It's difficult to figure out Motorola's angle with the Droid Mini. Here's a phone with that "mini" branding that's become so popular with many phone manufacturers these days, a name that usually signifies a cheaper yet lesser version of a flagship device. But while the Droid Mini is mildly affordable at $100 with a two-year Verizon contract at launch, it's neither "miniature" in size nor any weaker than its fellow Droid and Moto X siblings. So where does it fit in with the rest of Motorola's lineup? Who, exactly, is the Droid Mini for?
Build and Design
Well, it's definitely not for people who like good looking phones. The Droid Mini is ugly, full stop. Its black, 4.81 x 2.41 x 0.34-inch frame is compact and rounded enough to accommodate one-handed usage, which is fine in an era where 5-inch superphones are the norm with Android devices. But it's also made of a slimy plastic material that just feels gross against your fingers. It makes your hands feel like you just finished eating a bag of potato chips every time you touch it, and worse, it turns the handset into a fingerprint magnet too. The whole thing is coated with Kevlar, which is a wise choice considering how many times that slippery plastic back will cause the device to fumble out of your hands.
The Droid Mini as a whole looks and feels like a toy. The logo placement on the back is hideous, with the Droid name splotched just above an oddly textured Motorola symbol, which in turn is spaced too far apart from a nagging Verizon tag. This is all below a camera and speaker set that looks like it was randomly tossed onto the device at the last minute, and it's all above a grey-and-black, faux stitching pattern that isn't even visible unless you look at it in the right light. On the sides, the volume rocker and power button are too thick, strangely textured, and too far jutted out from the rest of the package.
The front of the Droid Mini is completely rectangular, creating an uncomfortably angular juxtaposition with the rounded edges of the phone's back. The three standard Android buttons are ever-present on the front of the phone's bottom bezel--the bezels are neither too thick nor too thin, by the way--but underneath those is a bumper area that's flattened out for no apparent reason. At 0.29 pounds, the whole thing is heavier than it should be, while its 0.34-inch frame makes it feel too chunky as well.
So the Droid Mini is in dire need of a case, but there's still something to be said about how comfortable a 4.3-inch device can be. Apple has come to own the smaller end of the smartphone size spectrum, but when you actually have the Droid Mini fitted snugly into your hand, it's hard not to wish that more Android OEMs would pour more resources into crafting high-quality compact devices. The Droid Mini makes a good case for more well-designed small Android phones, but unfortunately it doesn't have the looks to lead that charge on its own.
And that's a shame, because almost every other aspect of the Droid Mini screams great value. That starts with its 4.3-inch 720p display, which packs an impressive 341 pixels per inch. It's a TFT LCD screen, which means it won't give you the fullest colors or the deepest blacks like the Moto X's AMOLED display would, but it does mean that you'll get a very bright panel at nearly all times. Colors are quite vibrant and consistently reproduced well, and there's really no oversaturation of any sort here.
Viewing angles are exceptional, and glare was never a problem when the Droid Mini was out in the sun either. Text was always crisp and clear against bright white backgrounds, and HD video viewing was well detailed too -- you'll be able to see every wrinkle in Kevin Spacey's face when you check out an episode of House of Cards on the Droid Mini. Although it's not a full HD display, 341 ppi is more than enough for a screen of this size. Unless you try to blind yourself by holding the phone right up to your eyeballs, you won't notice any pixilation.
All that being said, using a 4.3-inch phone may take some getting used to if you're coming from a larger Android device. After a while it becomes nice to truly use your phone with one hand again, but there's an adjustment period to having less real estate when browsing the web or watching a video. Typing is especially imprecise for bigger-handed people like yours truly, although that's nothing Swype can't fix. Nevertheless, for what it is, the Droid Mini's panel is well done.
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