Verizon Reveals The $99 Motorola Droid Mini, $199 Droid Ultra, And The $299 Droid Maxx

As if we didn’t already have enough Motorola phones to wait for, Verizon showed off a trio of new Motorola DROID smartphones at a (surprisingly cozy) event in New York City.

The flagship of the three is the DROID Ultra, which Motorola’s Rick Osterloh refers to as the thinnest 4G LTE smartphone out there with its and 7.18mm thick chassis. Motorola’s fascination with Kevlar is still in effect on the device’s rear (though the finish is glossy as opposed to matte like it usually is), and a 5-inch 720p display occupies most of the space on the device’s front.

Motorola is continuing the Maxx line of power-conscious devices — it’s functionally the same phone as the Ultra except it’s a little fatter at 8.5mm, a features a sealed battery capable of up to 48 hours of continued usage. Last (and certainly not least) is the DROID Mini, a slightly smaller take on the Ultra formula that’s eschews that giant 5-inch screen for a more manageable 4.3-inch 720p screen.

Putting industrial design aside though, perhaps the most interesting thing tucked away inside these new DROIDs is what Motorola calls its X8 mobile computing system — it’s a eight-core system that encompasses the dual-core CPU and uses additional cores to allocate computing power to graphics processing, language processing, and the like. The X8 system also enables touchless control for the device so users can make phone calls and ask for directions hands-free, and active display, which lights up just a portion of the screen to display notifications . Sound familiar? It should — those features were also prominently highlighted in a leaked Rogers demo video for the Moto X.

If those monikers seem to be missing a little something, you’d be right — that RAZR label that graced the nearly all the Motorola devices released on Verizon in the past year is gone. It’s DROID all the way now, and I have to wonder if Motorola is retiring one of its most famous mobile brands because it’s looking to reinvent itself with another release later this summer. Speaking of the summer, all three devices will officially go on sale on August 20: the Mini, Ultra, and Maxx will cost $99, $199, and $299 respectively with a 2-year contract.

We’re still waiting on confirmation from Motorola and Verizon on specs, but the representatives on have said they’re just not talking about them today. That is, for lack of a better term, pretty damned stupid. Overall Motorola is being very cagey about the hardware details, and about specifics around the X8 and its origins (though it seems to be based on a Qualcomm MSM8960 Pro), which is an odd way to launch a product.

Hands On (the TL;DR version)

I got plenty of hands on time with the new Droids and wrote about them at length, but here’s a truncated version in case you need some more meat.

Meet The Mini

First up is the Droid Mini, the smallest of the bunch. I was a bit of a sucker for the RAZR M, Motorola’s original pint-sized Droid — the package was quite handsome with its nearly edge-to-edge display and its tiny frame, but was it was no top-tier device when it came to performance. Motorola thankfully didn’t repeat its earlier mistake, as the Mini seems awfully snappy. Colors on the 4.3-inch OLED display running at 720p were bright without being lurid, and it’s a nice, dense little thing to hold on to. It’s not perfect though — the glossy Kevlar finish that Motorola ran with feels a little off-putting and picks up fingerprints like crazy, a trait it sadly shares with its flagship brother.

The Underwhelming Ultra?

Speaking of the flagship, Motorola apparently focused on making it very thin, and they succeeded — it’s a scant 7.11mm thick, and sports a 5-inch 720p OLED screen. Fortunately, the Ultra has some nice heft to it, which helps give the whole package a more premium feel compared to other top-tier smartphones (I’m looking at you Galaxy S4).

To be quite honest, the Ultra is the hardest of the three to write about. Motorola seemed to make the Ultra the foundation that the other two Droids work off of — the Mini is the more pocketable Ultra, and the Maxx is the Ultra with a much better battery — and because of that the Ultra wound up being the least interesting of the three.

And then there’s the Maxx

The most impressive device I mucked around with today was the DROID Maxx, for perhaps obvious reasons. Back in the day, the Maxx was always the chunky, more utilitarian version of whatever slim smartphone Motorola was touting at the time. Now it’s gotten to the point where it’s just not much larger than any other hot-selling smartphone out there. It’s great that the Ultra is so slim, but the Maxx is so much less of a lump than it used to be that it’s actually a little surprising.

Let’s put that in perspective a bit — my iPhone 5 usually lives inside a very slim case (this one, if you care), and it fits in my pocket as well as you would expect. The Maxx, with its ridiculous 3,300mAh battery, is just about as thick as that iPhone.

Yes, it may seem like a minor thing to get worked up over, but think about it. Companies like HTC and Samsung and Sony like to push the envelope in terms of raw computing power and graphical performance, and one could argue that they’re just trying to give some consumers what they want. But where’s the value in that for the companies who make the devices? It’s mostly in marketing. You get to crow about having the world’s [insert superlative here] phone for a few months until someone else one-ups you. But batteries are different — if smartphone companies started duking it out on battery life instead of screaming clock speeds all the time, we’d finally start getting phones that can keep up with all the seriously crazy things we ask of them.