If you're reading this, Verizon's new Droid phones probably aren't for you

Some important perspective about the Droid Turbo 2 and Droid Maxx 2.

Verizon Droid Turbo 2, Droid Maxx 2

Hey -- didja hear? Verizon's got a couple new Droid phones for the holiday season.

Don't check your flux capacitor: It isn't the year 2011. Much as the whole carrier-exclusive phone thing feels like a relic at this point, Big Red is sticking with its big brand and continuing to crank out custom phones.

This time, we've got the Droid Turbo 2 and the Droid Maxx 2, both made by Motorola and both based (to varying degrees) on Motorola's existing 2015 Moto X models. I've been spending a few days getting to know the two phones -- and trying to figure out for whom they make sense.

Getting to know the Droid Turbo 2 and Droid Maxx 2

Let's start with some broad strokes: The Droid Turbo 2 is basically a beefed up and more utilitarian version of the Moto X Pure Edition. It's almost the same size -- a touch shorter and actually a little bit wider -- despite having a smaller screen (5.4 in. vs. the Moto X Pure's 5.7 in. panel). Its display is made of a new plastic "shatterproof" material (which looks surprisingly good, though not as good as the best displays out there), and its back is made of a choice of patterned plastic, ballistic nylon, or pebbled leather (customizable via Motorola's Moto Maker site, if you're so inclined). It's got a little more power under the hood than its Pure Edition sibling, but with most day-to-day use, you won't notice much difference.

The Maxx 2, meanwhile, is just a Verizoned-out version of the Moto X Play -- a lower-end model of the Moto X that launched outside of the U.S. earlier this year.

Both phones promise an insane 48-hour battery life, and like past Droid-branded devices, they don't disappoint. Speaking of branding, hope you like it, 'cause you're gettin' plenty of Verizon imagery with either of these devices -- both on their exteriors and within the software. I described a past year's Droid phone as looking "kind of like a Moto X that's been vomited on by a Verizon monster" (yes, really), and that characterization pretty much holds true for this year's phones, too.

Motorola Droid Turbo 2, Droid Maxx 2

Wait -- which carrier do these phones run on, again? The Droid Turbo 2 (left) and Droid Maxx 2 (right)

About the software: Both new Droids ship with the previous-generation Android 5.1.1 Lollipop operating system, despite the fact that they were announced 22 days after Google published the source code for the newer Android 6.0 Marshmallow release. Verizon's efficiency with updating last year's Droid Turbo model doesn't exactly inspire confidence in its ability to get Marshmallow onto these devices in any timely manner (to say nothing of its willingness to push out the various subsequent releases and security fixes that'll follow over the next two years) -- and Motorola itself isn't too high on the list of upgrade trustworthiness or even communication about upgrades nowadays -- so I wouldn't hold your breath or count on anything too gratifying in that department.

Finally, both phones are absolutely larded down with Verizon-added bloatware that you mostly can't uninstall -- nearly two dozen apps that, combined with the base operating system, leave you with about 19GB of open space to start on the 32GB Turbo 2 and just under 8GB on the 16GB Maxx 2. For perspective, a 32GB Nexus 6P or Nexus 5X with pure Google software ships with about 25GB of available storage.

Droid Turbo 2, Droid Maxx 2 Bloatware

My, I'm feeling bloated: Some of the preinstalled apps on the new Droid devices

Those elements aside, you're essentially looking at the standard Moto X experience -- same solid near-stock software (save for a few relatively inconsequential Verizon-made visual tweaks), same pretty good camera (with the exception of low-light performance, just like with the regular Moto X models), and same basic design blueprint (only with the chunkier form and more rugged-feeling back panel materials).

Are these the Droids you're looking for?

After getting to know the new Droids, I'd say these phones are aimed at two very specific groups of consumers:

  1. The type of people who are committed to Verizon and don't follow tech news -- who simply walk into a carrier store and follow a salesperson's recommendation without awareness of the options available outside those walls.
  2. The type of people who are committed to Verizon and value (a) a screen that won't shatter no matter how it's dropped and/or (b) exceptional stamina above everything else -- and are willing to pay a premium for those qualities while also sacrificing optimal experiences in other areas.

If you fall into the first group -- well, you aren't reading this, anyway. As you were, sir and/or madam.

If you fall into the second group, the Turbo 2 or Maxx 2 could be worth considering. The stamina on both phones is unmatched, and the shatterproof screen on the Turbo 2 -- true to its word -- will not shatter (though it will get scratched or possibly dented with enough abuse).

For most people, though, I think the costs -- both in terms of actual money and in terms of what you sacrifice in exchange for the extra screen strength and/or stamina -- are going to outweigh the benefits.

Consider first the Droid Turbo 2: It costs $624 (which can be paid either upfront or spread out over a monthly payment plan). For $125 less, you could get a 32GB Nexus 6P, which has superior display quality, a larger display (despite being slightly narrower and only marginally taller in overall footprint), a slimmer and more premium build, a significantly better camera (especially in low light), a superb fingerprint scanner, superior software (with the latest Android version and no added bloat), and a guarantee of speedy ongoing software updates directly from Google (including both major releases and monthly security updates, neither of which is insignificant).

That phone also works not only with Verizon but with any other U.S. carrier -- including Google's unusual multi-network Project Fi service -- so if you ever decide you want to change service or find a cheaper plan, you aren't tied down to any one cellular company.

Droid Turbo 2 vs Nexus 6P

Perspective: The Droid Turbo 2 (left) alongside the Nexus 6P (right)

The 6P's stamina isn't insane, like the Turbo 2's, but it's quite good -- more than sufficient to get most people through a full day with ease. And if you're really worried about breaking the screen, you can use the $125 you saved to invest in a strong case or an insurance/replacement plan, like the one Google offers specific to that phone for $89.

The Droid Maxx 2, meanwhile, costs $384 (again, payable either upfront or spread out over a monthly payment plan). Remember that the Maxx 2 is a Verizon-customized version of the Moto X Play, which is a lower-end version of the regular Moto X Pure Edition. A 16GB version of the unlocked Moto X Pure Edition would cost you just $400 and would give you a superior overall user experience in most areas -- including the realms of performance and software -- not to mention the ability to take your phone to any other carrier if you should ever desire.

A 16GB version of Google's Nexus 5X, for further comparison, would run you $379. Like the 6P, that phone is going to provide a top-notch user experience, with the same software and timely ongoing upgrade advantages as well as the elevated camera quality and universal carrier compatibility.

Putting it all together...

That thing I said a minute ago about the two groups of consumers for whom these phones are relevant? That's ultimately what this all boils down to. If you need extreme stamina and/or are extremely concerned about your screen shattering above everything else -- and, of course, are 100% committed to sticking with Verizon for the foreseeable future -- going with one of the carrier's new Droid devices may make sense for you.

Those two areas aside, though, you're going to end up paying more money for a phone that isn't as nice to use as some of the readily available (and Verizon-compatible) unlocked alternatives. And for most people, the broad benefits those other phones provide are going to outweigh the Droid's limited strengths. Heck, the software and upgrade advantages alone are enough to make a Nexus phone more advisable for most consumers, even if you don't take into account the numerous other variables.

Let me be clear: Verizon's new Droid phones are by no means bad. They're quite decent devices, and they have some genuinely interesting qualities. But like with any devices, you have to look at them in the grand scheme of the current Android ecosystem.

In that context, these phones are difficult to recommend for all but a very limited subset of users with very specific priorities.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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