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Motorola Droid Maxx 2 Review

At the same time Motorola and Verizon unveiled the Droid Turbo 2 — the high-end phone with ShatterShield technology protecting the display — they showed off the Droid Maxx 2. This time around, the Maxx is being sold as a mid-range Droid that, while lacking that new ShatterShield technology, stays faithful to what’s made the Droid line special — superior battery life. With decent specs, a 1080p display, and claims of two-day battery life, the Maxx 2 looks like a pretty great value on paper at $384 unlocked. We’ve been able to test the Maxx 2 out over the past month, and it looks like reality agrees with paper — this is a terrific phone for anyone who wants to pay half the price of a high-end phone for a solid, if unspectacular, performer. But, like with all Droid smartphones, the caveat is that you’ll need to be on Verizon’s network (or be willing to switch) to get it.

Build

Despite being a cheaper option, the Maxx 2 is a 5.5″ phone. Like most mid-range smartphones, the Maxx 2 mostly avoids the use of metal, opting for a soft, ridged back shell. This shell can be removed, but only to swap in another of a different color — the battery cannot be replaced. The phone is a bit thicker than many other smartphones at 10.9 mm, but that seems to work to this phone’s credit — it reflects the larger battery capacity of the Maxx 2 and makes the phone easier to hold. Large phones like these can be awkward to hold when they’re made too thin or too flat on the back, but Motorola has avoided that issue with a generously rounded soft back that is very comfortable to hold for long periods. The back takes after the rest of the Moto line of phones, with the center vertical strip holding the camera lens, the LED flash, and the Motorola logo dimple — something that would be ideal as a fingerprint scanner, but unfortunately is not this time around.

The top of the phone has a 3.5 mm headphone port and a combination SIM/MicroSD card slot (up to 128 GB). The right side has a ridged power button (for differentiation when in your pocket) and volume rocker, while the underside has a Micro USB charging port. The front of the phone has a front facing camera and two forward-firing speakers that, unfortunately, do not work in tandem — the speaker on top is used when making calls, while the speaker on the bottom is used when watching videos or listening to music without headphones.

Thanks to the lighter materials used, the Maxx 2 doesn’t feel heavy despite being a little thicker. At 169 grams, it’s easy and comfortable to hold, especially given the design of the back. This seems to be an area where high-end phones value luxury materials at the expense of comfort — while there’s certainly value to many consumers in those premium materials, if you’re looking primarily for comfort, the Maxx 2 is more along the lines of what you’ll want.

Performance

The Maxx 2 runs on a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 615, which includes an octa-core processor (4x 1.7 GHz/4x 1.0 GHz) and Adreno 405 graphics, backed by 2 GB of RAM. The 2 GB of RAM would normally be a little low, but as we’ll get to later, running a near-stock version of Android really helps the Maxx 2 perform efficiently. The main problem with the hard specs is internal storage — 16 GB isn’t enough for any phone these days, no matter where it falls on the pricing scale. Start taking a lot of pictures and videos or try to store music on here, and the storage will fill up pretty quickly. It helps that there is a MicroSD card slot, but at the very least the option of more internal storage would have been nice (although it would increase the price substantially).

On benchmark tests, the Maxx 2 scored between 3762 and 3920 on three runs of the PCMark for Android Work Performance test and between 35451 and 35155 on AnTuTu. In PCMark, the Maxx 2 ends up comparable to last year’s Sony Xperia Z3 and the current generation of the Moto G. The AnTuTu results were much better, approaching phones that are on the low end of the flagship range. During use, I found the Maxx 2 to be responsive, including great touchscreen performance. It feels fluid, like a more expensive phone.

In graphics testing, the Maxx 2 scored between 197 and 217 using three runs of the 3DMark Sling Shot ES 3.0 test and between 357.9 and 361.3 frames over three runs of the GFXBench GL 1080p Manhattan Offscreen ES 3.0 test. Unsurprisingly, the 3DMark numbers put the Maxx 2 in the neighborhood of the internationally released Moto X Play, to which the Maxx 2 is almost identical. This is around where the Galaxy S4 mini and Acer Liquid Z630 and Z530 phones end up. Results of the GFXBench tests put it in similar territory — long story short, like most budget to mid-range phones, the Maxx 2 is decent for day-to-day tasks and not well suited for heavy gaming. That said, a shooter like N.O.V.A. 3 will still run smoothly enough in single-player mode, but it will get the phone pretty hot in a hurry.

A strength of the Maxx 2 is its display. The 1920 x 1080 resolution 403 ppi LCD display performs exceptionally well, and is a bit nicer than what I’d normally expect to see in a phone at this price. It’s a bit wasted without the graphics processing power to back it up, but it’s a definite plus if you’re just watching HD movies. Colors are generally sharp, too, but the best part about the display is how bright it can get. I can say this is one of the better phones I’ve used in direct sunlight — glare affects readability very slightly, and the phone can adjust automatically to the level of ambient light.

Audio is unspectacular, but about what we’d expect on a phone in this price range. The volume isn’t bad, especially considering the phone is only ever using one of the speakers at once, but it’s probably nothing you’ll be satisfied playing music from. Of course, if you’ve already got your go-to set of speakers or headphones, that doesn’t detract much from the value of the phone.

Not bad so far, but we can’t get out of here without talking about the battery, which has long been the Droid line’s banner feature. Putting a huge 3,630 mAh battery in a mid-range phone that doesn’t have to handle the draw of higher-powered processors usually translates into superior battery life, and that’s the certainly the case here. Using the PCMark for Android Work Battery Life test, the Maxx 2 scored 9 hours and 51 minutes, which puts it near the top of the smartphone heap. The nearest flagship phone to it is the Galaxy Note 5 at 8 hours and 6 minutes. More simply put, this thing just won’t die — running idle, it seems like it uses almost no battery power. I never had a day when the Maxx 2 got even close to dying, and there were times I could get through two days on one charge, as advertised. Failing that, the quick charge feature (which requires the included adapter) got me from 15 percent charge to 32 percent in 15 minutes.

Cameras

The rear camera has a 21 MP sensor along with phase-detection auto-focus, dual-LED flash with face detection and auto-HDR features. It’s also capable of taking 1080p video, although with a camera this good, it’s a bit of a disappointment that 4k video is off the table. Meanwhile, there’s a 5 MP front camera for video chats and selfies.

While the rear camera is a little more high-powered than we’re used to seeing on a mid-range phone, you’re a bit limited on options. A swipe to the right will bring up a control wheel, which includes panorama mode, a timer, a toggle for widescreen and standard modes, night mode, HDR, and controls for exposure and focus. There are few granular settings to fiddle with — although it’s pretty nice that exposure control shows you what your photo will look like before you take it. You can also take a rapid succession of stills with a long press. And, thanks to Motorola’s own apps, you can call up the camera quickly by twisting the phone twice, in case of a celebrity sighting emergency. Better yet, you can take a picture by tapping anywhere on screen, which is a great UI choice that should be adopted more widely.

Performance was about what you would expect from a mid-range phone, which is a little disappointing considering the use of a 21 MP sensor. Daytime images came out clear, with slightly muted colors. Nighttime and low-light pictures were grainy, which was still the case with night mode turned on (incidentally, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen satisfactory implementation of anything called ‘night mode’ on a smartphone camera).

Same deal for video, which you can take in 1080p or in 540p for slow-motion footage. Not have 720p slo-mo is a little bit of a disappointment, but it’s nice to see the feature implemented in some form. The mics that pick up audio do well in day-to-day use.

Ultimately, the Maxx 2’s camera doesn’t do enough with the 21 MP sensor to make it a worthy addition. The number is gaudy, but the phone would have been better off with a cheaper sensor and a lower price.

Software

The Maxx 2 runs Android 5.1.1 Lollipop out of the box, and while an upgrade to 6.0 Marshmallow is planned, Motorola doesn’t have the best reputation for getting Android updates out the door. That’s a little frustrating, because for the most part, Motorola phones are either stock Android or nearly so. The Maxx 2 is in the latter camp — the UI is more or less stock Android, but there’s quite a bit of preloaded software here. This mostly comes from Verizon — they’ve included their own messaging and calling apps, along with partner apps from the NFL, Amazon, and a few game developers. Meanwhile Motorola has included their family organizer app, Loop, and their personal assistant app, Moto. Verizon and Motorola’s apps are occasionally useful (Verizon’s Messaging+ app, which sorts images sent over text message in a separate place for you to view, is handy), especially when using the Verizon network’s VoLTE feature (higher quality calls), but it’s still as frustrating as ever that you can’t uninstall those apps. And, while you can uninstall many of the preloaded games, you cannot uninstall the Amazon, Slacker Radio, IMDb, or NFL apps, either, which is a shame considering there’s only 16 GB of internal storage in the phone.

One nice extra feature that comes by way of Motorola is notification previews. When you get a notification, you can tap and hold the notification bubble that appears to see previews of whatever message you received. It’s a small thing, but it comes in handy on occasion when you don’t want to unlock your phone to see what a message is about.

Connectivity

The Maxx 2 is stocked with 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, NFC, A-GPS, LTE, and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, with Micro USB 2.0 for charging. That Wi-Fi is dual-band, which is pretty nice to see and makes up for the lack of 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which we still expect to be missing in this year’s mid-range phones. It’s only a single SIM phone, which is a little disappointing, but not overly so — being a Verizon exclusive, it was never going to be a great choice for travelers or international callers. That said, the Maxx 2 is compatible with GSM networks (in addition to Verizon’s CDMA network), so it can theoretically work on international networks, as well as those of AT&T and T-Mobile.

Read on for the verdict…

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