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Droid Turbo Review: A Flagship In All But Name

Motorola latest device, the Droid Turbo, comes hot on the heels of other Motorola heavyweights; Google Nexus 6, and the Moto X 2014. It’s smaller than both, thicker than both, heavier than the Moto X 2014, and comes with that pesky exclusivity agreement with Verizon. It’s surely on the road to failure right? Or perhaps, just perhaps, the Droid Turbo has a few tricks up its Ballistic Nylon sleeves. All is revealed in the Droid Turbo Review.

Recently, Motorola are famed for bringing devices to the market that mirror Apple’s iPhone line in one key indicator; Utility. The ability to pick up a Motorola device, and with its combination of inoffensive looks, reassuring heft and close-to-stock Android deployment, give the user an experience that can rival iOS for the title of “most intuitive UI”. With the Droid Turbo, Motorola continue in this vein and have delivered a Verizon exclusive device that just might turn a few heads, and further displays just how important this particular metric is for the Illinois giant.

When the Droid Turbo was announced in October 2014, there were many who saw this as the ideal size, and many more who specifically quoted this device as being “what the Nexus 6 should have been”. Whether that statement is true for everyone remains in some doubt, however what is without question is that the Droid Turbo deserves the moniker of “Flagship” regardless of the more widely regarding Nexus and Moto X revisions.

Hardware & Design

Droid Turbo FeaturesWith the Droid Turbo, Motorola have taken the simplistic look they’ve honed with their “G” series of phones, and coupled it with the hardware and sheer brute force of the Nexus 6. The Turbo simultaneously displays power, speed, and stamina in a combination rarely seen in Android devices.

With a bleeding edge Snapdragon 805 SoC showcasing a Quad Core Krait 450 CPU clocked at 2.7Ghz alongside an Adreno 420 all the devices GPU needs, the device is off to a good start. This particularly chipset also allows the “always listening” features often seen in other Motorola devices. More on that in the Software section.

Adding 3GB RAM keeps it aligned to similarly priced smartphones currently on the market, and further builds on its credibility with a 5.2″ QHD (1440 x 2560 resolution with 565 ppi) Super AMOLED display, 32/64GB storage options, a number of colour options (Black Ballistic Nylon is showcased in this review), the now mandatory Corning Gorilla Glass 3 as well as a 21MP camera capable of 4K video recording.

The star of the show for many however will be its battery. A 3900 mAh behemoth is found in the Droid Turbo, unapologetically adding heft and thickness to the device. A trade-off I’m sure many Android, and many Smartphone consumers in general would gladly make. The battery copes admirably, but stops short of the 48 hour mark Motorola/Verizon claim. We managed to get a solid 4-5 hours of screen on time during normal/heavy use. However our synthetic, standard battery drain benchmark, produced screen on times of over 16 hours with an hourly drain averaging around 6%.

(standard benchmark consists of auto brightness, screen on constantly via Screen On app, mobile data on, WiFi off, and Gmail, 1 IMAP account, and social media notifications at default syncing periods.)

Whilst this is not representative of real world usage, the fact the screen can be on, and being utilised (notifications) for over 16 hours is impressive. Very impressive indeed!

That battery however leaves the device feeling a little bulky. That’s not entirely bad. That bulk adds a premium feeling weight that only serves to further enhance the product. With measurements of 143.5 x 73.3 x 7.8/11.2 (thickest) and weighing in at 169 grams, it’s hardly a svelte device, but it’s certainly not too bulky. In fact it stacks up quite nicely with the previously reviewed Lumia 930 device.

The specifications list continues with the usual array of connectivity options in Bluetooth 4.0 LE, Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac, GPS, and NFC. Sadly no USB 3.0 port here, but the 2.0 port provides connectivity for the bundled Turbo Charger that claims it can deliver up to 8 hours of battery life from a 15 minute charge. We didn’t quite get to that, but we did manage to get 6 hours of use from a 15 minute charge. Kudos Motorola.

If you’re ever without your trusty Turbo Charger, fear not as the Droid Turbo also comes equipped with a QI Wireless Charging coil. Grab a nice pad such as the Aukey T20 QI Wireless Charging Pad and simply dock to start the trickle feed. A very, very welcome addition.

Obviously all those internals impact the design which is, in itself, relatively uninspiring from the front. A slate form factor is the norm in 2014, as it has been for some time, and the Droid Turbo does little to innovate in this area. On the rear however, is an interesting choice of materials. Here at MobileTechTalk we’re reviewing the Black Ballistic Nylon offering, but there are also Black and Red Metalised Glass Fiber (MGF) options.

Droid Turbo Colour Choices from Verizon
Droid Turbo Colour Choices from Verizon

With a 3.5mm headphone jack on the top of the device, volume rocker and power buttons on the right, Micro USB port at the bottom, and a clean left hand edge, the Droid Turbo is again standard fare here.

The Ballistic Nylon option feels extremely pleasurable in the hand in terms of the material choice, and conjures up memories of the first time a Oneplus One is touched with its Sandstone Black finish. A refreshing change to sleek, clean, glass/polycarbonate backs. The device however can sometimes prove a little uncomfortable when gripping the bottom of the device. The chassis thins into a chin at the bottom, which is quite sharp and jarring at times.

The Motorola Logo adorns the rear of the device with the 21MP camera situated directly above it equalling it’s size, and flanked by LED flashes.

Optics

The camera itself is a mixed bag. Out of the box, the resolution is set to 15.5MP with an aspect ratio of 16:9. Changing this to 4:3 delivers the full 21MP capture ability. We found that only in some occasions was is actually necessary to shoot in 16:9 however as it’s become the norm with Smartphones to utilise that aspect ratio, we found it a hard habit to break. Fortunately there was sufficient evidence that the increased Mega pixel count of the 4:3 shooting method provided clearer, crisper images. We redoubled our efforts to set, and use 4:3 as our default aspect ratio. Pictures are, for the most part, clear and representative of real life colours, however the camera shutter seemed a little slow to capture. That, coupled with the unforgivable omission of Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) makes it sometimes difficult to get a good shot at the first attempt.

We found both photos taken at 15.5MP and 21MP sometimes grainy in anything but perfect lighting, and the same is reflected in video recordings. Exposure is seemingly quickly adjusted and auto-focus manages changes in depth with ease.

Without the inclusion of OIS however, we find it very difficult to capture great shots whilst out and about in anything but totally static conditions. It’s not that the camera is bad, it’s that the implementation of the accompanying technology isn’t what it should be. A standard camera is our best conclusion.

 

Video capture on the Droid Turbo produces mixed results. Capture is often grainy but daylight recordings can prove to be very detailed. Focusing and recovering white balance all seem speedy however. For that quick capture, this device will do just fine. The lack of OIS is jarring here however and is evident in all modes including 1080p and 4k captures.

The entire hardware package is somewhat puzzling however. At a time when Motorola are delivering the likes of the Nexus 6 and Moto X 2014, why not simply re-imagine one of those devices (more likely the Moto X) and release with a specific carrier. The decision to deliver a completely new and divergent device to Verizon seems to send a mixed message to the market and further causes consumer confusion.

We’re not complaining too much though as the sheer power and performance of this device is a joy to behold. Daily tasks are dealt with in double-quick time with launcher navigation, standard Play Store games and applications running with ease along with multi-tasking being as speedy as you’d expect from a flagship device.

Synthetic benchmarks show impressive scores with only Samsung’s Note 4 and the Meizu MX4 showing they can keep up with the latest Droid. In many tests, the Turbo’s increased GPU performance trumps the competition in gaming benchmarks however. This device is, as the name suggests, seriously speedy.

Software & User Interface

Whilst under the watchful eye of Google, Motorola’s Mobility arm (Mobile Devices division) kept very close to a Stock Android look and feel and only looked to supplement the Operating System with a suite of “assistance” tools. The Droid Turbo is no different in this regard and again delivers similar functionality, along with harnessing the power of the Snapdrapgon 805 chipset for more advanced listening features.

Android 4.4.4 Kit-Kat comes out of the box with an Android 5.0 Lollipop update no doubt in the works at the time of writing. Whilst the device being a carrier exclusive won’t allow the kind of turn around that the Play Editions of devices and Motorola’s own X, G and E line are used to, we don’t expect any major delays. Verizon has, for once, been fairly astute in the delivery of their “value added extras”. Applications such as VZ Navigator, MFL Mobile, My Verizon Mobile and more are evident, however almost all can be disabled this time around. Nice work Verizon.

With the bloatware taken care of, this is a very stock-feeling version of Android, save for the Moto Assist features referenced earlier. These additions, fair from cluttering the experience, enhance it by delivering some crucial application that otherwise would require a trip to the Play Store.

Moto Assist is one of our favourite value added applications in this suite. Identifying when the user is driving and switching to speech information relay is very reliably delivered. Moto Actions are also a favourite with the ability to silence incoming calls with a “Jedi-like” hand swipe gesture. Furthermore, additions such as twisting the device waking the Camera quickly in order to capture that special moment, and sensing movement towards the device, and waking it to the glance-like notifications view, are very welcome additions to the Motorola Eco-System. Be aware here though. Some of these options, when turned on, can be a bit of a battery hog.

There is little to add to the user interface discussion. As many Motorola devices before it, it keeps close to Stock Android, deviating only to deliver the above additions.

The home screens can be customised as required with a combination of wallpapers, widgets and icons to be toyed with. Scrolling is smooth in general, however we’ve noticed some periods of lag with the launcher. This has been rectified by deploying another launcher, such as Apex or Nova, so points more to a software issue than hardware. This is reassuring and we trust Verizon/Motorola will look to provide a more fluid action with the forthcoming Lollipop update.

Those looking for configurability over and above the standard Motorola fare however will find this device lacking. CyanogenMod-esque features are not present with the quick tiles layout static, and a lack of quick toggles functionality. Some of this can be restored with applications from the Play Store, however some are Kit-Kat-specific and cannot be over-ridden without ROOT access. We expect the Lollipop update to bring some changes in this regard.

Conclusion

The sheer performance alone should be enough to persuade consumers to drop a 24 month contract on this device, or if they’re feeling a little more flush, the $600-$650 retail cost. Bleeding edge specifications, great battery life, global radio support, a smaller form factor with a stunning QHD display, and the might of the Motorola marketing machine in full swing, should mean that this device will sell like hot cakes. However, the Verizon exclusivity might well curtail its numbers.

Motorola are seasoned in delivering devices that just work, and the Droid Turbo is no different. A large dollop of Google stock goodness is entered into the software mix with just a sprinkling of Motorola value adds for good measure. A recipe we’re not tired of seeing and hope to see Motorola expand in the future. The Assist suite of applications really helps answer some real world issues from Driving aids, to quiet times in sleeping mode, to hand gestures for performing everyday functions such as notification viewing and dismissing calls. As far as Android distributions go, Motorola are right up there at the head of the class.

The camera on the other hand, whilst boasting so much can only achieve good results in our capture testing and 100% crops show the flaws in its optical package. OIS is a must in any modern-day smartphone and it’s absence here is sorely felt. For Selfie lovers, the front facing 2.1MP camera isn’t the best either but should suffice. That being said, Insta-snappers will be happy with this optical setup and there are still some good shots to be had with the 21MP shooter. Just make sure you, and your subject, are static.

The Droid Turbo is, in short, a dichotomy. A missed opportunity from a marketing perspective and a silver bullet of a device. The device itself is a bright, virile and powerful predator and deserves a wider plain in which to hunt. The exclusivity to Verizon means that only a portion of consumers can look to take advantage of this device in the States, and with no international version being mooted, and only a partial release in Latin America under the moniker Droid Maxx, the rest of the globe can only look on with envy.

In the current marketplace, this device is right up there. Performance that beats almost anything else on the market. A size that could well be palatable for most consumers today. A price point that is on par with other similar devices, and a near stock software package that, for once on a carrier, should see updates speedily.

If you’re in the market for a brand new, cutting edge device, and the current fad of “bigger than bigger” footprints are not for you, then this will hit the mark.

Links: – GSMArena Droid TurboFlickR Droid Turbo Album

 

Droid Turbo

c. $600
9

General Hardware

9.0/10

General Software

9.5/10

Camera

8.0/10

Overall Performance

9.5/10

Value For Money

9.0/10

Pros

  • Battery is a beast
  • Bleeding edge performance
  • QHD Screen is vibrant
  • Smaller device Vs its peers

Cons

  • Camera can be hit or miss
  • Exclusive to Verizon

About Craig Bradshaw

Tech enthusiast and Editor-in-Chief of MobileTechTalk

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