A curious thing is happening in the world of Android this week.
At the same time that Motorola is launching its long-awaited flagship phone -- the Moto X, the first phone designed since the start of the company's Google-owned era -- Verizon is launching a trio of Moto-made Droid devices that have an awful lot in common with Moto's new hero.
The leader of the lineup is the Motorola Droid Ultra, a phone that shares the Moto X's internal setup and most of its marquee features. And that's where the problem lies: In and of itself, the Droid Ultra is a perfectly good phone with plenty of good things going for it. But it's impossible not to compare it to the Moto X -- a phone that's also set to launch soon on Verizon -- and by and large, that comparison doesn't bode well for our Droid-branded contender.
I've been using both the Moto X and the Droid Ultra for the past several days. I'll have a full review of the Droid Ultra to share with you soon, but in the meantime, I wanted to take a closer look at how the phones compare in real-world terms.
You can see a side-by-side breakdown of the devices' specs in the chart at right. The phones are equally matched in performance and, aside from display size and battery life, most of their key metrics. The biggest differences don't fit into a chart; rather, they revolve around design and user experience.
I'll be blunt: Where the Moto X is elegant, simple, and understated, the Droid Ultra is big, loud, and in your face. The soft materials and carefully crafted curves of the X are traded for a harsh, glossy plastic box that's hard on the eyes and clunky in the hands.
The Moto X has a pleasant fingertip-sized dimple on its back; the Droid Ultra has a roughly textured logo. The Moto X has virtual navigation buttons that work seamlessly with Android 4.x;
the Droid Ultra has capacitive keys that create awkward usage scenarios (more on that in my upcoming review).
Factor in the scattered UI changes and extra mess of bloatware baked into the Droid Ultra, and -- well, pardon my bluntness, but the device looks kind of like a Moto X that's been vomited on by a Verizon monster.
Refuse-related analogies aside, I think the best way to sum it up is this: Using the Droid Ultra feels like using the Moto X if the phone had been designed by the Motorola of two years ago instead of the Motorola of today. It's like seeing what the Moto X -- a standout smartphone that's a delight to use -- might have been if its designers had made several stumbles along the way.
The Droid Ultra may have a bigger screen and longer battery life than its Moto X cousin, but it lacks something the Moto X possesses: finesse.
(The Droid Maxx, it's worth noting -- a thicker and heavier version of the Droid Ultra that packs a 3500mAh battery -- uses a "soft touch" material as opposed to the glossy plastic-like casing. I've included it in the comparison chart above for your reference.)