- Great keyboard
- Comfortable design
- Non-removable battery
- Lacks predecessor's international roaming
- Marginal screen
A serviceable device, and one which is the only Verizon option now for a keyboard smartphone with 4G LTE. But discriminating users will want to wait for the next generation.
The successor to last year’s Droid 3, the new Motorola Droid 4 takes Verizon’s original flagship Android line and adds an updated design, faster processor, and 4G LTE. But is that enough to make it a worthwhile upgrade? We put the D4 through its paces and see what the verdict is.
With its newest generation, the Droid has gotten a bit of an overhaul in the looks department. The overall design is now closer to the Droid RAZR models: rectangular with slightly bent-in edges, although the resemblance becomes less pronounced once you flip it over. The back of the D4 is nicely textured rubbery surface carefully curved to insure that you can get a good grip on it.
Motorola advertises the D4 as featuring “a force field of water-repellent nanoparticles shielding the phone against water.” Note however that nowhere in this sentence does it say that the Droid 4 is actually waterproof, water resistant, or provides any guarantees that your Droid 4 can survive more than superficial contact with water. After the Droid RAZR’s marketing invoked Kevlar, which actually did nothing for the strength or durability of the phone, I’ve started to take rather a cynical approach to Motorola’s advertising copy.
Unfortunately, since the Droid 4 is not guaranteed waterproof — and because Verizon’s PR firm was expecting it back in a week — I decided not to do the kind of serious water testing I’d gone through on the last waterproof smartphone I handled.
Build & Design
However, the supposed water-resistance does explain one odd thing about the design — removing the battery cover requires a special tool. It’s just a bit of plastic you poke into a hole on the back to let you slide the cover off, and a paperclip would probably do just as well, but it does make getting at the SIM and microSD slot a little harder. Unlike a lot of phones these days, the D4 doesn’t come pre-loaded with a microSD card, so the slot is free for you to add your own.
One thing you can’t do by removing the battery cover, though, is remove the battery. In a departure from previous devices, the D4’s battery is covered by a sticker explaining that it is non-removable and telling the user not to touch it — as well as being held down by screws and a very thick layer of strong glue. They’re not kidding about “non-removable.”
I’m not happy about this. I was willing to excuse the non-removable battery on something like the Droid RAZR MAXX because doing it that way made the phone thinner, and because the MAXX had a whoppingly huge battery in the first place; the Droid 4 has no such excuse. In this case, it’s simply a disadvantage to anyone who would ever want a larger battery or a spare to swap out when the main one dies.
That’s sad to say, because in truth I like the Droid 4’s ergonomics a lot better than the Droid 3 — Motorola got rid of some of the silly bumps and ridges the D3 had and built a phone that is really comfortable to hold for an extended period of time, even in landscape with the keyboard open. It’s curved the right amount, in the right places, while still retaining enough of the angular look of its siblings that you know it’s a Droid.
Unfortunately, while some online spec-sheets identify the Droid 4 as possessing an AMOLED screen like that on the Droid RAZR models, the sad truth is that it doesn’t. The D4’s screen is a perfectly ordinary LCD — and I do mean ordinary. It doesn’t “wow” by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not a “bad” screen, except by comparison to some of its rivals, it’s just not that impressive.
The colors are nice, but contrast is middling, and it’s not that great on detail, particularly with moving images or video. Why? I can’t really say for sure. It’s true that the D4 has a “pentile” screen, which means the pixels are arranged in a way that results in less clarity, but the Droid RAZR and RAZR MAXX have the same arrangement and resolution, and they have much better clarity when it comes to video.
There’s no such reservation when it comes to the keys, though. The D4 has a definitively top-flight keyboard. It improves on the D3’s design with more key spacing, and a much stronger backlight which not just lights up the markings on the keys themselves but the outlines of each individual button — very much a good thing when you’re using the device in the dark.
The greater space between keys also makes them easier to push, with more comfort and less chance of hitting the wrong button. And you even have the “fifth row” of number keys at the top for easy access. All in all, it’s a great little keyboard, and one which definitely would be appreciated by anyone doing regularly texting or other input.