Droid and Razr. Motorola Mobility’s two claims to fame have been combined. With Samsung and HTC breathing down its neck, the Razr represent’s Motorola’s best chance at keeping the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of people who bought a Droid two years ago. But is it enough?
Design and feel
The Droid Razr is an interesting piece of industrial design. In some ways, it is exactly what it should be. At 7.1mm, it’s thinner than any other smartphone on the market (the iPhone 4S is 9.3mm thick), has a shiny dark gray frame, a big black Gorilla Glass screen, and even a woven Kevlar back. We don’t think it will stop bullets, but Motorola points out that the inner frame of this plastic phone is stainless steel, so it shouldn’t snap in your hands either. The phone is sturdy and thin enough that using a 4.3-inch screen becomes manageable.
There are issues with the design too. From an aesthetic perspective, the back is a lot prettier than the front, but both sides are littered with too many Motorola and Verizon logos. The front has an overly visible front-facing camera and the half-tapered edges look a little busy and inconsistent. We’re also not quite sure why, except for vanity’s sake, the Motorola logo is put on bright, shiny silver. It distracts from the rest of the design. On the back, the top bump is a lot thicker than the advertised 7.1mm design and is actually a bit thicker than an iPhone 4S. Overall, we don’t dislike the look of the phone, but Motorola went to pains to make this phone super thin and attractive. We wish the manufacturer would have been a little more consistent or mindful of its design choices.
More importantly than aesthetics is functionality, and here Motorola has made a couple small missteps as well. Like other large 4.3-inch phones, the Droid Razr has both the volume rocker and power button on the right side. (This is because few people will be able to comfortably reach the volume controls if they were still on the left which is where they often are on smaller phones.) Unfortunately, both buttons are a bit too small, and placed too low on the phone. When trying to switch between volume and power, your thumb will get a bit cramped. It’s not a huge deal, but Motorola did a much better job making the volume and power buttons easy to use on devices like the Motorola Photon. The power button, especially, is the most important button on the phone and here it feels like an afterthought.
The odd placement of the buttons and the strange decision to put all ports up top and make the battery non-removable all comes down to thickness. Motorola wanted the Razr to set a record, and the company did sacrifice some amount of comfort to do it. However, from a usability point of view, this phone could be a bit thicker in the middle and be a lot more comfortable for it. Sometimes being thin isn’t always best.
There is one upshot to the race to conserve space: Because there’s no removable battery, the SIM card and microSD card are more easily accessible on the side. This is a plus. It’s nice to be able to swap a SIM or memory card without the hassle that comes with removing the backplate of a phone.
Power and specs
You won’t find us complaining about the specs. The Droid Razr runs on a 1.2GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor, has 1GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, and comes with a 16GB microSD card. It’s as powerful a phone as you’re going to find this year. We did some benchmarking and in Quadrant, it got a score of 2,476, with subsequent tests coming out between 2300 and 2500. This is actually better than our recent tests on the 1.5GHz dual-core HTC Amaze 4G, and the Samsung Galaxy S II. However, the difference is mostly negligible. All three phones performed quite well.
Did we mention that the Razr has a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen with a resolution of 540 x 960 pixels? Yep, you read that right: The Droid Razr has a Super AMOLED screen. This means it is instantly a helluva lot nicer to look at than any other Motorola phone this year. The Atrix, Photon, Droid 3 Droid X2, and Droid Bionic all used an LCD PenTile display that just didn’t display color well and had a visible subpixel grid that degraded the quality of the display, despite a high resolution. The new screen, which isn’t quite as rich as the Super AMOLED Plus display on the Samsung Galaxy S II, fixes one of Motorola’s biggest deficiencies.
Motorola finally upgraded its screen technology, but it hasn’t yet designed a new interface to take advantage of it. The Droid Razr runs on Google Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) with a custom Motorola user interface layered on top of it called NinjaBlur. Motorola’s NinjaBlur adds almost nothing to the Android experience aside from some useful widgets. It’s ugly dark-blue-and-gray color palette does suck the life out of Android, though. Companies like Samsung and HTC have prospered by making Android more colorful and user friendly, but Motorola has yet to grasp the concept. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the company is being bought by Google. It might mean the end of its custom interfaces.
Still, Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) will be released in mere weeks, and it looks a lot nicer than previous versions. Motorola has promised that Droid Razr owners will get the update by early 2012. Here’s to hoping that the manufacturer just leaves Google’s work alone and releases it as-is. For more information, check out our guide to Android Ice Cream Sandwich.
The typical slate of non-removable Verizon bloatware is included on the Droid Razr. Apps for BlockBuster, Amazon Kindle, GoToMeeting, Let’s Golf 2, Verizon services, Netflix, and NFL Mobile are all baked into the phone, so get used to them.
MotoCast and Smart Actions
The two big features Motorola touted during the Razr’s unveiling were MotoCast and Smart Actions. We found both to be wonderful ideas, but quite rough around the edges.
MotoCast: By plugging the Droid Razr into your PC, you can install software that will let you access music or any other files directly on your Razr. It’s a cool idea, even if it treads on what Google is already trying to do with its cloud storage Google Music Beta service. The setup went decently well, but when MotoCast tried to index our 12,000 songs, the Razr flipped out. Instead of showing a loading screen, the Razr let us go back to doing whatever we wanted while it loaded songs in the background. This was a mistake. Within a minute or so, the screen began flickering and re-refreshing itself every two or three seconds, quite visibly. Anything we tried to do was halted every few seconds. After MotoCast claimed it was finished with the process, which seemed to drain a good portion of the battery in a matter of minutes, we rebooted the phone because it would not respond well.
Downloading songs from MotoCast onto the phone was an equally painful process, which crashed our notification bar and required another restart. The phone appears to be fine now, and does stream content fine, but it was not a pleasant encounter and it is unlikely we’ll use the product much. Let us know how your experience with MotoCast is in the user reviews section. We hope you don’t encounter these issues, but be warned.
Smart Actions: This app allows you to program your own sets of actions. For example, you could tell your phone to turn off data and turn on Wi-Fi when you arrive at home. Or maybe you can tell it to turn off all essential services when the battery hits 30 percent. The options are endless, and we don’t mind the interface. Sadly, we had some issues with this app as well. We tried to create a Smart Action that would launch an application (Cut the Rope) as soon as we entered our home, but could not get the program’s mapping software to figure out where we were. It showed our location, but took a full minute to download the map — a Bing Map. Subsequent tries were just as slow. We also tried to get the phone to auto open up Facebook whenever we used Motion (shook the phone). This did not seem to work either. We have gotten one action to work: when we plug the headphones in, YouTube opens. The idea behind this app is great, but it needs refining.
Like all Motorola smartphones, the Droid Razr isn’t going to win any awards for its camera. The camera has a slow shutter speed, a somewhat unintuitive custom camera app, and incredibly slow auto-focus. Don’t take a picture of anything moving because it will be gone before you’re able to snap the pic. The phone does pull in a bit more color and light than the Droid X2 and some earlier phones, but it’s a far cry from the cameras on a Samsung. Don’t even try comparing it to the HTC Amaze 4G or the Apple iPhone 4S. It would be cruel.
Still, the 8M-megapixel rear camera does take acceptable pictures and has a decent flash. The 1.3-megapixel front camera works as well, and the Razr can record video at 1080p, so all the elements are here. They just aren’t great. Don’t sell that point-and-shoot camera just yet.
Call quality and data speed
Call quality has been pretty stable. We did a few tests with the speakerphone, and aside from the usual ambient noise you hear on speakerphone, everything sounded pretty decent. On Verizon’s 4G LTE network, speeds here in Manhattan, New York City are holding up quite well. We got a consistent 9Mbps download speed and 6Mbps upload speed, which is quite amazing since our speeds when on Verizon’s DSL Wi-Fi were only about 11Mbps down and 1Mbps up. It’s entirely possible that Verizon’s high speed network is faster than a lot of wired, terrestrial connections.
Verizon’s LTE network continues to run circles around T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T’s “4G” networks. None of those carriers seem to be able to reach past 3.5Mbps download speeds on a continual basis, though T-Mobile does have spurts of 10Mbps speeds from time to time.
Aside from the thin design and the custom apps, the other big selling point of the Droid Razr is its battery life. Motorola is touting 12.5 hours of talk time and up to 16 days of idle time on its 1,780mAh battery. We aren’t seeing those numbers, but the battery life has been decent. It outperforms the Droid Bionic by a good deal, as well as the HTC Amaze 4G. However, the phone tends to get extremely hot (not burning hot, but noticeably hot) when using Wi-Fi or downloading a lot of data. During these times, the battery drained excessively fast. This is somewhat normal, but it shows that the Droid Razr is not on a different level as other smartphones. Motorola claims that you can save an additional 30 percent battery life if you use Moto Smart Actions properly. We tried to do this, and there are some good suggestions, but Smart Actions may be a bit difficult to use for beginners. Overall, the Razr performs better than a lot of recent smartphones when it comes to battery life, but the entire category needs some work. We’re beginning to wonder if we’ll ever be able to go a night without plugging in our phone.
If you like it’s looks and size, the Motorola Droid Razr is a great option for those on the hunt for a powerful, fully-featured smartphone this holiday season. With a dual-core processor, a big colorful Super AMOLED screen, good battery life, 4G LTE connectivity, and a thin profile, it’s a great option. The only thing we don’t know is how it will compare to the Galaxy Nexus. The good news is that Motorola is promising Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) by early 2012, so those who choose the Razr shouldn’t be in the cold for too long.
Good battery life
Bright Super AMOLED screen
Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) coming by early 2012
Verizon’s 4G LTE network rocks
Design is logo heavy
Power and volume buttons are small
NinjaBlur interface is lifeless
Smart Actions and MotoCast need work
Camera is weak