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Friday, March 23, 2012

Motorola Droid 4 reviewed

I’m still amazed at how big smartphones are getting.

With each new phone I get my hands on, the screen size and bulk seem to get larger and heftier, and the Motorola Droid 4 is no different. And while bigger isn’t always better, there are some advantages to heft. Still, at some point, these phone manufactures need to call off their war on compact phone sizes.

One of the advantages of Android-based phones over Apple’s iPhone is the plethora of phone options and brands available to users. While iOS users are stuck with Apple’s iPhone, Android users have myriad manufacturers from which to choose, such as LG, Samsung and Motorola to name a few.

However, after using several of these smartphones over the past few years, I’m starting to notice a lack of variety in the various phone models available. As with most of the Android phones on the market today, the Droid 4 comes with a blazing-fast 1.2GHz dual-core processor, 540X960 pixel qHD screen and 1GB of RAM. All of these make for a very fast and smooth experience while using the phone. Still, the ubiquitous features of all these Android-based phones are making it harder and harder for any one phone to stand out.

As with many other Android phones, the Droid 4 also comes with USB and mini-HDMI ports, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS and it works well with Verizon’s 4G LTE service, now available just up I-64 in the Capital City, Charleston.

This phone is massive. The Droid 4 weighs in at a lumbering 6.3 ounces, which is well over the average smartphone weight of 4.6 ounces, according to It’s not the largest smartphone on the market, but it is on the chunky side at 5 X 2.65 inches.

There are some advantages to the size and weight. Actually, much of the size is taken up by the slide-out keyboard on the phone. The well-lit keys are very easy to see and provide nice feedback when typing or texting online. The keys are nicely spaced out and just big enough for someone with gorilla-sized digits to type away. It sure beats using a virtual keypad any day, and to me, felt even better than the slide-out keyboard on the Samsung Stratosphere I reviewed a few months earlier.

The 8 GHz camera is very generous and takes nice photos, plus there’s a front-facing camera for voice chats or Skype. And although the display does have a high pixel density at 275 ppi, the qHD screen just doesn’t compare with the organic LED (AMOLED) displays of some other phones, such as the Motorola Razr and the Samsung Stratosphere. Once you’ve seen the clarity and contrast on an AMOLED display, the only thing that comes close to touching that kind of quality is Apple’s Retina Display.

Another small complaint is the placement of the on/off button at the top of the phone. As soon as I get used to turning on my phone by pressing the button on the side, the button gets moved to the top, which doesn’t really make sense. While gripping the phone in the most comfortable way, none of your fingers are at the top. And even the iPhone, which has its on/off button at the top, places it on the right side, which is a little easier to reach than right in the middle. I know it’s a minor complaint, but I do wish these Android-phone manufacturers would come up with a common button placement.

The Droid 4 comes with Android 2.3.6, which is preloaded with Google apps, game demos, Netflix and a gazillion other apps, many of which I wasn't even sure what they did: VCast Tones? VZ Navigation? One of the apps, Netflix, did require an update, but worked fine once that was downloaded.

With the Droid 4’s ultra-fast 1.2GHz dual-core processor, every app I tried loaded instantly and, coupled with Verizon’s 4G service, browsing the Web was rather zippy.

Overall Impressions
If you’re someone who loves to text or likes to type a lot on the road, this would be the smartphone for you. The most impressive feature, in my opinion, is the large, well-lit keyboard that makes typing almost as comfortable as using a desktop or laptop computer. And while the screen isn’t the best out there, it does pack a lot of pixels in a tiny space for high-resolution photos and very crisp text, even at small font sizes.

The ultra-fast processor and 1GB RAM also make for a smooth experience. And while it’s not my favorite Android-based phone on the market, the Droid 4 is definitely worth checking out — especially if you can snag one for under 100 bucks with a Verizon contract.