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.

By Donovan Colbert

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...