Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
It may seem a bit silly that Motorola launched the Droid 4 just seven months after the Droid 3 debuted. But here it is: the fourth iteration of the flagship Android phone that kicked off the platform’s rise to dominance.Motorola seems to be shifting to a more rapid upgrade schedule. For example, last year it released the Atrix 2 eight months after the original Atrix. Usually these rushed updates add only minor features, but the Droid 4 stands out to me this time around.
Click here for photos of the Droid 4 >
This is the phone Motorola should’ve launched last summer. The Droid 4 improves on the Droid 3 in many key ways, including a more sturdy design, better keyboard, and access to Verizon’s excellent 4G LTE network.
Despite all those improvements though, the Droid 4 isn’t even close to being the best Android phone you can buy. But if you absolutely must have a physical keyboard, it’s your only choice. Unless, of course, you pick a BlackBerry instead. Shudder.
If you have no need for a physical keyboard, you’re just wasting your time with the Droid 4. Seriously.
The Downside To Having A Keyboard
Like the three Droids before it, the Droid 4 has a sturdy slide-out-keyboard. You can keep the phone closed and use it vertically like any other touchscreen smartphone, or you can pull out the keyboard and view everything horizontally.
But the keyboard adds a ton of mass to the device. It’s close to twice as thick as the sleek DROID RAZR. And it’s heavy as hell.
It’s also a bit awkward to perform most functions other than composing messages when the keyboard is out. The screen automatically reorients itself so all your apps, widgets, etc. can adapt to the new layout. It’s difficult to reach from the keyboard to the touchscreen so you can swipe through web pages, open apps, etc. You’re going to find yourself opening and closing this thing a lot.
Finally, I’m not a huge fan of Motorola’s design scheme with its latest line of Droids and tablets. Like the RAZR, the Droid 4 has clipped-off corners that just look awkward. I get that Motorola’s going for an industrial look, but it just doesn’t work. It’s ugly.
Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
Under The Hood
Other than that, you won’t find many differences between the Droid 4 or the Droid RAZR. Both phones run the same version of Android along with Motorola’s modifications. I won’t go into too much detail about the new stuff Motorola has added recently since that was covered in Ellis’ review of the RAZR.
What you need to know: Motorola’s Android layout is pretty ugly and harsh. Yes, it’s functional, but if design matters to you, forget about using a Motorola phone until it makes some changes to its software. (The impending upgrade to Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich may help.)
The Droid 4’s internal hardware is impressive though. It has one of those zippy dual-core processors that are pretty much standard in smartphones now. You won’t be complaining about the performance. Apps load quickly and swiping between home screens is smooth and fast. It also has a camera capable of shooting full 1080p HD video.
Finally, I’m delighted with Motorola’s inclusion of Verizon’s 4G LTE service. And unlike most 4G phones on Verizon, the Droid 4 starts at a reasonable $200 on contract. (Verizon usually prices them at $300.) Not a bad deal.
Should You Buy It?
I’m going to reiterate what I said in the intro. Physical keyboards are dying on smartphones. Even BlackBerry may ditch them in its new devices launching later this year. Do not buy the Droid 4 unless you must have a physical keyboard. If you don’t, Verizon arguably has the best lineup of Android phones. You won’t have trouble finding a suitable alternative.