Software Development

Smartphone showdown: Galaxy Nexus vs. Droid 4

Donovan Colbert was looking for a new smartphone, and after testing several review units, it came down to the Samsung Galaxy Nexus vs. the Motorola Droid 4.

With my contract renewal looming, I anxiously waited for each new demo phone's arrival, hoping that I would find a winner. After reviewing Verizon's Motorola Droid Bionic, LG Spectrum, Motorola Droid Razr, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and Motorola Droid 4, it came down to a head-to-head battle: the Galaxy Nexus vs. the Droid 4.

The Galaxy Nexus

The Nexus runs Android 4.0 (ICS), which is a pure Google experience, and formidable hardware specifications make it an impressive phone on paper. It has an absolutely beautiful, huge screen with no bloatware, and I also really like the way the device feels in my hand. It's not as slim as a the Razr, but it isn't a heavyweight either.

Unfortunately, the camera and video didn't meet my expectations -- they produced washed out images with bad color quality. Additionally, after joining my corporate network, the Nexus experienced significant stability issues. It had trouble with the mandatory encryption policy, assigning a PIN, and it suffered from frequent unplanned reboots.

The lack of a user-accessible battery wasn't a deal breaker for me, but I struggled with the absence of a MicroSD card. Removing MicroSD is a little too close to the Microsoft or Apple approach, and I have some philosophical issues with supporting a phone that omits this feature. Battery life was also not the best. Finally, the overall design aesthetics of the phone itself are plastic and cheap for a flagship Nexus phone.

The Droid 4

The Droid 4 isn't a pure Android experience, it doesn't have the biggest or brightest screen, and it's definitely not the thinnest device. In an arena of exciting new phones, the Droid 4 looks uninspired.

However, the Droid 4 delivers all of the things I liked about its predecessors without giving up anything I've become used to -- it's another evolutionary step forward in the classic MotoDroid line. One of the most important improvements is the keyboard. The Droid 4 keyboard has generous spacing, a well-organized layout, and great tactile feel. In the dark, the automatic LED edge-lit keys are stunning (see Figure 1). This allows you to write quicker and more accurately, which -- for business users -- is invaluable. Figure 1

Camera quality is one area where all the new phones I've reviewed fail to deliver, but unlike the rest, the Droid 4 isn't a step backward in camera and video quality. I also really like the bundled Smart Actions app that monitors your usage and recommends settings to enhance your experience, including the Low Battery mode that extends run-time and Sleep mode that disables alerts but allows you to enter VIP Contacts that still ring through. As an IT manager, I must be available 24x7x365 -- but late at night, I don't want an alert for every incoming message.

Call quality on the Droid 4 is crisp and clear, and signal strength is consistently strong and reliable. The battery is not user-replaceable, but it can go the distance. In a week of daily use, I never found myself crawling home in the red-zone. And like the Nexus, the back cover of the phone is cheap, rubberized plastic, which is practical but not pretty.

The major limitations of the Droid 4 are with the physical size, screen size, and weight. It has a 4" display, compared to the 4.6" display of the Nexus and the 4.3" display of the Bionic and Razr. Side by side, that little increase matters. And while a lot of sites are faulting the display on the Droid 4 for not matching the competition, until battery life can support brilliant displays, I don't see this as a real-life issue.

After hands-on experience with both devices, I finally made my decision. The winner? Motorola's Droid 4, by a neck. Actually, Droid 4, you had me at "Hello."

What smartphone do you plan to get when it's time to renew your mobile contract? Let us know in the discussion thread below.

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

15 comments
rcl4rk
rcl4rk

I know I'm a little late to the party (just as I was when I got the Droid 2 Global), but I also chose the Droid 4 as a 2nd phone to be used strictly for business (still using the old D2G for personal). The slide out keyboard is a must for me. I never took a liking to the touch screen keyboards. With my relatively large hands and fingers, the touch screens and I don't quite get along, besides typing the same letters more than once and having to backspace all the time. As far as the phone itself, mine shipped with Android 4 ICS. So far so good there. I also have so many new features and apps, I have yet to try most of them. Anyway, I think I'm going to enjoy the 4G network speed, front-facing camera and 1080p video with HDMI output, hotspot/tethering etc., etc . . . I would like to see any (good or bad) feedback from longer-term users if possible. Rick @rcl4rk

jwagner9
jwagner9

Wonder why she did so? When HTC upgrades the software, the Rezound will have a better camera, screen, and interface, AND ICS, and it is not too large, as is the Nexus! Like holding a brick to your ear for a phone call? Now HTC is introducing Quad-Core phones. Sorry Samsung, I absolutely HATED the Charge! Have a Bionic...also do not like this phone. MANY bugs! ..........

jwagner9
jwagner9

She mentions the superior screen and camera on the Rezound, plus HTC has a superior interface. Wait until it gets ICS to be fair.

jwagner9
jwagner9

Sorry, but Deb loves the Rezound. Where do you see her choice of the Nexus?

dcolbert
dcolbert

For the sake of space, some things didn't get addressed in the main article. The Droid 4 uses the Lapdock compatible HDMI/USB i/o ports and has webdock integrated, so it can be used with the Motorola Lapdock. http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/smartphones/motorola-lapdock-100-disappointing-but-great-potential/4179?tag=content;siu-container One thing I was very impressed by was the Droid 4 media dock. It is a standard dock that will fit the Xyboard and evidently a number of other phones that use the Motorola hdmi/usb output port configuration. There is a stainless steel knob at the top that releases an adjustable plastic back piece that slides in/out to accommodate the thickness of different devices - and once loosened, the port itself can be slid from the middle to the far right of the dock's tray. http://www.motorola.com/Consumers/US-EN/Consumer-Product-and-Services/Mobile+Phone+Accessories/Docking-Stations/HD-Dock-for-Smartphones-and-tablets-US-EN It isn't a perfect solution and Motorola still has too many different configurations among their device lineup that require unique accessories, but it is the strongest move in this direction by any non-Apple device manufacturer. I've argued for awhile that accessory migration path creates vendor lock-in with these devices. People stick with Apple because their car stereo, their home stereo, their stereo at work, their docks and chargers, they all work across nearly the entire iOS line of devices. By making their devices broadly compatible with most of their accessories, Motorola is taking the right steps in creating this same kind of accessory lock-in with their line of Android devices, and I think that is a great thing. With strong 3rd party licensed products and an ongoing commitment to standardize their port configuration on future hardware, I think Motorola could establish a loyal following of long-term users.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

If the Droid 4 battery is as easy to replace as the Droid Razr proved to be during another tech website's teardown and examination, then I'd have no problem with it. Once you crack the case, which is non-damaging if you go slowly and use correct tools and techniques, you can just unscrew the battery connectors and replace it. Also, since you're already voiding the warranty doing that, then why not root & snuff out the bloatware or load a non-carrier ROM? I never liked my Android phone as much as I did once I decided "Screw the warranty, I want this phone the way I want it and damn the torpedoes."

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The Droid4 hardware looks great and I'll rarely not take a slider keyboard (querty four row even) over an onscreen. If it ran Google Android instead of Motorola's child fork version, I'd be hard pressed to look at other phones. The Galaxy Nexus encryption was easy to setup as was the exchange and gmail sync options. I have run into those random reboots you speak of though so far it's only when plugged into a power brick. I haven't seen any random reboots yet when charging directly from a usb cable (I'll have to pay closer attention). I've learned to work around the lack of removable SD though that is the most noticable missing bit of hardware. (Can Dropbox be set to not store locally? I'd consider using that if it didn't mean read/writes constantly on the phone's internal SD)

pacsoft
pacsoft

What is up with this contract stuff being a given? Yeah AT&T booted me for IMEI number incompatibility, but at least T-Mobile allows different IMEI numbers as do, I think, most GSM providers. If we buy our phones and connections separately, I think we encourage competition, which I think is beneficial.

Tango Sierra
Tango Sierra

A month ago I dropped my 2.5 year old Blackberry Storm and broke the screen so I went to the Verizon store and looked at the iPhone, Motorola Razr and Bionic plus the HTC Rezound. I was surprised at how much I liked the iPhone but with 4G LTE coming hopefully to my area in the next six months I did not want to be stuck with a 3G device for two years. I found the Razr uncomfortable to hold and the lack of a replaceable battery unacceptable. I preferred the Rezound's 720 HD display over all the others and the processor was fast so I went with the Rezound. After a few days use I was unhappy with the sound quality during phone calls, both with the earpiece and speaker phone. Parties on the other end of calls said it sounded poor on their end. I gave it a second chance by replacing it with another Rezound which worked out much better and I've been happy with it ever since but the call quality still isn't quite as good as the Blackberry it replaced. The battery life is disappointing as by 2-3 pm I am down to a 10-20% charge. I've since purchased a HTC extended battery. The additional thickness is not a problem when used with a compatible holster/case. The extended battery lasts from the time I get up and still has a 30% charge when I go to bed. As soon as the warranty runs out I will root it to get rid of the bloatware.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Where we've been talking back and forth about these latest Android phones for awhile now. Is it possible that she has more than one phone? I wouldn't be surprised if she has both - but she has an image of two Nexus phones side by side, one with the extended battery that she says she picked up for $25 from the Verizon store. I wouldn't expect her to shell out $25 cash for a demo phone she was going to return to the carrier? I could be wrong - I know she was torn between the two. I guess I just read into it that she went with the Nexus when it seemed like she was buying accessories for it. Now you've got me curious. :) I'll find out and report back.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Then I would suspect that the Droid 4 would be child's play. You don't even have to crack the case to get to the battery with the Droid 4. The back is user-removable with a small tool (or a paper-clip) - and once you get in the battery is EXPOSED but has a cover on it that warns that it isn't user replaceable. While I would have preferred a user replaceable battery and even the option to add an extended battery - this wasn't a deal breaker for me. I've had two Droids (1 and 2), my wife has a Droid 1 she has had since release day, we've had a number of Droids come through my office, and I've only had 1 device that needed the original battery replaced during that time. Likewise, I've had a number of iPods, Touches, and iPads and had similar results. Especially considering that this is a corporate phone with a guaranteed 2 year recycle period and corporate warranty coverage (on an account that has dozens of smart-phones subscribed) - it just wasn't that critical of an issue to me. I can see why it might be a bigger issue to an end-user purchasing their device directly, but even then, I'd be pretty comfortable with the risk versus benefits. Beyond that, I think the Droid 4 has a locked boot-loader - so rooting might be difficult or "impossible". My review was oriented toward the casual corporate business user, though - I don't root my corporate phones because they're not actually MINE to risk bricking. I've published a picture of the Droid 4 with the back cover removed to my Google+ account and to my twitter account ( @dcolbert ). https://twitter.com/#!/dcolbert/status/175246194275135488/photo/1

dcolbert
dcolbert

Jason Perlow was also complaining about stability issues over on ZDNet. I blogged my thoughts about that and how that relates to my review of the Droid 4 on my personal blog. I'm not sure about your question about Dropbox, but it is a good question. I recently enabled transfer of pictures from my phone to Dropbox for the upgrade to 2.5GB of storage space. It filled the drive on one of my Dropbox linked desktop PCs when it copied almost 2GB from my phone and then to the PCs local storage. It sure would be nice if this was a granular feature you could enable or disable on a per machine basis.

dcolbert
dcolbert

Deb Shinder - Yes, I went with the Nexus and I haven't regretted it. My confidence has been shaken lately - you people have me doubting myself. She loved the Rezound, but she went with the Nexus - and has no regrets. :)

dcolbert
dcolbert

It is worth noting that for Deb, the Galaxy Nexus beat out the Rezound.