When you hear the word Droid, you probably think of two things: Star Wars and Android. While both items are a correct association, the latter comes with a bit of a twist. Armed with a licensing agreement with Lucasfilm, Verizon launched the Motorola Droid in the fall of 2009. To make a long story short; the device went on to become one of the first commercially successful Android smartphones, but with one small carryover. Verizon ran a very aggressive, but highly successful marketing campaign for the Motorola Droid and as a result, casual tech consumers started referring to Android phones and tablets as “Droids.”
Up until now, Verizon has typically released a few Droid-branded phones each year. But here we are at the end of 2014 and its hardware partner Motorola Mobility has been busy working on its own smartphones like the Moto X, which recently launched across multiple wireless carriers, including Verizon. With the exception of a questionable camera and a few small quirks, the former Google company’s flagship handset is truly sublime. So when Big Red and Motorola announced the Droid Turbo, we saw a device that looked to right some of the Moto X’s wrongs, at least on paper. However, is it really enough to lure us away from the phone that made us feel all warm and fuzzy just two short months ago?
The Turbo’s design draws inspiration from the Moto X and other devices in Verizon’s Droid line. The device ships in a combination of red and black with kevlar or an inky ballistic nylon option. As for its build, the handset itself is broad and unapologetic. It pulls far away from the revolving trend of thin frail smartphones that has been flooding the market. The Turbo looks and feels like the smartphone equivalent of a fuel-efficient muscle car.
If you pop its hood, you’ll be greeted by a snappy 2.7GHz Snapdragon 805 processor, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage space and a hefty 3,900mAh battery. Continuing with Motorola’s big block theme, Verizon’s latest Droid also packs a large 5.2-inch Quad HD display.
If you flip the Turbo face down, you’ll find its massive 21-megapixel rear-facing camera staring at you, outlined by a dual-LED flash setup. Directly below the device’s optics is a raised version of Motorola’s iconic logo, which has been gracing its smartphones as long as we can remember.
As far as physical buttons are concerned, the Droid Turbo’s lone set is positioned on its right side. There’s a textured power and volume rocker, with the device’s audio controls doubling as a SIM tray. Flip the phone on its backside and its crown is traced by a loudspeaker, with a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for selfies and video calls. Last, and definitely least liked are the Turbo’s bezel-extending capacitive navigation buttons. Despite being responsive and well-lit, they just feel outdated and unnecessary. But overall, Verizon’s new Droid has a build quality that should make even the biggest klutz second-guess the idea of purchasing a protective case.
Display and Audio
Like the Moto X, the Turbo features a Super AMOLED display, however Motorola and Verizon’s latest collaboration packs a Quad HD panel with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 and a pixel density of 564 ppi. So as you might imagine, image quality on the phone’s high-res screen is superb. Text is pronounced, colors seriously pop and blacks are just splendid. However, the one gripe that we have with the Droid Turbo’s display is that it has a bit of a warm tint that gives whites a slightly yellowish glow. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s clearly noticeable.
Thankfully, the Turbo’s viewing angles are among some of the best we’ve seen. Even outdoors with its screen’s brightness cranked all the way up, you’ll still be able to read a text message or check out a photo with minimal interference.
Although the Turbo’s display is quite impressive, its audio presentation leaves much to be desired. It sports a single speaker setup that’s passable for phone calls, but you’ll definitely want to dig out a set of earphones or Bluetooth speaker for a better experience. The lack of a second front-facing speaker feels like a missed opportunity, however watching anything longer than a short YouTube clip in public without headphones on is often frowned upon, so we won’t ding Motorola too hard for this small exclusion.
Software and performance
In terms of software, Motorola doesn’t really do much to upset Android’s feng shui and the Droid Turbo’s offerings are very similar to what you’ll find on the Moto X. This means that you’ll have a near stock version of Android 4.4.4 KitKat, with a few extra features like Moto Display, Moto Actions and Moto Voice. You can wave your hand at your device to check a missed notification or to avoid an unwanted phone call. Also, if you’re a fan of voice commands, you can bark orders at the Turbo by setting up a response command for some relatively useful hands-free action.
Additionally, there are a few small tidbits that are unique to the Droid Turbo. For example, the handset ships with Motorola’s Command Center widget that places items like weather, calendar, battery status, and the time of day all in one centralized location. Another nice piece of software embedded in the Turbo is Droid Zap, which lets you pass photos and videos to other devices running Motorola’s sharing app. With Zap, you can fine-tune when, where and how you share content with individual users, or spread the love to a Chromecast or Nexus Player if you happen to have one on your network.
The only real blemish in the Droid Turbo’s software suite is Verizon’s catalog of bloatware (US only). You’ll see 16 applications pre-loaded on the device, but thankfully these can easily be disabled. When it gets updated to Lollipop, you should be able to delete these apps altogether.
As mentioned earlier, the Droid Turbo is packing some impressive hardware. It has a blistering 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805 chip accompanied by 3GB of RAM and a potent Adreno 420 GPU. This impressive assembly paired with the device’s lightweight software blend makes the Turbo capable of handling unimaginable levels of stress. Despite several attempts to make the device choke, we were never able to produce any type of lag or lockups and boy did we try.
If you read our review of the 2014 Moto X, you already know that we weren’t too impressed with its 13-megapixel camera. Perhaps aware of this shortcoming, Motorola has crammed a massive 21-megapixel sensor with a wide f/2.0 aperture and a dual-LED flash into the back of the Droid Turbo. The camera is noticeably better than what the Moto X has to offer, however its lack of optical image stabilization found in the Motorola-made Nexus 6 was a bit of a letdown.
When taking pictures with the device, we noticed that daytime photos versus low light photos are literally like night and day. Unlike most smartphones, the Droid Turbo isn’t too flash happy, so indoor shots can come out slightly grainy. However, pictures taken outdoors have the potential to look great and are at the mercy of the photographer.
But if the paparazzo and its subject are one in the same, the Turbo’s 2-megapixel front-facing shooter doesn’t offer anything out of the ordinary. There’s no gimmicky software installed on this device and photos are fairly acceptable from the phone’s secondary camera, with its video capturing capabilities also being on par with other high-end smartphones.
Speaking of video, the Turbo’s primary shooter does a decent job of capturing 4K and 1080p HD footage, as long as you’re aware of its indoor/outdoor guidelines.
The Turbo’s 3,900mAh battery just might be the most impressive component listed on its spec sheet. Motorola says that you’ll be able to get 48 hours of juice out of its newest Droid and while it’s probably obtainable, this claim certainly comes with an asterisk. If you casually use your smartphone, it’s possible to scratch the surface of the Turbo’s advertised battery life.
That being said, we managed to rack up about 19 hours of use during our real world testing. This near one day period of use consisted of phone calls, email replies, text messages and a whole lot of web browsing that even involved playing a few video clips.
And after our performance experiment made the Turbo’s cell tapout, we then tested its pre-bundled Turbo Charger. Motorola claims that you’ll be able to restore eight hours of battery life after 15 minutes on its massive charger. After multiple quick power ups, we can confirm that this claim is pretty accurate depending on how you use the device.
When it comes to raw performance, there’s no denying the Droid Turbo’s appeal. It has an impressive display, a solid camera and unmatched battery life. On the flip side, its design is a bit dated and the inclusion of retro capacitive buttons almost makes the device feel out of compliance with Google’s vision for Android.
Nevertheless, its really hard not to like this phone, especially after spending time with it. If you’re in the market for a new smartphone on Verizon’s network and you can get past a couple of small blunders, the Droid Turbo is an outstanding device with a performance that won’t disappoint.
[This review is based on our experience with the Droid Turbo on Verizon’s network. Motorola Mobility also offers this handset outside of the US as the Moto Maxx. You can pick up the Droid Turbo from Best Buy starting at $200. ]