Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Droid Turbo: A beefy Android smartphone with better battery life

Motorola's Droid Turbo isn't sexy, but it offers speed, helpful software extensions, and the ability to go two days between charges.

 Motorola Droid Turbo

A common complaint of Android smartphone users is poor battery life. Motorola Mobility, now a subsidiary of Lenovo, has targeted such gripes with big-battery versions of some of its Droid smartphones. The new Droid Turbo — which costs $600 for the 32GB model and $650 for the 64GB model without a two-year contract and is currently available only from Verizon Wireless — is essentially a Moto X with a bigger battery, bringing more stamina to Motorola's current flagship phone.
You indeed get better battery life: about the same as a (smaller) iPhone 6, meaning you can count on a day's full use as long as you have a 3G or better cellular connection. You'll get a couple of days between charges if your usage is mainly data over Wi-Fi or LTE. (Motorola's claims of two days of usage for high-volume callers is, well, optimistic.)
Motorola includes what it calls a turbo charger for the Droid Turbo. It claims the turbo charger can charge a depleted Turbo in only 15 minutes. My experience is that it takes at least three times as long if the phone is not turned off. The turbo charging also slows down if your battery has more juice; it takes longer to charge a half-depleted Droid than a fully depleted unit. Honestly, it's not appreciably faster than other wall chargers.

A beefier smartphone with the hardware strength you'd expect

The big trade-off in the Droid Turbo is its heft: The phone is slightly thicker and heavier than most other smartphones because of that extra battery. That's not a problem — smartphones have become so light and thin that a "heavy" phone today is still quite comfortable and easy to grip and hold.
But for the record, at its thickest point, a Droid Turbo is 0.42 inch, versus 0.39 inch for the Moto X and 0.27 inch for the iPhone 6. As for weight, the Droid Turbo weighs 6.2 ounces, versus 5.1 ounces for the Moto X and 4.6 ounces for the iPhone 6.
The Droid Turbo sports an old-fashioned design that was more common in the 1990s: that executive style of shiny black with chrome highlights. It's not ugly, but it's not sexy either.
I'm not a fan of the Kevlar back, which feels tacky and heats up considerably while the device is charging or using its radios. On the plus side, it helps with the grip. You can buy a Droid Turbo model with a different back material— woven nylon — but I did not have such a device to test.
As for the Droid Turbo's processor, internal storage, screen resolution, and other hardware specs, the 5.2-inch-screen Droid Turbo is well-equipped. It's a speedy, capable device that will handle any serious mobile user's computing needs. These days, that's par for the course in a high-end device. Don't get hung up on such specs.

Motorola's Moto Assist software helps set it apart

More interesting are the Motorola software extensions for the Droid Turbo. Its status widget, for example, is a very convenient tool to see weather, time, battery status, and calendar alerts in one place.
Motorola Droid Turbo status widget (Android smartphone)
The Droid Turbo's status widget provides a lot of handy status information in one place, such as time, weather, battery level, and upcoming appointments.
Its Moto services — available for a couple years now on various Motorola phones such as the Moto X and G — are interesting, too. Essentially, they provide a collection of conveniences, such as a voice assistant in the style of "OK, Google" or "Hey, Siri." (Unlike Apple's "Hey, Siri," Android's "OK, Google" and the Droid Turbo's voice assistant work even if the phone is not plugged into a power outlet or powered USB port.) But given that Android has this capability anyhow, I'm not sure why Motorola has its own version, especially as it seems to work exactly like Google's.
Another Moto service notices when you reach for the phone and displays your current status, such as the lock icon if the phone is locked, an icon saying you have new mail, and so on. But the feature would be more useful if you could more easily act on what the screen shows. Unfortunately, there's no direct interaction available as there is in, say, the iOS or forthcoming Android Lollipop lock screen.
For example, when the Droid Turbo shows a lock icon as I reach for it, it would be nice to unlock the device from that icon. But you can't — you have to push the power button instead. (The normal Android lock icon appears if you tap the screen, but disappears before you can swipe it. The Moto service seems to override that Android feature.)
More useful are the Moto Assist features, such as automatically silencing the ringer during hours you set (similar to iOS's Do Not Disturb) or when the room is dark (a nice idea when you're in bed or in a movie theater). Moto Assist can have the Droid Turbo notice when you're driving (presumably by your speed) and automatically switch to Bluetooth output for audio and speak aloud text messages and callers' names while you drive.
Motorola Droid Turbo Moto Assist (Android smartphone)
The Moto Assist software that comes with the Droid Turbo offers useful assistive capabilities, such as silencing your phone during meetings, while asleep, and when in dark rooms.
My favorite Moto Assist feature is the one that silences your ringer and can optionally autoreply to calls via text messages while you're in a meeting — it checks your calendar to know when to go quiet. That's great!
The Droid Turbo won't be many people's top choice for an Android smartphone; the HTC One M8 has better visual appeal, for example. But the Droid Turbo should be in your final cut, along with the HTC One, Moto X, and Samsung Galaxy S5.
InfoWorld Scorecard
Security and management (20%)
Platform services (20%)
Hardware (20%)
Apps and Web (20%)
Usability (20%)
Overall Score
Motorola Droid Turbo 6 6 7 7 8 6.8

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