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Review: The Motorola Droid Ultra is ultra-average

Armando Rodriguez | Aug. 23, 2013
The Motorola Droid Ultra may have all the same features and specs as the Moto X, but the phone lacks the personality it needs to differentiate itself from the crowd.

There are two Motorolas: One is the Google subsidiary that gave us the excellent consumer-focused Moto X, and the other is the Motorola of yesteryear, desperate to give carriers what they want. It's the second Motorola that brings us the Droid Ultra, star of the new line of Droid phones on Verizon.

Whereas the Moto X feels personal and well crafted, the Droid Ultra feels corporate and cheap next to its Google-influenced cousin. In many ways the Droid Ultra is a phone designed by Verizon for Verizon's needs, the result of what happens when a phone maker puts carriers before customers.

Monolithic and plain
At the Moto X launch event, Motorola spent a substantial chunk of its presentation detailing how the phone was designed to fit perfectly in a person's hand. I wish some of those engineers and designers had wandered over to the other side of the building to help out with the new Droid family of devices. Although the Droid Ultra is easily the thinnest smartphone Motorola has ever produced, its boxy shape and wide frame make uncomfortable to hold. It won't immediately kill your hand when you pick it up, as some larger models might, but you'll definitely feel your hand muscles start to fatigue the more you use it.

The Droid Ultra's plasticky body feels sturdy enough, but the phone suffers from the same problem as the Samsung Galaxy S4: It starts to feel gross and greasy after you've held it for a few minutes. It has a larger screen than the Moto X (5.0 inches versus 4.7 inches), but keeps the same 1280 by 720 resolution as its Googley cousin. The display isn't as pixel dense as those on other competing smartphones such as the HTC One or iPhone 5, but you won't strain your eyes while reading news articles or lengthy email messages.

One particularly irksome aspect of the phone is Motorola's decision to use physical navigation keys, as opposed to the virtual ones on the Moto X and last year's Droid Razr models. Whenever you want to launch Google Now, you have to hold the home button for a few seconds, which takes longer than simply swiping your finger up from the bottom of the screen as you can on the Droid Razr Maxx HD.

Another odd design choice: The volume rocker doubles as the SIM card slot cover. To access your SIM card, you need to pry off the volume rocker, which requires you to have strong fingernails or a handy pair of tweezers. The good news is that the SIM card slot is firmly locked in, so you don't have to worry much about the phone losing its reception just because you were hammering on the volume keys. The bad news is that you'll have to apply some elbow grease if you ever want to access your SIM card.

 

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