Motorola DROID ULTRA Review

August 21, 2013
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After Google bought Motorola we were all wondering what exactly would come out of the acquisition, and now things are starting to take shape. From a brand new direction with the Moto X, to a trio of new DROID smartphones for Verizon Wireless. It's clear Google will work with Moto for most carriers, and the DROID lineup will be all Motorola's regular doings for Verizon. Today we're taking an extended look at the new DROID ULTRA.

Announced back at the end of July the new Motorola DROID ULTRA borrows a lot from the Moto X, which was co-developed by Google, but the overall design and software remains the same as previous DROIDS. Moto went back to the Blur-like design with some of the software, kept the sleek look and Kevlar coating for protection, and we now have the DROID ULTRA, the DROID MAXX, and the Droid Mini. We're taking a look at the first of the three.

Hardware

The new line of smartphones from Motorola finally ditch the "RAZR" name, but it's still a RAZR through and through. Now being called the DROID ULTRA, this phone is certainly a different and daring approach by Motorola. We'll say it now, this doesn't have top-tier specs to compete with the Galaxy S4 or the HTC One, but Google and Motorola don't feel they need to, or that the general consumer does either. We'll have to see how that works out for them.

The DROID ULTRA (and the others) comes with a 5-inch 1280 x 720p HD display. It's still great, but not 1080p like we've seen recently from flagship devices. However, many argue that the extra pixels aren't needed in a small screen, and only sucks battery life and processing power. Moto is banking on that. We have zero complaints about the screen either, for what it's worth.

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So, we have a 5-inch 720p display, and only a 1.7 GHz dual-core processor with 2GB of RAM. At first glance that's weak compared to the quad-core Galaxy S4, or upcoming 2.3 GHz quad-core LG G2, but does that matter? Find out below. Motorola's using a new X8 computing system for the processor. The dual-core, a quad-core GPU for graphics, and two additional cores for language and computer learning. This is where the always listening voice commands and Google Now comes in to play, but more on that in the software department.

As you can see above, the DROID ULTRA is certainly a pretty device. To round off the specs we have 16GB of internal storage, a new 10 megapixel "clear pixel" camera all wrapped in Kevlar (but it feels plasticy) running Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The usual power and volume rockers are off to the side, and have a nice metal feel, and the SIM slot actually hides under the volume rocker to keep the design sleek. Then there's the micro-USB for charging down below, some microphone pinholes, and everything else on back. The huge grill houses the camera, flash, and the dual speaker grills, which gets extremely loud by the way. Almost as loud as the HTC One, it just doesn't face forward.

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In the end the hardware is pretty top notch. We did have a slight creak sound on top, but it went away and could of just been the fresh off the product line device. If you're worried about the display, don't be. It has some of the best colors and viewing angles we've used to date, and the 720p screen still looks gorgeous and no one should complain. It would be nice to have customization options like the Moto X, but we'll take what we can get.

Software

What we have here is a rather unique approach from Motorola. Gone is the stock Android look from the RAZR HD they slowly updated that device to over the course of a year, and instead we're back to the standard blur-like Moto changes. The on-screen buttons are back to the ways of old, and that Moto Circle clock widget is here as well. Aside from the few changes, this is plain old Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, only with some new and nice additionals.

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Everything here with the DROID lineup mirrors that of the Moto X smartphone. Those being voice activations, always listening modes, hands-free Google Now usage and the works. For more details check our our detailed Moto X Review. Our favorite part of the Moto X and new DROIDS is this new "breathing notification" mode. Using an AMOLED screen they can light up a certain area of the screen only, saving battery, and give you a small area lit up with a notification.

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Touch that and you'll get all the info you need for that particular notification. It will also "breathe" through them if there's more than one. Slide up to access, or swipe it away. This is unique only to Motorola, for now, and we love it. The same can be said about all these Google Now Voice actions. Here's a few screenshots.

You can setup the device to know your voice, and only yours. Saying a certain command three times. Things like "OK, Google Now, where's the nearest Best Buy." Or set that to be "OK, Motorola" or even "Hey, Dude, what's the weather like" and the ULTRA will use Google Now and get the relevant info. All of this works when the screen is on, or off. Anything from set reminders, find directions, everything else Google Now does and more works here. That's where those new cores come into play. So you might not have the latest quad-core, but there's certainly cores doing what they need to do here, and it's fast and extremely responsive to say the least.

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All the goodies and special software features aside this is a standard Jelly Bean smartphone. It's stable, quick, and has everything you'd expect. Complete with tons of Verizon bloatware. Oh, and DROID buyers get 6 months of Google Music All Access free, regularly $9.99 a month, so take advantage of that.

Performance

So we are a little torn here. So many people have bashed this phone (and the Moto X) for only having a dual-core. But why? Do you really need four cores to check Twitter, post to Facebook, and play the occasional game? Nope. You have enough to get all jobs done, then a few more for making life easy and your phone truly smart with Google Now and the voice actions. Not only that, but benchmarks are only a small part of the story. We know you want them though, so here's a few.

The Snapdragon powering this device is only a 1.7 GHz dual-core, but it has the same impressive quad-core graphics GPU as the Snapdragon 600 in top-tier phones, and aside from a few tests it seems to handle its own against the competition just fine. It won't get as high as the Galaxy S4 or a Tegra 4, but we're not worried.

In the end all you need to know is this device has plenty of power for EVERY task you'll want to do, and will for another year or so as well. Yes we'll see 8-core phones soon, but that's overkill, to be honest, and this DROID ULTRA will have enough power to make 99% of consumers plenty happy. Nuff said.

Camera

The camera here is 10 megapixels, but uses a new RGB"C" sensor with an extra clear pixel. This will allow for faster shutter speed and performance, better low light photography, and overall just a better camera experience. At least according to Motorola. We tested it thoroughly on the Moto X, but here's some stuff for you below.

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A flick of the wrist twice (no matter what state the phone is in) fires up the camera, then tap the screen for instant and fast photos. It's nice, and here's some 1080p video samples.

1080p video

The DROID ULTRA also records in 60 and 30 FPS, and has a neat little slow motion video feature. It instantly will do this for you, if you'd like, and you can play back video regular or in slo-mo for some good times. This could come in use while recording a friend try his luck at skateboarding, and we recorded an Apple rolling down the road, etc, you get the drill.

The camera on the other hand, is on par with the competition, but we'll have to do some more detailed tests. Lets just say the 10 megapixel camera clearly as is good as most smartphones on the market, and HTC's Ultrapixel tech has some stiff competition here from Motorola. Low light was quite promising too, although video low light is still an issue. We took a few regular photos, as well as burst mode, and here's some samples just for good measure.

Then here's a quick look at 6 photos taken nearly instantaneous with the fast shutter mode.

Battery Life

With an efficient dual-core processor sipping on battery life, and a 720p display that doesn't demand as much power how does the DROID ULTRA do in terms of battery life? Quite well actually. Slowly I've learned battery life is one of the most important features of any phone, and Motorola gets that. This isn't the DROID MAXX promising 48 hours of usage with a 3,500 mAh battery, but we still have a decent 2,130 mAh battery here. Verizon quotes 28 hours, so more than a day, and here's our results.

So again, this isn't the MAXX, but it certainly has enough juice to get most users through a typical work day. If you use those always listening features to keep that screen off as much as possible, it'll last even longer.

Wrap-Up

So what do we think of the Motorola DROID ULTRA? Well, we like it. Motorola has done an excellent job overall with this phone, the near stock experience embodied with Google Now. The phone is solid all around, even with a dual-core processor under the hood. It's clear Google and Motorola will continue this context ecosystem moving forward.

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The DROID lineup will get plenty of attention from Verizon, while Motorola will be focusing their advertising on the X themselves. Either way, both devices are extremely impressive, even if they aren't the top-top tier in terms of specs. With a 5-inch screen (a size many like) tons of neat features, all-day battery life, and a solid camera the ULTRA is well rounded.

Would we love all of this in a device with a Snapdragon 800, sure, but are we complaining about what is being offered? Nope. At this moment it is unclear if this approach will work for Motorola, Google, and Verizon, but we'll be following along to see how it all plays out. In the end average customers around the world and US will love the new DROID, so go grab one because they're available as we speak.


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  • Brendan Higgins

    As much as I love all of the new things that Motorola and Google are doing with their phones, I still can’t get past the grudge that I have with Motorola and their older DROIDS. I had a DROID X and it just had a countless number of issues. I had to get 7 replacement phones in the year and a half that I had it. I know it’s stupid, but I just can’t forgive Motorola. I love the Moto X and the three new DROIDS, but I don’t think I would ever buy one of them.

    • http://www.androidcommunity.com Cory Gunther

      My RAZR MAXX HD has been dropped probably almost 7-8 times. I took it to Mobile World Congress in Spain, CES for a week of hell where it was tethered and used 24/7, it’s been to Google I/O and countless other events in NYC and SF. Thrown in and out of my bags at the airport and taken through the ringer.

      Still works like a charm without a problem. Moto is certainly better than the DROID X days.

      • Brendan Higgins

        Yeah I mean I’ve heard that, but the problem wasn’t the durability of the phone. My Droid X could take a hit. The problem was every 2 months or so there would be a new software problem or a new hardware problem. It was always something new and completely out of nowhere. Once I had a bunch of pixels just randomly die, once it just wouldn’t answer calls, once it would constantly get stuck in a rut where the phone just wouldn’t do anything and I would have to remove the battery. I’m just naming a few, there are many more, but that is basically the reasons why I don’t think I would ever buy another Motorola.
        I have a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 now and I love it. I have never had any real issues with it. Maybe when my next update comes along, I’ll reconsider buying a Motorola just because I love the direction Google is taking them.

      • http://www.androidcommunity.com Cory Gunther

        Interesting. My brothers had an X, and he went through two of them, but mainly for abusing the hell out of it.

        The Bionic.. it had issues, but the RAZR’s have been solid for me. Enjoy that Note II.

      • vtphotopro

        I too had the Droid X and had to have Verizon replace it more than 6 times in two years! It kept freezing… would not dial… would not take a photo. I thought for the longest time it was a Motorola issue. But now I have the LG Intuition, which when I first got it I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread… but now a year in I have not had to replace it… but it’s frozen most of the time. I hit the screen to call someone and it literally takes the phone 5 minutes before it dials. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how good the phone is when it’s new… they all seem to suck after about 6-12 months. I don’t know what’s up with that!

    • doctorpankake

      Droid X, Droid 4, and all before it were laggy trash. However, my dad drops his X2 on a regular basis and it hasn’t shown a single scratch.

  • Arturo De Guzman

    Just got the Maxx. Wow. All of the niceties of MotoX software in a tougher, longer lasting and better Kevlar soft touch outer back. Replaced iPhone 5.

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