most of the other 4G LTE smartphones that have started out closer to $299. If you are looking for a 4G LTE smartphone with a physical keyboard you have two choices: the Droid 4 and the Samsung Stratosphere.
While you may be tempted to purchase the Samsung Stratosphere thanks to the lower $99 price, I suggest thinking again. The Droid 4 has an amazing keyboard and the build quality blows the Stratosphere away. While it isn’t the perfect phone, the Droid 4 is still the top pick for an Android phone with a physical keyboard, and the only real option if you want 4G LTE onboard.
While you might be tempted to go with the cheapest smartphone on the shelf, I suggest you consider that the total cost of owning a phone doesn’t change. If you spend $99 on your phone or $199 on your phone, you are still looking at a total cost of $1,600 to $2,000.
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