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Motorola Droid Turbo (Verizon Wireless) review: Powerful Droid with an enduring battery, at the right price

Impressive battery life and Motorola's software conveniences rev up the Droid Turbo's engines, but its two designs won't win over everyone.

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Jessica Dolcourt Lynn La
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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Lynn La

Senior Editor / Reviews - Phones

Lynn La covers mobile reviews and news. She previously wrote for The Sacramento Bee, Macworld and The Global Post.

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10 min read

Although the Motorola Droid Turbo's main draw is its battery life, that is only one part of its story. The bigger picture here is the value you get from a phone that's positively jammed with high-end specs and some useful software conveniences.

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8.3

Motorola Droid Turbo (Verizon Wireless)

The Good

Hands-free voice controls and epically long battery life supercharge the Motorola Droid Turbo. Its high screen resolution and crisp, nimble camera earn it bonus points.

The Bad

A sharp bottom point makes the Droid Turbo uncomfortable to hold, and the black color's nylon backing feels cheap. The heavy phone also heats up fast.

The Bottom Line

Even with its hefty design, the Motorola Droid Turbo's robust battery, powerful processor and vivid display put it on the short list for Verizon customers.

Like a lot of top-of-the-line phones these days, it has an eye-watering 1,440p HD display and all the specs to impress. Motorola's excellent software is always listening for your command, and a fast-charging 3,900mAh battery is icing on the cake. However, the Turbo is heavy, and it's unsettling how quickly it overheats. The 21-megapixel camera menu also takes some getting used to if you're new to the stock Android controls.

Compared with other top-of-the-line handsets on Verizon, the phone (which is exclusive to the carrier) scores high, though there's something about the design we just don't love. Those looking for long-life battery on a "smaller" screen find it here, but buyers seeking a more ergonomic handhold should look to a phone like the Moto X instead.

The Droid Turbo starts out at $200 on-contract with Verizon, or $25 per month with Verizon Edge. You can buy it off-contract for its $600 full retail price.

Jet-setting Motorola Droid Turbo joins top specs with new materials (pictures)

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Design: Hot 'n' heavy, and cheap

We've come to expect phones from Motorola that pair a sturdy design with a certain ergonomic flair. The Droid Turbo definitely introduces a new material in the black model that we haven't seen before in a phone: a tightly woven cloth backing made of ballistic nylon. It's good to try new things, but this one could have been executed a little better.

To some it may feel tactile, but to us the material felt a little cheap, and instantly made us conscious of the state of grime on our fingers. How do you clean the black Turbo; will snack grease seep into the stitching? Meanwhile, the phone's rubberized sides add contrast, though we found the abrupt transition from textiles to soft-touch plastic a little jarring.

The back of the black variant (left) feels cheap, while the red version looks flashy. James Martin/CNET

On the other hand, the cherry red Droid Turbo has a smooth, almost slippery Kevlar backing with a flashy holographic stitch pattern that echoes the black model. Its sides and the chin below the screen are the same plastic material.

Speaking of the chin, it forms a sharp peak beneath the screen, with just a small flattened area large enough for the Micro-USB charging port. This jutting ridge makes the grip uncomfortable for anyone who uses this area to hold the phone one-handed, as we do.

On the right spine, the power/lock and volume buttons are notched to give fingers extra purchase. A headset jack up top gives way to the rounded, nonremovable backing. On both finishes, the 20.7-megapixel camera sits between two LED flashes and above the telltale Motorola insignia on the back. This time it's almost flush with the backplate, rather than indented as on other Moto models.

One other item to note: the phone gets hot fast, emanating heat even through the black Turbo's cloth material. This is an especially eerie feeling when you tote a warm phone in your back pocket.

Display: Raw pixel power

In the numbers game, the Droid Turbo brings us the highest-resolution image on a phone screen yet, with its 5.2-inch AMOLED display and 2,560-by-1,440-pixel resolution. That works out to a pixel density of 565ppi, or pixels per inch.

The handset has 5.2 inches of ultrasharp, quad HD goodness. James Martin/CNET

In real life, everything is as sharp and bright and wonderful with the display as you'd hope for and expect; the only question that remains is if there's much of an advantage to the sky-high ppi over other phones. Beyond a certain level, the gains of such densely populated pixels on such a small screen blur together. You'd have to search really, really hard to notice much of a difference in superfine details hidden away in ultra-HD images.

Below the screen are touch-sensitive navigation buttons to go back, go home, pull up Google Now, and see recent apps. Motorola provides a few quick-access controls when you pull down the navigation shade with two fingers, like toggles for airplane mode and Wi-Fi. Pulling down with just one digit lists your notifications. An on-screen button lets you toggle between the two views.

OS and apps

Android 4.4.4 brings with it the now-standard suite of Google apps and services, including Google Search with Google Now. Motorola keeps add-ons like gestures and extra note-taking tools to a minimum, focusing instead on a few unique hands-free tools.

Our favorite is the voice-control functionality that lets you command your phone to do just about anything, even when the screen is turned off. It works best if you program a longer phrase than a short one, say "OK, Droid Turbo," though it's just as easy to make your tag line something like "Phone slave, do my bidding."

Here's a sample of what you can ask it to do, beyond the usual information retrieval and voice dialing, so long as you're about 3 feet away from the device:

  • Find my phone
  • Talk to me
  • Take a selfie (you get a three-second countdown)
  • What's up

The Turbo also includes Motorola staples like Moto Display, which surfaces the time and missed notifications when you wave your hand over the locked display; and Moto Actions, which enables users to dismiss a ringing phone with a wave of the hand. Twisting your wrist opens the camera app.

Another app designed to help you out is the Motorola Connect Chrome extension, which gives you a portal for viewing and sending messages from your desktop or laptop in addition to your phone. It'll surface other notifications as well.

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Motorola's baked-in software goodies (left) and Droid Zap. Lynn La/CNET

Then there's Droid Zap, a sort of localized social network for other Zap users. The app wirelessly shares photos and video with nearby friends, almost automatically if you'd prefer. It uses your Google account to find contacts in the vicinity, and lets you choose to zap new or existing content. The short-term share broadcasts your multimedia to all nearby Zap-using contacts for 2 minutes (in Snapchat style), then disappears. It's clearly intended for anyone who likes to share their goings on with groups, but likely has limited audience and appeal.

A more useful Motorola hallmark is the combine clock widget on the top of the home screen. You'll see the time, weather, and battery meter in a glance. Press the clock to set an alarm, and the weather portion for an extended forecast. Similarly, you can open the battery tracker to see what's sucking down your battery life. Tapping the ellipses on either side gives you the high and low for the day, and a calendar shortcut.

Other preloaded apps run the gamut from Google services and Verizon account controls to partner apps. You'll find Quickoffice and Amazon music, NFL Mobile and Slacker Radio, and Softcard, a Verizon mobile payment app, to name a few.

Camera and video: Sharp and nimble

Like other Motorola devices including the Google Nexus 6 and Moto X , the Droid Turbo's thinly skinned user interface means the camera controls are kept to a minimum. Users who are accustomed to stock Android since its KitKat iteration will find the UI familiar, but for those who arrive new to the scene, it does take time to get used to. Camera tools are laid out on a wheel and don't appear directly on the display. Rather, users have to swipe from the right to call it up, requiring an extra step if you want to quickly toggle options like the flash. The camera also lacks photo editing software. For those features, like filters, rotating, and exposure adjustments, you'll need to go to the Gallery app.

As for features the camera does have, you can flick the handset to launch the app, and there are options for HDR shooting, 4X digital zoom, geotagging, and tap focus (which also controls for exposure). Photo resolutions for the rear-camera are either shot at a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio (with 15.5 megapixels), or a standard 4:3 ratio with 21 megapixels. As for video, users have a choice of 1080pHD, slow-motion video shot at 720p, or Ultra HD 4K video.

The camera operates quickly and takes crisp, in-focus photos. Pictures are large when offloaded, which is great for anyone who wants scaled-up images that keep their sharpness when zoomed in. Objects had well-defined edges, and we were impressed with how true-to-life colors looked. Most photos taken in poor lighting conditions are hazy, with colored pixels produced instead of blacks. But there are degrees. With the flash turned off, the Droid Turbo's camera made scenes brighter and more discernible than those of some other cameras, like Samsung's Galaxy S5 .

For more on the phone's camera quality, check out some of our photos below.

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In this outdoor photo, the grass and foliage are sharp, and even the moving water in the midground is in focus. Click to enlarge. Lynn La/CNET


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For this closeup shot, the flower petals are well-defined and their colors are accurate. In addition, the soft focus in the background makes this image more compelling. Click to enlarge. Lynn La/CNET

In this well-lit indoor shot, HDR mode is turned off (hence the blown-out background). However, the flowers are contrasted evenly against one another and look great. Click to enlarge. Lynn La/CNET

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As expected, low-light photos are hazy, but the Droid Turbo's camera fared pretty decently. Click to enlarge. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

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For our standard studio shot, you can see that objects look refined and clear. Click to enlarge. James Martin/CNET

Shooting in both 4K and 1080p HD video yielded similar results. We filmed next to a busy roadway with plenty of foot and car traffic. Objects, both moving and still, looked sharp, and the camera's focus adjusted quickly and smoothly to lighting and different distances of focus. Colors were accurate, and nearby and distant audio picked up well without any distortion.

The 2-megapixel front-facing camera takes photos in both widescreen and standard aspect ratios, and can record up to 1080p video.

Performance: Call quality

We tested the Droid Turbo in our San Francisco offices, and call quality was good. None of our calls dropped, audio remained continuous without clipping in and out, and we didn't hear any extraneous noises or buzzing. Our calling partner's voice sounded full and accurate, without much static or distortion. In-ear call volume, however, could have been louder. Although we could hear our partner's voice well, it was a bit low compared to other devices we've tested in the past.

Podcast

Volume levels on audio speaker, however, were satisfactory. Our partner came off loud, and unlike other speakers that render voices thin and sharp, hers sounded robust and with depth. As for her line, we were told our voices came through clearly, without much noise or muffling.

Data speeds, processing speed and battery life

4G LTE data speeds on Verizon's network were fast, though at times inconsistent. On average, the handset showed download and upload rates on Ookla's speedtest app at 16.26 and 10.88Mbps, respectively. But there were a couple of times when these rates would dip down to about 4 or 2Mbps. In addition, it was able to download and install the 43.70MB game Temple Run 2 within 41 seconds on average, but it took more than 2 minutes on one trial. Of course, data speeds depend on many factors like location and time of day, so users might have vastly different experiences.

In general though, Internet browsing was swift. It took 5 and 7 seconds to load CNET's mobile and desktop sites, respectively. The New York Times' mobile page finished loading after 7 seconds and its desktop version loaded in 11. The mobile site for ESPN clocked in at 4 seconds, while 7 seconds passed for the full Web page.

Motorola Droid Turbo (Verizon Wireless) performance times

Average 4G LTE download speed 16.26Mbps
Average 4G LTE upload speed 10.88Mbps
Temple Run 2 app download (43.70MB) 41 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5 seconds
CNET desktop site load 7 seconds
Restart time 31 seconds
Camera boot time 1.72 seconds

The phone's 2.7GHz Snapdragon 805 processor from Qualcomm is powerful and lightning fast. We didn't notice any lag when it came to daily and repetitive tasks like opening up the app browser, launching the keyboard, and returning to the homescreen. Thanks to its Adreno 420 GPU, frame rates and graphics rendering are high and smooth, and games like Kill Shot and Riptide GP 2 looked great and never stalled or stuttered.

Benchmark tests mirrored our findings as well. The Droid Turbo's best Quadrant score was 22,642 -- on par with its flagship competitors like the Galaxy S5 (which scored 23,707), LG G3 (23,103) and the HTC One M8 (24,593). Its highest Linpack multi-thread score was 878.472 MFLOPs in 0.19-second, which is one of the best results we've seen all year. In addition, it took about 31 seconds to restart the device and 1.72 seconds to launch the camera.

Some of the phone's data times on Verizon (left) and its best Quadrant result. Screenshots by Lynn La/CNET

The Turbo's battery is a big deal on paper, 3,900mAh, and Motorola has a reputation for making long-lasting phones. The handset also powers up ridiculously quickly, well on its way to replenishing depleted stores in 30, or even 15 minutes. The Turbo -- and other phones like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge -- owe the zero-to-sixty power sprint to Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0. In other words, the Turbo gets its titular power from the chip, not the vendor.

Anecdotal observation for that massive battery have been solid so far, and during our first preliminary round of battery drain testing, the handset lasted an impressive 14 hours and 43 minutes of continuous video playback. And though it hit below the 48 hour mark that Motorola touts, the phone still lasted a whopping 34 hours and 8 minutes for talk time. Charging a the drained battery with the Turbo charger took almost exactly 2 hours. Additional tests will take place, so be sure to check back with this review for more details. According to FCC radiation measurements, the device has a SAR rating on 0.39W/kg.

Conclusion

If you like the Motorola Droid Turbo's software offerings, but its $200 (32GB)/$250 (64GB) price tag is out of your budget, the Moto X is a good alternative -- it's reliable, customizable, and its scaled-down specs mean a lower starting price.

However, if you're in the market for a premium device, the Droid Turbo should rank high for Verizon users. Sure, its questionable design definitely doesn't have universal appeal. Both the Sony Xperia Z3v and the Galaxy S5 are in the same price range, look better, and are water resistant.

The Droid has a high-capacity battery that features quick-charge technology as well. James Martin/CNET

But if you put aside its aesthetic, the Turbo still has a capable 21-megapixel camera and bright display, which together offer a solid shooting and media experience. Fans of stock Android will also like the phone's barely skinned UI, and it's one of the most powerful handsets on the market. (Its bleeding-edge Snapdragon 805 processor for example, is lightning fast and only available in a few devices so far.)

Perhaps the Turbo's ace in the hole though, is its monster battery capacity. Continuing the Droid family's legacy of phones that keep going and going and going, the handset promises a battery that not only charges fast, but one that offers more hours of juice than its competitors.

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8.3

Motorola Droid Turbo (Verizon Wireless)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 9