Motorola DROID Turbo 2 review: shatterproof power for big spenders
Why buy a Droid?
Six years ago, when Motorola and Verizon Wireless introduced the very first Droid as the alternative to the AT&T-exclusive iPhone, the answer was obvious. With near-stock Google software running on an aggressively angular chassis and backed up by an even more aggressive marketing campaign, the original Droid was a carefully crafted “anti-iPhone.” It was positioned as the more-powerful, more-capable answer to Apple’s offering, and it sold by the truckload. More than any other device in the US, Motorola’s original Droid put the Android platform on the map – and its Verizon exclusivity helped Big Red fend off the aggressive expansion of arch-rival AT&T.
Today, things are quite different. The iPhone that drove the frenzied race to create the original Droid is now available on every US carrier, and Android has matured into a goliath of a platform that now powers 82% of all smartphones sold. It’s so ubiquitous, in fact, that Android phones are now increasingly easy to get without resorting to carrier contracts, with unlocked SIM-free devices available from manufacturers, third-party retailers, and directly from Google. There’s even pressure on the Droid brand from Motorola itself, whose $399 Moto X Pure Edition is one of the best smartphones you can buy right now.
Given these options, why would anyone fork over the kind of money Verizon is asking for the new Droid Turbo 2? The short answer: a compelling installment/replacement plan and excellent performance, with a screen that might just be impossible to shatter. The long answer … is after the jump.
Video Review · Hardware · Software · Camera · Performance
Motorola Droid Turbo 2 Review Video
There’s no nice way to put this: very few people seem to like the Droid Turbo 2’s looks. Public reaction to the design in the comment section of our first impressions video was particularly brutal, with the harshest criticism reserved for the phone’s large bezels and busy faceplate. Like most of its forerunners, this Droid seems engineered more for endurance than elegance.
We’ve never shied away from embracing a controversial opinion though, so we’re not afraid to say that we actually like the new Turbo’s look. Some smartphones try to be attractive and fail; the Turbo 2 looks like it consciously chose its awkward appearance, and now it’s daring you to say something about it. The phone’s faceplate bears no fewer than eleven penetrations for sensors, camera ports, speakers, and the display, every single one of them starkly visible on our white-bezeled review device. The sheer number of them suggests a smartphone packed with features, like a warship bristling with cannons. The 5.4-inch display is Quad HD and built on the high-contrast AMOLED technology that makes Motorola’s custom software shine; its whites are too blue and its luminance is too low to match its sibling’s LCD in broad daylight, but its 540ppi pixel density is impressive. The phone’s sides exhibit a tumblehome widening from front to back, the subtle double-corner design recalling earlier devices like the Photon Q. It’s neither particularly slim at 9.2mm nor all that svelte at 169g, but in the hand it does feel lighter than its rugged design suggests.
Part of that has to do with the Droid Turbo 2’s halo feature, a five-layer display that Motorola and Verizon claim is impervious to shattering. The so-called “ShatterShield” display doesn’t contain a lick of glass; instead, a P-OLED panel –the same type of display used in the LG G Flex 2– flexes with impacts, while a redundant touch layer offers two sensor systems should one become damaged in a fall. That touch layer is mounted independently rather than being bonded to the display, and the whole package is protected by a polycarbonate inner lens and a polycarbonate/acrylic outer lens treated with an impact-resistant coating. (Motorola considers the fifth “layer” to be the phone’s sturdy aluminum frame.) The result: a very durable display that Motorola guarantees “shatterproof” for four years.
In practice, the ShatterShield display lives up to its big promises – with a big catch. First, it really does seem to be shatterproof. We’ve dropped the Droid Turbo 2 face-first onto a hardwood floor about eight times at heights ranging from three to five feet. When that failed to break the display, we raised the stakes –and the altitude– by standing on a chair and dropping the phone from six feet onto a hard-tile kitchen floor. Though it landed perfectly flat on its face and produced a sickening slap of screen on stone, the display didn’t break. The next day, we took the phone out to a local park and treated it to at least ten more faceplants on rough aggregate … and got the same results. That’s a tremendous achievement and Motorola deserves kudos for it. But the cruel symmetry of our universe means that the same pliability that makes for great impact resistance makes for poor scratch resistance. The Droid Turbo 2’s exterior lens is very easy to scuff up; it started showing scrapes as early as our second drop, and after a worst-case indoor drop test (a face-down landing followed by a ten-foot slide across a dusty hardwood floor), the scratches were so bad as to be plainly visible from any angle, whether the screen was on or off. So, paradoxically, you’ll want to invest in a screen protector if you decide to buy the world’s first shatterproof smartphone. Motorola says it will also sell replacement exterior lenses separately, as they’re designed to be easily replaced by the end user. Indeed, when we took a SIM tool to the edge of our review device’s topmost layer, it peeled right away.
The Turbo 2 also brings another first to the table: it’s the first Droid to accommodate the MotoMaker customizations the Moto X line has long enjoyed. Buyers have the option of skinning their smartphone in soft-touch silicone, pebbled Horween leather or a revised version of the ballistic nylon material introduced on last year’s Droid Turbo. The aluminum frame and dimpled camera bezel come in various shades, with an additional user-selectable accent color ringing the latter. The leather options demand a $24 premium, but also allow the addition of a 14-character custom engraving on the phone’s backside.
Considering the Turbo 2’s similarity to the Moto X Pure Edition, maybe the lack of a fingerprint scanner here is unsurprising. It is a letdown though, given that the space between the phone’s twin speaker grilles seems custom-made for such a feature. More disappointing is the fact that Verizon was unable to resist the urge to cram its (now-outdated) logo into that space instead, the company apparently having learned nothing from the internet’s reaction the last time it tried something similar.
Speaking of commonalities with the Moto X: the Droid Turbo 2’s build of Android 5.1.1 is almost identical to the Pure Edition’s. As a result, most of our conclusions from our review of that device apply just as readily to the Turbo 2 – with a few important exceptions.
The most obvious of these is the absolute lack of anything “Pure” about the Turbo 2’s out-of-box experience. Verizon’s touches are littered throughout the software: the signal strength indicator in the quick-action toggles bears the company’s “4G LTE” branding, while a persistent alert takes up space in the notification shade any time you’re connected to WiFi (and any time you’re using a non-Verizon SIM card). As on the HTC One A9, Google Now has been removed from the leftmost home screen and consigned to obscurity beneath the home key. Unlike the A9, though, the Turbo 2 doesn’t come with Android Marshmallow … and given Verizon’s history of exceedingly slow updates, there’s no telling when it might arrive. The out-of-box clock widget is nice, at least: it’s a variation on the “Circles” widget we’ve known and loved for years, with pop-out trays that provide calendar and weather information and a ring-shaped meter that conveys battery charge level at a glance. In a nice bit of attention to detail, the ring’s default color matches the hardware’s accent color, though it can be changed at will.
Unfortunately, not all of Verizon’s bloatware is so useful. The carrier has packed in a ton of preloaded apps, most of them non-deletable. These range from the company’s own custom titles (Caller Name ID, Cloud, VZ Protect, Message+, Mobile Hotspot, Droid Zap, VZ Navigator) to sponsored/featured apps (Sugar Smash, NFL Mobile, Cookie Jam, Panda Pop) to partner content like Slacker Radio, Audible and the Amazon apps suite. In all, Verizon’s bloatware package includes 22 distinct titles, several of which lead to redundant paid services that Google already offers for free. Taken by itself, paying $5/month for VZ Navigator doesn’t seem like too bad a deal –it’s actually a pretty solid app– but when you consider that Google Maps does the exact same thing (and does most of it better) it’s ludicrous. The hope seems to be that uninformed or careless people will tap on the first option they see for navigation and then continue using it past the 30-day trial period. All carriers do this to an extent, and users can cancel the VZ Navigator subscription at any time, but when the nation’s most expensive operator feels the need to try these nickel-and-dime tactics, it feels especially icky.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to shove all the cruft aside and get to the Motorola experience underneath: a handful of very useful features built atop a mostly-stock Android environment. The phone’s proximity sensors make checking notifications or looking at the clock very simple: just wave a hand over the phone when it’s lying on a table and Moto Display will flicker to life. Call out to the phone with a custom keyphrase (ours is “Guten Tag, Herr Turbo!”) and you can tell the phone to do anything from setting an alarm to calling your brother – all hands-free. When the phone detects you’re driving in a car, it will dictate inbound text messages to you and allow you to reply by voice, a nice feature to have when you’re barreling down the highway at 65mph but still want to know who just texted you. While other phones make you fiddle with buttons or trace cumbersome gestures to fire up the flashlight, on the Turbo 2 it’s just a quick “chop-chop” hand gesture away. And if you trade that double-chop for a double-twist of the wrist instead, congratulations: you just launched the camera app.
The same commitment to simple utility has made its way into the camera’s viewfinder software (which is again identical to that of the Moto X Pure Edition). It’s a little pokey, but you can aim the camera at a bar code or QR code and the software will eventually provide a link to open the browser and take you to whatever URL the code points to. Substitute a business card and the viewfinder will offer to populate an address book entry with the information it sees thereon. Take a flurry of photos in a burst and the phone will offer its opinion of the “best” shot of the bunch. While the viewfinder itself is still awkward and lacks any semblance of advanced manual controls, the addictive launch gesture and the utility of the added features make it tolerable.
The camera itself is the same 21MP sensor found in the Moto X, a Sony IMX230 with an f/2.0 aperture, and performance is right in line with its cousin. There’s no optical stabilization here so a steady hand is necessary when shooting, especially in low light where an automatic night mode kicks in to brighten things up a bit. As always, the lower the light the more grain there is; you’ll get better night captures on Google’s new Nexuses, but the Turbo 2 does better than most Motorola phones in low light, and its HDR mode brings highlights to the shadows without washing everything out. Selfies taken with the 5MP front-facing camera are quite nice, and at night you’ve got a front-facing flash to help out as well; while it has a tendency to blow out its subjects, it’s still nice to have if you spend most of your time in the club.
Video has its highs and lows. On the bright side you’ve got excellent digital stabilization when shooting in 4K, making for mostly-smooth footage unless you’re really stomping around while you record. But despite the added horsepower of the Snapdragon 810 over the 808, shooting in 4K seems to overtax the Droid Turbo 2 just as much as it did the Moto X Pure Edition; the phone heats up almost immediately, and the viewfinder gets very laggy. Also, there’s plenty of digital noise when shooting indoors, even in brightly-lit areas.
Taken as a whole, the Droid Turbo 2 packs a serviceable set of cameras. It’s not the best cameraphone on Android (that honor is still shared by LG and Samsung) but it’s better than Motorola has managed in the past, and it’ll do most folks just fine.
We’ve used the Droid Turbo 2 on its native Verizon Wireless for five days between New York City and Greater Boston. While we typically like to spend more time with our review devices before rendering a final verdict, we felt an accelerated review process was warranted given the similarity between the Turbo 2 and its Motorola-made contemporaries. If there are major changes to any of our conclusions after this review goes to press, we’ll update this post.
For all its big talk when it comes to display resilience, Motorola is quiet about the Droid Turbo 2’s overall ruggedness … and there’s a reason for that. While it comes equipped with Motorola’s typical nanocoating for water resistance, the Droid Turbo 2 packs no impact-resistance rating of any kind (at least, none that the company deems worthy of mention). Accordingly, some of its components can’t quite hold up to the kind of abuse we’ve subjected our phone to. In addition to scratching up the phone’s exterior lens and severely denting its frame, our multiple drops seem to have damaged the Turbo 2’s front-firing speaker, reducing its sound quality to a tinny, rattling ghost of its former self. While that’s a shame, we emphasize that that damage happened after repeated, worst-case-scenario drops. A lesser phone would likely have come away with a broken speaker too – and a shattered display to boot.
Before we ruined it, that front-facing speaker delivered above-average sound for its size, and the phone shone in other areas as well. The SIM stayed firmly seated in its slot no matter how hard we dropped the phone, which is more than we can say for some other “durable” devices. The phone’s Adreno 420 GPU kept up with us in Asphalt 8 without complaint; its Snapdragon 810 didn’t stutter when loading pages in Chrome; and its 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM let us shuffle between open apps with aplomb. While we tested a T-Mobile SIM at one point to verify it would register on that carrier’s LTE network (it did), we were quite pleased with Verizon’s performance: we spent much of our first day with the Turbo 2 using it as a mobile hotspot from the heart of Manhattan to the middle of Amtrak’s notoriously barren Northeast Corridor, and Big Red only stumbled in the deep boonies. And aside from a small hiccup in voice quality that affected both of our Verizon review units for a portion of one morning, cellular calls went as smoothly as ever. Verizon Wireless may be expensive, but you sure do get your money’s worth.
That kind of performance takes a ton of energy, so the Droid Turbo 2 comes with a boatload of battery power – 3760 mAh of it, to be precise. That reservoir gave us a best time of 16 hours’ moderate usage (with 5 hours of screen-on time) over one cycle during our test period. While we’ve seen several Android phones do much better than that, those were older devices with lower-resolution displays launched with a version of Android that was much kinder to smartphone batteries. We’d still like to see the Turbo 2 last a little longer –and perhaps it will once it’s updated to Marshmallow– but its endurance, if not exemplary, is at least acceptable.
True road warriors will still need to top up throughout the day, and the Droid Turbo 2 has them covered: the phone comes with the higher-output 25W version of Motorola’s TurboPower charger, making for very fast replenishment times. And if, like us, you find wires so 20th-century, you’ll be happy to know that the Turbo 2 has both Qi and PMA wireless charging built right in. We’ve tested it with the FurniQi charging table from Fonesalesman and a TYLT Vu, both of which charged the Turbo 2 without incident.
+ Shatterproof is right
+ Above-average endurance with a variety of charging options
+ First Droid with MotoMaker customization options
+ Motorola software modifications are useful, restrained
– Shatterproof doesn’t mean scratch-proof
– Older Android version with a possible long wait for Marshmallow
Pricing and Availability
The Droid Turbo 2 went on sale Thursday at Motorola’s website and in Verizon’s retail and online channels, where it retails for $624 in its 32GB configuration or $720 for the 64GB trim. The added cost of the latter includes more than just a storage bump: if you tire of your phone within two years of purchase, Motorola will allow you to exchange it for an entirely new Droid Turbo 2 with a revised design of your choice. This offer is only valid on the more expensive 64GB model, but it should resonate with anyone familiar with the mid-contract “rut.” To further sweeten the deal, Verizon Wireless is also offering up to $300 to buyers who trade-in their old phones when buying a Turbo 2 … and the company has cheekily agreed to pony up the dough even if your trade-in phone has a cracked screen.
Still, those are some mighty steep prices when you consider that the Moto X Pure Edition comes with almost as much power and customizability –and likely much faster software updates– for about $200 less. So who is this phone for, really?
The Droid Turbo 2 is for a class of customer we’ll call the “Verizon lifer.” Rather than pandering to the listless deal-seeker who never spends more than six months on the same network, or the restless phone-swapper who always needs to have the greatest new thing, this phone is for the loyal Verizon Wireless subscriber who wants a high-end phone to last the length of a two-year contract.
At two-year installment pricing, the Droid Turbo 2 maxes out at $30 per month: pricey, but do-able for the kind of customer already accustomed to paying Verizon’s monthly charges. In exchange, buyers get a very well-appointed flagship with a clever feature set, one of the biggest batteries around, and a display that’s basically impossible to shatter. It’s still on the expensive side if you ask us, but if you’ve got the money and you’re committed to remaining with Verizon Wireless for the foreseeable future, it’s probably the Droid you’re looking for. Just be sure to rule out its cheaper cousin before you buy.