Aug 27 AT 8:45 AM Nick Gray 16 Comments

Motorola DROID Ultra, DROID Mini first impressions

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If you want to buy a new Motorola phone, you have two options: the Moto X and the new DROID. OK, technically, the new DROID is really three new phones. But who’s counting? The Motorola DROID Ultra, MAXX and Mini may sound quite different, but the three phones are actually nearly identical. We’re working on full reviews for each phone, but I thought I’d share my initial impressions of the DROID Ultra and DROID Mini, as Sean has already done with the DROID MAXX.

In the specs department, the Motorola DROID Ultra and DROID Mini are identical in every way except for screen size and battery capacity. The Ultra has a 5.0-inch 720p display and a 2130 mAh battery versus the Mini’s 4.3-inch display of the same resolution and 2000 mAh battery capacity. So far, battery life has not been much of a concern on either device. The Mini does appear to have a slight edge over the Ultra when it comes to longevity, most likely due to the difference in screen size between the two devices. Everything else is completely identical. Both phones feature Motorola’s X8 Mobile Computing System, which comprises a 1.7 GHz dual—core application processor, 400 MHz quad—core GPU, natural language processor and contextual computing processor. Each device also sports 2GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, 10MP camera, NFC and the usual combination of WiFi, GPS and other senors that have become standard in today’s smartphones.

The specs of the two phones may not be that impressive when compared to the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One or even the new LG G2, but they do get the job gone. Motorola seems to be gambling on the notion that the smartphone spec race is over. Out of curiosity, I installed Samurai versus Zombies Defense 2, Fieldrunners 2 and KingdomRush to see how the devices fared under pressure. To my surprise, the dual-core processors inside these phones had enough power to play through each game I threw at them. Performance wasn’t optimal (initial load of games and levels was slightly slower when compared to the HTC One), but game play was silky smooth. I’m sure performance degradation in games will creep in over time, but it’ll probably be at least a yer before a DROID Ultra or DROID Mini owner starts to notice that the latest Android games do not perform as optimally as they could.

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For some reason, I can’t figure out why Motorola likes to toy with our emotions. Android enthusiasts are typically passionate about amazing specs and stock Android. As I mentioned before, these two phones don’t come with all the bells and whistle in the specs department. But, Motorola’s build of Android is as stock as they come these days. Motorola has taken the liberty to customize a few app icons and add in some additional features. Features like always listening Google Now that’s trained to activate only to your voice and Active Notifications, which pulse onto the screen temporarily to show various pending notifications.

While subtle, the software tweaks inside Motorola’s Android build make the two devices more useful and engaging. I find myself saying “OK, Google Now” at random, asking for the weather conditions or dictating notes. I do that with my HTC One a few times a day, but not having to touch the phones somehow makes Google Now more useful.

So far, everything I’ve covered for the Motorola DROID Ultra and DROID Mini (besides battery capacity) has been identical to what the DROID MAXX has to offer. But now it’s time for the stories of these phones to diverge. While Sean praised the soft-touch texture of the Kevlar case on the MAXX, the ultra-gloss coating used by Motorola on the Ultra and Mini is egregious. No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to keep these devices clear of fingerprints or smudges.

I’ve only used the Mini and Ultra for a few days, but it’s clear that Motorola is stepping up its game under Google’s control. We’ll be exploring the two devices in more detail in our full reviews in the coming weeks. If you have any specific questions you’d like us to address in our full review of the two phones, let us know in the comments below.

Nick is a tech enthusiast who has a soft spot for HTC and its devices. He started (the first HTC blog) back in 2007 and later joined the Android and Me family in the summer of 2010.

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