Motorola Droid Maxx review: Superb battery life for a high price

Motorola Droid Maxx
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Train the Maxx to respond to your voice commands. Sarah Tew/CNET

Motorola's X8 platform may not have the sheer horsepower to stand up to full-blown quad-core processors toe-to-toe. It does have plenty of oomph, though, and I observed that on the Droid Maxx firsthand. The phone was very responsive, opening applications without hesitation. Navigating through settings menus and home screen was also silky-smooth.

Lab tests backed up the experience I had with the Droid Maxx, and the phone garnered a respectable Quadrant score of 8,804. Oddly enough this showing wasn't quite as high as the Droid Ultra achieved on the same test (9,056). And that's nowhere near as impressive as the numbers turned in by the HTC One (12,194) and Samsung Galaxy S4 (11,381).

Performance: Motorola Droid Maxx
Average LTE download speeds (Verizon) 10.5Mbps
Average LTE upload speed (Verizon) 6Mbps
App download (CNET) 3.72MB in 14 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5.8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 12.1 seconds
Boot time 15 seconds
Camera boot time 1.6 seconds

Call quality
I tested the Droid Maxx on Verizon's CDMA network both in New York City and Harpswell, Maine. Unlike my experience with the Droid Ultra, I found the Maxx delivered very clean call quality. In fact, callers I spoke to couldn't tell that I was chatting on a cellular connection. On my end, voices sounded rich, warm, and loud through the Maxx's earpiece.

Motorola Droid Maxx call quality sample

Listen now:

Additionally, thanks to the phone's large rear speaker, the Maxx's speakerphone can reach a high maximum volume. People I rang reported that there wasn't much difference in quality between speakerphone and standard calls except that my voice sounded slightly more distant over the speakerphone.

To say that I've been let down by Motorola smartphone cameras in the past would be an understatement. Indeed, I found that not only did previous generations of Droid Razrs take photos much too slowly, but they lacked key shooting modes found on Samsung and HTC devices.

Motorola Droid Maxx
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The Droid Maxx's camera app is simple to master. Sarah Tew/CNET

Fortunately, Motorola, and its Google master, went against history on the Moto X and its new Droid handsets by revamping the imaging system and camera app. As a result, the Droid Maxx's 10-megapixel sensor is capable of capturing pleasing photos both inside and in the great outdoors. Indoor shots of my studio still life were crisp, had accurate colors, and were exposed well.

Motorola Droid Maxx
Inside images were clear and sharp. Brian Bennett/CNET

Outdoors in daylight, verdant hues of trees and other foliage were lifelike and details were clear. I found the same true of blue skies, white clouds, and ocean waves. Like the Droid Ultra, though, the Maxx didn't have autofocus as lightning-fast as the HTC One's or the Galaxy S4's. Shot-to-shot time using those gadgets is practically instant, whereas the Droid Maxx took about half a second.

Motorola Droid Maxx
The Maxx's camera could capture those precious kiddie moments. Brian Bennett/CNET

Helping to speed up shooting is Motorola's Quick Capture feature. It fires up the camera app, even when asleep, when you twist the phone twice in your wrist. Honestly it's one of the most valuable capabilities I've seen on a smartphone in a while -- likely because I'm often juggling multiple objects (from sippy cups and toys to other gadgets and coffee mugs).

Motorola Droid Maxx
The HDR mode kicks in under tough lighting conditions. Brian Bennett/CNET

As with the Moto X and Droid Ultra, the Maxx's bare-bones camera app is astonishingly simple to operate. Settings are as basic as possible, so there's no way to select image or video size (the Maxx defaults to the largest available). Swiping from left to right opens a virtual wheel with various settings such as HDR and Panorama modes. Dragging your finger up and down zooms in and out, while sliding from right to left launches the gallery.

Data speeds
The Motorola Droid Maxx can access Verizon's 4G LTE network for fast data access. My tests in New York were similar to those I ran on the Droid Ultra, with results varying widely by my location. Average overall download speed came in at a respectable 10.5Mbps, while out in quiet sections of Queens, N.Y., the phone sucked down information as swiftly as 17.8Mbps. Upload speeds spanned anywhere from 0.6Mbps to 14.7Mbps; average upload throughput, however, came in at 6Mbps.

Battery life
Toting a state-of-the-art high-capacity 3,500mAh battery, the Motorola Droid Maxx's main selling point is its promised longevity. And my initial tests with the handset vouch for the Maxx's considerable staying power.

The phone was able to push through the CNET Labs Video Playback battery drain benchmark for 15 hours and 50 minutes. While far from the 48 hours of "mixed" use Motorola claims the Maxx is capable of, in this showing it was well ahead of the Droid Razr Maxx HD (14 hours, 53 minutes) and substantially longer than both the HTC One (9 hours, 37 minutes) and Samsung Galaxy S4 (10 hours, 30 minutes: average).

With such a remarkable battery, however, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the Maxx demonstrated some quirky behavior regarding its mobile power source. For instance, my early test model refused to charge when the device was powered down, even though the phone said it was receiving a steady flow of electrons.

Additionally, it wouldn't charge properly unless I first changed the USB computer connection mode to Camera and then unplugged and reconnected the USB cable. A recent Maxx replacement unit though exhibited no such problems, and in fact worked flawlessly. Motorola explained that some of the preproduction Maxx units used wonky software but shipping models shouldn't be affected.

Indeed, this latest device consistently demonstrated the same ludicrously long run time, well over 14.5 hours playing HD video. It also charged swiftly, reaching full power from zero charge in under an hour. Another nice extra is the Droid Maxx's (and all the new Droids for that matter) support for wireless charging via the Qi standard.

When you lay it all out on paper, the Motorola Droid Maxx should crush many smartphone challengers into dust. It flaunts the biggest, baddest battery available on a cellular handset, which results in fabulously long run time. The Maxx's screen, while not as pixel-dense as its rivals, is big and vibrant. The phone's speaker gets mighty loud, too, and the device even makes crystal-clear calls.

After spending quality time with the Droid Maxx, especially a Maxx running solid retail software, I can say that the phone lives up to its sizable ambition. I can't argue that the Maxx's $299.99 price is anything but luxurious. That said, for all the Droid Maxx can do and for how good it looks getting it done, it earns my seal of approval and our CNET Editors' Choice Award. Of course if the Maxx is too rich for your blood, there's always the more affordable $199.99 HTC One and $199.99 Samsung Galaxy S4, two larger-than-life Android handsets that are still excellent buys.

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