Friday, April 13, 2012

Tech Review: Motorola Droid 4

  The build up to the release of the Motorola Droid 4 was disappointing to say the least as it was originally scheduled to debut in Verizon stores December 8th with it's sister phone the Droid Razr just in time for Christmas. It was intended to be released on this date so that clients who wanted to upgrade their old Android phones with the latest and greatest had their choice of either going with the newest candybar design or going with the newest slider with full QWERTY keyboard.

Unfortunately there were a long slew of blizzard-esque release date pushbacks until finally, over two months later, the phone was officially released and available to the public. I was one of the first people to get my hands on this wonderful phone as it just so turned out that my 2-year contract expired only 24 hours after the phone hit the shelves. I have refrained from writing a review up until now because i've never really been one to be big on first impression reviews. They're generally filled with hype, excitement and very little factual information. As much as I would have liked to wait and write this review after Android OS 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) had been released for my phone, i feel that it is necessary now, 2 months after purchase to write my first impressions review.

Please keep in mind that my previous phone was the original Motorola Droid which did not weather well to say the least. The day i went to trade in phones, my Droid 1 was missing half the plastic pads that cover the bright pink tactile switches on the QWERTY keyboard, the power button's switch had long since jammed so that it was unpressable, the button itself had fallen out and the phone was running slow and bulky regardless of how well i cleaned up the internal storage. As such i knew what i expected to be fixed with the Droid 4.

The first thing i want to cover is the specific features of the phone itself:

  • 1Ghz dual-core CPU
  • 1GB on-board RAM
  • 16GB onboard storage
  • Mandatory SIMM Card (which stores about as much data as my Droid 1's on-board memory did)
  • Non-removable battery pack
  • mini-HDMI
  • standard 3.5mm audio jack
  • 8 MP Back camera
  • 3 MP Front camera
As you can tell this phone is relatively well equipped, my first impressions of the phone's performance was that the phone itself was screaming fast. As my old Droid 1 was one of the first phones to be 3G compatible, it wasn't exactly capable of harnessing the full speed and functionality of 3G networks. At last that's my impression. Videos on youtube that would need to buffer every 4 seconds no longer need to buffer on a 3g connection with the Droid 4, it's 4G LTE compatiblity allows it to stream videos at speeds faster than the internet connections that are commonly found in peoples houses. Not to mention that the multitasking features that were originally promoted with the Android phone series are now so much smoother and easier to work with with the Dual-core CPU.

There are not too many known issues with the Droid 4 as of late but speaking with several tech support representatives, i was able to provide some interesting commentary to them and vise versa. Apparently one of the only known issues surrounding the Droid 4 to tech support firms is it's overheating issues. the nature of a dual-core CPU with now cooling system what so ever and it's battery design means the thing can get pretty freakin hot just off of it's pure processing power. The most common solution for this is the same way you rescue a bad hard drive long enough to pull data off it. Throw it in the freezer for two minutes (seriously, don't throw your new phone... EVER) and all is well. The most common issue i've come across is that the audio port is extremely flimsy.

I tend to use my phone for playing music in my car via a FM Transmitter (a device that plugs into your cigarette lighter port and creates an FM radio station at the frequency of your choice for a short radius. Generally wide enough to hit the car's antenna regardless of what side of the car it's on). As such, the audio port sees a lot of action and already, two months into owning it, i've noticed the audio port getting mighty touchy. At times, the port won't recognize an audio jack, and rotation of the jack itself will solve the problem as it hits a pin at just the right angle and starts transmitting data. Other times, regardless of how much you rotate the jack, the port will not grab a signal at all. Also, when i had first plugged in a pair of headphones into the phone, i realized very quickly that the audio port is very shallow. This may be an attributing factor to it's signal loss however it is very note worthy.

Next is the power button. As this was the first thing to officially go on my Droid 1, it was the first thing i genuinely paid attention to on the phone itself. The power button feels flimsy to say the least and i have plenty of reason to believe that this is a design flaw and that the power button will break long before the 2-year mark, just like it's great-grandmother. The phone also lacks a camera button as in a camera trigger button. meaning you always have to take photos by pressing the capture button inside the OS's camera app. To some this might be nothing new but i've always been used to my phones having a physical capture button (as you can tell i'm extremely tactile oriented. I need physical interaction with items not graphical representations of them) and as such it's kind of disorienting to me, it required quite a bit of getting used to and figuring out how to re-adjust my hands so i could take the photos without blocking the lens.

While on the note of the camera, the camera in this phone is a significant increase in quality from the Droid 1, as it has an additional 5 MP of horsepower to work with, it takes beautiful, high definition photos and can comfortably film 1080p. The frontside camera for those of you who live and breathe self-pics but hate having your phone in them, the Droid 4 sports a 3 MP frontside camera which takes photos of the same quality as the camera on Droid 1 which is not shoddy by any means.

An often over-looked feature on the phone itself is the back panel which must be removed in order to install the SIMM card and any Micro SD cards you may want to install into the computer. the back panel is not your traditional back panel which sides in 1 direction to unhook a set of holding hooks and it pops right off. Motorola decided to add an additional deterrent for people wishing to remove the integrated battery by making it so that the user must have a key that comes with the phone to remove the back panel. However even with the key, i found it extremely difficult to remove the panel as there is next to no surface area to get a grip on it. I would like to provide my methods for removing the back panel for anyone planning on getting this phone to save you from about 20 minutes of frustration. With the key in hand, you place it into the key hole which is extremely shallow, please keep this in mind, once the key is in just gently apply a small amount of pressure to the key so it is pressing gently against the bottom of the key hole. with that pressed, use one of your finger nails to pull downwards on the panel via the speaker hole. This will take a little bit of strength but it should pop right out.

Lastly, the QWERTY keyboard on this phone is masterfully designed as it no longer uses... Stickers... to cover the tactile switches, instead of uses one solid piece of plastic which is been laser cut and is backlit beautifully to discern where the buttons start, end and what buttons they are. There is an enjoyable pop when you press the buttons down which leads me to believe that the switches on this keyboard are the miniturized versions of Cherry MX switches which i love. The keyboard offers no stick or resistance when typing which allows for swift typing of larger compositions which i have to give props to as this phone is being promoted as an office phone and comes with a free copy of some mobile phone office program that comes with a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program and a drawing program.

Overall, this phone is a fantastic phone. It certainly is a noticeable improvement on it's great-grandmother and all in all i've learned to adapt to the mistakes i've made for it. I will be releasing another review on it at the 1 year mark to cover how the phone has stood up to the test of time as it's 1-year warranty expires.

Do you have any experience with Android phones? What kind of phone do you use (regardless of whether it's Android)? Do you think you would spend the money on this phone?

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