Droid Ultra deep-dive review: Bigger, but not necessarily better

Motorola's latest smartphone makes a lot of promises -- but does the phone actually deliver? The answer is both yes and no.

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Droid Ultra

MotorolaPrice: $200 (with a two-year contract from Verizon Wireless)Pros: Great screen; excellent performance; long battery life; intuitive user interface; innovative software features like Touchless Control and Active DisplayCons: Unattractive and uninspired design; capacitive keys detract from user experience; limited onboard storage; lots of bloatware; no HDMI out capability

The Droid Ultra does include a couple of features not found in the Moto X, but they're not terribly noteworthy. There's the "Droid Command Center," which is just a fancy name for an updated version of the circle widget introduced with last year's Droid Razr devices. And then there's Droid Zap, a system for wirelessly sharing files -- which sounds nice enough until you realize it works only with other users of these new Droid phones, thus making it extremely limited in practice.

Last but not least, the bloatware: The Droid Ultra comes with all the preloaded Verizon favorites you've grown to know and loathe -- VZ Navigator, VZ Security and about 10 other programs you probably won't want and can't easily uninstall. You can, at least, disable them and hide them from view.

Bottom line

Motorola's Droid Ultra is a strange phone to wrap your head around. It has a great deal in common with the Moto X but then veers from it in vexing ways.

To be sure, the phone has a lot of positive qualities -- mainly those that it shares with the Moto X. The Droid Ultra is a strong performer with a great display, intuitive interface and genuinely compelling features you won't find on competing devices.

But the phone also has an unattractive and uninspired design, along with capacitive buttons that create awkward usage scenarios. Comparatively speaking, those things take a serious toll on the user experience.

If you love the idea of a larger screen or need that extra dollop of battery life, Verizon's new Droid Ultra -- or perhaps the Maxx, with its even bigger battery and less chintzy casing -- is well worth considering. Otherwise, I'd suggest looking at the Moto X instead, which provides a similar setup in a far more compelling overall package.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Android tips and insights, follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

This article, Droid Ultra deep-dive review: Bigger, but not necessarily better, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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