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

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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.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9

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.

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.

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.

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.

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