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.