23
Jul
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Motorola and Verizon unveiled the newest members of the DROID family today, and I had some time to play with these freshly-minted Kevlar constructions. My initial conclusion? These phones are all really, really alike.

In fact, it is easier to talk about the ways they are different than the ways they are the same. The Ultra is slimmest of the three (it's also the only not packing Qi wireless charging, because it would make the phone thicker). The MAXX is the same as the Ultra, but with a beefier battery, 32GB of storage (as opposed to 16GB), and a sateen-like finish (the Ultra is super glossy). The Mini is... smaller. Its display is only 4.3" across, and its battery is, of course, a bit less robust as well.

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Left to right: MAXX, Ultra, Mini

That's really it, apart from aesthetic distinctions. These phones all run the same chipset, the same camera (10.1MP with ClearPixel*), the same software, have the same Kevlar wrapping, the same display resolution, and - apart from wireless charging - the same features. And yet they're priced quite differently - the Mini will be $99 on contract, the Ultra $199, and the MAXX a staggering $299.

Oh, and here's a list of things about them that may or may not upset you:

  • Bootloader: locked (it's Verizon, we knew this was happening)
  • Batteries: not removable
  • SD card slots: there aren't any

At least they all have NFC.

*Motorola confirmed to me that ClearPixel is a thing. They're not advertising it on the DROIDs yet, but it's there. Presumably because they want everyone to "oooh" and "ahhh" when they unveil it on the Moto X. ClearPixel should significantly improve the camera's ability to capture light, and reduce capture times in normally lit settings, while increasing available light in those where it is less than ideal.

The DROID Mini

The smallest member of The Three Droidsketeers, the DROID Mini is aimed squarely at smartphone lovers looking for Android device that is, well, smaller. The 4.3" AMOLED panel was quite vivid, as AMOLED panels tend to be, but its qHD resolution was immediately apparent as lacking in my eyes. Pixelation was readily visible on closer inspection, and the colors themselves just looked too hot. It's not a bad screen, by any means, it's just not going to win any awards. (Edit: Apparently it's 720p, though maybe it's PenTile? It didn't look great to me - that's all I'm saying.) Most people will find it sufficient, and really, for a $99-on-contract phone, I wouldn't be one to complain.

The Mini does seem a bit thick, but it's not cumbersome or heavy to hold, and moves through Android just as speedily as it larger siblings. All three phones, for the record, seem to run very, very smooth out of the box. I will say that they don't feel quite as fast the HTC One Google Play Edition I'm carrying around currently, though that's to be expected - they're down two processing cores compared to the One.

The Mini felt fairly solid, though I quickly came to the conclusion that it didn't feel on par with the Ultra or Maxx in this regard. Again, sacrifices in the name of cost come to mind. The size was an inarguable factor in making the Mini comfortable to hold, however, and after a few minutes with it, I did wonder if a 4.3" display might be enough in most situations. But after using the Ultra and MAXX, that thought was quickly squashed.

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The DROID Ultra

I came away legitimately impressed with the Ultra after 15 or 20 minutes playing with the phone. While I cannot comment on the aesthetics of glossy red Kevlar, the Ultra felt remarkably well-constructed. It seems as though Motorola has really upped its game on the phone chassis, and it shows - the company was quick to point out in its presentation that more of the Ultra is wrapped in Kevlar than ever before. Neat.

As with the Mini and MAXX, Android on the Ultra zooms along confidently and quickly, if not with the breakneck pace of Snapdragon 600 devices.

While I personally can't say I'm a fan of the glossy finish on top of the Kevlar back plate, there is one objective flaw to the Mini and Ultra's shiny exteriors: fingerprints everywhere. The gloss is so intense that I had to wipe down the phones for almost every single photo I took, and that's kind of, to use the technical term, yucky. But considering most of these phones will be wrapped in various even-uglier cases, I guess that doesn't matter.

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The DROID MAXX

It's the Ultra but, in my opinion, a hell of a lot less ugly. And slightly thicker - the MAXX is a whopping 8.5mm in profile. Gasp. (That's sarcasm, for those of you without a functioning detector.)

It's nice. The one thing I will say is that because it's thicker, the MAXX feels a little more flex-prone than the standard Ultra. I'd still probably take the MAXX, though, because A.) battery and B.) not going to blind hapless bystanders with glossy finish.

Also, wouldn't it have been hilarious if they called it the DROID Ultra MAXX? Best worst phone name ever.

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Motorola's Baked-In Extras

Here's the thing about these phones - they are so ridiculously similar that it all comes down to your budget and personal preferences on each. If you want a small phone, the Mini is so similar to the Ultra and MAXX that it really isn't all that much of a compromise. Likewise, the MAXX isn't so much better than the Ultra that you'll feel you missed out if you choose not to pony up for the bigger battery / more storage. Because the hardware is so similar and the software tweaks fairly limited, updates should be a breeze as well.

And those new Motorola features (which all of these phones have)? Flicking the phone twice with your wrist to launch the camera app seems like a solution to a problem that already has a much, much better solution. Put in a hardware camera button, for god's sake. It hurts my brain how silly this is. I cannot fathom who would find it useful, particularly because in the few times I used it, I got it to launch maybe two times out of five-plus attempts. I'm sure with mastery it gets easier, but come on, this seems ridiculous.

My video hands-on with the MAXX attempted to demo the always-on voice actions, but the phone was keyed to someone else's voice. Yep, the new DROIDs (and presumably Moto X) will learn your voice when you set up the passive listening features. You say "OK Google Now" three times during setup to get started, and the phone will get more and more in tune with your tone as you use it. The benefits of such a feature should be obvious. I tested the listening off camera, as well, and it worked like a champ. A really great feature, if you ask me.

Active Display is similar to Samsung's air gesture that lets you wave over the phone to see the clock / some notifications. Motorola's version works differently though, using the proximity sensor and accelerometer to tell when you take the phone out of your pocket. Pull the phone out, and you get a dim readout of the time, and little notification icons. Grab one and it'll expand to tell you more. The thing Moto really played up is that Active Display will drain less battery than just tapping the power button, as it is specifically designed to illuminate only a small band of the display around the center, while most of the pixels remain totally dark. I'm sure Samsung will follow suit on this at some point. It also works if you put the phone face down on a table, and then flip it over.

The new camera app is so-so. At first I liked it (as you can see in one of the videos), but the more I used it, the more it felt just a little too bare. I really think they took too much from Google's super-minimalistic approach to the camera UI. Real-life cameras are cluttered with buttons for a reason: you need quick access to a lot of functions if you're remotely serious about taking photos. The new Moto camera UI isn't bad (I like dragging up / down to adjust zoom - makes a lot of sense to me), but it's not any better than any other I've used, and it's definitely worse than Samsung's or HTC's for quick access to useful settings. You can disable the tap-to-shoot feature and get a dedicated virtual shutter button (tapping then focuses), which I have to say is something I would do almost immediately were it my phone.

There are more Moto-specific features, but in my limited time with the phones I didn't get to do the full rounds. If you have more questions about the new DROIDs, ask them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them where I can. (Things like camera quality, battery life, benchmarks, and comparisons to <insert my phone here> are not things I'll answer, because I don't know. I had 30 minutes with these phones, not three days.)

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David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Captain Canada

    Friendly correction: The mini is a 4.3 inch TFT LCD 720p display, which actually gives it a higher ppi than it's big brothers which both pack 5 inch 720p AMOLED displays.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      So it is. Weird, it didn't look all that great to me. Corrected.

      • stunna27

        so the whole active display for the mini, use alot of battery than I am guessing?? Since the whole screen will have to be on

      • TJ Benson

        friendly reminder as well, it still doesn't say it's an lcd screen like it should, and it's likely not pentile, but the icons or text may have been not formatted correctly or something.

    • Bazmin
  • Guest

    LOL these were pretty much designe

  • David Kertesz

    not to be a troll, but these video's were TERRIBLE, it seems liked who ever recorded them has never used an Android phone before, Not to hate on AndroidPolice, but it seemed pretty newb.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I had a few minutes with each one, no other person to hold the camera, and no script or spec sheet in front of me. You get to see the phones, and a few features, functioning on video. These aren't mini reviews, they're a quick look.

      • Harris H

        IMO Active Display is similar to Samsung's Quick Glance not Air Gesture. One other thing I want to criticize is the way you do the gesture to open camera app. You should flick your wrist 2 times. It's a simple gesture, I believe everyone can do that.

        • jamaall

          yea, he was shaking it in his hand, and yet wondered why it wasn't working

        • David Kertesz

          That was my point lol +1

      • jamaall

        i think he was talking about the fact that it looked like you didn't even know how to hold the phone lmao

      • David Kertesz

        Lol, I think the point of the gesture camera is so you don't need to find the camera icon or lock your phone to get back to the camera. A twist is Much faster if hands are tied and you can't hit the unlock button. Grabbing the phone and twisting it is quicker than finding the lock button or icon. Any update on the 4.3 teardown?

    • thartist

      I was about to say the same, you didn't leave your hands quiet to see a little bit better the notification area, or app drawer, didn't show the settings, Android version (maybe they didn't allow you ?) and screwed up a couple of demonstration attempts... Well, it was better than nothing anyway. Peace.

      • LiterofCola

        Everone's a critic

  • garry

    720p on a 5" is maybe a little too...little, especially if it's a pentile display. Are you sure they didn't stick a 1080p panel into it? It just seems an odd choice of specs for a flagship phone.

    • Justin W

      It's not a pentile display and it is a 720p display. Check out the DroidDoes.com website for further confirmation.

    • Stocklone

      I'm hoping they used the non-pentile Note II RGB arrangement. It looks fantastic on Note's 5.5" screen so I'm sure it would look awesome at 5".

    • Stocklone

      Just looked at a close up of the screen. It's identical to the Note II. So fantastic job by Motorola. Couldn't ask for a better screen.

  • Tyler James Edward Hills

    Hows the display look at first glance? comparable to Samsung amoleds? Really would have loved an LCD in the Maxx

  • Marcus Townsend

    Droid Ultra Video:"And of course you have the trans...whoops wrong phone." HA. I see what you did there.

  • Ahmad Nadeem

    This is what think manufacturers should do.......Give all the features of the flagship in a "Mini" version of their high-end device(a few people like me like 4.3 inch screens) instead of changing and removing stuff
    I will be fully ready to pay the extra money for this stuff
    But unfortunately Motorola might not release this anywhere outside the US,or Verizon even

  • Guest
    • psychoace

      Which means it also can't be pentile

  • TJ Benson

    how does it sound? and where even is the speaker on it?

  • Misti curia

    Hope master key can be used to unlock boot loader and root all three!

  • josh

    The Mini looks great. If it's available for under $400 unlocked, I'll get it. But it seems a bit weird for a google company to still be making phones with capacitive buttons.

    • jamaall

      $499.99

      • josh

        too expensive. If the price doesn't go down by Xmas, then I think I'll just go for the Moto X, even though it's larger than I would like. (I travel on public transport, so being able to use a phone one-handed is key to me)

        • jamaall

          i'm not sure what the moto x will cost, but my guess is that it will be around $549.99. And hoping it will be $149.99 on contract. But you never know, its a multiple carrier phone. The fact that the Mini and Ultra have the glossy coating really makes it ugly, and the Moto X looks pretty good imo. Plus the screen size is just right, I have an M right now and i would like more screen room, but 5" is just big. Thats what im getting a N7 II for. At around 4.7" and with a few extra features than the Droids, I think the X will make for a great phone.

      • MeCampbell30

        Where did you find that price?

        • Klunst

          It's on the verizon website. I'm french yet I found it.

          • MeCampbell30

            Tell me. Does your time machine also rewind the internet to yesterday?

          • Klunst

            what

  • MeCampbell30

    No camera button, no care.

  • Idon’t Know

    These phones are really not very interesting.

    • LiterofCola

      Maybe not to you, I find them very intertesting....enough to preorder one yesterday ;)

  • Freak4Dell

    It's really sad they decided to go glossy on the Mini and the Ultra. I've never liked the look of Kevlar, but at least the soft touch variation provides some grip, and it looks way better than the glossy kind. The gloss makes it look like a Samsung phone rather than a quality Motorola unit.

    • LiterofCola

      I agree, they should have gone with the soft touch kevlar (from the Maxx) on all three.

  • Mike Larrabee

    Man...I'm expecting the Moto X to be really similar to this, minus the hardware buttons. If big V decides not to carry the X because these are basically the same thing, I seriously might have to quit them b/c I'm betting these will all be 500+ off contract with the X much less.

  • andrew__des_moines

    All things being equal, a thicker frame would add a great deal of rigidity. Also, as resilient as Kevlar is, it has terrible heat conduction properties -- not ideal for moving heat away from the battery and processor.

  • TylerChappell

    I feel sorry for anyone who chooses the Ultra over the Mini. There's really nothing about it at all that justifies a $100 price increase. Literally, nothing. What, maybe 2 hours longer battery life maximum? They didn't need to have a trio at all. Just a $99 Droid Mini and a $199 (or at most $249) Droid Maxx. That's it. People really don't care about a phone being 7.2mm over 8.5mm. 8.5mm is still pretty thin and more than comfortable enough to hold in the hand.

    • Richard Yarrell

      Motorola is just as useless as Verizon. They equally suck monkey balls.

      • LiterofCola

        So does T-Mobile

  • stunna27

    So I'm guessing the mini will use more battery with active display since it's LCD, which means the whole display will have to be in use.

  • Keena

    Are the software functions like Voiceless Control, etc., going to be exclusive to 4.2? I'm not too sure whether I want to upgrade past the Droid Razr Maxx HD, which apparently only goes to 4.1... if it's not exclusive maybe it'll come to 4.1?? ((Am I asking too early for an answer, since these were *just* released?))

  • Susie

    I have the Ultra (and the same red case) and learned about the wrist shake for the camera, thank you! LOVE this phone. Weird that the battery cannot be removed so slightly afraid of a lockup happening...guess I will cross that bridge when I get it it.

    • K-Unit

      Android 4.X added a feature that is basically like taking the battery out. Hold the power button and volume up for about 10 seconds, until the phone reboots.