As I wrote about during CES and later when comparing it to the iPhone 4S, the Droid Razr Maxx from Motorola is unlike any phone out today. Not because of the speed or some special features, nor is it the first child of the latest union between Google and Motorola. Nay, dear readers, the Droid Razr Maxx is an incredible device for one reason, though not one reason only: an insanely large battery.

The Droid Razr Maxx (Maxx from here on) is identical to Motorola’s acclaimed Droid Razr, still the thinnest and one of the fastest Android phones on the market today, three months after it’s initial release. It’s identical in all but one way, sacrificing that industry-defining thin body for a larger, more solid one. One that boasts the largest battery a smartphone has ever seen. At 3300mAh, the Maxx has a monstrous battery.

However, since we haven’t had the pleasure of reviewing the Droid Razr before the Maxx, and since both devices are identical in every way but one, I’ve conducted a full review of the Maxx from top to bottom.

Hardware

As already mentioned, the Droid Razr is the thinnest phone out today. The Maxx is by no means the thinnest, but the difference between the two is moot in the hands. 7.1mm compared to 9mm, the Maxx is still thinner than the iPhone 4S. The Maxx is, however, a very large phone, almost as big as the Galaxy Nexus yet with just a 4.3″ screen (compared to 4.65″ on the Nexus).

The hardware design is functional, but it doesn’t stand out like the Droid Razr does. It obviously doesn’t share the very tight body, but as you’ll see below in the battery section, that’s a sacrifice worth making. The Maxx still has a kevlar encrusted back, which is unnecessary and frankly a tad slippery, but using the Maxx one-handed is doable. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than larger phones (like the Epic 4G Touch) or smaller but more slippery devices.

The Droid Razr Maxx above the Samsung Galaxy Note.

The Maxx has a SuperAMOLED display, which is “Advanced”, unlike Samsung’s SuperAMOLED+. The two technologies are very different. Motorola seems to boost the brightness level to make the display more visible in direct sunlight without making the display overpowering, while Samsung adds a layer to the glass to make sure the image isn’t washed out by bright light. Both technologies are suitable, though Motorola’s is better for bright conditions. It also drains battery life faster, which is why the Droid Razr shipped with such a dense battery. Obviously the Maxx has no problem there.

However, the display is 4.3″ large but with the relatively small resolution of 960×540, which is less dense than the iPhone’s Retina Display and all of today’s high-end 720p displays. It’s a shame that the Droid Razr never shipped in 720p, and that the Maxx didn’t receive an upgrade to the higher resolution. With it’s larger battery it could have easily received more powerful components without any concern for battery life. Instead, it shares the same 1.2GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of internal memory.

The Samsung Galaxy Note and Droid Razr Maxx. Even with a 1" larger screen, the size difference isn't that great between the two.

One issue that only became clear after extended testing is sound quality with wired headsets or outputting sound to speakers. Audio has a tendency to crackle, both for streaming and locally stored audio. This wasn’t a problem with phone calls – generally calls have too much minute interference to notice the slight cracks – but with music it’s a serious issue. Especially if, like me, you use your phone for all of your music needs, listening to radio, gaming, etc.

The design is excellent, but for a 4.3″ display the phone is too big. It’s bezel is too thick, it’s frame is too large, and the phone could be smaller. Furthermore, the resolution is too low for a screen of this size. The display is sharp and a pleasure for viewing text and watching videos, but the large bezel is excessive.

Software

The Maxx ships with Android 2.3.6, which offers no significant upgrades to today’s 2.3 devices. It’s a shame that Motorola isn’t shipping the Maxx with Android 4.0, which is still, after three months, available only on the Galaxy Nexus. If the Maxx had Android 4.0, it would be the best Android phone on the market instantly.

There’s little to really talk about the software. It’s clean, and Motorola has done very little to make their Motoblur overlay clunky or slow. It works very well, and a recent upgrade (available to all Droid Razr users) has cleaned up the settings and several bugs that have plagued the system, like a slow or just wrong autofocus. But like I said in the Galaxy Nexus review, going back to Android 2.3 is not pleasant. Motorola’s software is one of the easiest to return to.

After extended use, I’ve found the only issue with the software design is severe slowness when running numerous apps. This may sound obvious, but Android has no easy way of closing apps, and exiting doesn’t necessarily shut them down. Motorola realized this and in the task manager has enabled a user-set auto shut-off for apps, where users can set apps to turn off when leaving the app instantly. It’s a roundabout way of fixing the problem, but necessary for heavy app users.

Battery

As you can see, in my battery test only one phone tested better than the Maxx, the T-Mobile myTouch Q, essentially a dumbphone with a reasonably-sized battery and very low-end and low-powered parts. The benchmark used, Basemark OS, runs continuous tests and software while timing the phone to see how long it will last, so it’s no surprise that the Maxx scored lower than a much weaker phone. But looking at the comparable models, the Maxx in every case doubles their lifespan on a single charge.

3300mAh is a huge battery. The iPad 2, a full tablet, has a battery just over double the size at 6930mAh. The closest phone battery is the Galaxy Note with a 2500mAh battery, and that’s powering a faster processor and significantly larger screen.

The battery claims that Motorola makes are gargantuan. 21.5 hours of continuous talk time, 6 hours of HD video streaming over LTE, 10 hours of GPS navigation, and 15 hours of native video playback. These aren’t numbers to throw around lightly, and yet I haven’t found a need to charge the phone more than once every 2-3 days. Under heavy use, I didn’t need to recharge until a day and a half of use, and even then there are plenty of ways to keep the phone running.

Case in point: on a recent trip to San Francisco (from LA), I used the Maxx exclusively and after a full day of use still had 37% battery life. That’s with constant emailing, calls, streaming music, and occasional hotspot use, from 7am-11pm. By morning it was at 32%, and the battery lasted until I returned home. That’s from 7am on Thursday to 2pm on Friday. Furthermore, just to show how powerful the battery is, over LTE I downloaded half of my Google Music library on the phone Thursday morning. I intentionally tried to kill the battery, and couldn’t. That’s impressive.

Motorola also includes power-saver options that can disable certain functions, like push email and app updates, for certain times. One of the presets is during the night, when sleeping. If you find yourself stuck without a phone charger, this app is a far more convenient way of preserving battery life without shutting the phone down or going into airplane mode. It retains all the phone functions, but can be set to keep what you need running, and shut down everything else.

There are two problems with the Maxx’s ridiculous battery. First is charge time: around three and a half hours from absolute zero, which is fine for everyday use but a problem if you need a quick charge. However, when compared to phones like the iPhone 4S (which can complete a 0-100% charge in roughly the same time, with less than half the battery density), charge time doesn’t seem so troublesome. The second is the low battery warning. On Android warnings pop up at 15%, 10%, and 5%. On the Maxx, 15% is several hours of talk time. It’s like getting a 30 second warning that your minute rice is nearly done; there’s no point. What’s worse is the power-saver options activate and bother as soon as power warnings start cropping up, so the phone fights users for nothing.

Benchmarks

The Maxx is one of the fastest phones out. In some ways it’s faster than the acclaimed Samsung Galaxy S II (which I think the world of). During the holidays I wrote that the S II was the safest bet for smartphones not named iPhone, except for Verizon. Big Red never received an S II variant, likely because they had the Droid Razr, and had it exclusively. Based on these benchmark scores, I can see why Verizon saw no need to have another major smartphone in it’s holiday lineup.

 

For standard internet browsing and just using a web browser, the Maxx is the fastest non-Android 4.0 device available. It even beats out the iPhone 4S in both of the browser-based benchmarks, albeit by a very slight margin. However, based on the speeds we’ve seen with ICS upgrades, the Maxx will be much faster than the 4S and the Galaxy Nexus when it finally upgrades. If Motorola (or Verizon) can push out that update sooner than upcoming phones like the HTC One, the Maxx (and Droid Razr) can be considered kings of Android smartphones.

When it comes to graphics processing however, the Maxx performs well but isn’t top dog. In the Quadrant Standard benchmark both of Samsung’s Galaxy S II devices are faster, while the iPhone 4S is still the fastest smartphone for straight up graphics rendering, as seen in the GL Benchmark test. The Maxx performs well, even beating out Sony’s first Android tablet, but it doesn’t even get near the iPhone 4S’ results, and for the more stressful test is 66% slower than the Galaxy S II.

This phone is faster in general processing and everyday applications than the S II. It’s the second fastest Android phone out today, right behind the Galaxy Nexus, which has significantly weaker hardware but vastly improved software. The Maxx is only weaker when it comes to graphics processing, which is the least important aspect of smartphones today (at least based on how software utilizes GPUs), and even then it is still very capable.

The Maxx is also fully capable of running 720p Flash video through the browser, streaming, without so much as a stutter. That is usually the achilles heel of most high-scoring smartphones to date. Regular applications run like a charm and the Maxx is every bit as powerful as today’s highest-end phones. And it does all that with an enormous battery.

Photography

The one area that Motorola could have, and perhaps should have improved on with the Maxx, was photography. Pictures are decent to view on the Maxx’s display, but blow them up to full size and they appear blurry and pixelated. Just look at the pictures in the gallery below. The 8MP shooter does a good job of capturing color contrast and lights and darks (though it tends to lose color with high light contrast almost to a monochrome look), but when viewed at full size they leave much to be desired.

[nggallery id=223]

Video performance is decent. Again, as with the Droid Bionic, the sound quality is excellent. The 1080p video quality is also very good, certainly good enough to replace a traditional digital camcorder for a single device, but like the still camera it loses quality pretty easily. Colors are accurate though video is a bit jumpy. Downscale to 720p for better video quality. Otherwise, the camcorder is very good.

Conclusion

Though we missed reviewing the Droid Razr back when it first released in November, the Droid Razr Maxx almost makes up for it. As I mentioned back with the LG Doubleplay, the best phone is the one that lasts as long as you need it. Today, every major smartphone has a serious power predicament. The iPhone, all Android devices, Windows phones…the only thing Blackberry users can attest to anymore is how their phones last all day no matter what.

The Maxx may provide a brute-force solution to this problem, but it does the job better than any smartphone available, period. Even the iPhone 4S, with it’s relatively tiny battery but infinitely more power conservative operating system, can’t hold half the talk time of the Maxx. There is only one conclusion to reach: the Droid Razr Maxx is the best phone people can buy today.

The few things that hold the Maxx back are moot. The camera is good enough. The slight crackling from wired audio is a nuisance I can live with. The low display resolution is good enough to use for today’s two-year contracts. Anyone can get used to the bulky frame. Before the Maxx to get this sort of battery life you needed a dumbphone or a Blackberry. With the Droid Razr Maxx, you get one of the most powerful smartphones available today and the longest battery life to boot. Nothing else really matters but making sure it keeps working, and the Maxx never seems to. There is certainly room for improvement, but I can’t recommend it enough. If you need the phone to just work, and keep working, there is nothing better.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★★½

Excellent

Bottom Line: The best Android phone you can own today. And the most important.

Pros:

  • Battery life is unbelievable
  • Excellent performance; one of the fastest phones available
  • Minimalist software doesn’t get in the way, is very helpful
Cons:
  • For a 4.3″ screen, it’s very big and thick
  • No Android 4.0
  • No improvements to the Droid Razr except for battery life










James Pikover

 
Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.