Google and Motorola merged about a year ago, and essentially set the tech world on fire with the possibilities of what the two companies would create. With baited breath we waited, and waited, and waited, and each time, nothing came. Months and months of speculation became just that, and eventually the meeting of the minds seemed to look more and more like a patent purchase more than one to further the Android ecosystem. Then finally, 8 months in, we were treated to rumors of the first fruit bore from the Googlerola tree. The X phone as it was dubbed, was treated as a mythical beast, a phone to end all phones and something that will finally challenge the iPhone. What we know now, is the Googlerola tree has actually produced multiple fruits, two within the DROID family and one stand alone device, the Motorola X. Today, we have the pleasure of checking out the Droid Ultra, second in line from the Googlerola tree, and probably my second favorite device from said tree.
The packaging of the device instantly brings back feelings of joy and rage, as it rocks the traditional grey DROID box with the red eye peeking through. Inside the box lies a pretty gorgeous device with a solid black frame and a nearly edge to edge display. The back of the phone is probably the most disappointing aspect, as it is made with a really slick, shiny plastic back. The back gets really slimy, and greasy really fast, and makes the phone feel a lot cheaper than it actually is. Underneath the device is a layer of kevlar that you would never know is there given the external build quality. That aside, the phone is super light and thanks to the tapered bottom of it, is surprisingly easy to hold. Up front is the 5 inch Super AMOLED display, which goes nearly edge to edge. On the bottom of the display lies three capacitive navigation buttons, and the main microphone. On the top of the phone is a 2MP camera for selfies and video calls. The rear of the device has a small hump on the back to accommodate the 10MP rear camera. Along the right side of the device is the power key and the volume rocker.
The highlight of using all the new Motorola devices will be their tight integration with Google services, and more importantly Google Now. For starters, the Droid Ultra has a feature called ‘Touchless Control’ which allows users to access essentially every part of their device using voice commands carried out through Google Now. The system is always waiting and always listening, so users only need to say, ‘OK Google Now’ and from there the phone launches Google Now, and allows you to perform a variety of tasks. From my experiences, Touchless Control worked pretty flawlessly, and even in a reasonably loud environment listened to, and carried out my commands with relative ease. In addition to Touchless Control, there’s also ‘Active Display’ which I actually loved. Active display essentially makes you aware of any pending notifications (texts, email, etc) with a small, “breathing” action in which the display gently lights up every few seconds letting you know exactly what type of notification you have. It also grants you the ability to long press on the screen to see the detail of said notification, and if you want to respond to, or interact with that notification, simply swipe upwards to go into the respective profile. Exclusive to the DROID platform is an awesome feature called DROID Zap, which lets users perform a two finger swipe to share content amongst another DROID smartphone (DROID Ultra or DROID MAXX for now), or other Android devices as well. DROID devices will be able to receive the file automatically, while everyone else will have to download the DROID Zap app from Google Play. Outside of those two features, I’m a really big fan of the appearance of the phone from the software side of things, as it resembles an almost stock Android experience. I say almost because there’s still a bit of Verizon bloatware on this bad devil, but not nearly as much as your usual.
The DROID Ultra rocks a pretty snappy dual core, 1.7GHZ snapdragon processor, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of internal storage, atop Android 4.2.2. As previously mentioned, the phone has 2 cameras (2MP up front, 10MP rear) and they both seemed to work pretty well. The camera interface has seen a bit of an overhaul on the DROID Ultra, with the main focus being simplicity.The settings, zoom, and gallery are all accessible via swiping gestures, and even then, the menus themselves are much more simple than what I’ve seen from previous Android devices. One thing that was a love/hate feature from the Nexus interface was the way you changed your camera settings was a bit of a chore, now, a swipe from the left of the screen opens a carousel of options for my camera. The one drawback to that scenario, is while both cameras worked well, performance was heavily based on the lighting of the room or environment I was in. For a point and shoot camera, I’ve used far worse, but this was also far from the best that I’ve used.
I think the DROID Ultra is just the first of many phones produced by Google and Motorola that could tip the scales into Google’s favor and take some of the spotlight away from Samsung. Like it’s brethren, the DROID Ultra is a step in the right direction, and hopefully Google keeps taking those steps forward.