Walt Mossberg

A Droid Phone With a Battery That Outlasts Most Talkers

While smartphones have gotten smarter, and cellular networks have gotten faster, battery life has struggled to keep pace. In my own use, recent iPhone models and most Android phones manage to get through a day on one charge. However, for many others, smartphones don’t make it through a long workday, and that is especially true for Android phones using the new, faster, 4G networks, which can drain power at an alarming rate.

Even assessing cellphone-battery life has become trickier. In the old days, voice-call “talk time” was pretty much all that mattered. But today, people use the devices for a variety of tasks, including voice calls, Web browsing, playing local or remote audio and video, running apps, and gaming. The battery drain varies, depending on factors such as the kind of connection or how far you are from a cellular tower.

Now, Motorola has introduced a 4G Android smartphone on Verizon Wireless that seeks to erase battery worries. It is called the Droid Razr Maxx and it attacks the power problem with a huge battery almost twice the capacity of the one in the company’s similar Droid Razr, and more than double the capacity of the one in Apple’s iPhone 4S.

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Droid Razr Maxx

I’ve been testing the Droid Razr Maxx, which has been out since late January, and found it delivers far greater battery life than any smartphone on which I’ve run battery tests. In one test, it lasted more than 20 hours in mixed, moderate use, including voice calls, video playback, and lots of Web and apps usage, plus downloading hundreds of emails. I also conducted a simulated, continuous test voice call, which the phone powered through for more than 20 hours before dying. And it played videos back to back for more than 14 hours before the battery gave up.

By comparison, Apple claims talk time of up to eight hours, and video playback of up to 10 hours for the iPhone 4S.

To me, the Droid Razr Maxx is the smartphone to choose if you are a heavy user for whom battery life is a problem, or a light or moderate user who would like to charge your phone less often. But there are trade-offs, notably price.

Unlike the plain Droid Razr, or the iPhone 4S, which start at $200, you have to pay $300 for the Droid Razr Maxx. This is somewhat offset by the fact that it comes with 32 gigabytes of memory, instead of the usual base amount of 16 gigabytes. An iPhone with 32 gigabytes costs $299 and doesn’t have the bigger battery. But with the Maxx, you have no choice: There is no cheaper option.

And then there is size and weight. The large battery makes the Maxx significantly thicker and heavier than the ultra-slender Droid Razr. But it is still fairly thin and light. Unlike old phones with “expanded” batteries, it doesn’t sport a huge bulge on the back.

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iPhone 4S

Still, like a lot of recent Android phones, it’s wide, perhaps too wide for comfortable use by someone with small hands.

The most impressive test result I got was in the voice-call test. To simulate my end of the conversation, I placed the Maxx next to a laptop playing a repeating loop of famous speeches. To simulate the other end, I dialed into a special test number Motorola has that features a spoken voice on a similar repeating loop. Ignoring the company’s test suggestions, I kept power-draining functions such as Wi-Fi, 4G and Bluetooth running during the test, because I don’t think people turn those off when they make a call. Still, the call lasted 20 hours, 11 minutes.

One note: The screen, a major source of battery use, was dark for most of the call, but it would also turn off if the phone were held up to your ear for a real-life call.

In other respects, the Droid Razr Maxx is pretty much the same as most other current Android phones. Like them, its pluses include a large screen — 4.3 inches in this case — and a single sign-in for a variety of services from Google, which makes Android and is in the process of acquiring Motorola.

Like some other Motorola phones, the Maxx can be used with an optional $250 dock that resembles a laptop. When docked, it can run the Firefox Web browser. Motorola is committed to this idea, but, so far, consumers seem unmoved.

I found the Maxx to be a reliable phone. In tests around Washington, D.C., it didn’t drop a single call, voice quality was good in both regular and speakerphone mode, and Verizon’s LTE 4G network was very fast, typically delivering download speeds of 13 or 14 megabits per second, better than many home wired services.

The software ran smoothly and quickly, but, as is typical with Android phones, various apps crashed a couple of times. The Maxx runs an older version of Android, called Gingerbread, but Motorola says it will eventually be upgraded to the latest version, called Ice Cream Sandwich.

The rear, 8-megapixel camera took very good video around my neighborhood, but I found the still photos it took to be worse than those on some Samsung models and the latest iPhone.

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Motorola delivers a few software features that attempt to differentiate it from competitors. One, called MotoCast, can sync music, photos, videos and documents from a PC or Mac, either using a USB cable or wirelessly. In my tests, it worked fine.

Another, called Smart Actions, is a somewhat geeky feature that lets you set certain actions that will occur when a “trigger” action happens. For instance, I was able to make the phone start playing a particular playlist of songs when earbuds were plugged in. The result is cool, but it’s likely too much work for most people.

If you are dying for longer battery life and are willing to pay more, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is the smartphone for you.

Email Walt at mossberg@wsj.com.


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