Droid 4 First Impressions: Speedalicious and Shiny

At long last, I have relinquished my beloved OG Droid and upgraded to a shiny, new Droid 4.
Droid 4
This wasn’t undertaken without some trepidation. My OG Droid was rooted, overclocked, and running a custom ROM with a lot of snazzy features, and I knew that I wouldn’t be rooting a new device for at least a year (not until after the warranty expires) so would have to deal with bloatware and a manufacturer’s skin—Blur (Motorola), TouchWiz (Samsung), or Sense (HTC)—running atop stock Android in addition to not having all the customization and control over my device that I’ve grown accustomed to.

But as souped up and modded as it was, my poor old Droid suffered from something I couldn’t fix: a shortage of RAM. At only 256 MB, even running a streamlined Gingerbread ROM to maximize memory and CPU balancing, I was having to strip off apps to conserve space and was still seeing an inevitable slowdown—despite overclocking the processor to 1 GHz. Every time one of my apps got an update, I had to weigh the increased size of it (upgrades to apps inevitably include size creep) and potential increase in CPU demands against the amount of internal storage/RAM I had, which usually meant I didn’t install the update. But even with painstaking space hoarding, websites were taking forever to load, apps likewise took forever to launch and frequently force closed or froze after they did finally open, and it often took half my train commute simply waiting for a status update to update already.

The thing is, I’m impatient. I just plain hate waiting for anything (not an advantageous personality trait for a writer to have, btw). And I’m also usually crunched for time, which exacerbates my normal hurry-up-already mindset to a perpetual state of “Rrarghh!” *gnash teeth, foam at mouth*. Of all the bells and whistles I enjoy ringing and tooting on my tech, what I really want is speed. I crave blazing fast, snappy responsiveness, lickety-split data downloads, and instantaneous content.

So when the Droid 4 came out touting 4G, a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor, and 1 GB of RAM, I had lust.

We did do some shopping. I’d already heard that 4G drains battery life something fierce, and in Motorola’s infinite wisdom [/sarcasm], the Droid 4 was designed without a removable battery. I was also tempted by the Droid Razr Maxx with its heftier battery and the Galaxy Nexus, vanilla Android and all but made to be rooted. However, I was loathe to give up my hardware keyboard since I write on my phone, although so long as I had a Swype keyboard, I could conceivably do without one. But I wanted to hold and play with them all so I could get a feel for each before making a decision. And I’m glad I did.

Did you know the Razr Maxx has a 4.3″ screen and the Galaxy Nexus has a 4.65″ screen? I do. And I also know that 4.3″ is too frigging big for my hands, and 4.65″ is way-the-stupid too big. I have small hands with slender fingers, “ideal for typing on little keys and navigating little screens,” I thought. But I simply can’t reach across the damn screen on those monster devices without accidentally hitting one of the navigation soft keys. And while I frequently use both hands when fiddling with my phone, I often need to be able to anchor myself on a moving MARTA train with one hand, leaving only one free to check email or pen that vital sentence before it evaporates at the next stop.

The Droid 4, with its 4″ screen, is still a bit large for me—my OG Droid’s screen is 3.7″, just about perfect for my hands—but it’s a larger I can adapt to. At least my thumb can reach higher than halfway up the screen. And aside from my whiny, “Why’s everything have to be so damn big?” complaint, I LOVE my Droid 4.

The Droid 4 is fast, as in, oh-my-god-it’s-faster-than-I-am fast. When I first got it, I found myself hitting random icons and menu buttons because I felt inadequately slow, like I ought to be trying harder to keep up with it. And the 4G is downright swoon-worthy. It’s actually speedier than both my home and work wifi networks. I downloaded three 60+ MB files on my Droid 4 in the time it took for my morning train to depart the station. I would’ve been lucky to get one of those files before hitting the no signal dead zone six stops (about 25 minutes!) down. The native camera, always the most sluggish feature on my OG Droid, loads way faster than my old Nikon digital camera took to turn on and snaps pictures with barely any delay between shots. I even uninstalled Camera ZOOM FX, an app I paid for because it made taking photos so much faster on my OG Droid, after I discovered it was slower than the native camera.

And the keyboard is just plain sexy.

Droid 4 keyboard

In addition to having a fifth row, the tactile experience is so much more viscerally enjoyable than that of my OG Droid’s. It’s quick and agile, a pleasure to use.

Also, the amount of RAM and internal memory is downright decadent. I installed apps on my Droid 4 in a state of giddy glee, restoring and rediscovering apps I’d had to sacrifice on my OG Droid due to space and RAM constraints. And I’ve been trying out some new ones I’d heard about but been unable to run, like Assistant (a virtual companion/assistant a la Siri for Android), WDlxTV MediaPlayers Remote (a remote control emulator for our home media server), and Splashtop Remote Desktop (allows you to access everything on your computer via your phone).

As far as the battery goes, it’s been surprisingly decent. As expected, battery life takes a pretty noticeable hit with prolonged 4G use, but in terms of average daily use, a full charge on my Droid 4 seems to be comparable to or better than what I was getting on my OG Droid (overclocking also = big battery drain).*

Yep, loves my new Droid 4, I do. And I’m not missing the root access like I thought I would. A big reason for rooting my OG Droid was so I could maximize its processing power and speed as it began to suffer slowdowns and instability due to its limited RAM and underclocked processor. I don’t really foresee that being an issue anytime soon with my Droid 4.


* The true battery stamina test, of course, will be Dragon*Con, where I’ll be constantly posting and receiving updates and emails, coordinating with fellow D*C staffers via phone and text, and juggling my own panel schedule, all while away from a recharging station for hours at time.

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