Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) is nothing if not loyal to its signature Droid smartphone, cranking out two iterations of the Android handset since July 2011.
While the Droid 3 boasted a 1GHz dual-core processor and a fifth row of keys dedicated to numbers, Motorola has upped the ante for the new Droid 4, which Verizon Wireless began selling last week for the industry-standard $199.99 on contract. This device, easily the best-performing Droid QWERTY slider on the market, pairs Verizon's 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network with a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU.
The device, which possesses a soft, yet textured and rounded back for a cozy fit in your palm, runs Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread). Motorola assured me the phone would get the Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, upgrade this year.
For a phone as big and clunky-seeming as the Droid 4 a half inch thick and more than 6 ounces in weight--the gadget absolutely smokes for data and application processing. I've been using the Droid 4 as my primary phone since Friday, Feb. 10, and I spent 70 minutes using it on a train ride to Manhattan Feb. 13.
Calls were crisp and I can report no drops during the train travel, which is always a boon when you're making the phone a moving target for Verizon's cell towers.
I watched YouTube videos, watched some TV on Netflix, and downloaded a handful of apps with ease. Apps downloaded in 5 to 7 seconds, which is a nice, speedy clip compared with download times on 3G handsets.
Motorola continues to tweak the Droid keyboard, and this model offers the best yet. Not only is it edge-lit to help users nimbly type in the dark, but the layout approximates that of a PC. For example, there are keys for caps lock, tab and shift commands on the left of the physical keyboard.
Typing on this Droid was a joy, and I'm not fan of physical keyboards on smartphones. I spend enough time typing on a PC each day, so I find touch-screens preferable to QWERTY keyboards on my smartphones.
However, the phone is also imbued with 4-inch quarter-high-definition (qHD) technology, with a 540 x 960 resolution thin-film-transistor LCD, which was very crisp and responsive to my less-than-nimble fingers.
The camera is vastly improved over previous Droids, offering an 8-megapixel shutter in the rear and a 1.3MP camera in front for serviceable video chats via Skype, Qik or other chat apps.
I found little lag time taking pictures with the device, and the video captured and played back footage in HD 1080p. I also liked what Motorola did with its gallery app, offering a camera roll view of pictures users uploaded to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Unfortunately for the Droid 4, I've been testing it on the heels of Motorola's Droid Maxx, which--with a 3,300mAh power supply--has the best battery life I've ever seen or experienced on any handset, let alone an Android phone. The Droid 4 has a 1,785mAh power source, which puts it closer to the Droid Razr.
Even so, I churned through the Droid 4's battery like butter during my 70-minute train ride today, and had half a battery to show for it, with a good 6 hours left to my workday. Not terrible, the Droid 3 has a 1,540mAh battery, but it's not ideal. Now I have to wonder when the battery will die out on me; I did not remember to bring a charger.
There is a lot of preloaded software on this Droid 4. In addition to the requisite Google apps--Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and Latitude--there is music recommendation engine MOG, video search engine VideoSurf and remote TV management app Slingbox, none of which I have use for.
What I do find useful and clever is Smart Actions, an app that lets users apply rules to manage the smartphone. This app lets users program the phone to dim the display when battery life gets low, launch Google Maps Navigation when users enter their car, and silence phone ringers and alerts when users are at work and turn them back on when they get home. It's a great tool for the professional consumer.
Speaking of work and professional consumers, the Droid 4 also offers government-grade encryption for email, calendar and contacts.
For those road warriors working somewhere that is not their home office, Motorola has also preloaded Citrix Receiver for Android, which provides remote desktop virtualization and access. Citrix GotoMeeting is also included for Web conferencing.
Moreover, the phone also hooks up to Motorola's Lapdock 500, which lets users treat the phone like a laptop and access the Web via a Mozilla Firefox browser instantiation for $299.97. The device also has 16GB of internal storage, expandable to 32GB with a microSD card.
I recommend this phone to the RIM BlackBerry addict who is tired of the decaying BlackBerry brand and wants to get another smartphone platform that pumps out regular upgrades for hardware and software. This Droid 4 performs better than any BlackBerry and, I would argue, now has a QWERTY keyboard to match the BlackBerry.
Again, though, if you're of the mind that thin is in and you require only a touch-screen to operate your phone, pick something else. There are plenty of choices in the smartphone sea.