Like many Android users, the original DROID was my introduction to Android and while I’ve bounced through a half dozen other devices since then I’ll always have a soft spot for the DROID line. With that said the DROID 4 has launched into a very different landscape with devices literally half its thickness available and others offering twice its battery life. Despite all that, should the latest installment in this venerable line still warrant consideration as your next Android device?
1. Battery LifeMy last review was for the DROID RAZR MAXX with its 3,300 mAh battery so the next competitor didn’t really stand a chance. The DROID 4 comes back down to earth with a 1,785 mAh battery and a more pedestrian 12-14 hours with regular use to go with it. I’m sure with liberal use of Smart Actions you could boost that a bit more, but basically don’t expect any miracles from the DROID 4 battery. It’s also definitely worth noting that while the DROID 4 battery compartment is accessible the battery is not meant to be user replaceable so just tossing a second battery in your bag won’t be an option.
2. PerformanceThe DROID 4 is packing the same 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM as the DROID RAZR MAXX. This is enough to run basically anything in the Play Store and keeps the OS flowing pretty smoothly. Sure there are quad-core devices powered by Tegra 3 and Exynos on the horizon, but for the time being the DROID 4 is offering plenty of muscle to get the job done. If you are heavily into gaming on your Android device I doubt the DROID 4 would be on your shortlist anyway, but I’ll go ahead and confirm your suspicions that this isn’t the device for you. If on the other hand you are looking to sling some fowl around the stratosphere or just draw something this will get you where you’re going.
I’m going to slip this in under ‘performance’ as it doesn’t really fit anywhere else, but the Droid 4 has 8GB of internal memory, which is a bit more of a tight squeeze than we are accustomed to lately. You do have a microSd slot should you need it, but be aware of this if you take a lot of photos or video with your phone.
3. Call QualityI’m a bit of a broken record at this point, but I’m consistently pleased with the sound quality and signal strength offered by Motorola’s smartphones and the DROID 4 is another fine example. While I don’t question that there is room for improvement generically in cell phone call quality, Motorola is definitely doing all that it can with existing standards.
4. DisplayThe DROID 4 offers a similar qHD PenTile LCD to that found in the DROID RAZR and DROID RAZR MAXX, albeit shrunken down to just 4-inches rather than the now more customary 4.3. As with the DROID RAZR MAXX I didn’t feel that the screen on the DROID 4 warranted quite the level of dislike that it seemed to garner from many reviewers, but it is clearly not a top-end screen. When viewed at a normal distance text and images look crisp, but the colors aren’t as vibrant as what I’ve seen on any of the recent Samsung or HTC devices.
5. Build QualityThe DROIDs may not be the thinnest or the lightest of devices, but they are remarkably well constructed. Ignoring the ludicrous offerings from Casio if I had to lay money down on a device holding up to a substantial drop it would be the DROID 4.
While I was impressed with the slide mechanism found on the DROID 3 I think that the DROID 4 easily eclipses it. The keyboard slides with an ease and fluidity that I didn’t quite feel in the previous renditions and it solidly locks into place. Obviously I can’t attest to how this will perform over time, but it certainly feels like it will hold up for the long haul.
6. AestheticsI gave the DROID RAZR MAXX a little bit of static for its world-devouring bezel and unfortunately the DROID 4 is cut from almost exactly the same cloth. I’ll again warn that this may well be something that doesn’t bother you in the least, but I’m unable to get past it when looking at either device.
The DROID 4 has finally banished the lip or chin that should be familiar to any owner or fan of the previous DROIDs and I’m actually sad to see it go. For one thing it was the one part of the DROID that you could usually depend on being pretty thin, but it also was part of the distinctive look of the DROID line. After this bit of cosmetic surgery the DROID 4 with it’s keyboard closed is just left looking like a particularly portly version of the DROID RAZR or even the DROID RAZR MAXX. While it isn’t grossly out of line with it’s predecessors the DROID 4 is slightly thicker than the DROID 3 and in a time when the Verizon Galaxy Nexus is being cat called for it’s 9.3mm thick frame the 13mm DROID 4 begins to seem like a throwback device.
7. SoftwareThe DROID 4 ships with Android 2.3.5 (aka Gingerbread) and ‘The Overlay Formerly Known as Blur.’ Motorola has only indicated that the DROID 4 is under evaluation for an Android 4.0 update and there is no timeline at present. I’d be more hopeful for the DROID 4 than others as it shares quite a few traits with the DROID RAZR and DROID RAZR MAXX which are both slated to receive the update, but if you are dead set on having Android 4.0 it may be a good idea to wait for further word from Motorola or to look elsewhere.
My feelings regarding the Blur overlay remain the same as they did with the DROID RAZR MAXX. I don’t see any way in which it is improving the basic Gingerbread experience and I’m reasonably certain that it is slowing some pieces down, but the places that I noticed the slow downs the most were in tweaking settings in the menus and that isn’t really an area that the average user finds themselves mucking about in that often. Day to day I don’t see it as detracting from the users experience significantly.
8. CamerasAgain I found the DROID 4 to be quite similar to the DROID MAXX in this area. In daylight the DROID 4 was more than capable of taking a nice snapshot, but under even moderately difficult lighting the photos become noisy quickly. Shot to shot time was quick, but as with almost any smartphone you probably aren’t going to be capturing any quick moving targets such as squirrels or children. Another complaint that I reiterate from the RAZR MAXX is that I think the standard setting for Motorola’s cameras is way too dull. The average smartphone user will take the more colorful picture over the “real” capture any day.
9. KeyboardThe keyboard on the DROID 4 is an absolute pleasure to use. I think Motorola has finally dealt with all of the complaints the have been levied against the various incarnations of the DROID keyboard and are left with a polished gem. The backlighting is an incredibly welcome addition as without it the keyboard was rendered fairly useless in the dark which was a significant blow against it in the battle against onscreen keyboards. The separation between the keys, while a bit of an illusion, does seem greatly improved this time around as I experienced a very limited number of accidental key presses, which considering I only use a smartphone keyboard about once a year when a new DROID is released is fairly impressive. I also think Motorola has found the right responsiveness for the keys after at least the first two DROIDs suffered from extremely mushy keyboards.
10. 4G LTE4G LTE is fast…mmmkay. Yeah I don’t really know what else to say about it at this point. The lack of 4G LTE in the DROID 3 was one of the big complaints when that phone launched back in July and perhaps correcting that lapse is one of the reasons that we saw such a rapid turnaround on the DROID 4 release. I had no problems with 4G on the DROID 4 and was consistently receiving speeds in line with the rest of my 4G LTE devices.
Each new release of the DROID line seems to be greeted with less excitement than the last despite the fact that the device does seem to at least subtly improve with each release. This is definitely the best version of the DROID yet, but I haven’t exactly heard anyone clamoring for it. Now in part that could be because it was released only about 7 months after its predecessor, however Android users are somewhat accustomed to turnabouts like that by now so I doubt that is a significant factor.
Most of us have just grown accustomed to Sywpe or some other onscreen keyboard and if that’s the case then there is no reason to opt for the DROID 4 over the DROID RAZR MAXX or Galaxy Nexus. Now if you just can’t get by without a hardware keyboard, and I know there are some of you, then by all means the DROID 4 is probably the best Android device available for you today.