Hands on: Verizon’s Droid Maxx goes big on everything (including the price)

It costs a steep $300 on contract, but the Droid Maxx continues to outshine the rest of the phone industry in battery performance. This new model has wireless charging built in as well.

Motorola and Verizon love their Droids. The Droid brand is what put Google’s Android OS on the map and it’s continued to be a differentiator for Verizon in the years since. Today, the two companies unveiled the Droid Ultra, Droid Mini, and Droid Maxx. Available next month for $300, the Droid Maxx is a decked-out version of the Droid Ultra, and builds on what’s worked before: a slim, attractive design, amazing battery life, an HD screen, and just enough signature features to stand out without going overboard.

(Portions of this hands-on review mirror our coverage of the Droid Ultra. They are almost the same phone.)

The Maxx has the same design as last year’s Razrs, but is now further slimmed and streamlined. At only 8.5mm thick, it’s one of the thinnest 4G LTE smartphones available. It feels fairly light and like something we could use one-handed despite the 5-inch screen.

Maxx vs Ultra

The Droid Maxx is almost the same phone as the Droid Ultra, with a few key differences. The larger battery is one (battery life is just about double), though we should note that this does not add much bulk or weight. Next is the design. The Maxx is just as comfortable to hold but has a matte finish that both looks and feels better than the Droid Ultra. The 3500mAh battery can also charge wirelessly, unlike the Ultra.

Both phones have loud speakers with decent audio quality but the Maxx is louder and sounds clearer. Internally, the Maxx only comes with 32GB of internal storage where the Ultra starts at 16GB or a 32GB option. Neither phone has a MicroSD card slot. Both are available in red or black.

Active Display and Specs

Despite being a Motorola phone that runs nearly stock Android Jelly Bean, the Maxx has physical Home, Back, and Recent Apps buttons instead of going strictly on-screen. This is somewhat surprising given that Google owns Motorola now, but we’re not complaining.

The Maxx is just as comfortable to hold but has a matte finish that both looks and feels better than the Droid Ultra.

The bright and vivid 5-inch, AMOLED display is gorgeous and pixel dense with wide viewing angles. The display technology is even more relevant here because of Motorola’s new feature: Active Display. When the Maxx detects that it’s resting on a flat surface it will show the time if you just nudge it. Have other notifications? Tap and hold the icon to see text and decide if you want to open or ignore it. Active Display utilizes white text, and so only the pixels needed will light up, saving battery. (AMOLED screens only light up the pixels that are needed, giving darker and deeper blacks than any other screen.)

There are a lot of fun little features built into the Ultra. There aren’t as many as a Galaxy S4, but enough to show that Motorola is paying attention to the trends without slavishly following them. Another we like is Droid Zap for sharing photos with friends within 300 feet. You need a Droid Ultra, Maxx, or Mini to send photos, but any Android phone can accept them (as long as you have the app). Droid owners can even send a link to the app directly to friends.

The camera app itself isn’t as robust as we’d like, but at least it launches fast. You don’t even need to tap the icon, just twist your wrist twice to launch. The shutter appears speedy and the 10-megapixel images are decent. We’ve only seen examples taken in mixed/crappy lighting so far and we’d need to test further to see if we can pull better images from it with tweaking.

Conclusion

In our short hands-on time with the Maxx, we were impressed by the speed but didn’t get a chance to push the phone too much, but given the bragging Motorola did on its custom processor, it should hold up to some strenuous use.

The Droid Ultra will sell for $300 on contract. You can pre-order it here. While it isn’t groundbreaking when compared to other superphones like the Galaxy S4 or HTC One, it keeps pace with those devices while remaining distinctly Motorola. For fans of this brand and this line of phones that’s great news. And you won’t need to wait too long to get your hands on one. The new Droids ship on August 20.

Highs

  • Fun new gesture controls
  • Clean Android user interface
  • Wireless charging
  • Long battery life (up to 48 hours)

Lows

  • 720p screen
  • Expensive ($300 with contract)
  • No MicroSD slot
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