Droid Maxx review $299
22nd Oct 2013 | 03:27
The Droid Maxx is the flagship of the latest Droid trio
Introduction and design
The Motorola Droid Maxx heads the trio of Verizon's most recent Droids, in a sense. It has the largest battery capacity of the three - the other two being the Droid Ultra and Droid Mini - so it gives it a huge edge over the Ultra and the Mini.
If you're a Verizon customer considering the Droid Maxx, there's really only one reason you're doing so - the 3,500mAh battery.
Like the Droid RAZR Maxx before it, the Droid Maxx will take a lot of abuse before you can kill off its battery. Motorola promises up to 48 hours of battery life with mixed use, and it gets pretty close in real life.
And like last year, we continue to wonder why Motorola makes two near-identical phones where battery and size is the only real differentiator. We can't imagine why anyone would refuse killer battery life to shave off just a few millimeters from a device's overall thickness.
We liked the Droid Ultra, so that's not really the problem. But we're going to give you a spoiler alert: the Droid Maxx is so much better for one reason - killer battery life. It's what we've always wanted in a smartphone.
You may think it's odd, but it's true: the one piece of technology that has failed to advance quickly as chipsets and processors and displays have is battery technology. We have displays with pixel densities that are sharper than our eyes can ever discern, and processing power that was unimaginable in smartphones just five years ago. Why do batteries still suck?
At the moment, there's no replacement for displacement, so to speak, and so longer battery life means bigger batteries. For the Droid Maxx, we don't mind the mostly negligible thickness if it means we aren't constantly hunting for power outlets at the nearest cafes.
If it weren't for the Kevlar pattern at the bottom of the face of the phone, the Droid Maxx would look almost exactly like the Droid Ultra. The shape, button placement, display and everything else is the same at the front of it.
Once you flip the phone over to see its backside, however, you'll see the immediate difference. Instead of a glossy back, the Maxx has a soft-touch carbon-fiber-like pattern on the back. At the top is the 10MP camera, flash and speaker - just like the Ultra - and beneath it are Droid, Motorola and Verizon branding.
Around the edges, you'll find a power and volume rocker on the right, 3.5mm headset jack up top and a micro-USB port at the bottom.
The face of the device has a 5-inch display. Above it are the proximity and ambient light sensors along with the earpiece, and just below it are the back, home and app changer buttons along with a tiny hole for the microphone.
The device itself isn't very flashy or gaudy, which is nice, and we actually prefer the thickness of it over the very thin Droid Ultra. Your own experience may vary, but it makes the Maxx feel whole, if that makes sense, rather than lacking. And you also know that added heft means added battery life.
The Droid Maxx measures 5.41 x 2.8 x 0.33 inches, and weighs 5.89 ounces. It's not as thin and light as some other smartphones out there, but considering the benefit of battery life, it's not a bad tradeoff.
The 5-inch display has a 1280 x 720 resolution, which is only a slight disappointment. When compared to the HTC One or LG G2, it's clear that the Droid Maxx isn't nearly as sharp, but in day to day use it's not a terrible ordeal.
Inside, there is a Motorola X8 chipset, which has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1,700MHz processor and 2GB RAM, along with 32GB of onboard memory storage. It also has 4G LTE connectivity with Verizon's network, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and NFC.
The camera is a 10MP "Clear Pixel" camera, like the one in the Moto X, but we'll get in depth with that later in our camera section.
The Droid Maxx's key feature is its 3,500mAh battery, which should provide up to 48 hours of mixed usage (i.e. phone calls, messaging, music streaming, etc.).
When it comes to specs, there is nothing lacking about the Maxx. It's loaded with just about everything you'd expect from a high-end Android smartphone these days. But unlike other Android handsets, this one has juice for days.
Interface, performance and battery life
Motorola's UI has come a long way since Blur and Motoblur, names that the company would rather you forgot.
When you first wake the device from its sleep state, you'll find Motorola's Active Display. From here, you can press and hold down the center icon, and you'll have one of two choices: unlock your phone and go to your home screen, or attend to any of the notifications on Active Display by swiping up toward them.
Once you're on your home screen, you'll find five customizable home screens. Swipe down from the top bar, and the notification pane will drop down, showing you any missed or pending notifications and giving you quick access to settings.
When you go into your apps, you'll notice that they are in alphabetical order, and you can swipe left and right to shuffle through them. Swipe to the right past the apps and you'll get into your widgets, which you can press and hold and drag onto the home screen.
If you've ever owned an Android smartphone before, most of this will be intuitive to you. And even if you aren't familiar with Android, the learning curve isn't that steep. Pressing and holding on icons, messages and other items will generate certain options, and it's easy to figure out from there.
One of the standout features of the new Droids, along with the Moto X, is the ability to wake your phone and give it commands simply by speaking to it.
It's called Touchless Control, and you set it up by following the on-screen instructions and repeating "OK Google Now" three times until the device learns your voice.
Once you've set up Touchless Control, you can activate your phone just by saying "OK Google Now." You can also ask it questions or give it commands, which is handy if your hands are tied up for some reason, or if you're just feeling plain lazy.
The Motorola X8 computing system is what makes Touchless Control possible without killing your battery life. There are low-level, low-resource processes going on that keeps your phone's microphone on all the time in the event you need to call on it. We'll leave the paranoia to you as far as the potential implications of this technology.
When the Droid Maxx learns your voice and you're already set up and running, it won't activate to the sound of someone else's voice - unless their voice sounds exactly like yours (perhaps your mother or sister?).
It works very well, but in loud environments and in some cases, it doesn't work as well as it should. Some of that is expected, but when it isn't behaving correctly it can be very frustrating. We've found a few situations where it wouldn't understand or obey us even in quiet environments. Those are the exceptions, though.
Touchless Control is definitely a nice feature to have, even if you hate talking on or to your phone, you'll find that it comes in handy occasionally.
Another neat thing that the phone does is go into different modes depending on your activity, such as driving or attending a meeting. It's called Moto Assist. If you're driving, it'll tell you who's calling and read text messages to you. Or your phone will be silenced for a period of time if there is a meeting on your calendar.
When it comes to raw performance, the Droid Maxx performs just as the Ultra does. They have the same innards and display, so as we expected, performance is identical.
For the most part, we experienced little to no lag when it came to opening, closing and running apps. Although it's not as powerful as the LG G2, the Droid Maxx holds its own and doesn't do too bad.
When it came to raw benchmark performance, however, things were a little bit of a different story.
Across the board, we'd say that the Droid Maxx didn't perform nearly as well as the G2, but we didn't expect it to. The Maxx's graphics and processor performance was a little weaker, but in day to day use we really had no issues with the Droid Maxx.
For more serious mobile gamers, though, you may experience delays in performance and some lag. However, it may not be that big of an issue in your average, day-to-day use.
Overall, the Motorola Droid Maxx performs decently enough for a flagship smartphone. It doesn't quite keep up with the likes of the LG G2, but again, you're buying this thing for sheer battery life and perhaps its voice command controls.
The one area where we did want to see better improvement was in its camera, both with actual shooting and startup times. We'll get to that next in our camera section.
This thing was built to last, or at least built to last more than a day before needed a charge. With a 3,500mAh battery, we wouldn't expect less.
The battery worked like a champ, and hung with us for well over a day, sometimes even two days. On average, with normal use, the Droid Maxx would last about a day and a half. If we unplugged around 8 a.m., it would last until about after lunch the next day. It's not bad, but we hoped for just a little more.
Surprisingly, the LG G2's battery did just as well as the Droid Maxx. Its 3,000mAh battery performed spectacularly, so if we were making strict recommendations between phones based on battery life, we might give it to the G2.
That's not to take away from the Droid Maxx, but if your key selling feature is matched or bested by a competitor who doesn't tout the battery as its best feature, you might want to try squeezing a little more juice from it.
Unfortunately, the 10MP RGCB shooter on the Motorola Droid Maxx is the same as you'd find on the Moto X. We say unfortunate, because the camera on the Moto X was its weakest feature.
On the Droid Ultra, you don't really get any tap-to-meter options. The camera will meter a scene for you, and its decision to preserve highlights at the cost of underexposing an entire scene is a curious one.
If you have any bright highlights in your scene, the camera will expose for that the majority of the time. Even if the highlighted area makes up just a tiny corner in your background somewhere, the entire scene goes dark so that the highlight is correctly exposed.
The software's exposure system and lack of exposure control is incredibly frustrating. Your only real alternative is to download a third-party camera app from the app store--one that would give you exposure, focus and white balance control.
Aside from our gripes with the camera software and metering system, photos turned out to be OK. Pictures from the Droid Maxx don't look as rich or clean as photos that would come out of the Galaxy S4, iPhone 5 or Lumia 1020. The Ultra's images look very much like they were taken with a smartphone, with some over-sharpening in some cases and washed out colors.
However, there are always third-party apps to the rescue. Apps like Snapseed and Vignette will help give your photos more color, contrast, richness and a little life. It's a little sad to see such a good phone tainted by its camera, which can be said of all the Motorola Droids to date. Maybe one day Motorola will get it right.
Here are some unedited camera samples, straight out of the phone.
As you can see in the samples above, colors tend to be flat and exposure can be a little off. They're not terrible photos, but they're definitely not in the same league as the iPhone, LG G2 and Nokia Lumia 1020.
Video, on the other hand, is a bit better. It will do 1080p video recording, and stabilization is relatively decent.
Colors look good on video, and it does a surprisingly better job with metering and light than the still camera does. It's baffling.
At any rate, if you shoot a lot of video, you probably won't be disappointed with the Droid Maxx's video performance and the interface is easy.
The only real downside is that there aren't any additional settings available to tweak exposure or anything else. You can do slow-motion video, but that's about it.
Usage and performance
Using the camera is easy. By default, you just tap the screen to shoot a photo. Don't go thinking you're going to be able to tap the screen to set focus and exposure--we've already said that doesn't work.
When you tap on the screen, anywhere on the screen, you're simply shooting a photo unless you turn on the tap to focus feature.
If you want to bring out settings like access to the panorama feature, geo location option, HDR, tap-to-focus, slow-motion video and more. Options are very limited, and lacking, too.
With other Android smartphones, you get advanced editing and exposure control features, along with filters and sometimes even live filters.
For the Droid Maxx, you're going to have to rely on third-party apps, which might not be a big deal for some users.
Call quality and connectivity
The Motorola Droid Maxx is a Verizon only smartphone. And it ought to be obvious for those of us who are experienced smartphone users since Droid is the Verizon brand.
On Verizon's excellent network in the San Francisco Bay Area, call quality was very good. Callers sounded clear and loud on the Droid Maxx, and our friends reported the same of us.
Speakerphone isn't the best, but it's good enough. You can definitely carry a phone conversation without much irritation if you're in a relatively quiet room. In a noisy environment, and we don't know why you'd do this, you'll definitely run into trouble hearing the other person.
If you actually spend a lot of time chatting on the phone, the Droid Maxx will give you a solid experience and the battery life you need to get through the lengthiest of phone calls.
Like with call quality, connectivity on the Droid Maxx is just fine. In fact, it's really great on any modern smartphone these days. It really depends on your network.
Verizon 4G LTE speeds are great. We averaged 19Mbps down and 13Mbps up in the San Francisco Bay Area. In some cases we saw peak speeds of 26Mbps down and 16Mbps up.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work just fine, too. We were able to pair the device with a Bluetooth speaker for music, and it worked great up to a certain distance.
The Droid Maxx also has NFC if you can find an actual use for it. We tested it on the parking meters in downtown San Francisco and it worked well.
The Motorola Droid Maxx will definitely satisfy smartphone users who need extra juice from their battery. That is the Maxx's strong suit.
Its design is nice, and it's not unwieldy given its display size, so we really can't complain about Motorola's design and hardware choices here, either.
We liked the Droid Maxx's size compared to the Droid Ultra. Of course, this will always come down to preference, but the larger battery's added thickness gives the phone good substance.
This should go without saying, but battery life was excellent, too. If we didn't have the LG G2 to compare it to, we'd say it's our best battery experience on a smartphone given what you can do with the device.
As always, Verizon's network performed well in San Francisco and in our offices in South San Francisco. 4G LTE speeds were more than satisfactory, and we never experienced any network interruptions or connectivity.
For a display this size, we really wished the Droid Maxx had a higher screen resolution. It's not pixelated or dull by any means, by when compared to the HTC One or the LG G2, it really doesn't hold up. The other two have absolutely beautiful displays.
We were also surprised to find that the battery performance was very similar to the LG G2. The Maxx has a 3,500mAh battery compared to the G2's 3,000mAh, but the difference in real world use was negligible. That's surprising given the higher screen resolution and more powerful specs with the G2.
Another thing we can take or leave is Motorola's software design. We're glad that Motoblur and Blur are gone in favor of a look that is closer to a Nexus-style device. However, some of Motorola's design elements within its UI are just gaudy and look too machine-like.
Overall, the Motorola Droid Maxx is a solid smartphone. We really liked having Touchless Control options as well as battery life that we can count on. Nothing is more frustrating than reaching the end of your day and wondering whether you'll need to find a charger near by or just be out of luck.
As a successor to the Droid RAZR Maxx HD, however, we really aren't feeling that big a jump. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's easier to like the HTC One or LG G2 for their sheer power, cameras and sharp displays. In some intangible sense, the Droid Maxx feels a little more antiquated.
Still, as we've said in the beginning, the big reason you're buying this thing is for its battery life. If you like Motorola's software and you could use more than just an extra boost in battery performance, this is your phone. Or it could be the LG G2.