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Julie’s gadget diary – choosing between the Motorola Moto X, Droid Ultra or Droid Maxx

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I’m up to my eyeballs in phones right now because Verizon has sent me not one, not two, but three of Motorola’s latest Android smartphones to try out for a few days. Yeah, I know it’s a rough life, but someone has to live it ;) I have the Moto X, DROID Ultra and the DROID Maxx. If you’ve been trying to make up your mind between these three phones and are not having any luck, maybe I can help.

Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.

Look and feel

Droid Maxx Droid Ultra Moto X
Size 5.41”(H) x 2.80”(W) x 0.34”(D) inches
137.5 (H) x 71.2 (W) x 8.5 (D) mm
5.41”(H) x 2.80”(W) x 0.28”(D) inches
137.5 (H) x 71.2 (W) x 7.1 (D) mm
5.09” (H) x 2.57” (W) x 0.41” (D) inches
129.4 (H) x 65.3 (W) x 10.4 (D) mm
Weight 5.86oz
167g
4.94 oz
137g
4.59 oz
130g
Display 5.0″ 1280 x 720 5.0″ 1280 x 720 4.7″, 1280 x 720

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Left to right: Motorola Droid Maxx, Droid Ultra and Moto X.

Side by side, the Droid Maxx and Droid Ultra look very similar at first glance, with the Moto X being the smallest of the trio. The Maxx and Ultra have the same screen size of 5.0″, while the Moto X has a smaller 4.7″ display. However, the screen resolution of all three phones is 1280 x 720.

All three phones have a row of soft buttons below the display which are mapped to back, home and recent apps.

The Droid Maxx is only available in black, the Ultra comes in black or red and the Moto X comes in black or white. You may be wondering about the Moto X customization feature that allows you to choose the phone’s front, back and accent colors. Unfortunately, Verizon doesn’t offer that level of customization. That’s only available through AT&T right now, which is a bummer.

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Flip the phones over and you’ll notice the Maxx’s soft touch Kevlar back. It’s comfortable to hold and provides a nice grip. The Ultra also has Kevlar, but it’s a slicker, shinier version, which is a horrible fingerprint and smudge magnet. I’ve also noticed that it is a little creaky and cracky when you pick it up. The Moto X has a non-Kevlar back cover, but it’s soft and isn’t slippery like the Ultra. Note: all three back covers are sealed and can’t be removed to access the battery.

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Top to bottom: Moto X, Droid Ultra and Droid Maxx.

The Droid Ultra is the thinnest of the trio and the Moto X is the thickest. All three are thinner than my Samsung Galaxy S3 with the wireless charging back, so they all feel thin to me.

The left side of the Droid Ultra and Droid Maxx is smooth with no buttons. The Moto X has a SIM slot on left side. Where’s the SIM slot for the Ultra and Maxx? It actually took me awhile to figure that out…

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It’s built into the volume switch on the right side. To access it, you have to pry it out with your fingernail. Not the easiest thing to do, but most people don’t swap SIMs all that often. However, if you are a SIM swapper, you should be aware that all three phones use a nano sized SIM.

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The right side of these phones all have a power / wake button along with a volume rocker below it. The buttons stick out far enough that they are easy to find with your finger and they all have nice tactile feedback.

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A 3.5mm headphone jack is found on the top edge of all three phones. Yikes, look at that dust!

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A micro USB connector for charging and file transfers is located on the bottom edge of the phone. Of the three phones, only the Droid Maxx offers Qi wireless charging capability out of the box. When I tried the Maxx with my Nokia charging stand, I figured out that it would only work if I placed the Maxx upside down on the stand. I’m sure this wouldn’t be a problem with a flat charging pad though.

For look and feel, it’s a tie between the Droid Maxx and Moto X. In my opinion the Droid Ultra loses out due to its smudgy back cover and slightly creaky case. It’s too bad that Verizon doesn’t offer the Moto Maker color customization option for the Moto X. If they did, I’d give it the nod as the winner of this category. Note: The Moto X is assembled in the US.

Look and feel winner: Droid Maxx and Moto X

Under the hood (processor, memory, camera and battery)

Droid Maxx Droid Ultra Moto X
Processor 1.7GHz Dual-Core, 400 MHz quad–core GPU 1.7 GHz dual–core, 400 MHz quad–core GPU 1.7 GHz dual–core, 320 MHz quad–core GPU
Memory 32GB 16GB + 2GB RAM 16GB + 2GB RAM
Battery 3500 mAh 2130 mAh 2200 mAh
Camera 10MP 10MP 10MP
Display 5.0″ 1280 x 720 5.0″ 1280 x 720 4.7″, 1280 x 720
Android OS version 4.2.2 4.2.2 4.2.2

All three phones are snappy performers that provide a smooth experience going from screen to screen and app to app. I noticed the Droid Ultra’s battery drained quicker than the other two phones even though its battery isn’t that much smaller than the one in the Moto X. The Droid Maxx’s battery seems to last forever, which isn’t surprising since it’s a whopping 3500 mAh.

The built in camera on each of these phones offers 10MP. I didn’t find any of the cameras to be anything overly spectacular. They all are decent shooters as long as you’re in good light. Low light performance is pretty bad though. Here are a few samples:

Droid Maxx:

motorola-droid-maxx-1 motorola-droid-maxx-2 motorola-droid-maxx-3

Droid Ultra:

motorola-droid-ultra-1 motorola-droid-ultra-2 motorola-droid-ultra-3

Moto X:

motorola-motox-1 motorola-motox-2 motorola-motox-3

If you’re into the whole gesture thing, if you twist your wrist twice while holding any of the phones, the camera app will launch – even when the phone is idle.

The Droid Maxx is the easy winner of this category because it has double the memory of the Droid Ultra and Moto X, more GPU horse power than the Moto X and a significantly larger battery than the other two phones.

Under the hood winner: Droid Maxx

Software

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In addition to the usual suite of Android apps, these phones also have a few extra goodies like a Translate app that you can type or talk into and it will convert your text and voice into the language of your choice. There’s also Quickoffice for opening Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF documents and the NFL Mobile app.

The Droid Maxx and Droid Ultra have a few additional apps that are not included with the Moto X. They include a simple video editor called Movie Studio, a movie look up app called IMDb and Ingress, which is a near-real time augmented reality multiplayer online game.

Apps aside, some of the best features of these phones are baked in like the Touchless Control and Active Display.

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Touchless Control aka OK Google Now allows you to use your voice to wake up the phone, get info and perform commands. This is Siri on steroids because you don’t have to touch anything to use it… hence the name Touchless Control.  It only takes a minute to train the phone to only recognize your voice. Then you can just say “ok Google now” followed by a command like “what will the weather be like tomorrow?” or “call Jeanne at work” or “send a text message to Janet saying “Hi, what’s up?”

I found that it worked really well except that it also accepted commands when Jeanne tried it. That doesn’t really surprise me though as everyone always gets us mixed up when they hear us on the phone. I tried changing my voice to be higher and lower and the phones would not react.

Although I wouldn’t use this feature all the time, it would be most convenient in the car.

moto-screens-3

Active Display – displays the clock and notifications on screen when you move the phone or when certain notifications come in like a new email. This keeps you from turning on the phone eleventy trillion times a day just to check the time. It saves battery life because it only lights up the pixels required to show the information. So you can just pick up the phone and you’ll see the clock appear. A few seconds later it will fade away. It won’t activate if you have the phone in your pocket or turned face down.  Active Display also makes it easy to unlock your phone. Just pick it up and then swipe the lock (or the notification icon) and you’re in.  I absolutely LOVE this feature and hope other phone makers will steal it asap.

The Moto X comes with a nice extra, you get 50gb storage on Google Drive for 2 years for free.

There are very few differences between the software packages included on these phones so I don’t really think any one phone is better than the other in that regard.

Software winner: Three way tie

Bang for your buck

Droid Maxx Droid Ultra Moto X
Price with Verizon 2yr contract  $299.99  $199.99  $199.99
Price off contract from Verizon  $649.99  $599.99  $599.99

If you are budget minded and have to choose between the Droid Ultra and Moto X, I’d pick the Moto X even though the screen is a little smaller. I just don’t care for the slippery, smudgy back on the Ultra. Yes, you can cover it with a case, but then it approaches the same bulk and weight of the Maxx. The Moto X is the perfect pocket size and feels good in hand.

If price is not an issue, definitely go for the Droid Maxx. The huge battery, 32GB of memory and large display make it a great smartphone that lasts days instead of hours on one charge.

Bang for your buck winner: Motorola Droid Maxx for long battery life, Moto X for those on a budget

Now I have to box up these phones and send them all back to Verizon. :( I’ll miss the Droid Maxx more than the others.

{ 33 comments… add one }

  • Xfader September 18, 2013, 8:34 am

    I think the iPhone 5s is the best phone you can buy right now.

  • Chriszzz September 18, 2013, 9:41 am

    @Xfader: The title of Julie’s post is not “Choosing between the iPhone 5S or the Motorola Droids”.

    Nice as the iPhone 5S is (yes, it is a fabulous piece of tech), there are many people who just like bigger screens, expandable storage, swappable batteries, and, gasp!, Android.

  • Chriszzz September 18, 2013, 9:49 am

    Thanks Julie for the comparison ( although I’m holding out for the Note 3. I just love the S-pen).

    If I could just make a small suggestion: since the-gadgeteer is read world wide, perhaps it will be useful if you could use metric units in addition to the US imperial units for lengths and weights. Knowing that the Droid Maxx weighs 5.86oz doesn’t do anything for me until I pull out my calculator and convert it to grams. I’m sure many of your readers outside the US probably feel the same way too.

    Just my 1.99 cents.

  • Julie Strietelmeier September 18, 2013, 10:13 am

    @Chriszzz your wish is my command :) done.

  • Kevin September 18, 2013, 10:16 am

    What’s your take on the Droid Mini Julie? I went that route, so far zero regrets – love being able to easily use the screen one-handed and overall phone size is great. It definitely lacks the uber-high-end feature set (in screen and battery in particular) but usability is fantastic.

  • Julie Strietelmeier September 18, 2013, 10:21 am

    @Kevin Verizon didn’t send me the Droid Mini. I haven’t checked the specs to see how it compares to the Moto X. I’m assuming it has the Active Display features?

  • Kevin September 18, 2013, 2:31 pm

    @Julie yes, it has Active Display but the power-saving advantage seen with the other Droid devices is lost since it doesn’t have an AMOLED display. I wound up turning it off since being in my jersey pocket kept kicking the Active Display screen on.

  • Xfader September 18, 2013, 5:06 pm

    @Chriszzz If you want Android the get the HTC One.It’s a very nice phone.The Gadgeteer has a review at http://the
    gadgeteer.com/2013/09/11/htc-one-android-smartphone-review/

  • Chriszzz September 19, 2013, 12:06 am

    @Julie : Wow, that was fast. Thanks!

    @Xfader : HTC One is very nice and solidly built, but it lacks the 2 things that I want in my phones: swappable battery and a microSD slot. My current phone (Galaxy Note) is still alive and kicking because I was able to swap the old worn out batteries with new ones, and I added a $50 64GB microSD card and boom! 80GB in my pocket.

    Plus, the HTC lacks the S-pen :-)

  • RTQP September 19, 2013, 1:33 am

    girl, don’t flash that wad in the city
    you’ll get jumped

  • Julie Strietelmeier September 19, 2013, 7:32 am

    @Chriszzz how do you carry your Note 2? I’d switch back to it in a flash (or the upcoming Note 3), but it’s just so big to carry in my side pocket. I love the s-pen too :)

  • David September 19, 2013, 9:36 am

    I’m not buying any phone without an microSD slot, or 128GB (!!!) of free flash.

  • Julie Strietelmeier September 19, 2013, 9:40 am

    @David 128GB? ;) I want that too. Where do I find it?

  • Kevin September 19, 2013, 9:46 am

    @Julie @David same here. You’re going to be waiting a while and removable storage is going away. Cloud storage + good data plan?

  • Chriszzz September 19, 2013, 11:07 am

    @Julie : It just put it (Note 1, not 2) in my pants’ front pocket. I don’t wear skinny jeans, so the phone fits into the pocket just fine. I use a simple silicon case, so does not add bulk to the phone.

    If anyone wants more storage, there’s always the option of buying a microsd to sd-converter and sticking a big-ass 128GB or 256GB SD card into your phone, and hiding it behind a case. Some super-gadgeteer did just that to his Note 2 : http://www.androidauthority.com/monster-galaxy-note-2-288gb-9300mah-240794/.

    I’m not sure if the giant battery on a giant phone is a good idea, but the giant (expensive) SD card definitely is worth a 2nd look if you are a storage junkie.

  • Julie Strietelmeier September 19, 2013, 11:19 am

    @Chriszzz I love that idea of adding a full sized SD card!

  • David September 19, 2013, 2:12 pm

    @Julie Not out, but sure wish I could find it, too. I thought (???) I saw something new with a full size SD slot, you could do it easy with that. I know it would be very easy to add that much on any newer, larger phone, even internally. I think Google is trying to force everyone to use their “cloud”.

    @Kevin Samsung (largest seller of “smart phones” worldwide) has them on almost every phone. You’d think the people that CAN’T outselling Samsung would get smart and add them, not remove them. ;-) I know Google thinks people are so stupid they wouldn’t know how to use a mircoSD card, but almost everyone else knows they aren’t that stupid. Now that most phones have went to the sdcard0, sdcard1, at least at the Linux level in android, most apps don’t have to have custom code to find the “external” card anymore.

    I have a total of 80GB (16+64) on my aging Droid Bionic, and have about 14GB (6+8) free. Sure wish they’d release the 128GB microSD card that they already have in limited production, so I wouldn’t feel so squeezed for space.

  • Marvin September 20, 2013, 1:05 pm

    I currently have th Droid Ultra and loving it. I love the features, the phone is really fast and smooth. It’s pretty big for me but for most adults it’ll be a good fit. The screen is pretty good, the camera is fast and the whole Android UI is amazing.

  • Shawn McPheron September 20, 2013, 2:21 pm

    I upgraded from the Droid 2 to the Droid Maxx HD about 9 months ago. As smart devices go, I have no complaints. The Maxx is viewable in all but very direct sunlight, a capability the Droid 2 was lacking. With the Maxx HD I get about two full days of average use out of a battery charge. My wife has the Maxx and can get about a day and a half of use. The camera shutter is slow and awkward but fine for typical use. My only real beef with Motorola’s Droid line is the poor phone quality sounding horrible on both ends. This is likely my last Droid.

  • Xfader September 20, 2013, 9:17 pm

    @Criszzz Then the Sony Xperia Z Ultra with a Micro SD slot,Android,and you can just buy a stylus.You can buy it on Newegg.com

  • Julie Strietelmeier September 20, 2013, 9:19 pm

    @Xfader a regular stylus is nothing like an S-pen… the difference is night and day.

  • Chriszzz September 21, 2013, 11:39 am

    @Xfader- thanks for the recommendation. I had the chance to play with the Xperia Z Ultra a few weeks ago, and man, it was a really nice piece of hardware. Very sleek, very beautiful screen, waterproof, dustproof, but there are a few things about it that I didn’t like:

    1. It was too big. A 5+” phone is big, but a 6.4″ phone is insane. It would be hard to put into a pocket.
    2. It does not have a swappable battery
    3. It does not have built-in stylus. Technically, you could use any pen or pencil as a stylus, but it would be a hassle to go looking for one when you need it. For a stylus to work, it must be built into the phone.
    4. Its camera has no flash.

    So, nope, it’s a no go.

  • Chris September 25, 2013, 8:46 pm

    It’s my understanding that the Moto X is pure Android, with a few extensions to take advantage of the hardware. So Android updates will be available that much sooner. Of course, Verizon has a terrible reputation of holding up Android updates for many weeks; they are usually the last carrier, by far, to push updates out.

    Are the other two devices pure Android? Or do they use their own UI skins?

  • Xfader September 29, 2013, 8:03 pm

    @Cris
    The Droid Mini,Ultra,Maxx run stock Android,like the Moto X

  • Alfred September 30, 2013, 2:15 am

    @Julie, How did you manage to hold up 3 phones like a deck of cards with one hand?

  • Julie Strietelmeier September 30, 2013, 7:34 am

    @Alfred It’s called talent ;) Actually it was pretty tough to do without dropping them. ;)

  • Chris September 30, 2013, 7:36 am

    @Xfader Thanks for the info. So Motorola might have to hold up Android updates so as to make sure the extensions for the Moto X are properly tested. Regardless, Android updates to all four Motorola phones will still be at the mercy of Verizon’s additions/testing.

  • Xfader October 1, 2013, 8:46 pm

    @Chris The phones run stock android,with only the Touchless Control feature added on.Even the unlocked Developer Edition
    models won’t get it as quick as a Nexus.

  • Doug October 19, 2013, 8:53 am

    Thanks for all of the great detail, Julie! Very helpful.

  • Franky November 18, 2013, 4:46 pm

    What about making calls? I was told and from reading some of the reviews that the Ultra and MAXX would be a little better at call reception. I just got the Ultra and love the phone. I’m still in my 14 day period and wanting to try the Moto. Loved the feel and comfort when holding it but was actually talked out of getting it by the sales rep as t Verizon. Stating the ultra would probably be a Lil more durable and would get better call reception. What is your take on those 2 things.

  • Julie Strietelmeier November 18, 2013, 4:59 pm

    @Franky During the short time that I had the phones, I had no problem with calls and reception. As I mentioned in my article, if I were choosing one, I’d get the Maxx due to the long battery life and bigger screen.

  • Ron December 29, 2013, 1:16 am

    Thanks for this. It could use an update now that Motomaker is available to Verizon customers amongst other carriers. I’ve adopted the Moto X, after having come off the S3, a feature-rich phone that only recently received JB 4.3. (Thanks, Verizon).

    My reason is two-fold, which is to get away from contracts, and to keep my grandfathered unlimited data (very important to me). As to why Moto X over the others? Customizability and the desire to maintain form over function, something very few manufacturer adhere to anymore. The form factor is just right, and I like to feel warm and fuzzy knowing my battery wont completely die on me in 11hrs like the S3 did when I first bought it.

    So as it turns out, budget was not the only factor in my decision. The recent holiday promo pushing it to $350/$400 (16/32GB) didnt hurt either. It remains to be seen whether Motorola can expedite Moto X through the GA process for Android releases so i’m not going to hold my breath on upgrades… but I’m willing to take that chance. I also believe the phablet trend will run it’s course.

  • jsy August 14, 2014, 5:18 pm

    Your off about the GPU. All of em have 320

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