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

JR Raphael | Aug. 21, 2013
Motorola's latest smartphone makes a lot of promises -- but does the phone actually deliver? The answer is both yes and no.

The Ultra provides support for near-field communication (NFC), which allows you to perform contact-free payments and data exchanges. Notably missing, however, is support for Google's own Google Wallet mobile payment system; Verizon has long blocked (or "not blocked but not allowed users to install," if you want to play corporate word games) from its Android devices, and the Droid Ultra is no exception.

The Droid Ultra lacks support for wireless charging, though its sibling, the Droid Maxx, does offer such functionality.

Motorola's current phones all use a new 10-megapixel "Clear Pixel" sensor that's supposed to improve image quality by capturing "clear" pixels in addition to the standard red, green and blue variety. The sensor is also designed to capture more light in less time, resulting in faster photo-snapping and better low-light results.

The Droid Ultra camera is decent — very good at times — but not consistently great.

In practice, I found the Droid Ultra camera to be decent — very good at times — but not consistently great. While some shots came out clear and vivid, others had visible noise and quality loss. For casual photo-snapping and sharing, the Droid Ultra should be more than fine, but camera aficionados may be frustrated with the device's inconsistent imaging performance.

I will say, though, that the Droid Ultra's camera is delightfully easy to use: Motorola has replaced the stock Android Camera app with its own simplified setup. The entire screen is essentially a viewfinder; you tap anywhere on the screen to snap a photo and hold your finger down to take rapid-fire "burst"-style shots (something that is also available in the Moto X).

Swiping your finger to the left brings up a semicircle of basic options, including the ability to enable HDR mode, adjust flash settings, and activate Android's panoramic photo mode (but not the platform's 360-degree Photo Sphere feature — it's oddly M.I.A. on this phone). You can enable a tap-to-focus mode, too, which causes the camera to focus on any spot you touch and then capture an image immediately thereafter; since the app's minimalist approach lacks a focus command by default, this option can be useful if you want a little more control.

Oh, and one more thing: Like on the Moto X, Motorola has integrated a motion gesture into the Droid Ultra that lets you quickly get to the camera by holding the phone and flipping your wrist down twice. It works when the phone is actively in use or when the screen is off; once you get used to the motion, it's a really handy way to access your camera fast.

The Droid Ultra's camera is capable of capturing 1080p video. A 2-megapixel front-facing camera also captures 1080p-quality video.


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