Review: Motorola DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra from Verizon Wireless

DROID MAXX & Ultra Feature

Motorola and Verizon Wireless helped make Android what it is today when they released the original DROID smartphone way back in 2009 and now the two companies have paired up again to release a all new line-up of DROID smartphones.

Verizon Wireless was kind enough to supply us with two of the three new DROID smartphones – the Motorola DROID MAXX and the Motorola DROID Ultra – and we have been using them both over the last few weeks.  So read on to find out if either of these DROIDs are the one you’re looking for.

DROID MAXX & DROID Ultra Unboxing

DROID MAXX & Ultra Unboxing Both the DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra will ship with a handful of user manuals, a Ingress card, a micro USB cable for charging and transferring data and a 2-port USB wall charger.

DROID MAXX & Ultra Box  DROID MAXX & Ultra Charger

DROID MAXX & DROID Ultra Differences

DROID Ultra Hump

Before we go any further, let’s cover the differences between these two phones from Motorola. It can be a little hard to tell the DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra apart, especially when both phones are side by side and viewed from the front, but there are a few differences between them, the most easily noticed of which is their finishes. Both phones are constructed of kevlar, but the DROID MAXX features a soft-touch coating that gives the rear of the phone a nice rubbery feel, while the DROID Ultra is covered in an ultra-glossy and slick finish.

Another easily noticeable difference between these two phones is their overall thickness. The DROID MAXX is 0.33 inches thick and has a constant thickness throughout, while the DROID Ultra is just 0.28 inches thick and is slightly thinner at the bottom than it is at the top. The extra thickness on the MAXX is used for housing its massive, 3500 mAh battery and built-in wireless charging technology. The DROID Ultra is currently the thinnest 4G LTE smartphone available, so it should be no surprise that its battery is significantly smaller than the MAXX’s at 2130 mAh and wireless charging isn’t included. We will go over each phone’s battery life separately later in this review.

Finishing off the list of ways these phones differ is storage capacity. Neither the DROID MAXX nor DROID Ultra has an expandable storage slot. So with each device you’ll be stuck with the amount of storage they came with, which is 16GB for the DROID Ultra and 32GB for the DROID MAXX. The larger battery, wireless charging, additional storage space and nicer finish results in the DROID MAXX costing $299 with a new 2 year agreement. Which is $100 more than the DROID Ultra that can be had for $199 on contract.

Other than the things listed above, both of these phones are the same.

DROID MAXX & DROID Ultra Hardware

DROID MAXX & Ultra Home Screen Up front, the DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra feature a 5 inch Super AMOLED display with a screen resolution of 720×1280, which makes for a pixel density of 294 pixels per inch. Color reproduction, brightness and viewing angles are quite nice on this display, but it would have been nice to see them up the resolution to 1080X1920. The previous DROID smartphone, the HTC DROID DNA, did have a full HD display and it’s a bit disappointing to see the DROID line taking a step backwards when it comes to screen resolution. A row of capacitive Android buttons (back, home and recent apps) is directly below the screen and a 2 megapixel front facing camera is above it.

DROID MAXX & Ultra Side  DROID MAXX & Ultra USB Port  DROID MAXX & Ultra Headphone Jack  DROID MAXX & Ultra Volume Rocker

Go around the outer edges of the phones and you’ll find a power/lock button and a volume rocker on the right side, a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, nothing on the left side and a micro USB charge port on the bottom. Each of the physical buttons are raised and textured, making them easier to identify and use and they feel well made. The rear of the Motorola DROID MAXX and Ultra features a 10 megapixel camera with LED flash and the main speaker, which has plenty of volume and sounds wonderful.

DROID MAXX & Ultra SIM Card

One of the more interesting design choices on these smartphones is where Motorola decided to stick the micro SIM card. As the picture above shows, the volume rocker actually doubles as the SIM card holder. That placement is perfect for sealed devices like the new DROIDs because it saves them from having to add a separate SIM card slot with a door on the side.

DROID MAXX & Ultra Finish

As was mentioned earlier in this review, these phones come in two different finishes, one of which is vastly superior to the other. We prefer the soft-touch coating on the MAXX. It looks nice, provides a great surface to grip onto and doesn’t show smudges or fingerprints.

When clean, the finish on the DROID Ultra looks great, but no matter how clean your hands may be, once you pick up and start using the DROID Ultra, it will show fingerprints and smudges. Leaving the phone looking kind of gross. The high-gloss surface also makes the Ultra a slippery phone to hold onto and use. For those reasons, I strongly recommend any future DROID Ultra users out there to consider picking up a case that will provide a better surface to grip and hide smudges.

The Motorola DROID Ultra is simply too shiny for its own good.

DROID MAXX & DROID Ultra Software

DROID MAXX & Ultra Software

Both the DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra ship with Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with next to no modifications. These smartphones are as close to the stock Android experience as you can get without actually buying a Nexus. There are no custom themes pre-installed here, you get 5 home screens to customize as you choose, the lock screen, app drawer and widget screen are each identical to stock Android, and a long press on a blank spot of a home screen does absolutely nothing except allow you to change your wallpaper, just like Google intended.

DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra HomeScreens

I happen to be a huge fan of Android in its stock form, so I am really happy with the software that is included with the DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra. I wish more Android smartphones came set up like these do. But, if for some reason you’re not happy with how stock Android looks or works, you can always customize the device by installing one of the many 3rd party launchers available from the Google Play Store.

DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra app drawer

The list of pre-installed applications include everything you’d expect to find on an Android smartphone from Verizon Wireless.  You’ll get access to Google’s apps such as Chrome, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Hangouts, Ingress and Google Play Music. As well as Verizon apps like Verizon Tones, My Verizon, Verizon Navigator and Viewdini.

Along with the usual apps, Motorola has included a few of their own.

Active Display How many times per day do you turn on your smartphone’s display just to check for a new notification? I know I do it fairly often. Well powering on the entire display just to see if a notification has arrived is a drain on your battery. Active Display was designed to make that a thing of the past and helps users conserve battery power.

DROID MAXX & Ultra Active Display  DROID MAXX & Ultra Active Notifications

With Active Display, users can check for new notifications using a small portion of the display. If you leave your DROID MAXX or DROID Ultra face up, new notifications will flash on the center of the display every minute or so. The notifications appear as little bubbles with an icon representing what type of notification you’ve received. Pressing on one of the bubbles will display more information about the notification. For example if you’ve received a new SMS, you can press on the bubble and find out who it is from as well as read a portion of it. All without needing to power on the entire display. This is one of those features that we wish all smartphones had.

Touchless Control:

As the name implies, Touchless Control is a software feature that allows users to control their new Motorola DROID smartphone without actually having to touch it. It is always listening for a command and works with Google Now to provide several nice functions. To being using Touchless Control, you’ll first need to train it to recognize your voice. That is accomplished by saying “OK, Google Now” a few times while the app is listening. Once that is taken care, users can accomplish several different tasks using only their voice.

Touchless Control  Touchless Control settings

Want to listen to a song in your music library? Simply say “OK, Google Now Play” followed by the artist’s name and song title. The appropriate music app will launch and the requested song automatically begins playing. Want to check the weather forecast? Just say “OK, Google Now what’s the current weather” and Google Now will display the current weather for your local area. Touchless Control can also be used to call or message a contact, search the internet, view your upcoming appointments, and get turn-by-turn directions to anywhere using Google Maps.

During our tests, Touchless Control had no problems understanding what it was being told unless we were in a noisy environment or mumbled. The feature is useful and works great. 

Motorola Assist

Motorola Assist  Motorola Assist setup

Motorola Assist is a smart feature that aims to make your life better based on what you’re currently doing. If it notices that you’re driving, it will automatically read your incoming messages out loud so you won’t become distracted. It can also be set up to automatically reply with a message letting the person know that you’re currently driving and can’t reply. Motorola Assist can also read your calendar, so it knows when you’re in a meeting and will automatically place your DROID smartphone in silent mode for you. Users can also tell Motorola Assist when they go to sleep each night so the phone will automatically go into silent mode each night at that time.

[hmtad name=”Additional Ad Unit 6″ align=”center”]Other exclusive software features found on the Motorola DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra include DROID Zap, Motorola Migrate and Wireless display. DROID Zap works like Samsung’s S Beam feature and allows users to easily share photos, videos and other files with other nearby phones that have the DROID Zap app installed. Motorola Migrate helps users transfer their personal data from their old phone to their new DROID MAXX or DROID Ultra. And lastly, Wireless Display allows you to stream whatever is on your phone’s display to a compatible Miracast device.

DROID MAXX & DROID Ultra Performance & Call Quality

DROID MAXX & Ultra Boot Screen

The Motorola DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra are powered by a unique processor that was designed by Motorola itself and goes by the name X8. The Motorola X8 computing system is basically a modified version of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro MSM8960 CPU that has been clocked at 1.7GHz.If you know much about smartphone processors, you’ll probably already know that that particular CPU is a dual-core. But before anyone freaks out, this dual-core is surprisingly fast.

DROID MAXX AnTuTu Benchmark  DROID MAXX Vellamo Benchmark  DROID MAXX Benchmark

I’m not sure what Motorola did to the MSM8960 to make it run like it does, but this processor easily beats out the quad-core found in Google’s Nexus 4 in every benchmarking program we’ve tried. Benchmarks don’t tell the whole story though, it actually feels slightly snappier in real world use. Along with the X8, each of the new Motorola DROIDs includes 2GB worth of RAM and a quad-core Adreno 320 graphic processing unit. The combination of hardware goodies provides a smooth, lag free experience that is truly satisfying. We suspect that the inclusion of Android 4.2.2 in its nearly stock form has a bit to do with how great these devices perform.

As a phone, the new Motorola DROIDs performed flawlessly. We didn’t have a single dropped call while using these devices and audio sounded great on both ends. Verizon’s 4G LTE network performed awesomely as always and the speeds we experienced while using the DROIDs were in line with any other 4G LTE Verizon Wireless device we’ve tried.

DROID MAXX & DROID Ultra Battery Life

DROID MAXX Battery Life

As was mentioned earlier, the DROID MAXX has a 3500 mAh battery while the DROID Ultra has a 2130 mAh battery. That is a pretty significant difference, but both of these phones offer great battery life. We had no problems getting a full day of mixed use out of either one.

The increased capacity found on the MAXX does make a noticeable difference though. It is impossible to drain the DROID MAXX’s battery during an eight hour work day, we know because we actually tried and failed miserably. After hours and hours of my children taking turns playing Minecraft pocket edition, the DROID MAXX’s battery gauge had barely moved.  Without question, the DROID MAXX is the longest lasting smartphone we have ever reviewed on this site.

DROID MAXX & DROID Ultra Camera

DROID MAXX & Ultra Camera

The 10 megapixel camera found on the DROID MAXX and DROID Ultra is easy to use and capable of capturing great looking images. Two flicks of the wrist all that is required to launch the camera application no matter what you’re currently using the smartphone for and the app itself features a stripped-down user interface that is easier to many of the other camera apps we’ve used.

While in the camera app, a swipe in from the right will display images saved in your gallery. Swiping in from the left side of the screen will bring up a semicircle that is filled with all the camera settings: HDR mode, Flash, Geo Tag, Panorama, Touch to focus and Slow Motion Video.

Overall, we are impressed with this camera. It easily captures colorful and crisp images without needing to mess with many settings. Simply pressing the shutter button was usually enough to get a great shot.

Sample Photos:

IMG_20130930_162848399  IMG_20130930_155756765  IMG_20130930_155547567  IMG_20130930_155507012

IMG_20130930_155356110  IMG_20130930_154008223  IMG_20130930_153957693  IMG_20130930_153938906

IMG_20130820_135309106  IMG_20130914_140340954 - Copy  IMG_20130930_141255347 - Copy  IMG_20130930_141501104

Final Thoughts

DROID MAXX & Ultra Conclusion

Verizon Wireless and Motorola have a pair of winners here! It’s been a pleasure using both of these phones over the last few weeks. We love seeing Android 4.2.2 used in nearly unmodified form, the changes that Motorola did make are useful and bring nice features that don’t feel like gimmicks and both of these phones offer great battery life and call quality.  We have to admit, these are our favorite phones from Verizon Wireless so far this year.

Either the Motorola DROID MAXX or DROID Ultra would make a great choice for your next smartphone, but if money isn’t a concern and you can pick-up either one, we say go for the MAXX. The DROID MAXX is everything the Ultra is, only better. The DROID MAXX’s finish is better looking in daily use, its battery is much larger and can be charged wirelessly and it has twice the amount of on-board storage. This is a case where the extra $100 is really worth it in the end.

The Motorola DROID MAXX is available from Verizon Wireless for $299 with a new 2-year agreement

The Motorola DROID Ultra is available from Verizon Wireless for $199 with a new 2-year agreement