Droid 4: A smartphone for keyboard purists
Motorola's latest version of its classic Android device boasts a slideout keyboard for those who just can't touch-typeFollow @MobileGalen
There are too many Android smartphones to choose from, most with meaningless differences as so well parodied on "Saturday Night Live" this past weekend. But one real choice is the Droid 4, the latest version of Motorola Mobility's flagship Android smartphone. Sure, when it comes to its operating system and software, the Droid 4 is the same as Motorola's other business-oriented Android smartphones, such as the Droid Razr Maxx. But the Droid 4 has a significant hardware differentiator: its slideout keyboard.
Ever since the iPhone first shipped in 2007, there's been a contingent of mobile users who can't handle a touch-based onscreen keyboard, and as the world began to abandon the Research in Motion BlackBerry, the absence of an iPhone with a physical keyboard has kept many old-school users from switching. The original Droid, released in late 2009, essentially launched the Android device market we have today, providing the physical keyboard coveted by many. Since then, touch-only devices have taken the lion's share of smartphone sales, and subsequent Droid keyboard models have not done much to stem the tide.
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The Droid 4 gives you reason to reconsider getting a keyboard-based smartphone and provides BlackBerry-using holdouts a compelling reason to drop the dying BlackBerry Bold platform and switch to a modern Android device. The reason is simple: The Droid 4's keyboard is very nicely designed. It's crisply responsive, and its keys have enough shape so that you can easily detect when your thumb has shifted to an adjacent key -- as on a traditonal computer keyboard. The imprinted letters are easy to read even if you have middle-aged eyes, and you get a straight path to keys such as numerals and Tab that are often hard to access with an onscreen keyboard. Simply put, the keyboard is excellent for two-thumb-typing.
As for the rest of the Droid 4, it's a well-built but unremarkable smartphone. The screen doesn't use the superbright AMOLED technology that's increasingly popular on smartphones, so it's been criticized by some reviewers. AMOLED can be nice, but it can also be too bright and garish; the truth is the Droid 4's screen is perfectly good for everyday use. It's as bright and nearly as crisp as the iPhone 4S's screen, for example, but bigger (4 inches versus 3.5).