Droid Turbo review: Motorola had to leave Google to become the king of Android

Motorola Droid Turbo ReviewImage Source: Zach Epstein, BGR

The past few years have been crazy for Motorola. After the iPhone rocked the cell phone industry in 2007, Motorola was among the first companies to respond effectively, and it found success in the U.S. market when it launched the Droid with Verizon Wireless in late 2009. No companies were ready for Samsung and the double-digit billions it was prepared to spend on marketing in order to take over the Android market, however, and Motorola’s mobile phone business didn’t stand a chance.

Things seemed like they might turn around when Motorola Mobility was acquired by Google in 2011, but the company still couldn’t manage to set its devices apart from the crowd in any meaningful way. The Motorola division continued to lose money for Google until it was finally sold off to Lenovo in 2014.

While it remains to be seen whether or not Lenovo will help turn Motorola into a profitable cell phone company once again, there is no question that the once-great company hit its stride in 2014. In fact, Motorola’s latest Android phones are the best Android phones on the planet.

Beginning with last year’s Moto G and Moto X, Motorola identified two ways it could be a contender once again in the crowded smartphone market. On the low-end, the Moto G was a surprisingly capable device that offered tremendous value at a shockingly low price point. In the higher-end segment, the Moto X offered customization options that no other phone vendor could compete with.

The Moto G quickly became Motorola’s best-selling smartphone of all time, and the Moto X received almost universal critical acclaim.

Then, in 2014, Motorola turned up the volume on both devices, dramatically improving them with two second-generation updates. Where the G is concerned, the phone looks like a winner yet again. And as for the brand new Moto X, we called it the best Android phone in the world when we reviewed it in September.

Fast-forward to October and November, and Motorola is back with two new high-end smartphones that came from out of nowhere and completely blew us away. One is the Nexus 6, which Google will release later this month. We’ll have more for you on that powerful phablet once we get a chance to review it.

The second new premium smartphone from Motorola is the new Droid Turbo for Verizon Wireless, and it’s an absolute winner.

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Beginning on the outside of the Droid Turbo, Motorola has continued to experiment with new materials, giving buyers two different options this time around.

The first option is a black weave pattern made from ballistic nylon (pictured below) that was originally developed for military use. It has a unique look and feel to it, and it definitely stands out from the crowd even though the only available color is black.

The second option, which is my personal preference, is a different weave pattern consisting of metalized fibers covered with a soft-touch rubbery layer that is either black or bright red in color. The result is a is semi-transparent effect that changes depending on the angle to the light, and the rubbery material provides a fantastic feel and good grip.

Both the ballistic nylon and the metalized fiber models include a layer of Kevlar beneath the outer materials, and Motorola notes that Kevlar is five times stronger than steel.

Also of note, both Droid Turbo models feature an internal and external nanocoating that protects the device from liquid spills and rain. It’s not waterproof so you shouldn’t dunk it, but it is water-resistant, which will potentially save owners from headaches.

And although Kevlar and Gorilla Glass 3 are both very strong materials, accidents happen. With the Droid Turbo, Verizon is offering users one free screen replacement in the event the handset’s glass display is ever cracked.

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Inside, the Motorola Droid Turbo is an absolute beast.

The phone is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor clocked at 2.7GHz, and it’s supported by 3GB of LPDDR3 RAM. The phone has either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage depending on the model, and it runs Motorola’s almost-stock version of Android 4.4.4 KitKat.

An update to Android 5.0 Lollipop has been promised, and it will become available sometime in the coming months.

Motorola’s display on the Droid Turbo is a gorgeous 5.2-inch quad HD (2560×1440) AMOLED panel, and the pixel density works out to a mind-boggling 565 pixels per inch. To put that in perspective, the iPhone 6 has a pixel density of 326 ppi, the full HD iPhone 6 Plus is 401 ppi, and the quad HD Galaxy Note 4 comes in at 550 ppi.

In use, the clarity on the Droid Turbo’s quad HD screen is simply stunning. Individual pixels cannot be discerned at all, of course, and colors are bright and beautiful.

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Around back, Motorola’s new Droid Turbo features a 21-megapixel camera that, for me, was the most surprising thing about the device. Motorola’s phones have historically not even approached class leaders when it comes to camera quality, but the camera on the Droid Turbo is fantastic.

The camera touts an f/2.0 aperture and a dual-LED flash, and photos captured by the Droid Turbo are vivid and crisp. In fact, they are almost on par with the iPhone 6 Plus and Galaxy Note 4, which are the best camera phones on the market in my opinion.

Motorola’s Droid Turbo camera also captures 4K resolution video at 24fps and 1080p video at 30fps, though it doesn’t include optical image stabilization (OIS) so things can get a tad blurry when the digital stabilization kicks in. This is an issue that impacts all smartphones that don’t have OIS, of course.

Finally, what is perhaps the phone’s most important spec: The battery.

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The Droid Turbo includes a massive 3,900 mAh battery that Motorola claims can provide as much as two full days in between charges. In my testing, I did not find that to be the case, but the Droid Turbo indeed features the best battery life of any non-phablet smartphone I have tested this year.

With average daily usage that included hours of email and Twitter use, plenty of news reading with Feedly and Flipboard, more Reddit browsing with Reddit News Pro than I care to admit, at least 90 minutes of Spotify streaming and much more, I still had between 20% and 30% of a charge remaining 24 hours after plugging the phone in the morning before.

That is nothing short of incredible.

And the best part, perhaps, is the sense of security the phone’s terrific battery life affords. With the Droid Turbo I am actually comfortable leaving my home or office for hours at a time with just 20% or 30% of a charge remaining.

I could never do that with my iPhone or with most other Android handsets.

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The phone’s outstanding battery life does come at a cost, of course, and at either 169 grams or 172 grams depending on the model, it’s very heavy for a phone that is only 143.5mm tall and 73.3mm wide. The iPhone 6 Plus also weighs 172 grams, but it’s 10% taller at 158.1mm and 6% wider at 77.8mm.

The Droid Turbo is also quite thick, with a curved back that measures 8.3mm thick at the edges and 11.2mm thick at its center.

For me, the Droid Turbo’s battery life more than makes up for the size and weight of the phone, and the phone sits quite comfortably in an average sized hand, though one-handed use is obviously out of the question when you need to reach the upper third of the screen.

Motorola’s new Droid also supports what the company has dubbed “turbo charging.” According to the company, the included microUSB charger will add 8 hours of power to a substantially depleted battery in just 15 minutes.

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Where software is concerned, I’m a big fan of Motorola’s Android build. It’s very similar to stock Android, but it includes a number of incredibly useful enhancements.

I wrote about Motorola’s great software additions and awesome voice controls at length in my review of the second-generation Moto X, but here are four highlights from Motorola:

  • Moto Voice – Do more than ever with just your voice, without ever touching the phone. Use your voice to interact with some of your favorite apps like Facebook, YouTube, and Whatsapp. Even personalize the experience with your very own customized voice prompt like “You there Moto X?” or “Wake up buddy!”
  • Moto Assist – Life can be hectic, and Moto X can adapt its behavior in certain situations so that you can do more or never be interrupted. It can read aloud new text messages while you’re driving or at home It can also keep quiet during meetings, or turn off all sounds when you go to bed – it even knows to turn everything back on in the morning as you start your day.
  • Moto Display – You don’t have to wake Moto X up to look at the time or sneak a peek at your latest messages. When your display is off, up to three notifications pulse quietly on the screen without interrupting you. If you want to take a peek, simply touch and hold one of the notification icons and more details will appear. Slide left or right to see other messages too – all without ever waking up your screen or unlocking your device.
  • Moto Actions – Go beyond just tapping and swiping your screen. Use simple and reliable gestures to conveniently interact with your Moto X. It knows when your hand is approaching and activates Moto Display. Wave your hand to silence incoming calls or snooze alarms.

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In the end, there’s precious little to gripe about with the Droid Turbo. If you’re not intimidated by the bulky case and additional heft from the giant battery, this is probably the Android smartphone for you. It’s powerful, it’s sleek and it has the best battery in the business outside of a few truly gigantic phablets.

Between the new Moto G, the second-generation Moto X, the Nexus 6 and the Droid Turbo, Motorola has all of the bases covered and among Android vendors, Motorola’s phones are the best in the business right now.

On the downside, the Droid Turbo is a Verizon Wireless exclusive. There’s nothing wrong with Verizon’s network — quite the contrary, Verizon still has the best network available in many areas — but the phone won’t work on any other carriers, so its reach is severely limited as a result.

If you’re on Verizon though, and you’re looking for a new smartphone, you’d be crazy to not at least consider the Droid Turbo during your search.

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