Wicked Review of Verizon’s Droid Maxx (Motorola XT-1080M)

Motorola Droid Maxx with Touchless Controls through Google NowQuite fortuitously, I’ve been allowed to play with a shiny new Droid Maxx this week, and I’ve given it the acid test! Below are the things I like, the things I love, and the things I could do without.

Nice Screen, Quick App Response!

I like the extra real-estate on the Maxx, its 5-inch (720 x 1280 pixels, 294 ppi) AMOLED screen offers colors that are crisp and bright even though the Maxx is not full HD like some of the current Android offerings. The touch function is quite responsive and the extra real estate prevents some of the “fat finger” typos and other tech “fails” I have experienced as a result of smaller screens. The built-in keyboard offers an excellent swipe feature. (I had to buy the SwiftKey app for a high quality version of this function on my other android devices, this one is great out-of-package.)

YouTube, Netflix, and Ustream look great on the Maxx and the Ustream app was not required on this phone — I could view just fine from inside the built-in default Chrome browser. The YouTube app loads quickly and I didn’t have to wait several seconds for it to begin playing (as I usually do with my Bionic). It does NOT, however, play flash — I tried to look at videos on Justin.tv and got the message that the adobe flash player was required, and it could not be downloaded to the phone. 🙁

Battery Life

Although the Maxx was reported to go for 48 hours of “typical” usage, I didn’t find that to be the case. Now, perhaps I’m a power-user, I have been accused of that on a few occasions.  I had to get an uber-fat extended battery on my Droid Bionic (along with a chubby back case to cover it) just to make it through a typical day, which makes it approximately as thick as a brick and I still have to charge during the day if I’m tethering or doing heavy-lifting with my phone.

When I tested the Maxx, I didn’t stream non-stop and I didn’t have it doing things while I was asleep, so there was quite a bit of “downtime” for the little guy. Its battery performed extremely well — but it didn’t give me the promised 48 hours. I took the phone off the charger at 3:20 p.m. Monday and the battery registered 100%. By 12:33 p.m. the next day it was at 8%. It officially died at 2:17 p.m., just shy of 24 hours into my “typical” usage cycle. It does, however, offer wireless charging which is an excellent feature.

Although I appreciate the forethought of providing a dual port feature on the charging block that comes with the device, I wish it pushed a little more juice. It offers a dual USB charging option, which would reduce the number of blocks you would have to carry if you just need a small amount of power to charge your devices. The Maxx charger only offers a standard 5V/1.1A, output so it would charge power hungry devices (like your tablet or other devices) EXTREMELY slowly — if at all. It takes just under 4 hours to charge the Maxx from 0% to 100% using the included charging block (without anything else attached to the second port).

So even with the included dual-plug charger, I’d have to continue to carry my larger, more cumbersome, but EXTREMELY powerful Kanex DoubleUp 2.1A Dual USB Charger block everywhere I go for the quick-charge ups I require.

Disclaimer: There are two things no tech device can have enough of for my tastes — battery life and storage space. Even the most impressive performers leave me wanting more.

Form Factor

Motorola_Droid_Maxx_Black_Right_loresThe Maxx offers a thin, easy to hold shape with a Kevlar-clad back. I love the Kevlar. I love the psychology of gorilla glass and Kevlar probably as much as the reality of the stuff. Cool textures and high-tech materials make me melt. The thin profile means it doesn’t “lump up” in my pocket.

The 3500 mAh battery is not user-accessible, so you can enjoy the extra battery life offered, but you can’t upgrade it to an even larger battery — even if you were willing to destroy the sleek thin lines of the phone to do so. Personally, I always prefer a user-upgradeable extended battery option, even though those are becoming rare.

The 32 gigs of storage is nice and is necessary for power users, especially since the phone doesn’t offer a way to add any additional space with an SD card. I wish it had that option. (Please note the disclaimer in the above section about battery life and storage space)

On a side note, I like the Maxx’s “charger at the bottom” configuration much better than the top or side options offered by other phones. I like it because it makes it easier for accessories to work, in my experience — including those that aren’t brand specific. I do wish the power button was at the top, however, since having the rocker switch for volume right next to the power button frustrates. This placement requires me to stop and think about if it is the power or the rocker button my finger has found — thus takes me more time to find what I need. This is a personal preference, however, and is probably one I would become accustomed to fairly quickly.

Touch Free Controls and Wireless Features

Using the “Ok Google Now” voice command, this phone will wake itself up from sleep to do your bidding. Sweet! Want to take a quick nap, say for 20 minutes? Just say, “Ok, Google Now, wake me up in 20 minutes.” The phone takes over and sets an alarm for 20 minutes from now and you have no worries. You can also set an alarm for tomorrow morning in the dark without touching the phone beside your bed: “Ok, Google Now, wake me up at 6 a.m.” And presto! It’s done!

Want to launch an app without the effort of actually TOUCHING your phone? Done! Just say, “Ok, Google Now, Netflix app” and there you go — Netflix is all launched and sitting there offering you choices on the movies you can watch. It won’t do a two-step process, so you still have to select your movie, but how lazy do you REALLY want to be? 🙂

This touch-free feature is a great indication of the direction  voice commands are going. And I love the direction. It is my understanding that one of the phone’s 8 cores is dedicated to handling that one feature. My only concern is how much “recording” might be going on with such apps to be constantly monitoring for the “trigger phrase” — even when in sleep mode. Yeah, I wear a tin-foil hat from time to time.

I did not test Miracast (primarily because my TV doesn’t offer that wireless steaming option) or Zap for sharing with other Android devices.

Great Sound for Phone Speaker

The speaker, located around the camera lens on the back of the camera, can really crank out the sound. I have to use the SpeakerBoost app on most of my android devices (or cart around an external pod-style speaker or my favorite earphones — or both) to enjoy my Google Play collection of music, my Netflix, or my Audible books, but this Droid Maxx has superior volume and power without any additional muss and fuss.

I tested the speakers against my Droid Bionic (with SpeakerBoost installed) and there was NO comparison. The Bionic (even with the sound-boosting app) was completely drowned out by the speakers on the Maxx. Nice!

Love, Love, LOVE the Camera App!

The thing I hate most about smartphone cameras (as a rule) is that they are sluggish to launch and require finger-acrobatics to use. By the time I can get my camera launched and ready, the shot I really wanted is long gone.

My significant other is a camera and video buff, so he’s always having me try new camera apps — in a thus-far ill-fated attempt to help me find the one I will love. The result is I hate most smartphone cameras and all the apps because they never have what I want in a single app and I despise having to try to remember which one to launch to do what I want in a given situation. Not so with the Maxx.

The built-in Maxx camera app launches FAST (under 1 second) and you don’t have to fiddle around trying to hit the right place on the screen, or set it up with special, custom defaults or launch different apps to use a hardware button to take a shot. You launch and tap the screen — anywhere — and you take a nice looking pic. You can also hold your finger on the screen to take a series of shots. No more trying to find the setting while you are busy missing the best shots! The 10 megapixel photos are impressive. Period.

The front facing, 2 megapixel camera is excellent, too. No more sacrificing quality to get that cheesy shot of you and all your friends at any impromptu gathering! (Heck, it’s good enough to replace that compact mirror you keep in your purse!)

The controls stay out of the way, but are available with a quick flick of the finger on the left side of the screen. They include a tap to focus and a slow motion video among other more standard settings. A “quick flick” option allows you to  launch the camera by flicking your wrist twice when holding the phone. I LOVE this feature. It responds much quicker than ‘add on’ apps I’ve used in the past for quick-launch capability. It means that no matter what I’m doing, I can flick my wrist twice and the camera app opens quickly enough for me to catch the most elusive shot. Love it, love it, LOVE IT!

Want to see how those photos you just took look? Flick the right side of the screen when the camera is active and you have them all there for quick review. The built-in effects button means you no longer have to add photo manipulation apps or rely on Instagram to create great photos worthy of your Facebook page. And from the gallery view, you can hold down to select multiple photos to quickly delete all those that aren’t quite right or to upload a whole series at once to your email or favorite social networking site. It makes managing your photos a snap. Most apps I’ve used make dealing with your photo gallery a chore.

Movie-mode — 1920×1080 (1080p HD) (60 fps) — is simple and does a great job, even the audio recording sounds great! Proof: My camera-snob, video-buff, better-half had to agree that this camera is pretty envy-worthy. That’s a hard admission to get out of him. Simply put, I think this camera and the built-in software is the BOMB!

Phone Performance

Zippy is the best way to describe the launching of apps, the extremely good voice-to-text feature, and the overall performance of the device. I find that portion of the phone extremely impressive. I’m sure the 8-core Motorola 8X chip deserves all the credit. For the non-techie, average user, it’s just plain slick.

From a voice standpoint, the phone sounded good during calls. I must admit in a side-by-side test, I slightly prefer the sound of my Bionic. It’s hard to explain the difference, and it may be the “sound cancelling” mic feature — or it may just be my connection the few times I tried the phone feature — but it seemed to “click” ever so slightly between sentences whereas the Bionic seemed to keep a more consistent connection. It’s a tiny thing, but it’s there.

Testing the “Fringe” Areas for Data Coverage and Speed

The Motorola Droid Bionic I currently use has an extraordinary antenna. That’s the ONLY reason I still have this outdated device. It can pick up a signal in places other phones on my own Verizon service (and phones on other services) can’t even touch. Since I live in a remote region, and often use my phone’s data services to tether my computer for work — so this REALLY matters to me.

The Droid Maxx does a fairly good job of covering some of the more remote regions, but it still pales in comparison to the Bionic. In some areas where I’m picking up 4G on the Bionic and enjoying 12.8 upload/8.46mbps download, the Maxx is struggling to achieve 6.0 upload/.37mbps download. Granted, those are the fringe areas, but that makes this device a no-go for me, personally, despite all the other fantastic features.

In town, with good, solid 4LTE, the Maxx usually offers faster download speeds, but slower upload speeds. Example: (Maxx: 11.5 down/12.9 up vs. Bionic:10.5 down/14.7 up). It always amazes me that the upload speed in the 4LTE areas close by often have faster upload speed than download — regardless of the device used. I hope this isn’t a transitory feature of the relatively new 4LTE in my area.

I use Speedtest.net with a Lexington, KY server for most of my speed tests — and used the same server when testing simultaneous results for these two devices. The differences in upload/download speeds in solid LTE areas is negligible and wouldn’t even be noticed by most users. The Maxx does a great job in town — and basically everywhere you have a solid signal.

Conclusion

If I didn’t live, work, and demand data in massive amounts from my phone while in fringe areas, I’d trade in my trusty Bionic for this new Droid Maxx faster than the Maxx can launch an app — and that’s pretty darn fast! The camera, the speaker, the touchless controls, and the speed with which the Maxx’s 8 cores do my bidding would tip the scales. Of course, I’d also really enjoy the Maxx’s larger screen, 32 gigs of onboard memory, and the 4.2.2 version of Jelly Bean.:)

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