Hands on: Wowed by the new Droid RAZR
I've been using cell phones for a long time. I started with a Motorola bag phone (remember those?) then I had the Motorola DynaTac (the big, white brick) and the Micro Tac and StarTac. After that it was a long stream of flip phones by various manufacturers until one came along in 2004 that made me say: "Wow!" It was the original Motorola RAZR in 2004, one of the best-selling cell phones of all time. So it seems fitting that first Android phone to make me say wow is the new Motorola Droid RAZR.
Just like the original RAZR, (see the comparison below) the Droid RAZR is a game-changer in form and function. It's so thin, when you pick it up you wonder how they were able to pack it with so much power. With a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM it may not have specs to beat the fastest phones out there, but it's so sleek and light compared to all the other bricks, those specs don't matter and it's plenty fast. The RAZR is just .28 inches thick and weighs 127 grams yet it still has a 4.3-inch, 960 x 540 qHD Super AMOLED Advanced display. From an engineering standpoint, this phone also makes you say: "How?"
When I first picked it up I expected it to have some body flex because it was so thin. Because it's built with an aluminum frame and a Kevlar fiber back, the RAZR is thinand tough. The body has no flex and the display is protected by a bezel that overlaps the edges of the Corning Gorilla Glass. Inside is a 1780mAh battery that is larger than even the Droid Bionic's. There's no battery door, however, and I'm sure that decision was made to keep the RAZR so thin and rigid. Not having a user-accessible battery has been a main complaint by many iPhone users, so it will be interesting to see how people react.
Buttons and ports are mostly well-placed. On the right side you have the power/wake/sleep and volume buttons. At the top are the USB, HDMI out and headphone ports. And on the lower left is the SIM and microSD card door. On the face you'll find the capacitive navigation buttons at the bottom while at the top there is a notification LED, 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera, ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor under the earpiece. On the back is the the 8-megapixel/1080p camera, LED flash and speaker with a small, separate microphone for video recording.
The 4.3-inch, 960 x 540 qHD Super AMOLED Advanced display is bright and sharp with good contrast. When set to the highest brightness level it's at it's best. With the brightness turned down, the whites gets a noticeable blue cast. This is also the case when you turn the display from side-to-side, so it's best viewed straight on. Motorola says the Super AMOLED Advanced display has 35 percent more pixels than the Super AMOLED displays found on many other phones. The difference was not readily noticeable. I will say, however, that this display looks a lot better than the one on the Droid Bionic I recently reviewed.
Performance and Battery
On the performance end of things the RAZR is a real treat. Out of the box all functions were very quick and with the Motorola animations turned off the phone is at it's best. Signal strength was excellent and I was picking up and extra bar ofsignal in places where most other phones did not. Network performance was excellent, with tests on the Verizon 4G LTE network at my home in Tampa giving me consistent download speeds between 5-10Mbps. Upload speeds were not as impressive (they never are in Tampa), hovering around 1MBps.
Motorola rates the 1780mAh battery for 8.5 days of standby time and 12.5 hours of talk time. During light use it held up fine but seemed to drain much more quickly when using 4G LTE and more processor-intensive tasks. With a sealed battery there is no way to do a quick swap so battery management definitely will be an issue. I carry a small USB battery pack with my iPhone when traveling, just for this purpose.
The 8MP still camera produced excellent pictures in full sunlight with a slight blue cast in photos made in the shade. Low light shots made indoors without the flash were visibly noisy and as it is with most phones, the flash does not work very well. On the video side things looked pretty good, and I appreciated the video stabilization setting plus the five different audio settings for various conditions. There also is the ability to manually change the exposure for video, which when used with care can be a great tool. Here are outside and inside photos, un-toned.
The RAZR ships with Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread and Motorola's overlay of supposed enhancements. Most of that is a bunch of unnecessary Droid animation stuff which is cool at first but makes you want to scream after about 1/2 hour. The widgets work fine and you get five screens on which to place them. A few of the included apps are welcome additions and one of those is Smart Actions. This app gives you the capability to set up custom actions that are triggered by the phone's location and state. Some included examples included actions that turn off the ringer when you are in specific places, launch the news app when you wake up each morning and open the maps app when you get in your car. Pretty cool stuff.
MotoCast lets you stream your music, photos, videos and documents from your PC to your phone without using any storage. So it's sort of like having a personal cloud service with streaming. Beware, however, that a feature like this will drain your battery quickly and push you to your monthly data cap quickly too.
It also comes with the Webtop environment, designed to be used with various accessories that can convert your phone into a pseudo-laptop or give you access to a full-featured version of Firefox and other tools on a larger screen, like a TV.
I found a few things I didn't like about the RAZR, but not many. I would prefer to have a user-replaceable battery and as an iPhone user find it ironic that the Android phone I like the most does not have that feature. A couple of times the phone gave me an error saying the SIM card was not installed, and it turned out that a little pressure on flexible SIM/microSD card door was causing this error. I was able to re-seat the card each time but if that happened a lot it would tick me off. The viewing angles on the screen are pretty bad, which makes sharing content with people more difficult. And the battery life does not appear to be the greatest in minimal testing.
The Droid RAZR is following the tradition of it's roots and just like before, it's a game-changer. The thin design makes it a large phone with a small footprint and a lot of power. It's the best Android phone I have seen so far and one of only two I would consider if I decided to abandon my iPhone for an Android.
The Droid RAZR goes on sale at Verizon on Nov. 11 (that's 11.11.11) at 11:11 AM for $299.99 with a 2-year contract.