Despite the profusion of smartphones today, there are relatively few with real, physical keyboards. Just two are available on Verizon’s 4G network: the Motorola Droid 4 and the Samsung Stratosphere. Which of these suits your needs best? Brighthand investigates.
The Droid 4 is, obviously enough, the latest incarnation of the original Droid line which made Android a household name. The Stratosphere, meanwhile, is basically a Verizon version of the Samsung Epic which debuted on Sprint a year and a half ago. As anyone who knows smartphones can tell you, a year and a half is forever in technology, long enough for a cutting edge phone to become almost ancient. So why, you might ask, am I comparing the two? Because despite appearances, it’s a much closer contest than you might think.
For one, the Stratosphere has undergone some upgrades since its ancestor device debuted. It sports more memory, a newer version of the Android OS, and more importantly, it runs on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. That last one is rather crucial; despite any other gaps between them, the Stratosphere and the Droid 4 are the only two 4G phones on Verizon with keyboards, period. If you want LTE and a keyboard, these are your choices.
In fact, it’s a choice that I made myself just recently. The Samsung Stratosphere I’m comparing the Droid to isn’t a review unit, it’s my brand new personal cell phone. What, you say? A dedicated gadgetmonger choosing the older, lower specced device? Read on if you want to know why.
Specs Advantage: Droid
One undeniable place that the Droid has an advantage is in raw specs. The D4 sports a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, while the Stratosphere has only a 1 GHz single-core processor. That means the Stratosphere has Quadrant benchmark ratings of around 1600, while the Droid 4 runs around 2650. Mind you that doesn’t mean the Droid is fast and the Stratosphere slow; it means the Stratosphere is fast, but the D4 is way faster. You probably won’t notice much of a difference in casual use, but it makes a big difference if you want to do some high-end things, like playing back HD video. Although that’s less an issue because of another specs difference; the Droid 4 has HDMI output, while the Stratosphere doesn’t. Not even by way of the absurd MHL connectors that Samsung often uses.
The news isn’t much better for the Samsung model when it comes to memory; the Droid 4 sports about 10 GB of available internal storage (out of 16 GB total), while the Stratosphere has 2 gigs free internally (out of 4) plus a 4 gig microSD card. This can of course be remedied by sticking a larger microSD card in the Stratosphere, but the Droid has a microSD slot too, and its internal memory is always going to give it an edge in storage.
Also, Motorola has promised that the Droid 4 is going to get an upgrade to Android OS 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) while the Stratosphere is so-far absent from Samsung list of models getting ICS upgrades.
A Far Better Screen, and Arguably a Better Experience
So with that being the case, why would anyone want to buy the Stratosphere with its lesser specs? Well, there’s a couple main reasons for that, and they bring the bar closer to even.
The first is the screen. The Droid 4’s screen, while it has a higher resolution, is middling in quality even for a regular old LCD screen. It’s not terrible, but it pales in comparison to some of the high end displays on other recent smartphones. The Stratosphere, meanwhile, features a Super AMOLED display. If you’ve been reading Brighthand, you’ve probably heard both myself and others here giving our enthusiastic endorsement to these sorts of screens: they’re sharp, clear, and have amazing contrast, looking less like a conventional phone screen and more like a page out of a glossy magazine. The screen is the part of your phone that you’re going to notice with the most — more than the memory, more than the speed, more than the 4G — and Super AMOLED is inarguably the best kind of screens on smartphones today.
The second reason you might choose the Stratosphere is what could be summed up as “user experience.” While the D4 has decent specs, it also has some drawbacks. For instance, it’s battery is non-removable — say goodbye to using an extended battery, something that’s very attractive when you look at the power drain of LTE. Or there’s the MOTOBLUR customized user interface, which (while not as bad as it used to be) is still more annoying and less useful than Samsung’s TouchWIZ customizations. Last but not least, the Droid 4 has a heftier pricetag, with a suggested retail of $200, while the Stratosphere’s is $100.
If you really need the speed or the option of HDMI, the Motorola Droid 4 is the only way to go. But the casual user, who’s not hooking up to a plasma TV or streaming HD movies, might end up finding the Samsung Stratosphere to offer the user a more enjoyable experience in the areas that you use most, without sacrificing much.