Verizon Wireless will never let us forget that, way back in the day, the first Droid is the smartphone that really captured the world’s attention and made Android the powerhouse it is today. Since then the carrier and Motorola have tried to keep that level of excitement with each new Droid release, even though the phones aren’t so different from the Moto brand all the other carriers get.
The newest entry into this vaunted and celebrated line is the Droid Turbo ($199 for 32GB, $249 for 64GB), a smartphone that isn’t particularly groundbreaking but does offer a nice upgrade from previous generations. The Turbo has four big things going for it: a rugged design, natural intelligence, super long battery life, and a high megapixel camera.
Display and Rough and Tumble Design
The 5.2-inch display on the Droid Turbo is what we now call “average size” but still seems pretty big to anyone with small hands who longs for the days when 4.3-inch screens were the upper limit. If a display is going to be big it might as well be beautiful, right? Colors are bright and popping yet not oversaturated or harsh. No matter how you hold it the phone the colors and brightness never dim or distort. And the pixel dense quad HD resolution (2560 x 1440) means that everything is crisp, from tiny fonts on badly designed webpages to the edges of flowers on high resolution images. The Turbo is around the same height and width as the HTC One M8 and the Samsung Galaxy S5. It is notably thicker, though, and for a good reason.
Motorola hasn’t rolled out the word “Rugged” too much because it surfaces images of bulky, none-too-attractive phones that look more like they belong on a construction site than on your desk. Though they’re not above making the phone sound tough and battle ready with terms like Kevlar and Ballistic Nylon. The Turbo won’t take a bullet for you but you can drop it real hard. You get a choice between a metal chassis (black or red) or woven fiber on the back plus Gorilla Glass 3 on the front which, while not shatter-proof, is difficult to crack. The bezel around the display is thin but not Samsung Galaxy thin, further reassuring me that a drop on the edge won’t be the end of that beautiful screen. The phone is water resistant as well, yet you won’t find any port flaps. The ports and insides are coated with a substance that causes droplets to roll off harmlessly and not interfere with any of the sensitive electronics.
So the Droid Turbo is rugged without all the negative baggage associated with ruggedness. It is thicker and a little heavier than the average smartphone in this size range. But since you won’t have to put a case on it for protection, it all balances out.
Of the three available casing options I prefer the nylon weave. It has a nice texture and feels more secure in the hand than the metallic options. If you’re going to use a phone this size one-handed you don’t want to worry it might slip away, even if you’re confident it won’t break.
One other design note: Motorola continues to eschew on-screen Home, Back, and Recent Apps buttons for physical ones that sit below the screen. I’m a fan of this as I don’t trust on-screen buttons and appreciate getting those few pixels back.
Android Sans Skin But With Moto
Aside from that deviance, the Droid Turbo still runs on a mostly un-messed with Android 4.4 KitKat (with a promise of an upgrade to Lollipop soon after launch) and no interface skin like you’ll find on Samsung, HTC, and LG phones. It’s not as completely bare bones as a Nexus device, and because it’s on Verizon Wireless you won’t be able to escape some bloatware.
Some features, like Droid Zap group photo sharing, sound good in theory but don’t match how people really use their phones and end up coming off as gimmicky. Then there are the improved “Moto” features like Moto Assist, Moto Voice, Moto Actions and the like that make interacting with the Droid Turbo feel futuristic.
The ability to take a peek at the time or latest notification types without having to press a button or pick up the phone is wonderfully efficient. Waking the Droid with a command (I decided on “Hey, Moto Baby”) and getting it to read me texts or take an action also saves time. I’m duly impressed with the voice recognition accuracy. The ability to program the phone to stay quiet at night, automatically turn on hands-free features when driving, or automatically reply to text messages when I’m in a meeting fills my geek heart with joy. This is the essence of why so many people like Motorola’s take on Android, Droid or Moto: natural interaction with the device via touch or voice or situational awareness.
Overall, performance is smooth and speedy with no problems of lag or crashing. Network speed is as good as ever (even better in areas where Verizon’s XLTE is available) and call quality is just above average but could have been better, since callers often told us that they had difficulty hearing us.
Extra Long Battery Life
All of these features have the potential of being a drain on battery life. Motorola mitigates this with a big ol’ battery (3900 mAh–another reason for the relative thickness) and by running the Turbo on an efficient quad-core processor. The result is a claimed 48 hours of battery life with mixed use. When I put this to the test I found that heavy usage got me at most 30 – 36 hours away from a plug. That’s with leaving GPS and Bluetooth on, only connecting to Wi-Fi sparingly, and receiving notifications from dozens of apps all day long. For this kind of usage, 30 hours is still impressive. Getting to 48 takes a little more conservation but not drastic measures.
The problem is that these results were not always consistent. Sometimes the Turbo used battery life at a steady but reasonable rate, other times it would drain fast enough that I had to top off the charge. This behavior wasn’t consistent, though most of the time I experienced long battery life. And with the Turbo’s ability to get up to 80% juiced in 15 minutes, topping off is easy.
The battery is sealed in–a design choice that’s become popular even though it’s less convenient for customers–as is the SIM card. If you’re an existing customer you can’t just pop out your old one and slide it into the Turbo. Verizon will have to activate it for you. Again, not terribly convenient.
The 21MP camera on the back is the least exciting of the major features. It takes fine pictures in good light and all of my outdoor shots had balanced colors and plenty of detail. The shutter’s not that fast, so getting a crisp picture wasn’t always easy. Indoors, mixed lighting seriously challenged the camera and most pictures came out with a lot of noise.
With the help of the app it’s possible to tweak and improve on what the Auto settings gives you by default. The ability to pinpoint a spot for focus and exposure helps make pictures look like they have depth and is one of the best features of the app. Automatic HDR is another. But I was never as impressed by the pictures as Motorola wanted me to be. This is a step up from the average Android phone, but not quite on a par with the Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 6.
The Motorola Droid Turbo is a great choice if you’re a Droid loyalist looking to upgrade. It’s also one of the few attractive smartphones with a high degree of mishap-proofness. And anyone who wants or needs seriously long battery life won’t be disappointed here.
The Good: Excellent display and performance, attractive design with unique finishes, offers nice software add-ons to Android
The Bad: Sim card and battery are both irreplaceable, call quality could be better, camera is mediocre