Smartphones

Motorola Droid Razr: Super model or serial killer?

Deb Shinder reviews the Motorola Droid Razr. Find out the pros and cons of this sleek Android device.

When it comes to smartphones and runway models, thin is in. Other than the transparent credit card form factor in Microsoft's video of the future of communications, the Motorola Droid Razr is the thinnest phone I've seen -- and it's certainly the thinnest one I've had the opportunity to carry around and get to know.

Getting down to specifics, the Razr is 7.1mm (or just over a quarter of an inch) thick, in comparison to the 14mm (0.56 inch) HTC Thunderbolt, the 12mm (0.46 inch) Samsung Droid Charge and the 9.3mm (0.37 inch) iPhone 4S. This gives it a look and feel that's far more elegant than previous Motorola Droids. Of course, the top models are not just thin; they're also tall, and the Razr measures up at 5.15 inches high (the iPhone is a bit of a runt at 4.5 inches high).

Figure 1

Thunderbolt on top, Razr on bottom -- taller, thinner, and lighter.

That height is due to the big Super AMOLED display, with its 256 pixel per inch (PPI) density on a 4.3 inch screen. Some purists have complained about its Pen Tile display technology, but to my (admittedly aging) eyes, it looks pretty good. At least, I'm not the only one who thinks its display stacks up well against its main LTE competitors on Verizon -- the HTC Rezound and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. But to be classified as a true super model, you need more than just a skinny profile and a pretty (inter)face. How does the Razr compare in all the ways that matter most?

A great first impression

When my contact at Verizon told me she was sending me the Razr to test, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for a Nexus. I've tested a number of Motorola Droids before, and my husband has one. I've never been very impressed with any of them. I found the MotoBlur UI to lag far behind HTC's Sense and Samsung's TouchWiz, and the hardware always seemed boxy and less than elegant. My expectations were low.

When I took it out of the box, though, I felt an immediate attraction. I can't say it was love at first sight, but there was certainly a touch of infatuation. That slender body felt great in my hand. The little "hump" at the top of the back side, which seemed bulky on the Droid X, was just thick enough to provide a nice resting spot for my index finger, to keep the phone from sliding out of my hand. After carrying around a Thunderbolt for a while, I felt as if I'd suddenly traded in my SUV for a Miata. I've read other reviews that complained about the width of the phone -- and these were mostly from men with (presumably) bigger hands than mine -- but I had no problem reaching anything. Maybe it's because of all those years of piano lessons when I was a kid.

Figure 2

The Razor isn't too wide for my smallish hand (size 5 ring).

One thing I loved about the Thunderbolt was its big 4.3 inch screen, and I accepted the extra weight and bulk in my pocket as the price I had to pay for that. But the Razr's display is the same size -- in a lightweight package. It slipped into the front pocket of my jeans easily. However, I worried about carrying it there. It was so thin that I feared I might break it if I bent over. I had never had to worry about that with the Thunderbolt.

Presumably, this fragility is just an illusion; the Razr is made of Kevlar on the back and Gorilla Glass on the front. That's a pretty tough combination. When I worked on the streets as a police officer, I trusted my life to Kevlar's ability to stop bullets. And Corning's Gorilla Glass is chemically strengthened to resist scratching and breaking. I'm not going to go around deliberately dropping it to test its durability, but I've heard from a couple of people who say they've dropped their Razrs on concrete with no discernible damage.

I like that the power button is on the right side, like on Samsung devices, rather than on top as with most of HTC's. I also like that the mini-USB port is on the top, rather than the side or bottom where it can be hard to access when the phone is in a car dock.

The good and the bad

Heavenly hardware aside, digging a little deeper turns up plenty to like about the Razr. The UI is much more polished than some of the older Motorola Droids I've tested (although, I'm sure that updates have improved them by now). It's nice that the lock screen has a volume control, so you can turn sound down without unlocking the phone. The display is fast and responsive (with no lags), thanks to the 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and a full gigabyte of RAM.

Of course, the LTE network is blazing fast, too. I supposed I've started to take it for granted a little, but it's still pretty amazing to be able to get download speeds of more than 15 Mbps on a phone (I've gotten up to 48 Mbps on Verizon's 4G at times, and never less than 12 Mbps).

The built-in widgets are okay. The weather app is nice, and has the animations (falling rain, shining sun, clouds blowing in the wind) that are similar to HTC's. It doesn't take up as much room on the screen as the HTC clock/weather widget, either, but I do miss the clock. Of course, you can download an HTC-look widget.

Figure 3

The Razr's widgets are more sophisticated than the old Motorola Droid ones.

However, I don't like Motorola's Favorite Contacts widget. I gave up in frustration, after not being able to get the right contacts in it or remove the wrong ones.

Motorola's MotoPrint app was a nice little surprise. You can use it to print to an HP Wi-Fi-enabled printer from your phone. HP provides an Android app that you can install on any phone to do that, but it was nice to have this pre-installed. It automatically searches for your wireless printer and has a very easy-to-use interface.

Figure 4

The MotoPrint app was a pleasant surprise.

Another treat was the Smart Actions tool that lets you create customized actions based on rules. For instance, you can set the phone to turn off Wi-Fi, GPS, data and background sync at night so the phone won't use up battery while you're sleeping.

Figure 5

With the Smart Apps tool, you can automate frequently-used processes.

The new MotoBlur UI features a persistent shortcut bar across the bottom with four shortcuts that remain there when you flip from screen to screen. I like that. In fact, on other phones, I've created my own version of it by repeating the same very important shortcuts on multiple screens. I found it interesting that by default, the Facebook app was on that persistent bar and the Email app wasn't, but it was easy to switch that around. I guess it's indicative of the rising importance of social networking vs. email (for most people).

Personally, email is probably my most frequent activity on a smartphone, so one of the first things I check out is the email client. I wasn't sure at first whether I liked the Razr's white-text-on-black-background and if there's a way to change that, I didn't find it. After living with it for a while, though, I found it works fine, and the blue coloration for unread messages makes it easier to spot them in comparison to the same-color boldface on some other phones.

A couple of things I really liked about the email app were the ability to compose a message without going into a menu (by touching the + sign at the top right) and the way folders are handled. Something that drives me nuts with the Thunderbolt and other HTC phones is having to scroll through dozens of my Exchange folders to get to the couple that I regularly check. By prefacing the folder names with an asterisk, I could make them appear at the top of the list on Samsung phones, but not HTC. I was happy to see that the asterisk trick also works with Motorola's email app. This is a little thing that makes a big difference in daily usability.

Figure 6

I prefer the Motorola email app's handling of folders to HTC's.

I was disappointed to see that the total internal storage on the Razr was only 8 GB, especially after reading some reviews that said it would come with 16 GB. A 32 GB microSD card could help with that, and something I really like about the design is that the SIM and microSD slots are behind a little door on the left side of the phone and easy to get to. Unfortunately, the reason for that is not such good news, as I'll get to later. There's also an HDMI output, something that's becoming standard on high-end smartphones.

The phone does a great job of playing movies, although it would be better if it had a kickstand like the EVO and Thunderbolt. The video player supports many different formats and plays YouTube and Netflix without any problems at high resolution. Sound quality from the built-in speaker is so-so. A little too tinny for me, but no noticeable distortion.

Speaking of sound, this is, after all, a phone -- what about voice quality? Although I don't actually use my phone for talking all that much, I do have some hearing issues, so lack of clarity can be a real problem for me. I found the Razr's voice performance to be acceptable but not as good as the Samsung phones I've used.

Another plus for the Razr is that it can be used with Motorola's Lapdock 500, which recently cleared the FCC and should be available soon. The concept of using your phone to power a laptop shell was introduced in the Atrix, and although it hasn't yet really caught fire, I think this is a great feature that -- once it's refined -- many people will appreciate.

The ugly

So, what are the drawbacks of the Razr that are preventing me from running out and buying one today? One of the things that concerned me most about that thin body was how much battery life would fit into it. I became even more concerned when I learned that, unlike every other Android phone I've used, the battery is not intended to be removable (although it is possible to do so if you're really determined). That's why the microSD slot isn't hidden under the battery as with most smartphones. The non-removable battery is a big drawback for me, and that was one of my top reasons for never getting an iPhone.

The built-in battery is 1780 mAH, and Verizon claims 12.5 hours of talk time. They only claim 6.5 hours for the Thunderbolt with its 1400 mAH standard battery (but you can easily replace it with a 3200 mAH extended battery). As I suspected, battery life for the Razr was pretty dismal out of the box, although it was definitely better than what I got with the Thunderbolt prior to tweaking. With moderate/heavy data usage, the Thunderbolt lasted only 4-5 hours the first day, whereas the Razr held on for around 7 hours.

I did my standard power optimization (reduce screen brightness, turn off push email, etc.) and now have the Razr running for a full long day without the battery going into the "red zone." The Battery Left app pegs its full battery life at a bit over 18 hours.

Figure 7

With much tweaking, I was able to get over 18 hours of battery life.

Sufficient battery power is important to me, so not being able to pop out and replace the battery might be a deal breaker, despite the many ways in which I love the phone. If you really, really want this phone and the removable battery is an obstacle, you can get an external battery pack that connects to the mini-USB port for a reasonable price.

The other reason I can't commit to the Razr at this time (at least until I've tested the Galaxy Nexus and HTC Rezound) is the camera. To my own surprise, I use the camera on my phone a lot. I've been thoroughly spoiled by the camera on the Thunderbolt. The photos are as sharp as any compact digital camera, and in bright lighting, they can even rival those taken with my Nikon D300.

The Razr's camera just doesn't measure up. The specs sound good -- 8 MP in comparison to the Galaxy Nexus's 5 MP -- but the optics just aren't the best. The lens is in the little hump on the back, which puts it at a different position from many of the smartphone cameras in relation to the body of the phone, but you could compensate for that. There's only a single LED flash, whereas the better phones have two, but that's not the real problem, either. Colors seem washed out, especially in lower light. Focus is hit-or-miss, despite the lighting. Even when objects are in focus, the photos just aren't sharp and crisp like the ones I took with the Thunderbolt or Incredible. I had hoped maybe I just got a phone with a defective camera, but I've seen the same complaints from other testers. Videos look better than the still photos, but they still aren't as good as the Thunderbolt's.

If you aren't picky about photo quality, you'll probably never notice -- but for me, the camera just might ultimately be what keeps me from getting a Razr of my very own. And that's a shame, because I'd love to love the Razr unconditionally. It was like meeting a man who's handsome, funny, sweet, romantic, and wealthy, and then discovering that there's just this one little thing: he's a serial killer. The Razr could have been a killer phone, if it weren't for the battery and camera issues, but Motorola is definitely headed in the right direction with this one.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

13 comments
sjohnson
sjohnson

This phone requires you to encrypt all data on the phone if you setup a corporate sync account. So if you have your Executive Director set up with one of these monsters and he takes lots of pictures, you will be getting a phone call from him wanting to know why he can't see his great photos on his desktop. According to Motorola, there is no work around on this so the only way to unencrypt the pictures is to email them to yourself. The phone is fine as long as you don't use it in a corporate environment.

Dr. Solar
Dr. Solar

You wrote, "I found it interesting that by default, the Facebook app was on that persistent bar and the Email app wasnt, ... I guess its indicative of the rising importance of social networking vs. email (for most people)." I suspect it's more indicative of the fact that there isn't an "Email Inc." company willing to pay to have its data-harvesting presence prominently placed on every page, every time you look at the phone. I doubt they got that prime real estate without paying Motorola something.

tutor4pc
tutor4pc

It seems I might want the phone - but I cannot have it. I am not a Verizon customer. I really do not like the way phones are sold in the US. It is like if I want a certain car I have to use a certain brand of gasoline. I call that stupid and disgusting. This monopoly play defies the publicly voiced idea of capitalism where competition works for the good of sellers and buyers. In Europe cell phone service costs less than in the US. You get your phone, buy your SIM card and talk on any network you like. Much easier. But then again: Americans love it complicated.

realvarezm
realvarezm

i think many people try to get the perfect phone, after got my droid 3 i was amazed by all the hardware and software plus the media and everything, but like most things in your life you cant get everything, the optics of this phones leave much to desire. A 8mp camera shouldnt display like that but it does, i've read that with new firmware that problem will be fixed but thats tha excuse for most products. All and all i think the droid models are great each in its branch. Plus like everybody knows Motorola belongs to Google and you can only think that this phones are just the tip of the iceberg in a new and revolutionary way of desing mobiles.

richard.stroud
richard.stroud

SG2S is fast light thin (about 8mm) and has everything you need. Camera is great, HD video, bright flash and removable battery. I got the 3500MAH and cover on Amazon for $13 and 16GB or 32GB phone memory. I also got the 32GB HC4 Micro SD card for $35. Phone cost on $49 at the Shack on black friday. Gingerbread was easy to root with odin too.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I just tried it and Windows 7 on a dual boot will not install to an exFAT partition.They say only NTFS.Also Adaptec doesn't appear to have an exFAT driver for their controller.

rygood
rygood

The razor is just a try at an old brand name.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I think that files at high frequency are big.The program that holds an ordinary text file in existence could be gargantuan at a high frequency.It has to tell the device exactly everything and it has to stand alone.The file should tell the device the correct clock pulse frequency.I suspect that this is in the header.Different file types for different frequencies.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

exFAT also looks like a high frequency CPU or Chipset file format.It's a high frequency file format.ROM bin files are terabytes big.Electronic files are really big.The higher the frequency the bigger the file can be.If you format a USB pen drive with exFAT in Windows and then look at it in Active Boot disk Kill Disk (ABD is a CD or USB boot up program and is closer to the BIOS.) you see strange files.I suspect that at a higher frequency the storage space in a pen drive increases exponentially.An installed SD card exFAT formatted is mind blowing.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Guessing right now I would say that the digital in the electronics is at exFAT.Software writing is done in SD cards.SD cards could be the only way that they can access the writing levels.YouTube on SD card booting looks like software writers.I also suspect that virus are in at exFAT.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I don't think that Win 7 is on the hard drive with an x64 partition format.I'm doing some study of exFAT and have noticed some problems.Some articles say exFAT is for USB.Now it seems like SD cards don't show up in the boot menu so you're out if you want to put an OS there.They just will not let you do it in any way.The manufacturer would have to update the BIOS and they only listen to certain people.I could not even get Ubuntu to boot.It's very unfriendly here.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

exFAT is FAT 64.So there.To me right now the use something called ROM bins.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

No, we usually whine and bleat about excessive regulations and lack of competition ever so blindly... Besides, with where gas is going, with your analogy, you'll all be stuck at empty while we continue to cruise forward. (Gee, inter-country insults can work both ways, how does it feel? )

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