Review: Motorola's Droid Turbo is powerful, but is it perfect?
When it was first announced last month, Motorola's Droid Turbo sure looked like one of the most muscular smartphones yet. Since then, Gizmag has had a chance to test one out to see if this beefed up Moto X lives up to expectations.
Indeed, the Droid brand that Motorola has been working with Verizon on for years now has a masculine edge to it. You won't be able to browse a rainbow of colors to customize your back panel and hard buttons on the Droid Turbo as you can for Motorola's main flagship phone, the Moto X. Instead you can only choose from metallic red or black, or the black "ballistic nylon" model that I've been testing for a few weeks now.
If that's not tough and rugged enough for you, consider that Motorola has also built in a layer of Kevlar to reinforce the back panel. Combine that with an aluminum frame around the 5.2-inch display and side of the chassis and you get a very sturdy feeling phone that is notably grippy – this device is a lot less likely to slip out of your hand accidentally than many phones, including the Moto X.
The Droid Turbo lacks a few of the design details that make the Moto X special, like that little dimple in the back and just the right amount of arcing curve to the back panel. The back is just a little more flat and the phone is a little thicker and bulkier, making it feel a little more like the heavier Moto G in the hand than the premium Moto X. In fact, at 169 grams (5.96 oz) for the metallic models or 176 grams (6.2 oz) for the ballistic nylon, the Droid Turbo is heavier than either the 2nd generation Moto X or Moto G.
More meat in the middle
To be sure, part of the reason for the Droid Turbo's extra heft is that it packs more power than most Android phones on the market today in almost every sense of the word.
At the heart of the so-called "Motorola Mobile Computing System" in this phone is 3 GB of RAM and a 32-bit Snapdragon 805 processor with a 2.7 GHz quad-core CPU and Adreno 420 600 MHz GPU. Notably, the Snapdragon 805 is also found in bigger, more beastly phablets like the Nexus 6 and Samsung Galaxy Note 4. This is about as good as it gets at the moment in the world of mobile chipsets.
Motorola has also integrated the Droid Turbo's processing guts with its natural language and contextual computing processor, which are always monitoring data from the phone's sensors and microphones that power key software features like Moto Voice, Display and Actions (all covered in more detail in our Moto X review).
The display specs on this phone are also top flight, with a 1440p Quad HD AMOLED screen packing 565 pixels per inch and resolutions up to 2,560 x 1,440. While the likes of Sharp have recently demonstrated smartphone screens capable of over 700 ppi, I'm not aware of anything that can easily be found on the market here in North America today that outdoes the Droid Turbo. For comparison, consider that the iPhone 6 packs fewer than 330 pixels per inch.
The result is incredible detail in high resolution photos and videos, even if an LCD screen might be superior in direct sunlight. Even still, I can't bring myself to complain about this spiffy display, and I can't imagine many other users would either.
But the headline spec bump in the Droid Turbo is its huge 3,900 mAh battery that Motorola says provides up to 48 hours of mixed usage on a single charge. The turbo charging technology, that gives this phone an extra 8 hours of juice after being plugged in to the included charger for just 15 minutes, is also a very handy bonus feature.
Now, whether or not you'll actually get 48 hours out of each charge ... well, that depends on how heavy a user you are. More on that in the performance section below.
Regardless, the extra weight and slightly less approachable build of the Droid Turbo when compared to the Moto X likely have something to do with that big battery, something that may be a bigger priority for many users than having just the right curve on the back of a phone.
Software still sweet
You'll find all the latest Motorola goodies here that make the Moto X so special. The Droid Turbo also listens for your voice commands at all times, even from across the room, and responds to gestures to silence alarms or show you the time and your latest notifications simply by approaching the phone with your hand.
Due to Verizon's involvement, the Droid Turbo doesn't take quite as light a touch with Android KitKat (soon to be Lollipop, depending on when Verizon rolls it out) as the Moto X and Moto G. There's a bit more carrier bloatware that's hard to get rid of, including Verizon's navigation, cloud and messaging platforms, NFL Mobile (which is quite excellent if you're an American football fan, and probably irritating to everyone else) and Softcard for mobile payments. Droid Zap is also included, which is actually a helpful way of transferring files to people nearby using GPS and WiFi rather than NFC.
A can-do camera ... kind of
While I can't say that the Droid Turbo has the best smartphone camera I've seen (it's still tough to compete with the iPhone 6, particularly when it comes to autofocus), its 21 megapixel rear shooter is impressive.
My complaints about it are the same beefs I have with most cameras on Android phones: the stock camera app is lackluster and bare-bones, auto-focus can be slow and unreliable, the digital zoom is almost worthless at 4x. For the most part, if you want to avoid these persistent issues, take a look at an iPhone or Lumia or an actual camera that's not primarily a pocket computer.
However, I love Motorola's tap anywhere to trigger the shutter feature, the dual LED flash on the Droid Turbo is effective, you can launch the camera app with a voice command or flick of the wrist, and you can shoot 4K video and take above-average low light videos.
I truly enjoyed being able to take pictures that pack so many megapixels and then zoom in to review them at high levels of detail thanks to the high pixel density on the Droid Turbo's display.
Here are a few examples (just remember that our sample shots are downscaled for the web):
Pretty good, but not perfect, performance
The Droid Turbo suffers a little bit from mismanaged expectations. One of its primary selling points is its big time battery life, up to 48 hours per charge.
I was never able to come near wringing that much life out of a charge during the past few weeks. Even on days when I carried a second phone with me in order to lighten up my usage of the Droid Turbo, I found it had less than 20 percent battery life left when I hit the 24 hour mark.
To be fair, my idea of light usage is still probably heavier than what qualifies for an average amount of usage for many other people, so the battery question is all relative.
Even though the Droid Turbo outperforms most phones I've used recently in the battery life department, I still found myself disappointed to not come close to that promised 48 hours. Had that figure never been mentioned in the launch or marketing materials, I'd probably just be raving about how this battery is an improvement over the Moto X and most other competitors, which it is.
Battery life aside, overall performance was pretty much flawless during my time with the Droid Turbo. Its big-time processor and 3 GB of RAM kept all stutters, lag and crashes at bay, even with my habit of doing lots of multi-tasking, often streaming audio over Bluetooth from an LTE connection while using GPS on RunKeeper, checking email and pausing for a photo or to dictate a text here and there. Not all phones can keep up with me, but this one did with ease.
There are a couple quirks of note, though. The single front-facing speaker is a little above average, but is outdone by the dual front speakers on the Moto X and leading HTC phones. The lack of a removable battery and an SD card slot are standard Motorola annoyances, addressed at least in part by the fact that the Droid Turbo starts off with 32 GB of storage rather than 16 GB. Also, Verizon has yet to enable the ability to simultaneously access a data and voice connection over 4G, which is an odd little shortcoming that will hopefully be fixed soon.
When this phone was first announced, I declared that it could be the most powerful smartphone yet. I think that's still possibly true, although the margin between the Droid Turbo and the likes of the Galaxy Note 4 and the Nexus 6 is thinner than I had hoped. A great display and big battery with those cool Motorola features make this a phone that can compete with the best of them, with a few caveats: first, it's not quite a phablet, if you're looking for that mammoth screen, and second (this is a big one), it's only available on Verizon.
A model for some Latin American countries and other markets may be coming soon, but right now you've pretty much got to hand Big Red US$200 and the next two years of your wireless life in the form of a contract to get to hold the Droid Turbo's power in your hand though installment plans and a $600 full retail price are also options).
Update (Nov. 20, 2014): This story originally stated the Snapdragon 805 was a 64-bit processor. This was incorrect. Although it has 64-bit memory access, the processor is 32-bit. Our apologies for the error and thanks to the readers that pointed it out.