This week, Verizon Wireless and Motorola announced a brand new family of DROID Android smartphones.
The three DROIDs -- the DROID ULTRA, DROID MAXX and DROID MINI -- are all Verizon exclusives, and they're available for preorder today on DROIDDoes.com. The new DROIDs will available in Verizon Wireless retail stores starting August 20.
The three new devices are unique in design and functionality. And the handsets have a number of noteworthy new DROID features. I was on the scene in Manhattan for the Verizon event yesterday, and I spent time with all three new devices. Check out the following breakdown of the new Verizon and Motorola family of DROIDs, along with hands-on images and video, for details on what makes them unique and why you might want to make a new DROID your next smartphone.
1) The New DROIDs and 'Touchless Control'
Voice-control features are nothing new for Android, but Motorola's take, called "Touchless Control," is unique. Touchless Control integrates with Google Now, which is available on all Android Jelly Bean devices.
When new DROID users set up Touchless Control, they can "train their voices" so that the DROIDs specifically recognize their voice and respond only to them. (Or at least that's the idea; in practice, it may not work that well. More on that coming up.)
After you train your DROID to recognize the tone and cadence of your voice, you can wake it up by speaking, "Okay, Google," which is the trigger command for Google Now. Unlike other Android devices with Google Now functionality, you don't need to unlock or wake your DROID to launch Google Now. The DROIDs recognize your voice and are immediately ready for commands.
All three new devices also have two DROID-specific Touchless-Control features not available on other Android gadgets. First, you can tell Google Now to activate you mobile hotspot so you don't have to touch the device and open your settings. And, if you lose or misplace your device, you can tell the DROIDs to "call you." So, for example, if your device falls down the side of the couch, you can loudly tell your DROID to "Call My DROID." If it can "hear" you, it will sound a loud tone. Of course, if your device is out of range -- say, in the car or in another room with the door closed -- this feature won't be particularly useful.
Sounds cool, right? The only problem: It didn't work as advertised. When the Motorola representative attempted to show that his DROID would only recognize his voice, he asked someone else to try to speak to it. And it recognized the person's voice. The rep was clearly a bit embarrassed and attributed the issue to all the noise in the room. Either way, the feature didn't really seem to work.
I also asked about the security implications of being able to access device features and functionality without unlocking the handset. The rep repeatedly stressed that you must first opt in to use any of the Google Now and Touchless-Control features -- which basically means that you assume all liability when you choose to use them. So, from a security standpoint, Touchless Control may not be something you want to bank on. But it's still a cool idea.
2) Motorola's Unique Take on Android
When considering Motorola's current Android strategy, you need to understand that Motorola Mobility is owned by Google. Google makes Android. So unlike other leading Android device makers -- including Samsung, HTC and LG -- Motorola is not trying to "de-Googlefy" Android.
Motorola wants to offer as "pure" an Android experience as possible, according to the rep I spoke with at the DROID announcement on Monday, so users can get software updates quickly and always get a seamless Android experience. The new DROIDs don't run "stock Android" like the recently released Google Play Edition Samsung Galaxy S4 or HTC One devices. And Motorola built a number of new features and enhancements into the version of Android that runs on the new DROIDs.
But Motorola isn't playing down the fact that Google software runs on its brand new phones. Compare that to Samsung's Galaxy S4 launch event in March, when the company literally didn't mention the word "Android" at all during its elaborate Broadway-show-like launch extravaganza.
The new DROIDs all launch with Android Jelly Bean v4.2.2. But with rumors of Android Key Lime Pie v4.3 coming soon, and with Motorola's statement that it wants to make software updates available as soon as possible, it's safe to assume that the new devices will get a significant software update in the future. (Of course, the DROIDs are sold through Verizon, so the carrier will have a say on that matter, too.)
It would have been impressive to see the new DROIDs launch with Key Lime Pie, but I guess Motorola's commitment to promptly offer the best possible version of Android will have to do.
3) New DROIDs and Zap Sharing
Many Android smartphones have wireless-media-sharing features, but the new DROIDs offer a unique take called Zap. Instead of using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Direct or another similar short-range wireless technology that requires you to tap phones together, the new DROIDs use your cellular or Wi-Fi network to detect nearby compatible devices (up to 300 feet away) and then share images with them via the cloud, using a two-finder swipe gesture.
So if you're at a party with five friends who have DROIDs, you can use Zap to share images. And you can choose to passcode protect your media so only the people you want to see them have access. (If you choose to protect media, Zap automatically assigns a four-digit access code.) All shared images are stored in the cloud and not on devices.
Zap is compatible with other Android devices running Android v2.2 or higher, but people who don't have new DROIDs can only view shared Zap images; they cannot upload and share their own pictures.
4) NEW DROID Notifications
Unlike most popular smartphones, the new DROIDs don't have any sort of LED indicator for notifications. Instead, when the devices are "asleep" or not in use, they flash application-specific icons on their displays when new messages or app notifications are delivered. Then they continue to "breathe" the notifications, or flash every so often on the display until they're checked or dismissed.
The system works better than a notification LED, according to Motorola, because the notification icons let you see which specific apps need attention. And you can tap the icons and then slide a finger to see more information, act on them or dismiss them.
The new DROIDs can also be placed with their displays down when not in use; when you flip them over, they immediately wake and show all relevant notifications.
5) New DROIDs and Motorola 'X8 Mobile Computing System'
All three of the new DROIDs pack a Motorola-branded "X8 Mobile Computing System" instead of a standard processor system. The X8 is composed of eights cores: Two application-processing cores; four graphics processing cores; one contextual language core, and one natural language core, according to Motorola. (The devices all have 2GB of RAM and dual-core 1.7GHz processors.)
So...what does that mean? The new DROIDs have 24 percent faster CPUs and 100 percent faster GPU performance over the past generation of DROID smartphones, according to Motorola.
6) The New DROIDs and Quick Capture
The new DROID lineup is designed to let you open your smartphone camera more quickly than any other device on the market. (All three devices have 10MP cameras.) Just hold your sleeping device and then rapidly rotate your wrist like you're using a doorknob. The devices immediately wake, and you just tap the display to take a picture.
If your DROID is password locked, you can't access any images saved in your gallery after waking the device with a shake; instead, you can only see the images you take using Quick Capture until you fully unlock the smartphone using your password or code.
The feature appears to work well, but I can't help but think that the DROIDs could accidentally wake up in your pocket or in your hand while you're moving around swiftly or running.
7) DROID MAXX Battery Life
The new DROID MAXX gets 48 hours of battery life, according to Verizon Wireless. That's a full 16 hours more than the previous-generation DROID RAZR MAXX, Motorola says. The DROID MAXX has a non-removable, 3500mAh battery that is, frankly, a gigantic power pack. The DROID MAXX is still quite thin, though; the device is 0.34 inches or 8.6 mm thick.
In comparison, Samsung's Galaxy S4 has a 2600mAh removable battery, and the iPhone 5 has a fixed 1,440mAh battery.
Two full days of battery life is hard to comprehend--I'll believe it when I see it. But the MAXX does have a very large battery, so I suppose it's possible.
The DROID ULTRA and DROID MINI have smaller capacity batteries, with 2130mAh and 2000mAh, respectively. But both devices should get average or better life, according to Verizon, with 24 hours of regular use on a single charge.
8) DROID ULTRA Thickness -- or Thinness
The brand new DROID Ultra is just 7.18mm thick, or perhaps, 7.18mm thin. That's 9 percent smaller than the thinnest device in the previous generation of DROIDs, according to Verizon. And the carrier says it's "the thinnest 4G LTE smartphone" available today.
Of all of the new DROID devices, the ULTRA feels the best in your hand -- and it's also the best looking new Motorola device, in my opinion.
9) DROID MAXX Pricing
The new DROID Maxx is one of the most expensive Android phones on the market today, not counting unlocked, unsubsidized devices. At $299.99, the handset doesn't come cheap -- but it does (mostly) have top-of-the-line specs, and its battery is unequaled in today's smartphone market.
The price would seem more reasonable to me if it came with 64GB of built-in storage, instead of just 32GB. The popular 64GB HTC One smartphone on AT&T costs $299.99, with a new service agreement. Apple's 32GB iPhone 5 also costs $299.99 along with a new agreement, so the price might not be all that hard to stomach for people who price shop before making purchases.
But $300 for a 32GB Android smartphone is pricey.
(The DROID MINI and DROID ULTRA are only available with 16GB of storage, and they cost $99.99 and $199.99, respectively, with a new two-year Verizon Wireless contract.)
10) New DROIDs, Ingress and Google Music
To sweeten the deal, Motorola and Verizon are offering two exclusive promotions to customers who purchase new DROIDs.
First, the new DROIDs all come preloaded with the augmented-reality, multiplayer game Ingress. You currently need an invite to access the game, so buying a new DROID is an easy in without knowing somebody playing Ingress. (You also get five Ingress invites with a new DROID purchase.)
I have access to Ingress, and I experimented with it a bit this summer at Google's I/O conference, but honestly, it's not really my thing. If you're a gamer who wants in to Ingress, buying a new DROID will do the trick. Learn more about Ingress here.
Motorola and Verizon are also offering six free months of Google's All Access music-streaming service to people who purchase a new DROID. The service costs $9.99 a month, which means the promo is valued at roughly $60. I don't think All Access would be enough to convince me to buy a new DROID, but it could push me over the edge if I was already teetering.