Smartphones that combine touch screens with full, slide-out keyboards beneath the display are a dying breed. And although the shrinking segment isn't dead yet, a trip into just about any carrier's retail stores can show that fewer phones with such keyboards are being made and bought. Motorola's new Droid 4 will do little to change that.
But although a physical, sliding keyboard is something fewer consumers look for nowadays than when Android made its debut on the keyboard-equipped HTC-built T-Mobile G1 back in 2008, it's still a feature some users want.
If you want a full, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, the Droid 4 is probably your best bet right now. If you also want a dual-core processor and 4G LTE service, the Droid 4 is your only bet, as no other phone on the market offers that combination. And although such a keyboard is not a must-have for me, I found it to be my favorite of the Droid 4's features.
Typing on the Droid 4 is fast, easy and satisfying. The display slides to uncover the keyboard easily, and backlighting enables the keys to be seen in the dark.
The rubberized plastic back of the Droid 4 is grippy and contributes to the phone feeling secure in hand whether typing with the physical keyboard or with onscreen digital keys.
The build quality of the keyboard, the screen, the phone as a whole feels rock solid and makes me think the Droid 4 would still look sharp after Verizon's two-year 4G data plan expires.
But working against all this goodness is the Droid 4's display.
The 4-inch touch screen never seemed to respond to my touch as quickly as I would have liked. When I was scrolling between home screens, watching videos or playing games, the screen produced motion blur.
The PenTile display, with a 960x540 pixel resolution, felt cramped when surfing the Web, and photos, video, websites, apps, games never looked as sharp as I expected, wanted, or have seen on the handsets that will surround the Droid 4 in Verizon stores, such as the Droid Razr and Razr Maxx, the Galaxy Nexus, the HTC Rezound and the Apple
Phones offering at least 720p resolution (1280x720 and higher) are becoming the standard for high-end smartphones, and the Droid 4 has the same resolution as last year's Droid 3.
Frankly, the screen and its resolution are disappointing. That's why I'd suggest looking elsewhere for your next phone unless you absolutely need a keyboard.
Because of the screen, the overall experience of using the Droid 4 felt about a generation behind current top-end smartphones.
If you do buy a Droid 4, well, at least the rest of the specs match the fantastic keyboard and build quality: It has a 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, 16 gigabytes of built-in storage and a microSD card slot for extra storage. The cameras are carried over from the Droid Razr, with an 8-megapixel/1080p camera in the rear and a 1.3-megapixel shooter up front.
Battery life on the Droid 4 was solid and matched my expectations of a 4G LTE smartphone. In two weeks of use, I managed to get about a work day's worth of juice without much problem. If you use your smartphone constantly throughout the day, you will want a charger and outlet nearby. This should be particularly notable to those "enterprise" users who travel a lot, use their phones a lot and aren't often able to plug in to recharge.
If you're a business person on the road who relies on a smartphone to have long lasting battery life, the keyboard of the Droid 4 might attract you, but a better option (with far superior battery life) is the Droid Razr Maxx.
Call quality on the Droid 4 was solid, and Verizon's 4G LTE service in Los Angeles was, as always, fast and often plentiful, with my signal usually hovering around three bars or more.
The asking price for the Droid 4 -- $199.99 with a two-year Verizon contract -- is fair.
And one more thing to be wary about: Motorola has yet to announce if or when the Droid 4 will upgrade to the latest version of the Android operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. With Google buying Motorola, the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich almost certainly will happen. But if you enjoy having the latest software, the Droid 4 probably is not the phone for you.