Motorola DROID Turbo review rebuttal: power-packed, but not perfect

As efforts like After The Buzz, the Pocketnow U-Review, and Empty Nest demonstrate, we’re constantly searching for fresh ways to review mobile technology. The newest product of those efforts is Pocketnow’s “Review Rebuttal” series, in which a member of our team is assigned to test a smartphone or tablet that’s already gone through our standard review process. While the resulting video or editorial doesn’t affect the “official” Pocketnow review score, we hope it provides added context by showcasing an editor’s personal opinion, rather than a team-wide consensus.

We call it the “rebuttal” because the new opinion sometimes differs significantly from the thrust of the original review. Rather than reject or bury that, we think the dissenting opinion is valuable – and we present it for your evaluation alongside select product reviews.

It’s hard to give a DROID a chance. Years ago, before Android’s sharp increase in viability as a platform, the brand became a launch pad for an all-out assault on the then-new iPhone. Since then, Motorola’s mobile group has been bought by Google, entirely restructured, and then sold to Lenovo. The company’s Android skin became notorious as a bit of a failure, and the numbers weren’t looking good for investors either. Until around last year, with the release of the DROID MINI, ULTRA, MAXX, and then the Moto X. By and large the media glazed over the first three and focused its attention on the single other one – a clear sign that DROIDs simply weren’t considered to be halo phones anymore.

But this year, the DROID isn’t living in the shadows of Motorola’s “true” flagship. Everything about the phone is bold, from its materials to its incredible specs, and the package has pleasantly surprised me. We already gave it the video review treatment a few weeks back, which can be seen embedded above; now let’s see what else can be gleaned from a different perspective in our DROID Turbo review rebuttal.

You can’t go wrong with the specs

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Let’s immediately address the elephant in the room: the specs. The Turbo is firmly entrenched in  “dream phone” territory, with maxed-out specs in almost every single category. There’s a quad HD 5.2-inch display, 3GB of RAM, a quad-core 2.7 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, a 3,900 mAh battery, a 21MP camera, and more. We’ll examine some of these in detail a bit later on in this review, but immediately the Turbo sounds like a strong contender.

With all this power under the hood, the Turbo just screams performance-wise. I wasn’t able to concoct any regimen of apps, games, and movies that was able to force the device into lag territory, though demanding titles such as Galaxy on Fire 2 HD and Dead Trigger 2 do make our Ballistic Nylon-encased review unit quite hot during gameplay (Michael Fisher found otherwise in the above review video, but it’s possible he didn’t play quite as long as I did). The thermal throttling inabilities aside, you probably won’t encounter issues in day-to-day usage.

Perhaps where the specs come in the most handy is in future-proofing the phone. The harsh reality of the matter is that most buyers of the Turbo will purchase it on a two-year contract, and will need a phone that can last them for the duration of their contract length. For these purposes, the Turbo will pose no problems.

The battery’s good, but not outstanding

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One of the biggest areas where Motorola has over-promised and under-delivered is the battery. Don’t get us wrong: the phone lasts me all day with relatively heavy use, even, and I’m able to squeeze out almost five hours of screen-on time regularly on a charge.

Despite the fact that the battery isn’t a particularly bad pack, it isn’t unwarranted to expect much more from the company that’s been deemed the King of Batteries. Especially with such a big power pack built-in –Huawei’s Ascend Mate2 4G LTE, which had a battery with the exact capacity of the DROID’s, routinely lasted us much longer– the results aren’t too pleasing. The inclusion of so much power within the chassis doesn’t do well for the heft and thickness of the device, too – a minor annoyance at first, but one that you’ll learn to live with if you purchase the phone.

To make up for those battery woes, Motorola has bundled a Turbo Charger in the box. The charger boasts Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology, and will allegedly give Turbo owners eight hours of usage with just 15 minutes worth of charging. I’ve found that claim to be slightly untrue, as our review unit went from 4% to 21% in the time period (hardly enough to hit eight hours of usage for even the most frugal users). Also worth noting is the fact that attaching the DROID to a Turbo charger will almost always result in a great amount of heat build-up, though this is the tradeoff of pumping power into the phone at a high speed. It is indeed true that the Turbo Charger is a good choices to get yourself a charge in a pinch, though, and it’s one of the best options available on the market as far as charging up goes.

The bottom line is that the DROID Turbo has a battery that will last all but the most demanding users a whole day, but at the cost of weight. It’s entirely possible that Motorola will issue a system update that will remedy some of its battery shortcomings, just as it did with the Moto 360 smartwatch, so I’m not slamming the door on the matter (especially with the prospect of Lollipop and Project Volta on the horizon). Still, don’t keep your fingers crossed.

Media consumption is a joy

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What do you get when you combine a front-facing speaker system and a gorgeous quad HD display? A powerful media experience.

Let me elaborate on that. Starting first with the speaker, the front-firing orientation immediately allows for richer and fuller sound than if it was facing the other way. The speakers have fairly accurate reproduction at low decibel levels, but once you begin to crank it up distortion becomes apparent. As long as you have your music at a normal volume, the speaker will work just fine.

The screen, as with every other screen beyond 500 ppi these days, amazes. Pixels can’t be made out, and colors are accurate for the most part. The debate still rages on about whether Motorola should have gone with a 1080p panel for the Turbo, considering the battery benefits and the fact that the difference can’t be easily distinguished on a panel this size, though the screen as it is looks just fine.

Motorola’s software suite is tough to leave

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As I implied in that introduction, Motorola’s software hasn’t always been a joy to use, but ever since the release of the 2013 smartphone lineup, the software skin has been an absolutely magnificent experience.

The premise is simple: take a “pure” version of Android, and add onto it only features that are both subtle and useful. And Motorola has pulled it off astonishingly well, incorporating a build that looks just like stock Android 4.4.4 but feels like much more than that. Moto Voice, which now allows for custom activation phrases, is a reliable and powerful voice assistant that’s always listening. Despite the gimmicky nature of this particular add-on, it’s one that I find myself often using from across the room: getting all my notifications read aloud to me is just a simple “Talk to me DROID, what’s up?” away.

Moto Display, rebranded from Active Display, is yet another tool that makes the phone subtly more useful. It displays the time and missed notifications in only a small part of the screen (being an OLED panel, it’s able to light up only a select group of pixels), and it’s incredibly convenient to immediately ignore or take action on any one of the notifications. If you leave your phone on a flat surface, it’ll occasionally pulse Moto Display on and off, and the mode will also fire on when you remove it from a pocket or wave your hand over the IR sensors on the front of the phone.

There are other touches, too. Trusted Devices, for one, has let me bypass the lock screen entirely whenever my Moto 360 is connected to the phone, but with the peace of mind that a thief couldn’t access my files should my phone be stolen. Motorola Assist, too, does an excellent job at proactively handling different things, like silencing notifications while in a meeting and reading notifications aloud while driving.

And did I mention that this is all on a stock Android backbone? This means fast updates to the latest version of Android are a thing. The Lollipop update for the Turbo should be landing any day now, considering that its sibling, the Verizon Moto X (2014), has just begun receiving it.

The bottom line? You’ll dig the DROID Turbo’s software if you don’t use a phone for all the bells and whistles something like Samsung’s TouchWiz offers, or the UX overhaul afforded by skins like HTC Sense. Go Motorola if you want everything but usability to become secondary.

It’s on Verizon

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By “It’s on Verizon,” I don’t mean to rant about the fact that the Turbo is exclusive to the carrier or that update turnaround times could be sluggish (quite to the contrary, Verizon has been really good about updating Motorola devices as of late).

I instead mean that by grabbing the Turbo, you’re also buying into a reliable nationwide 4G LTE-capable network. Reception on the DROID has been rock solid –that’s those tried-and-proven Motorola radios at work– and speeds have been on par with other Verizon devices. In my testing in Southern California, I hit peak speeds of about 60 Mbps for both uploads and downloads, though your experience will wholly depend on where you’re situated.

The camera: not bad, but not excellent either

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Motorola has seldom been praised for its smartphone cameras. In fact, one of the strongest criticisms of the 2013 and the 2014 family (sans the Turbo) has been the optical performance. With the DROID Turbo, Motorola bet that going big on megapixels –the device features a whopping 21 of them– would translate into good image quality.

How do the results look? Well, see for yourself:

Motorola DROID Turbo camera samples (standard, 15.5MP)

 

Motorola DROID Turbo camera samples (HDR, 15.5MP)

 

Motorola DROID Turbo camera samples (standard, 21MP)

 

 

Motorola DROID Turbo camera sample (video, 1080p)


When taking still photos in good daytime lighting, your results will generally be sharp and color-accurate. But switch to low-light and that sharpness starts to decrease, and noise becomes apparent. These aren’t problems just with Motorola cameras though; these issues are spread throughout the smartphone market in general. True, there is a mildly-irritating shutter delay that may have you missing moments or getting blurred-out pictures every once in a while, but overall this shooter is on par with other smartphones and is one I’m not embarrassed to use whatsoever.

Video is quite good, with strong, useful software stabilization, and the overall content is sharp. Although I don’t have the equipment to test out the 4K video, rest assured that your output will end up looking very good.

In case you wanted to dive even deeper into the camera, we have just the post for you: Michael’s hands-on test of the sensor.

The verdict

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So what’s the deal? Is the DROID Turbo a phone worth buying? The short answer, if you’re a Verizon customer, is yes. If you can live with the heft, bold design, and the slightly disappointing battery performance, then you won’t go wrong by dropping your cash on this smartphone.

The truth is that there are so many things to love about this device, it takes a strong dislike of one or two core facets of the phone to make a case against it. Of course there are many other options on the market, some arguably better than this one, but if a solid Android experience and a rugged look and feel is what you’re after, then the DROID Turbo is the smartphone for you.

Looking for a more in-depth look at Motorola’s latest Android smartphone? Check out our DROID Turbo review for Michael Fisher’s full take, then see how well it stacks up to Motorola’s “true” flagship, the Moto X (2014), in our comparison video with that device!

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Rithvik Rao