Droid Ultra and Droid MAXX

One choice in materials can change the entire experience of a device

When we reviewed the Droid Ultra, we came away extremely impressed with its features and what it means for the direction of Droid devices going forward. But with all of the praise, we kept coming back to the very weird decision Motorola (and likely somewhat Verizon) made on the build materials for the device. While the Droid Ultra is extremely well built, the plastic material layered over the Kevlar construction makes the device slippery, smooth and generally a fantastic fingerprint magnet.

Making the decision even more puzzling is that the Droid MAXX, which is in all respects the same exact device as the Ultra but with a larger battery and 1.3mm thicker casing, has a delightful soft touch casing. Given the nearly identical dimensions and same base Kevlar construction, we're not entirely sure why Verizon and Motorola couldn't have put the same improved casing on both devices.

Sure the Droid Ultra's design is a little more subdued and may look fine when it is clean and sitting on a table unused, but the single poor choice of materials made it even harder to recommend as a device. Going with a slick and fingerprint-capturing plastic case seriously hurt usability of the device, and Motorola proved with the Droid MAXX that it had at least one other material option that would have been a better choice.

Hang around after the break for several comparison shots of the Droid Ultra and Droid MAXX — the difference in material quality is astounding.


Reader comments

Materials matter: Why is the Droid Ultra so slimy?


So put a case on it. problem solved. Geez. It would take away from the thinness, you say? I doubt it would bother most.

Why should you be required to put on a case to have a phone not feel terrible in the hand?

Not to mention that a Droid Ultra with a case on it is going to be thicker than the Droid Maxx, which has a better feeling in the hand.

That's not actually what he said, possibly not even what he meant. Seems more like he's saying "you're going to put a case on it anyway so dot dot dot"

True. However, it's also true that not everyone dislikes plastic finishes like the one on the Droid Ultra either.

The Maxx will def look and feel better, the ultra looks like solidified snot on top of the backing. Maxx has a bigger battery and 32 gb and the ultra is 16, seems like a no brainer to get the Maxx

Well I'm sure it would feel better being a little thicker. The rest is kind of just opinion though. Like I said not everyone minds the plastic finish, you apparently do but that's just you and a bunch of others in the comments who still don't make up much of the phone buying public as a whole.
Not everyone needs the extra battery life and storage, and certainly not everyone is going to want to pay an extra $100 for them. I'd definitely go for the Maxx but that's just me.

exactly, most people ae going to buy a case for their phone anyway so who cares, and if u dont want a case then dont get one smh. it doesnt matter wut knda phone i get i always get a case so build quality is irrelevant to me

I put all my phones in a case so the shiny finish shouldn't matter but it does-I know totally irrational. The other thing is that the shiny material distracts from the build of the phone. I haven't decided which phone to buy...so many great choices! But when I looked at the quality of the build I had difficulty judging the quality and keeping it in mind when thinking about the phones.

In fact yesterday I went back to the vz store to look more closely at the Ultra (and the Mini) to convince myself that the builds really are of the same quality as the Maxx in spite of the shiny backs. Now I am pretty obsessive when I get a phone that I get something that meets my needs and that I think I can live with for a couple tears so I often visit the stores many times to get the best feel I can for the phones and which one meets my needs.

Materials matter and many consumers are quite frankly going to make a snap decision just like when assessing people (rightly or wrongly). FYI my current top contender is the MAXX but it's going to take awhile to go through all the great choices out there!

Not entirely sure. We're assuming it's something Motorola had to do with the Kevlar material to form it around the corners. The very edges of the back case where it meets the plastic on the sides of the screen are the same color.

When it comes down to worrying about fingerprints, it says one thing. We have some damn good devices to choose from now. Just think we could be fans of a different phone brand where you get just one model and it only comes in two or maybe 3 colors according to the rumors, and its fans get all giddy over that.

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I'll wait here for the plastic...sorry, Samsung defense force to come tell us the merits of slimy plastic.

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We don't need to defend it, the merits are there. Ignorance just keeps most people from seeing them.

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You guys sure scream a lot about it for not having to defend it.

Edit: Also I like how having a different preference than yourself is now ignorance. If I were you I would look in the mirror for a perfect example of ignorance, and it has nothing to do with your choice of phone.

The phones are so similar I think they probably just wanted to have something styled slightly differently so that if one doesn't appeal to a person, hopefully the other does. The ultra is so thin that most average consumers are probably going to put it in a case anyway. The kind of people who read these reviews and judge phones based on such small details are probably the kind to opt for the maxx anyhow.

It's the same beef they hit the Galaxy S4 on. They don't seem to understand that light weight is a selling point and the thinness helps keep the cased dimensions down. I agree with previous commenters that casing the phone, as should be done with all smartphones, renders the original body finish moot. I d on't care what the phone is made of, a case is essential to protect your investment. That's why I'm putting my S4 in an Obex case as soon as possible. My current case solution is adequate, but not up to that level.

Why should we ALL put cases on our phone? Will you buy me a case since you're so concerned?

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Except that both this and the gs4 arent small phones. They could have just as easily used the Kevlar finish from the maxx...the battery is what's adding thickness.

I don't understand the apologists in this case...some of us want a premium feeling device, what's so wrong with that? Buy a slimy case if you want that feeling.

I'm not on either side of this, I don't really care one way or another since my phone has been in a case for 99% of its life. I have to say though, you come off as pretty pompous sounding when you refer to your preference as "premium" when for all we know it's just the lack of a coating...

The revealed soft touch Kevlar isn't what makes the Droid Maxx thicker and heavier than the ultra, it's the battery and wireless charging underneath that casing. The Ultra has the same exact Kevlar material casing, it is just coated in the nasty plastic covering.

There really is no defense to having your phone feel like crap in the hand.

"There really is no defense to having your phone feel like crap in the hand."

Sure there is, they wanted it to look shiny. I like shiny things. Having the cheaper phone look different may be seen as a way to add value to the MAXX. There is always a reason, you just disagree.

Oh, so since I haven't put a case on my phone, I'm using it wrong? Thank you for your concern for my device's well-being.

Some of us don't look at a phone as an "investment," it's a tool and a toy. If it breaks, I'll get it fixed or get a new one. I would rather enjoy using my phone for the time that I have it, than put up with a clunky case making it thicker and heavier just so it might last longer. I'll take my calculated risk, while you can go ahead and tighten the belt and suspenders. Neither of us is a bad person for making our choice, until one of us starts telling others that their choice is wrong.

After going through an extensive review of the Ultra, we have to say it is quite a big deal. You quickly get to the point where you're done being worried about the phone slipping out of your hand while you use it and just want it to be made out of something else.

I can't believe the legions of snotty punks sneering, "Put a case on it! Problem solved!" If you bought a car that burst into flames every few miles, would you accept some twerp suggesting that all you need to do is carry a fire extinguisher?

What blows my mind in these circumstances is how MAJOR corporations which probably focus group what kind of toothpicks should be used in the company cafeteria would simply release a phone which if anyone actually used it for a brief time would reveal serious issues.

My first smartphone was a Palm Pre and every time my girlfriend held that shiny pebble, I was afraid she'd drop it. My OG EVO 4G had a case to protect the lens which protruded, but I ran my Galaxy S2 naked because the back of the case was textured. When I got my current Nexus 4, the slick glass back and hard sides made a TPU case mandatory for sufficient grip and those "ribbed for her pleasure" nubs on the side are swell.

BTW, someone found my girlfriend's crappy Optimus V and absconded with it so she needed a new cheap replacement and the Kyocera Event she got for $40 has a nice textured back for good gripping. How come effing Motorola can't do as well?

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A car bursting into flames isn't a fair comparison by a long shot. A much more fair example would be.... if the steering wheel collected fingerprints and a buddy recommended putting on a steering wheel cover

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I'd say it's more akin to something like the steering wheel in my Grand Cherokee, in which the top half is covered in wood trim from the factory. It might look nice and match the dash trim, but it's insanely slippery. Even more so if your hands are wet from a drink or rain, or if you have just put sunscreen or lotion on. I'd say it's downright dangerous in some situations. After driving with it for a bit, I'd rather just have a full leather steering wheel like on the 'lower' jeep models, which is much more tacky and easy to hold.

That being said, I think AC is making too much of a big deal out of the fingerprints and should focus more on the phone constantly slipping out of your hand. We all know that's our biggest fear with a new phone. And of course with the shiny back, it's going to proudly display all the scratches and divots from you constantly dropping it.

Thanks for letting us know you did an extensive review. Did you know a ton of people have bought this phone and love it? Did you know some people like the design? Don't let the fact you're a reviewer get to your head buddy

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Agreed. Something like this comes down to personal preferance. Me, I could care less. I love the design, and I bought a clear case for mine. I don't mind using cases. That's my preferance, though. It's subjective. You should be more concerned with the function and performance of the device, that's first because that's objective. Then, second should come the subjective matters, general impressions, etc... Again, the focus should be on the objective matters. Subjective matters are important, but should not be the focus of a review.

Oh thank heavens....Where would we be without you two interweb superheroes policing the world wide web so you can tell url owners what they can and cannot post on their pages. Where would we be without you heroically telling others how to do their work. Maybe Andrew should go to your place of employment and tell you how to do your job? I'm sorry, but personal entitlement when it isn't even closely meritted, drives me up a wall. I would argue that every review and ranking is subjective and reinforced with some objective facts. If all AC did was post objective facts, all you would have is a product sheet. Who would ever come to AC then?

They almost definitely do to be honest. I mean it's a professional site, they'd get mocked if all their shots of the phones were smudged and dirty.

If you really want to see fingerprints and other ickiness, look at the Ultra demo phone at the VZ stores...doesn't help that the demo phones are sloppily glued to the cable that keeps people from making off with the phones. Really bad retail display of that phone and others.

Many people will put a case on it anyway, meaning this is a non-issue for many people. I don't like the feel either, but if I bought it, a case would be bought for it anyway, I'd never even see the back of the thing. I do wonder wtf was going through their minds though. They could have made the ultra a red soft touch, and the maxx grey soft touch like it is, that would have been different enough, and given a much better feel in the hand. Oh well, case finish is probably the least important spec of a phone anyway.

I can't believe fingerprints is a talking point for likeability for a phone... Really?? I say get over it! If how finger-printy a phone is was a deal breaker for me, I'd have to seek out a mental health professional out for some counseling!

It's not just the look of fingerprints, its the fact that after just a couple hours of using the phone it is so slick you can't hold onto it anymore. It just feels gross.

Agreed. Focus on the important stuff, how well does the phone perform? This is just nuts. I don't give a flying rat's left foot about fingerprints and such. I want to know how good the phone performs. I'm getting a case for mine, problem solved for me. I like having a case on, that's just my preference.

Except some of us don't want to. But as codiusprime said, if you say we should all have cases, you can feel free to buy me one.

So I should be required to buy a case because they made a terrible decision in build materials? What if I want the phone the way it was designed out of the box, not how it looks in a case?

then dont get a case and jus deal wit it, but most consumers will buy a case ur part of the minority here in this case, lol no pun intended

I'd prefer the feel of the Maxx over the Ultra any day. The Ultra shouldn't even have been a phone truthfully. The Maxx is everything the Ultra is with a much better battery to boot. The Maxx still feels relatively thin too. And to the people saying just put a case on it, sometimes people don't want to use cases, myself included. However, with the Maxx that'd be a none issue anyway.

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The Ultra shouldn't have been a phone? Well I want a 5" screen, I don't like on-screen buttons, and I don't want to pay an extra $100 for more storage and battery that I will never need. But you're saying I shouldn't have that choice available to me? How very Apple of you.

I think what he and what others are saying is that the maxx should have been 199 and the mini 99 and in that case the ultra is not needed. I personally think the reason the ultra exist is just so Verizon could charge 299 for the Max. Think about it the Mac is only 1.3mm thicker but will give you a huge battery too. I would happily give up 1.3mm for a extra 1000 mah battery. I'm all for choices but the difference between the Max and ultra is so small it seems they thought let's put a smaller battery and call it the ultra just so we can still the Max at 299.

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Having had both backings with the Rezound and the SGS3. It doesnt matter. Yeah I liked the feel of the Rezound better but so what?

I care about how my phone functions more than the way it feels

This problem is only more amplified by the fact that the Moto X is such a gorgeous device compared to these ugly ducklings. Your whole perception of a phone is changed by the look of it and if you see a phone that's all smudgy and dirty, and a phone that's built like the X, which do you think ppl will buy? The better looking one because that's how consumers think.

Like really, it's almost like most of you are saying "To hell with quality materials! Manufacturers should just throw whatever piece of shit they can find laying around the factory floor and make a phone! Who cares, well just put cases on it!"

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Personally I like the look and bigger screen of the Droid devices better than the X. Yet another win for choices.

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Subjective matter. I prefer the build of the DROID phones over the Moto X. To me the Moto X looks kind of cheap. But that's me. To me, the DROID phones have an edge to them. That's just my view. Just because you call them ugly ducklings doesn't make it so. It just means that you prefer the look of the Moto X.

After almost a week of having the Ultra, I have yet to experience the "sliminess" that "reviewers" are complaining about. It feels perfect in my hand.
But don't get me started on the fingerprints. I mean when I'm talking on the phone, or texting, or watching videos, or writing emails or playing games or looking at websites, or reading, those fingerprints...that are on the back...that I rarely, if ever see...are really...umm...what are you complaining about again?

He's pointing out the slipperiness of the phone when used over time, and the fingerprints the back attracts that make it smudgy. You're welcome.

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And I'm pointing out that its not slippery at all and who cares about fingerprints on the back of a phone when its the front of the phone that you use and look at.

I think maybe Andrew doesn't wash his hands very often, and maybe eats a lot of fried food :-)

My Ultra is just fine, and has never come close to slipping out of my hands. I actually find the glossy surface to be quite grippy.

I never really thought about that. If I dipped my hands in butter before handling it then it would probably feel very gross and feel like it's gonna slip out of my hand

Posted from my brand new, super slim, gorgeous red Droid Ultra

Reading is fundamental. FTFA:

"The plastic material layered over the Kevlar construction makes the device slippery". I am pretty sure they, and everyone else I have read about these, know what they are talking about

The decision was probably made as a tool for upselling. Probably the grubby hand of Verizon who made the decision.

Or downselling to the DROID Mini. Or just being a thin phone that some gives people choice. How about if someone wanted a red phone?

I've had the maxx since day one, and I'm very happy with it, however I find it to be a bit slippery feeling compared to just about any phone I've owned before and that includes several plasticky Samsung's. Don't let anyone tell you that just because its not glossy that the maxx isn't a bit slippery in the hand.

really not sure what the point of the Ultra is anyway. The camera has always bulged out on Motorola's 'thin' smartphones. The Maxx is almost a millimeter thinner than the HTC One, already. How thin do people really need their smartphone to be? Assuming the Ultra is a bit cheaper than the Maxx, maybe they wanted to give it a cheaper look.

And I haven't held either, but the carbon fiber doesn't look like it has any more grip than the glossy finish. It actually looks like it would be harder to grip if it were as thin as the Ultra.

Almost everyone uses a case and wont care. Stop bashing this phone because its shiny.

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I had the Ultra since release and it's a nice overall device. In my opinion the build of the phone feels similar to that of a TPU case. It's grippy and not slippery as what some people make it out to be. Yes it get's fingerprints but so what. Most dark colored phones get fingerprints...the Black S4, The Black HTC One... if the fingerprints bother anyone that much, then buy a case and issue solved :)

Because your hands are oily! Go wash em, no smudges! Always something huh...

v¡a ACapp njo¡!

The old Razr HD had a very nice back. I would have bought it just for that.
I agree. When you have already figured out such a nice finish, why go for a crappier one?

I have had the Maxx since day one as well and all my previous phones were nexus phones and this thing destroys the nexus 4. I did briefly compare the ultra in a Verizon store and that was the exact same as an N4 in terms of fingerprints. As of right now I don't think anything can beat the maxx in terms of the combination of build quality, hardware, and software.

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Here is what think not that it matters. They made the Ultra for a younger crowd. Droid branding seems to go to a younger crowd to began with, then you make it all shiny, plus make one in red to attack that young crowd.

Also with the Maxx being $100 more out is not going to be as easy to buy for the younger crowd so it got the treatment a older crowd would like.

The question was why? I think it is all marketing and no other reason.

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Did going with a slick and fingerprint-capturing glass back seriously hurt usability of the Nexus 4? Other than availability I've rarely seen anything critical of the N4.
Glossy fingerprint magnet phones phones seem to be popular. I guess Motorola decided to give users a choice.

The glass on the back of the N4 is far more tactile than the back of the Ultra. And the sides of the Nexus 4 are textured plastic that's easy to hold onto. The Ultra has this plastic material around the entire device.

I always thought the Ultra was ugly as hell because of that plastic snot casing on it. I don't understand why Moto/Verizon would destroy the look of the phone like that but then I remembered it's Moto/Verizon..

If you don't like cases, don't buy one. Just don't complain that it shattered when you dropped it. If you don't like a particular phone, don't buy it. What's unacceptable to you might be perfectly acceptable to someone else, or that someone has a workaround for the one issue on that phone that he doesn't like.

The truth is, with the S4, HTC One, and soon Moto X why would one choose this phone anyways?

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Curious, if you don't want that much battery life, then why would you choose the Droid Ultra to the Moto X? I feel that the Moto X is better. Same specs, better design. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

You're not wrong. One's opinion is never wrong, to him. Just understand and accept that others might have a different opinion, and they will be right as well. That's how it works.