On Tuesday in New York City, Verizon and Motorola announced three new phones in the long lasting Droid line of devices along with an exclusivity deal which means that only Motorola devices will be branded as Droids for the foreseeable future.
The timing of this launch could be seen as very strange given that the Motorola X Phone will be announced on August 1st with supposed availability on a wide range of carriers worldwide and indeed, many of the secrets of the X appears to be revealed in a very short event hosted by Verizon.
The Droid line has a long history at Verizon and these three new devices continue that with the Droid Ultra, Droid Maxx and Droid Mini all being announced. The phones share many characteristics including a new 8 core X8 Mobile Computing platform that appears to be a slightly customised version of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8960Pro dual core processor. Motorola claims a 24% improvement in CPU performance and a 100% improvement in GPU performance over last years Droid flagships.
All three devices get a 10 megapixel shooter on the rear and a 2 megapixel front facing camera. They also each have a full 2Gb of RAM and share a unibody Kevlar construction.
The Droid Ultra and the Droid Maxx are essentially the same phone but the Maxx has a much larger battery, something we applaud here at MoDaCo, and it is actually bigger than the battery in last years Droid HD Maxx at 3500mAh. Despite that, Motorola have managed to keep the Maxx to only 8.5mm thick, quite an achievement. The Ultra is just 7.1mm thick making it the thinnest 4G phone according to Motorola and it packs a 2130mAh battery. Other differences include a glossy finish to the Ultra while the Maxx has a soft touch back, but both are kevlar, a strong material that Motorola have been using for a while now. The Ultra and the Maxx share the same 5" 1280x720 AMOLED screen with what appears to be a Pentile layout which is a bit of a shame.
The Droid Mini has a 4.3" 1280x720 LCD screen making it easily the sharpest of the bunch. It also has a 2000mAh battery in its 8.5mm thick frame.
In terms of storage, the Ultra and the Mini have 16gb, while the Maxx has 32Gb.
More interesting than the hardware on these devices is the software which gives as some clues as to what will be coming with the Motorola X. Droid Zap is a system for sharing photos between Droids using the cloud which is entirely gesture based. The sending Droid user swipes up on the screen to share and the receiving Droid user swipes down on their screen to receive. Active Display, much like Peek on the Nokia Lumia 925, shows notifications on the screen. There are no notification LEDs here.
Motorola Connect is an interesting feature which works with a Chrome extension to synchronise your text messages and calls so you can get notifications on your desktop.
Touchless Control allows you to control your phone by voice without even switching the display on. It is always listening for you to say "OK Google Now" and then issue a command as normal with voice controls. This could be very convenient.
The camera on the new Droids can be accessed very quickly by flicking your wrists twice which jumps you straight to the camera interface. The settings and gallery are just a swipe from the left or right of the screen away respectively. This feels like a fairly intuitive interface beyond the wrist snapping gestures.
You will also get access to Google Ingress which comes pre-loaded. This is an augmented reality game from Google which is still in Beta but is an interesting addition here. Finally, six months free subscription to Google Play Music All Access is also included.
Overall, these devices feel like they have had the hand of Google guiding their development but are really Motorola and Verizon designed. The Ultra seems to be a waste of an SKU, after all, the Maxx is not so thick and Motorola are promising 48 hours of life which is fantastic. The screens are rather low rent on the larger phones here and that only reinforces the feeling that the Droid Mini is the pick of these three. It is a compact device that features all the specs of its larger cousins. At $99 with a 2 year contract, it is also keenly priced. The Ultra is $199 and the Maxx $299 with the same contract terms which feels too much next to an iPhone or the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. The only downside being that Verizon haven't launched the HTC One yet!
The big question for us is if and when Motorola will bring these devices to the UK. They may, but the with the X Phone just around the corner and some software features destined for it, including Touchless Control and Active Display, maybe we in Europe don't need to worry about these Droids. Considering the X Phone seems likely to get the same processor and 2Gb of RAM with the same camera in a svelte body with a 4.7" screen, we will happily wait another week or so and see if the rumours pan out.