Putting the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx’s Battery Life to the Test

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Jared Newman / TIME

As Verizon Wireless tries to push a broad lineup of 4G LTE smartphones on its customers, the company omits an important fact: LTE destroys battery life. This may improve some day, when tech companies figure out how to optimize their hardware for the faster network, but for now the only way to solve the 4G LTE battery problem is through brute force.

That’s where Motorola’s Droid Razr Maxx comes in. A follow-up to the Droid Razr, which only launched a couple months ago, the Maxx packs a battery that’s nearly twice as large, at the expense of added weight and thickness. The payoff? Up to six hours of streaming 4G LTE video, or 21 hours of talk time–or so Motorola claims.

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Here’s what I found after testing the battery life:

Droid Razr Maxx Battery Test #1: Streaming 4G LTE Video

At CES, Motorola Senior Product Marketing Manager Jeff Hadden told me that the Maxx could stream six hours of video on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. On any other phone, you’d be lucky to get through a single film, so I was eager to try this out.

After one movie–approximately two hours in length–with Wi-Fi off and 4G LTE on, the Maxx’s battery meter read 50 percent. A second two-hour movie killed the battery about 15 minutes short of the credits.

So in my testing, Motorola’s 4G LTE streaming claims didn’t hold up on the Razr Maxx. Still, the phone’s ability to stream even one movie and still have half a tank of battery left was impressive. With that much streaming video, the bigger issue isn’t battery life, but data consumption; by the time the phone ran out of juice, it had consumed more than 5 GB of data, which is enough to incur overage charges on a tiered data plan.

Droid Razr Maxx Battery Test #2: Screen On Marathon

If you use your phone for long stretches at a time, the display is usually the biggest cause of battery drain. So for my second test, I simply set the screen timeout interval to “never” and put the phone aside with Wi-Fi off and 4G LTE on. I kept activity to a bare minimum.

With the screen turned on around the clock, the Droid Razr Maxx died just under the 24-hour mark. Although this kind of use wouldn’t really happen in the real world, it shows that the phone should have no trouble staying strong during long periods of low-power use, such as web browsing or e-mail checking.

Droid Razr Maxx Battery Test #3: Normal Use

Everyone uses their smartphone differently, but for me, “normal use” includes an occasional short phone call, a half hour of streaming music as I drive to and from lunch, an hour or two of web browsing and Twitter checking and lots of standby time. For this test, I leaned a little heavier on the phone by having a 45-minute conversation, and be spending a couple hours browsing and gaming on the phone at night. I kept the 4G LTE connection on the entire time, but used Wi-Fi at home.

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As of late Tuesday afternoon, 32 hours after unplugging the Droid Razr Maxx from its power source, the battery was down to 20 percent. At this rate, it should have no problem getting through the rest of the day.

By comparison, this kind of use on my Samsung Galaxy S II knocks the phone’s battery well under 50 percent by bedtime, and leaving the phone unplugged for two consecutive days is out of the question. And that’s without a 4G LTE network draining the battery.

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Battery life is going to fluctuate based not only on how you use it, but where it’s located and whether it’s ever searching for a signal. But in my neck of Cincinnati, Ohio, the Droid Razr Maxx’s battery life was outstanding, staying strong for two work days in a row.

But is it a good phone?

Of course, monster battery life doesn’t mean much if the phone isn’t any good.

I don’t dislike the Razr Maxx–I’m a fan of Android in general–but I’m not crazy about Motorola’s user interface, which it slaps on top of Android 2.3. It’s jerkier than Samsung’s TouchWiz interface, and it’s a little on the slow side when transitioning between menus, despite the phone’s dual-core processor. Unlike TouchWiz and HTC’s Sense interface, you can’t customize how many home screens are available, nor can you access quick settings through the phone’s notification bar. Motorola’s saving grace is a built-in app called “Smart Actions,” which conserves battery by toggling settings like Wi-Fi or GPS in areas where you don’t typically use them. But with this phone’s battery life, Smart Actions aren’t really necessary.

The Droid Razr Maxx is also a wide phone for its 4.3-inch screen size, thanks to a thick bezel along its vertical edges. Considering the big battery inside, the phone stays thin, measuring 0.35 inches at its thinnest point, and tapering up to a slightly thicker hump where its camera is situated. (That camera, an 8-megapixel shooter with flash, takes crisp pictures and has a speedy shutter.) Although the phone is comfortable to hold, it’s a bit tough to operate with one hand. Also, a word of advice to Motorola: No more kevlar coatings on the backside of your handsets. It scratches under a thumbnail and won’t stop bullets anyway.

A couple other nitpicks: The Razr Maxx uses a 960-by-540 resolution PenTile display, a type of pixel matrix despised by screen quality diehards. You may not notice the jagged edges and slight discolorations unless you look at the screen up close, but once you’ve seen PenTile’s problems, they’re hard to unsee. Also, my review unit only showed battery life percentage in multiples of 10. I’m told this is not a common issue, but haven’t been able to test other phones to find out.

If you’re looking for a Verizon Wireless Android phone and battery isn’t everything, you can do better than the Razr Maxx. Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus and HTC’s Rezound offer crisper displays and better software. But what good is a smartphone if it doesn’t get through the day? For power users–especially those who might root the phone and tweak its interface–the Droid Razr Maxx provides fast data speeds and an assurance that it won’t die on the commute home, even if you use the heck out of it. It’s about time a phone maker realized how important that can be.

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