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Tech Savvy: Triple Take

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week I get to geek out a bit and share a review on three great phones. Whoa, whoa, whoa ... three phones? Isn’t that a little excessive? Normally yes, but thanks to my friends at Verizon Wireless, I was able to look at a family of new phones from the Motorola DROID family — the MAXX, the Ultra and the Mini.

If you recall, a while back Google (who makes the Android OS) purchased Motorola as a way to have a dedicated way to bring us a pure form of Android phones in addition to their Nexus phones. The benefit over the Nexus phone line is that Motorola was already established so production would ramp up quickly and faster distribution could be achieved.

These three phones represent the first major handsets released by Motorola since that switch, so I was especially anxious to see what kind of goodies Google and Motorola collaborated on to bring to us. I am happy to say that I was not disappointed.

Let’s look at some of the similarities of the phones.

The appearance of all three phones is nearly identical and anyone who appreciates the sleek styling of the latest run of Motorola handsets will not be disappointed. The only hard buttons are the power and volume rocker on the sides; otherwise each of the phones is free from obstructions.

When you turn the phones on you will also immediately notice the crispness of the 1280x720 displays that each features and you will also appreciate the 1.7 GHz quad-core processor in each. Each phone comes preloaded with Android version 4.2, Jelly Bean, and since they are relatively new phones you can expect them to remain on the update list for a while. That means the experience for users is also familiar, anyone who has used Android 4.1 or 4.2 will be right at home with the UI and experience.

For hardware Motorola didn’t skimp either. In addition to the now standard Bluetooth 4.0 and full HD video capabilities, the phones also sport a 10MP main camera and 2MP rear facing cameras. They take great pictures and it really is worth everyone to consider giving up a cheap point-and-shoot and just using a cellphone camera. The convenience and ease of use is a no-brainer substitute for many of the low-end, and some mid-range, point-and-shoots available.

What really makes any phone stand out when they use the same base OS is the user interface. I have owned HTC and Motorola smartphones and used Samsung devices as well, and it’s easily apparent that each company puts their own flair into the UI and users can expect that continuity across that entire phone line. Some of the UI is aesthetics — wallpapers, layout, or other design — but other parts are integrated into the OS to provide unique add-ons. Examples of this might be Samsung’s S-Note, or features in the camera’s operation. To that end this is where some of the really cool features in these phones shows up and also where it has become apparent the Motorola/Google relationship is taking off.

Motorola also built a new twist, literally, into their widgets with these phones as well. Widgets have long been debated between Android and iOS users on whether they make a better smartphone, and if you needed any further convincing they do, here it is. In the new clock widget you can flick through it and the widget will twist to reveal additional options below it — flicking the battery percentage will reveal a shortcut to the settings, the clock will reveal shortcuts to wireless screen sharing and the Droid Zap function. By continually improving the widget capabilities it makes your phone more usable and saves you valuable screen space.

Hang on, so what’s this Droid Zap I just mentioned? It’s really cool. Remember a few years ago when the Bump app came out? It allowed people who had a Bump account to share photos, data and links with other Bump users simply by touching their phones together. It was like NFC (near field communication) but it wasn’t. Then do you remember when Samsung released the Galaxy S3 and heavily promoted the Share All? It was, and still is, really awesome. This allows the user to send pictures, data and other content to other Samsung users using NFC. Really cool that you could share virtually anything but the downside was you still had to have a Samsung phone to do that. Android Beam has been the equivalent for many other Android smartphones but it is still limited to phones that had NFC, which rules out most phones older than a year or two. Motorola has a great solution in Droid Zap. It is a content sharing app that can work the same way that Bump, or the NFC counterparts did, but the kicker is it will work with ANY Android phone — no NFC required.

Another neat feature I really enjoyed was the flick to open the camera app. You just flick your wrist twice while holding the phone and it automatically opens the camera. This setting can be turned off if you’d prefer to access the camera the traditional way but I was impressed by the speed that it worked. By comparison with my HTC DNA, which I have a lock screen access button to my camera, the speed to open the apps were hair-splittingly close. This is a cool feature for those that are using a smartphone to replace a point and shoot.

Amongst these three phones there are some unique features that give the user some choice in what they decide to purchase. Both the Maxx and the Ultra sport 5 inch screens, while the Mini checks in with a 4.3 incher. Compared to an iPhone 5 the Mini is pretty comparable, and will definitely appeal to those looking for a smaller footprint. The Ultra is almost exactly the same dimensions as my HTC DNA — screen size, height, width and depth. Of course, the Maxx is thicker than the others but that is because it boasts a 3500 mAh battery, compared to about 2000 mAh for the other Droids and even my DNA. This extended battery life can be a hero for you if you are not near a power source or if you have a tendency to forget to plug your phone in to charge each night.

All in all, these phones are incredibly impressive. The market has, arguably, been fairly stagnant lately with no significant updates to phones and the battle turns to hardware. With these three phones I think there is enough updates to the UI and the hardware to offer a nice, balanced, update to the standard in smartphones. By releasing these models at the same time it also gives buyers much more choice for the same basic quality instead of getting buyer’s remorse two months after the purchase.

If you are a fan of Motorola, you’ll love these phones. If you haven’t used a Motorola phone before, or have been skeptical of the merger between Motorola and Google, fear not — it ends for the better and you should definitely check these phones out.