TODO alt text

Hands On: Motorola Droid Mini review

This Mini packs a punch

Jump to Section:

Our Early Verdict

For

  • Mini price with full size specs
  • Very light
  • Snappy GPU
  • Lightning fast operating speed
  • Display doesn't feel constrained

Against

  • Battery life untested
  • Droid Zap is slow
  • Touchless Control not demoed on Mini
  • Not as thin as the Ultra
  • Unsure how Touchless Control will perform in the wild

The Droid Ultra is the centerpiece of Motorola's new line up of Droid smartphones on Verizon, but it's wee little brother the Droid Mini is no slouch.

Smaller not just than the Ultra and bigger-battery-toting Droid Maxx but also the last compact model, the Droid Mini still feels like an essential component to the line up and not an obligatory offering.

Not because it's cheaper, not because it feels like a more convenient device than the Ultra, but because it's both of those things while also having the exact same feature set and processing power.

Droid Mini on the far right
A size for every style

Hardware

The guts of the Droid Mini are exactly like those in the Droid Ultra and Maxx, namely Motorola's new X8 8-core processing unit. The die has two processors devoted to running apps, one processor just for contextual computing, and one more devoted only to language processing, particular the Droid Mini's Touchless Control (more on that in a moment).

The remaining four processors are all GPUs, guaranteeing that many of the graphically intensive apps and features in the new Droid line run smooth. The Mini should have no problem with a demanding game, for example.

Motorla's Jeffrey Dietel toed the company line when he told us that the graphics processing is 100 percent faster than 2012 Droid models, and app processing is 24 percent faster. Those figures may have been a talking point, but they're noteworthy nonetheless.

Droid Mini
Small yet girthy

As for the feel of the device, it's got a number of surprises. The Mini's heft is the same as the Ultra, but it doesn't feel more compact or fragile by comparison. If it weren't for the 4.3-inch screen - the Droid Razr M's screen was 4.8-inches - this would feel like the same device in a blind taste test.

Droid Mini
Not so Mini after all

The smaller screen doesn't feel like an impediment by any means. It's just as easy to navigate in the more cramped corners than on the bigger handheld.

The battery on the demo unit we had access to at the announcement gave out shortly after it was turned on. Motorola's representative suggested this was an issue of inadequate charging and not a reflection of the final device, but that won't be a guarantee until the device ships on Aug. 20.

Droid Mini
A laquered plastic back shields the Mini

Software

The new Droid Zap feature was what initially concerned us about the Droid Mini. Motorola, Google and Verizon's new sharing tool that lets Droid owners bounce images and videos to any other Droid owner within 300 feet, requires multi-finger swipes to use.

Snap a picture, then swipe two fingers up on the screen and the pic is uploaded to the cloud. Tell your Droid-owning friend in the vicinity it's out to look at, and they'll swipe two fingers down to do a check of any Zap pictures available.

Droid Mini
The bright red wallpaper is fetching

It's the kind of activity that can get crowded on a smaller screen, but it ultimately worked well on the Mini on hand, with no interface confusion to note. The process could certainly be faster. The cloud transfer process is lengthy enough to notice even when two new devices from the Ultra line are next to one another.

It's also difficult to say how the Mini handles the Ultra Line's new Touchless Control feature. The reason the X8 includes a devoted language processor, Touchless Control lets you operate the new Droids from up to 15 feet away.

Droid Mini
The Mini keeps a low profile

It's a mixture of proprietary tech build in the die by Motorola and Google Now. Ask the Droid to turn on, it'll turn on. If you can't find the phone in the living room, say, "Call my Droid!" and it will start playing increasingly louder tones to help you out.

You can even activate the Mobile Hotspot feature while the phone's still in your pocket. All these commands were demonstrated on an Ultra, though, since the Mini on hand wasn't keyed to anyone's voice yet. Unfortunately Touchless Control is locked to a single user, and we couldn't get a demo on a Droid Mini.

Early Verdict

In all other ways, the Droid Mini acquitted itself well. With the same inner workings as the Ultra, basic app usage should be identical in all cases.

The price is also right on the Droid Mini. The baby of the Ultra line runs $99 for new contracts and renewals and $499 list price. In addition to the svelte form factor, the extra $100 saved makes the Mini an attractive alternative to the Ultra.

For users who've been shackled to the iPhone for some time, the Droid Mini feels like a phone that could finally make you jump ship. As with the Ultra, the Droid Mini does things well in a demo setting, but without knowing how it feels after prolonged use, it's tough to give it an automatic thumbs up.

The form, screen quality, operating speed, and price to make it a compelling piece from Motorola up front, though. It's certainly one to watch later this summer.