If 5-inch Mega-phones are just too big for your delicate hands, it’s time to welcome the Motorola Droid Mini to your table. With the Droid Mini ($99.99 with contract), you save $100 over the very similar Moto X in exchange for suffering through some Verizon bloatware and slightly weaker signal strength. That could be a good deal.
Physical Features and Call Quality
Like the other new Droid phones, the Droid Mini is made of a very slick black Kevlar which looks and feels like plastic. It attracts some serious fingerprints on the back panel. The Droid Mini’s slickness bothers me a lot less than the Motorola Droid Ultra’s, because it’s small enough to securely hold and operate with one hand.
At 4.77 by 2.41 by .35 inches (HWD) and 4.6 ounces, it’s smaller and lighter than the Moto X and Verizon’s other leading smartphones, but its 4.3-inch TFT LCD screen has the same 1280-by-720 resolution as the Moto X’s 4.7-inch AMOLED panel does. That makes for a higher pixel density, at 341 pixels per inch. LCD screens also typically have cooler, less-saturated colors than AMOLED screens do, and the Droid Mini’s screen is both a bit brighter and a bit better color-balanced than our Moto X.
Below the screen are always-visible back, home and multitasking buttons, which I prefer to Samsung’s now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t approach. On the back you find Droid, Verizon and Motorola logos, along with the camera and a sizeable speaker. Like all the other Droid phones, this phone has a sealed-in battery and lacks a memory card slot.
Tested side by side with the Motorola Droid Ultra and Moto X, I found that the Droid Mini had the weakest RF reception of the three phones; it also took the longest to trade from 3G up to LTE. The difference in recepton was only a few dBms, so you’ll only see it at the very edges of Verizon’s coverage.
The phone’s earpiece is loud, even louder than the Droid Ultra’s. It flirts with distortion at top volume, but fortunately doesn’t quite get there. The speakerphone is louder and fuller, too, and quite useful outdoors. As with the other recent Motorola phones, though, the effective noise cancellation adds a robotic tinge to voices transmitted through the mic in noisy areas.
The Droid Mini paired just fine with my Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset . You can trigger Google’s voice command system using the action button on your headset, although you can’t just say “OK Google Now” into the headset to launch voice dialing, as you can with the phone itself.
The Droid Mini supports Verizon’s CDMA network, the AT&T HSPA+ network (oddly enough), foreign HSPA+ networks on the 900 and 2100MHz (but not 1800MHz) bands at speeds up to HSPA+ 42, and Verizon’s LTE network on 700MHz only—for now. A firmware update will bring support for Verizon’s AWS LTE spectrum, which will improve LTE speeds where it’s implemented.
The Mini can hit Wi-Fi networks on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, including the new 802.11ac networks. All the usual other radios are here, too: Bluetooth 4.0 (which works very well for voice dialing and media playback), GPS, NFC and such. No, you can’t have Google Wallet; Verizon blocks it.
I got 13 hours, 40 minutes of talk time with the Droid Mini, better than the Droid Ultra but not quite as good as the Moto X. The Mini has a 2000mAh battery, smaller than the other two phones, but its smaller screen size will help balance that out for comparable battery life.
Performance and Apps
The Droid Ultra, Droid Mini, Droid Maxx, and Moto X are all based on the same chipset, Motorola’s X8. That’s basically a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core Krait 300 processor running at 1.7GHz with an Adreno 320 GPU. On benchmarks, it holds its own with Snapdragon 600-based competitors, so banish all of those complaints about it being an “older part.”
All of these phones have effectively the same performance, which is very good. The phone feels fast and responsive, with smooth scrolling and few delays. Like the Moto X, the Ultra is running Android 4.2.2; Motorola says an Android 4.3 update is coming.
The best way to think of the Droid Ultra’s software is that it’s the Moto X, with a bunch of Verizon preloads tacked on. Take a look at our Moto X review for a rundown of the thoughtful, useful things Motorola has added to Android: the twist-to-launch camera, the “touchless” Google Now voice controls, and Motorola Assist, for example.
Verizon had nothing useful to add here, but added things anyway. Droid Zap is yet another proprietary sharing protocol. Droid Command Center is a battery status widget. Then there’s the undeletable niche-market content, like NFL Mobile and Ingress. Verizon should have saved its time and money here.
I’m also officially tired of Verizon’s Eye of Sauron Droid graphics and sound set. It’s grim and off-putting, in an era when HTC, Samsung, and even Motorola (with the Moto X) are paying more attention to the human factor in phone UI design. It’s time to retire the killer robots.
Multimedia Storage and Playback
The Droid Mini comes with 11.03GB of available storage, down from the Moto X’s 11.88GB because of the additional Verizon preloaded apps. There’s no memory card slot. That’s not a lot of free memory, but it’s appropriate for the $100 price point.
Music and video playback do well on the powerful back-ported speaker. It’s no HTC One Boomsound speaker, but it’s higher quality than the Samsung Galaxy S4′s.
The Droid Mini handled all of our music playback formats, but just like the Moto X, it struggled with WMV and Xvid video files; the WMV support topped out at VGA resolution, and one of my Xvid files lost lip sync when I scanned through it. Like on the Moto X, there’s an equalizer buried in Settings, so you can adjust bass to your taste.
The 10-megapixel camera uses Motorola’s new, very simple camera interface with few options. There’s HDR, slow-motion video and a flash option, but not much else. Most annoyingly, you can’t cut down on the photo or video resolution to save space. But I’m madly in love with Motorola’s Quick Launch camera trick, which lets you wiggle the phone to launch the camera in about 2.7 seconds; after that, the shutter is instantaneous.
Accordingto Motorola, the Droid Mini has the same camera module as the Moto X and Droid Ultra, but I was startled by some differences between the three phones. The Droid Mini handled an outdoor HDR shot much better than the Ultra did, for instance, not leaving the foreground in shadow. The front camera really struggled with blur in dim lighting, whereas the Moto X’s had a sharper but noisier picture. Overall, though, we continue with the good-but-not-great camera trend here, with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone 5 both generally turning in better images.
In my tests, both the front and rear cameras took 1080p videos at 30 frames per second indoors and out; as the lights went down, the color noise level went up.
The Droid Mini, like the rest of Motorola’s recent phones, has no wired way to connect to a TV. Instead, you need to use a wireless Miracast adapter like the Netgear Push2TV ($59.99).
Are you shopping with your head, your heart, or your wallet here? The Droid Mini’s greasy “Kevlar” body and Eye of Sauron graphics are much less emotionally appealing than the Moto X’s soft curves and organic wallpapers. But if you’re looking strictly at the numbers, you’re getting a very similar phone here (minus a bit of RF reception, and a bit of storage) for $100 less. That’s a good buy.
Smaller-phone aficionados should also take a close look at the Apple iPhone 5, of course, which provides excellent performance in an even smaller package. If you’re willing to go larger, our Editor’s Choice smartphone across all the major carriers remains the Samsung Galaxy S4, thanks to features like tuneable call audio, expandable memory, and a better camera.
|Phone Capability / Network||GSM, CDMA, UMTS, LTE|
|Screen Resolution||1280-by-720 pixels|
|Dimensions||4.81 by 2.41 by .34" (HWD) inches|
|Video Camera Resolution||1080P|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||13 hours 40 minutes|
|Available Integrated Storage||11.03 GB|
|Processor Speed||1.73 GHz|
|Service Provider||Verizon Wireless|
|Total Integrated Storage||16 GB|
|High-Speed Data||EDGE, EVDO Rev A, LTE, HSPA+ 42|
|Screen Type||TFT LCD|
|Operating System as Tested||Android 4.2.2|
|Camera Resolution||10MP front/2MP back|
|Screen Pixels Per Inch||341 ppi|
|Bands||850, 900, 1800, 1900, 2100, 1700, 700|
|Form Factor||Candy Bar|
|Screen Size||4.3 inches|
|Bluetooth Version||4.0 LE+EDR|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc