Review: Motorola Droid RAZR

  • November 11, 2011 10:12 am


The Droid RAZR; a name that both excites and worries us. The old clamshell RAZR was once a great phone that set the bar for all feature phones of its time. But a reluctance by Motorola to move on from the basic shape cast them into near bankruptcy as each and every new phone became a simple repeat of the last. Now many years later the “RAZR” name is back with an indistinguishable face and a feature set that demands respect. On that same note, many would argue Motorola is once again falling into old habits — releasing the same basic phone many times over with but a simple physical alteration and fancy new name.

This RAZR is a very different beast from that of its distant clamshell sibling. Everything from the list full of top-end specs to the (sorry)…razor thin design oozes sophistication and speed, but is it enough to hold the Android crown considering the Android platform’s flagship device, the Galaxy Nexus, is due in just a couple of weeks? Catch the full review after the break…

The Hardware

The Droid RAZR is crazy thin. Seriously. We haven’t held a phone that’s felt this…non-existant. It’s odd, really. The screen feels massive, certainly larger than the non average 4.3″ numbering would suggest. And because of the proportions, the RAZR phone feels wide. So it would seem that it would feel at least somewhat heavy. But it doesn’t. Fans of large screened phones will absolutely love the RAZR. People with smaller hands, however, may be in for a bit of a rough ride. (We have small hands.) Because of our small hands coupled with the sheer size of the phone and it’s uber thin proportions, holding the RAZR in a comfortable position for texting and then having to reach to the top corner for an on-screen button almost always requires shifting the phone in our hands. It’s not a very fluid or comfortable process. But we’re finding this shuffling problem is bothering us less than it normally does. The main reason: the display.

Now to be clear, the PenTile technology we’ve come to loathe on (just about) every other qHD phone is still here, but in a different form — AMOLED. Instead of the traditional PenTile LCD and its red/blue/green/white pixel layout that other phones such as the Droid 3, X2, and so on use, the Super AMOLED on the RAZR makes use of just red/blue/green. The end result more or less ends up causing an image that is understandably worse than the LCD toting brethren. But is it actually worse than the qHD LCD phones in day to day usage? We’re torn, honestly. While pixels themselves are more readily apparent (causing text to look more pixelated the closer you zoom), the hyper color saturation is leaps and bounds better than the qHD LCD displays that we thought looked dreadfully dull.

Further adding to our inner debate is the fact that color tinting on the screen moves towards green when backlighting is turned down — an odd trait to say the least. Generally you either have a cooler tint (blue) or a warmer tint (red/orange).

So where exactly do we stand? The pixel problem is worse than the qHD LCD displays, but the overall color reproduction is much more vivid, almost too much so. In the end we find the more vibrant appearance makes us want to use the phone more and simply overlook the jagged fonts and readily apparent pixels. To our eyes, the better color reproduction outweighed the aforementioned issue with pixels.

In light of the criticisms surrounding the choice of display, why did Motorola make such a daring move to include a display technology that is in many ways worse than other options? Thinness. Motorola claims the OLED allowed them to make the RAZR thinner as the OLED doesn’t need a separate backlight.

Display aside, the rest of the RAZR is pretty standard fodder: 1.2GHz TI OMAP 4430, 1 GB of RAM, 8-megapixel camera (rear) w/ LED flash + 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, LTE, and a ridiculously thin stainless steel chassis. Adding to the strength of the RAZR is a soft-touch Kevlar backing. The body is so strong in fact that Motorola has decided to go the Apple route and build the battery into the phone. We think it’s a good idea to scrape up every inch of space for a battery when we’re deal with phones this thin and pack so much battery leeching potential under the hood.

Our final hardware gripe revolves around the power button. It’s terrible — stiff, barely able to be found by touch, and too high up on the side of the phone. It almost feels like it’s a capacitive button with a tad bit of texture. We’d even go as far as to say the RAZR’s power button is on par with the BlackBerry PlayBook’s — and that’s bad.

After using the RAZR heavily for the last 24 hours it’s dawned upon us we’ve seen this phone before in the DROID X. The X is pretty much the same exact phone physically with more squared edges. In that light we don’t consider the RAZR as anything new or unique. Truth be told, we’re pretty certain that Motorola is hoping consumers will feel the small physical tweaks and newer internals are enough to forgo other, potentially better options such as the upcoming Galaxy Nexus and any of the quad-core beasts coming early next year.

The Software

The Droid RAZR ships with Android 2.3 Gingerbread with Motorola’s re-worded and subdued MOTO BLUR minus the actual “MOTO BLUR” branding. While we’ve never been found of MOTO BLUR in any of its iterations or color schemes, we must add that with each iteration Motorola does seem to be bringing things together more. Even still, we’d much rather take stock Android based on pure looks alone, not to mention the whole update issue.

But there is one thing Motorola built into the RAZR that we love — Smart Actions. Smart Actions are awesome for tweakers and people who want to control some of the deeper aspects of their phone. Think of Smart Actions as a BlackBerry profile, but like a bodybuilder on steroids who’s also downed a keg of full-strength coffee. The premiss of smart actions revolve around triggers and actions. A trigger would be something like your battery level dropping below a certain percentage. From there you can then set different actions — tell your phone to automatically turn down the brightness, turn off wifi and bluetooth, and a slew of other things. Another trigger you could duse would be location from which you could tell your phone to remind you to call someone, take a note, etc. Seriously, this is awesome stuff that will thankfully be coming to more Motorola handsets in the future.

*We do not have a web top dock to test the functionality with..

Other than the blurb above, it’s business as usual on the RAZR with Android 2.3 Gingerbread.

Performance, Battery Life & LTE

The RAZR isn’t short on power by any stretch of the imagination. Software benchmarks prove that. Though as we’ve stated in past reviews, such benchmarks are wholly useless and do little to convey actual real-world usage. With that said the RAZR is just like any other current high-end Android phone — just about any and every action is handled with near-instant reaction by the phone. And as we’ve come to expect on Android, there are odd, random slowdowns when navigating the phone. There isn’t any rhyme or reason, no app to point a finger at, and certainly no network instance that would cause such an event. The tiny amounts of lag seen when doing something as simple as swiping a homescreen isn’t unique to the RAZR or Motorola products in general, so we can’t fault the RAZR for such things.

Packing a dual-core processor, large display, and LTE combine to form the perfect storm of sadness for those on the go. Yet despite all the firepower under the hood we were pleasantly surprised by the RAZR’s staying power. A solid 30 minute session of straight downloading apps over LTE @ ~11 Mbps down saw us drop ~18% in battery. If we assume a linear battery drain (which isn’t likely in reality) we’d get about 5 hours. That’s pretty awesome for LTE standards. Obviously most people won’t be continuously downloading data over LTE whilst abroad so the above results aren’t typical. On that note, when a more “normal” mix of on/off usage combined with a 6-hour nap overnight we saw a more respectable ~35% change in battery across roughly 8 hours. Again, not great but more than respectable when compared to some of the first LTE devices (we’re looking at you HTC Thunderbolt).

LTE speeds on Verizon’s network in Norther Indiana are quite brisk. Our highest test saw speeds hitting 18.5 Mbps down and just a touch over 6 Mbps up. In comparison, AT&T’s average speeds around these parts is ~2-3 Mbps down, with peaks in the 7-8 Mbps range, though such speeds on AT&T’s network are rare.

Camera & Video


The camera on the RAZR is the same piece found in the Bionic. In short: it’s good but not “wow”. For most people, the 8-megapixels worth of dots will be more than ample at replacing simple point-and-shoots.

iPhone 4S on left, Droid RAZR on right

iPhone 4S on left, Droid RAZR on right

Video quality out of the 8-megapixels 1080p mode was good and mostly accurate color reproduction. In the end it’s a phone, still, and won’t replace a fancy 1080p standalone video recorder. Though as the 8-megapixel camera is good enough for most people, so is the RAZR’s video chops.

Conclusion

iPhone 4S | Droid RAZR | Original Motorola DROID

The RAZR is a good phone. It is also an incredibly thin phone. But it is not a small phone. People with small hands will find the 4.3″ display feels larger than the spec sheet would claim, meaning simple actions such as hopping between a the on-screen keyboard and hopping to the top of the display to tap a button will often end up being a miniature juggling show.

The raw hardware is powerful and shouldn’t be outdated for at least a solid 6 months — not too bad by Android standards. But therein lies the problem. Better hardware will come along, soon. The most imminent threat is Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus scheduled for release later this month. It will feature a similar processor and RAM, but a much better 720p display, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and absolutely no carrier or manufacturer bloatware/UI modifications. For all intents and purposes, the Galaxy Nexus is what Android is all about — but only if such things matter to you.

If you’re the type that wants a reliable, large screened Android phone and don’t mind picking up a phone on the tail-end of a current generation of hardware, the RAZR is one of several legitimate options for you to choose from — we’d say it’s Motorola’s best phone. But in the quickly expanding smartphone scene, is being merely “good enough” going to cut it?

Availability & Pricing: The Droid RAZR is now available on Verizon Wireless for $299 when picked up with a 2-year contract.

*For today only, Amazon Wireless is holding a special sale, pricing the RAZR at $111.11 in celebration of today’s date — 11/11/11.

Gadgetsteria’s Rating

  • Design: 7
  • Performance: 7
  • Value: 7
  • Overall (Average): 7

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Gadget lover, smartphone collector, and beer connoisseur. I've been writing about gadgets for three years now and loving every minute of it. Outside of the digital landscape, I enjoy being active outdoors. I'm always up for a good conversation, so feel free to drop me a line!