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    Droid Turbo 2 review: What it lacks in style, it makes up for in power

    It's tough, too. The testing began with driving a car over it.

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    Verizon's line of Droid phones just celebrated its sixth birthday, and what better way to celebrate than by releasing the best device to ever bear the Droid title? I jokingly called Motorola's Droid Turbo 2 "a Moto X Pure on steroids," but there's no denying it packs even more power than its predecessor into a body that's built to take a beating. Throw in a battery rated for 48 hours and we should be left with a phone that will make Moto X owners rue the day they whipped out their credit cards, right? Turns out, the answer's a little more complicated.

    Gallery: Droid Turbo 2 review | 21 Photos

    Engadget Score
    Poor
    Uninspiring
    Good
    Excellent
    Key

    Pros
    • Durable screen
    • Fast performance
    • Solid, if overstated, battery life
    • Useful software additions
    Cons
    • Camera is hit or miss
    • Expensive for what it is
    • Slightly dim, oversaturated display
    • Loads of Verizon bloatware

    Summary

    It's not hard to look at the Droid Turbo 2 as an upgraded version of the Moto X Pure, with its more powerful components, big battery and shatterproof screen. This all sounds great, and it is... until you discover that the battery life isn't always as epic as Motorola claims and that camera performance is a mixed bag. What's more, it's unclear when the phone will receive a software update, and it's saddled with Verizon bloatware. It's still a decent choice, but we ultimately like the regular Moto X even better.

    Hardware

    Review: Droid Turbo 2

    I'll be blunt: the Droid Turbo 2 ($624 and up) is pretty ugly. If you took a Moto X Pure edition and somehow sucked out most of its charm, you'd be left with this thing. The white version I've been testing is especially bland, and does nothing to hide the sensors that make tricks like Moto Display possible. Thankfully, you can do something to potentially remedy this. The Turbo 2 is the first Verizon Droid you can run through Motorola's MotoMaker customizer, with three different material choices for the back and a host of color options for the metal frame and oblong accent on the rear.

    In fairness, the backside isn't bad; my test unit has a neat soft-touch plastic back with a tessellating triangle pattern and a sturdy silver metal rim around the edges. Still, some things remain annoying no matter the finish you choose. Hefty bezels encircle the 5.4-inch Quad HD screen, making the Turbo 2 feel wider than it actually is. Also, while the Turbo 2 made its official debut after Verizon's big rebranding, it still has the discontinued Verizon Wireless logo on it. Fortunately, it's only on the external lens -- Motorola's name for the thick, plastic screen protector that'll catch all those pesky scratches -- so you if you really wanted to you could peel it off.

    Of course, you might disagree with me about all of this. Great! We can probably still agree that the Droid reputation hinges more on pure power than style and fortunately, the Turbo 2 has that in spades. A high-end octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 thrums away inside, paired with 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM and an Adreno 430 GPU. Since Motorola is a big fan of its contextual computing tricks (as am I), there are also two additional co-processors to help the phone monitor motion and listen for your voice commands. The combination makes for some seriously snappy (not to mention thoughtful) performance, but I'll dig into that more later.

    The Turbo 2 was also blessed with extra power in the form of a hefty, if sealed, 3,760mAh battery. Sure, last year's Droid Turbo had an even bigger cell, but Motorola claims you'll be able to squeeze about two full days of usage out of this year's model. Throw in a microSD card slot to supplement the 32GB or 64GB of internal storage -- expandable up to 2TB, whenever those cards show up -- and you've got a device that ticks almost every box that power users care about. If anything, I wish Motorola had bothered to make the new Turbo waterproof just for good measure, especially considering how sturdy the phone is otherwise.

    Display and sound

    We can't talk about the Droid Turbo without talking about its "shatterproof" screen. In brief, Motorola built layers of redundant protection over a 5.4-inch OLED panel -- specifically, one layer of scratch-resistant plastic and another layer of thicker, sturdier polycarbonate. There's another touch-sensitive layer under those strata to make sure you'd still be able to use the phone if something else went awry. Thanks as well to an aluminum frame, the phone is so durable that it should be able to survive all but the most tragic of drops.

    Before we go any further, you should know that I've broken maybe two phones in the past and I took it really hard both times. Ask anyone who knows me: I form unhealthy personal attachments to gadgets. Anyway, I put all that aside for two weeks so I could treat the Turbo 2 the way a careless asshole would: tossing it across the room at my desk, letting it slip out of my pocket and watching it skitter across asphalt for kicks. Normally the ultimate drop test would be giving me the Turbo after a few Manhattans, but I decided to try something even more provocative: running it over with my car. It survived. It survived!

    Basically, then, this "shatterproof" business really works. Within reason, anyway. The rest of the phone didn't always fare as well -- its metal rim now has a few chunks missing and the screen is scratched -- but there's no question that the Turbo 2 can take a licking. Just, you know, don't get any bright ideas and toss it off your roof.

    It's too bad, then, that the screen being protected is otherwise unremarkable. The high resolution (2,560 x 1,440) and 540-ppi pixel density mean your eyes won't be hurting for crispness, but the display is a touch dimmer and a lot more contrast-y than the Moto X Pure's. Consider this wallpaper: The ribbon looked magenta on the X, but appeared a lurid red on the Turbo 2. Ditto for just about every photo on Instagram; some people will adore the Turbo 2's punchy colors, but they're a little over the top for me. On the flip side, the front-facing speakers etched on either side of the aging Verizon logo aren't terrible: They pumped out some surprisingly deep (if sometimes muddy) sound and are more than enough for the occasional YouTube video or podcast.

    Software

    Last year's Turbo ran a nearly stock build of Android 4.4.4 loaded up with enough Verizon bloatware to get me seeing red. Guess what happened this year? Bingo! Exactly the same, except we're working with a tweaked version of Android 5.1.1. (I'm told work on the Turbo 2's software wrapped up just as Marshmallow became available to OEMs so we're stuck waiting for an OTA update.) Anyway. Lollipop. All of its usual strengths and foibles (here's looking at you, notification volume controls) are back, as are Motorola's contextual computing tricks. I won't delve into them too much -- we've tested them on a few other devices already year -- but I'm still very glad to have them.

    Motorola's approach to gussying up Android has always been my favorite: By mostly leaving the core OS alone, the company can instead focus on adding valuable, hardware-powered features that pick up where Android leaves off. Moto Display, for instance, works as well as it always has, which is to say you can swipe your hand over the screen to get a quick glance at the time or what notifications have rolled in. The additional contextual core baked into the chipset also means the Turbo 2 is always listening for your voice commands, and Moto Voice still goes a great job interpreting and acting on them. Does it feel a little silly talking a phone the way one would speak to a secretary? Maybe a little, but I can't argue with the results.

    Gallery: Droid Turbo 2 software tour | 21 Photos

    Moto isn't known for its extraneous apps, which makes the inclusion of stuff like Droid Zap a little frustrating. Zap, in case you missed it on the first Turbo, is a social sharing app. You can send images to random Zap users nearby, or set up a shared photo stream called a Zap Zone where all the photos you take are shared with Zappers you've invited. It all works as advertised and is more useful than you'd expect, but I still can't imagine many people are jumping aboard the Zap bandwagon. Loop, meanwhile, is a more passive addition. Assuming you've got other Verizon Droid owners in your family, you'll be able to see their current status, check the weather at home and even control your Nest thermostat or Philips Hue light bulbs. I own neither of those, but I did designate another Verizon phone as a Loop "roommate" and used it to see how long the Turbo 2 was sitting in my car that morning. Chalk that one up in the "surprisingly useful" column.

    I wish I could say the same about the Verizon bloatware. VZ Navigator, VZ Protect, My Verizon Mobile, Message+ and Verizon's Cloud all went unused in favor of Google's own apps, though I can see additions like Amazon's Kindle app and NFL Mobile coming in handy. Ditto for the Candy Crush and Bubble Bobble clone, though really, I'd rather not have them cluttering up my apps launcher.

    Camera

    If you're hunting for even more similarities between the Droid Turbo 2 and the Moto X Pure edition, look no further than the camera. Both phones share a Sony-made 21-megapixel rear shooter with an f/2.0 aperture lens, and both take perfectly nice shots when the light is right. Frame things up just so and you'll even get a hint of bokeh from time to time. Most of the photos I took through my week of testing were suffused with punchy, accurate colors and plenty of detail, though the Turbo 2 still struggled to properly expose some photos when all the settings are left in Auto. We have Motorola's focus on sheer speed to thank for that -- you can crank your wrist twice to launch the camera and snap a photo in under two seconds, but you'll want to enable HDR and the movable focus/exposure bracket for the best results. Like it or not, that's about as in-depth as the camera gets; you won't find any of those fancy manual shooting modes here.

    Gallery: Droid Turbo 2 camera samples | 15 Photos

    Too bad, since one of those might have helped the Turbo 2 in low-light situations. Dim settings are what separate photographic chumps from champs, and Moto's new Droid can't seem to decide which camp it belongs in. For every surprisingly strong low-light shot I snapped, I had one or two grainy ones that the automatic Night mode just couldn't save. Optical image stabilization would have helped Motorola take things to the next level here, but that was clearly less important than making a near-unbreakable screen.

    As for that 5-megapixel front camera, my sample shots were perfectly adequate, if a touch washed out. Don't worry, though, your selfie game won't suffer much as a result -- just be judicious with how you use that front-facing flash.

    Performance and battery life

    Here's where the Turbo 2 makes up for its curious cosmetics and lives up to its name. This thing is fast. Nothing I threw at it over my week of testing -- quickly leaping in and out of apps or playing games like Asphalt 8 and Dead Trigger -- made the Turbo 2 hiccup. That shouldn't come as a surprise considering the top-flight silicon inside, but after being turned off by the Turbo 2's design I was taken aback by how much I appreciated it on a technical level. Everything just works. The one downside: You'll feel the back get warm when you're playing graphically intense games or using the hell of the GPS.

    Motorola Droid Turbo 2 Samsung Galaxy Note 5 Moto X Pure Nexus 6P
    AndEBench Pro 10,494 9,995 9,686 7,377
    Vellamo 3.2 4,942 4,564 4,401 5,105
    3DMark IS Unlimited 26,014 21,316 18,474 21,847
    GFXBench 3.0 1080p Manhattan Offscreen (fps) 18 25 15 25
    CF-Bench (overall) 75,300 55,267 74,237 48,796

    Now, about that battery. The party line is that you'll get up to 48 hours of continuous use out of the Turbo 2, but I never quite managed to achieve that. Consider my usual routine: I'd unplug the thing at about 7:30 in the morning, sift through emails, make a smattering of phone calls and play a few games over lunch, all while firing off Slack messages and listening to tracks on Spotify. After the workday ended, I'd fall into a Wikipedia rabbit hole and watch YouTube videos until conking out for the night. The Turbo 2 handled about a full day and a half of all that, generally shutting down around noon the next day.

    That's not bad at all -- it's in fact a touch better than most other flagships I've tested this year -- but I was hoping that 3,760mAh battery would come a little closer to reaching the promised 48-hour mark. Similarly, the Turbo 2 didn't exactly excel in the good ol' Engadget video rundown test, where I loop an HD video indefinitely with WiFi connected and the screen brightness fixed at 50 percent. This year's Turbo lasted just under 14 hours; that's half an hour less than the original Turbo, and about on par with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5. It's one of the better batteries out there, but it's no class leader either. Fortunately, the Turbo 2 ships with one of Motorola's 25W TurboChargers -- it's a bit of a brick but it'll get your dead phone about 14 hours of life after a 15-minute charge.

    The competition

    You'd be hard-pressed to find another flagship that takes a beating as well as the Turbo 2 does. If you're a fan of Motorola's approach to software (aside from Verizon's bloatware), there's always the Moto X Pure ($399 and up). You'll get a cleaner design and user interface for much less money, and for some that'll be enough to offset the slightly pokier chipset and less durable screen.

    Need even more power? Consider the Nexus 6P ($499 and up), the best phone Google has made yet. It too has a Snapdragon 810 chip, 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 430 GPU, along with a superior camera (don't let the lower megapixel count fool you). Don't forget those quick software updates, either: Verizon has to test and sign off on any new Android build headed for the Turbo 2, a process that tends to take ages.

    If your biggest priority is battery life, the Galaxy Note 5 ($699 and up) is worth a look. It's far sleeker than the Turbo 2 and has the best screen of the bunch, along with a blazing-fast Samsung-made chip for good measure. Just know it doesn't match the Turbo when it comes to durability; I dropped one from about a foot off the ground and was rewarded with a hairline fracture across the screen and a spiderweb of cracks.

    Wrap-up

    The Droid Turbo 2 has this in common with last year's model: It's still frustrating. I'm a fan of the Moto X Pure for its clean software and sleek design, but the Turbo 2 adds even more horsepower and a new body that handled all of the abuse I've hurled at it the past week. Even the Turbo's design -- which I'm clearly no fan of -- can mostly be salvaged thanks to MotoMaker. It's in many ways a much better phone than its predecessor. That alone should make it an obvious buy, right?

    That's where I'm torn. Sturdy or not, Verizon's bloatware is hard to ignore, the camera is outpaced by its rivals and it's just too expensive for what it is. If you've racked up a decent collection of shattered phones, the Turbo 2 offers the perfect blend of power and hardiness. But if you're just looking for high-powered Android phone, well, there are other better options that cost less.

    *Verizon has acquired AOL, Engadget's parent company. However, Engadget maintains full editorial control, and Verizon will have to pry it from our cold, dead hands.

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