The Motorola Droid Razr is an extremely intriguing smartphone because of its super thin form factor and in this review, we’ll determine if this 4G LTE smartphone from Verizon is more than just a pretty phone and if it can compete against the glut of amazing devices out there. Does the Droid Razr set the new standard for smartphone design and performance? Read on to find out.
Motorola Droid Razr review: Is being thin enough?
- The design is jaw-dropping. It's thin, light and feels like an ultra-premium product. Redefines my expectations.
- Verizon 4G LTE rocks: it's fast, consistent and everywhere I want it to be.
- Some Motorola-specific software features are nice.
- One-handed usage can be kind of awkward.
- The camera and its software are clunky.
- Battery life is still iffy.
Motorola and Verizon are billing the Droid Razr as "impossibly thin" and this is one time where I'm going to agree with the marketing mumbo jumbo: the Droid Razr is amazingly thin and redefines my expectations for what's possible with smartphone design. I'm not going to get too hyperbolic because, at the end of the day, it's still a full touchscreen slate and some of the design choices lead to an awkward in-hand feel but I do have to give Motorola credit for packing in so much horsepower in something so thin.
If you're the type of person who values the look of your phone above all, then the Motorola Droid Razr is probably for you. At just 7.1 mm thick for the majority of the device, the new-age Razr is almost absurdly thin. There's a slight hump where the camera module is, so just think of it like the Droid X2 but much thinner, lighter and with more of a high-end look.
Here at IntoMobile, I see all the latest smartphones and it's tough for many to stand out because, in general, these just are full touchscreen slates. I wasn't at the Droid Razr unveiling but when I actually opened the box and played around with it, I was very impressed with how thin it it yet how it manages to pack in so much horsepower. It's also extremely light and some have said this makes it feel "cheap" but I dig the weight and how it's distributed. That hump does make it a tad bit top heavy but it's by no means out of proportion.
Unfortunately, it appears like the majority of design effort went into getting it "impossibly thin" and not on the actual in-hand feel - the individual feel of the screen, sides and back casing are great but there's something lost when you combine it all and try to use the phone with one hand on the go. The bottom corners are slightly rounded but there's an uncomfortable edge to them that doesn't feel great in the palm of your hand, particularly if you're right-handed. It's not about the size of the screen either, as Samsung has shown us that larger displays can be comfortable in your hand as long as the bezel is thin enough.
The 4.3-inch qHD display takes up most of the face of the device but there's a lot of real estate on top and bottom of it. We've had issues with Motorola's qHD displays before and the Droid Razr isn't a dramatic improvement but only pixel junkies will really notice. We're still fans of the Retina Display and the wonderful things Samsung is doing with the Super AMOLED Plus screens but the Droid Razr should be satisfying for most of you out there. It's bright and as responsive as you would expect from a capacitive touchscreen of this quality but that dreaded graniness can pop up with some text.
Above the screen is a notification light, front-facing camera, speaker and a dramatically silver Motorola branding which really pops. Below the screen you'll find the four standard Android buttons and a microphone. The dark grey frame looks nice but part of me believes there is too much extra space on the face of the device, although I'm making the phone longer was the only way to get it this thin. I'll take that tradeoff.
The thin right spine has a single-piece black volume rocker about mid-way up and a silver unlock/power button is just above it. Both are pretty responsive but I would have liked some more travel back on the unlock button considering you interact with it so much. The bottom is clean while the left spine has a well-integrated flap for accessing your microSD card and your SIM card slot - Verizon 4G LTE uses SIM cards. On top, you'll find the standard headphone jack, microUSB port
There's a soft-finished Kevlar backing that feel soft to the touch but should be able to stand up to a pounding. One of the reasons the device is so thin is because you can't remove the battery which might be an issue for some of you but, again, I'll take that tradeoff for the thin design. Motorola's logo is front and center on that back cover and the 4G LTE and Verizon brandings can be found underneath it. The hump at the top of the device is not as dramatic as previous Motorola devices and it only protrudes slightly. Here you'll find a speaker, the 8-megapixel camera and a flash.
The Droid Razr is not a perfect design by any means but it is legitimately innovative - all other phones will seem fat to me after handling the Razr. While there are still some quibbles with it, I think it's the most exciting design of a phone we've seen since the iPhone 4. Well done, Motorola.
Guts And Glory
What's exciting about the Droid Razr isn't just its thickness, it's that Motorola was able to throw in so much horsepower into such a thin frame. The Droid Razr has nearly everything you'd want in a modern smartphone, as it sports a dual-core 1.2 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, 4G LTE support, an 8-megapixel camera, GPS, Bluetooth and more. The only thing lacking is an NFC chip but I'm still of the belief that NFC payments and other features won't be an important factor in the U.S. mobile market for at least three years. Yes, it's pretty much the same innards as the Droid Bionic but it has a much more exciting form factor.
The Droid Razr shows that there is plenty of room for innovation in hardware design and it raises the bar for what we should expect in our high-end devices.
The Droid Razr comes with Android 2.3.5 and if you've never used Android before, it's a great platform for making and receiving phones calls and texts, browsing the web, handling your messaging through multiple means, watching videos and more. In general, Android lacks a bit of the visual consistency and polish of iOS but it is far more flexible and open to being customized than nearly anything else out there. The Droid Razr will be receiving Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in early 2012 and by that time, Google may own Motorola, so I'm hoping that this will lead to a quick and smooth update.
The Droid Razr uses Motorola's custom user interface which is not being called MotoBlur but it's MotoBlur-tastic. I'm not going to call this bad because visual sensibilities come down to personal preferences but I'm just not big fan of many of the tweaks. It's not enough to make me not like the Razr or not recommend it to someone looking for a high-end Verizon 4G LTE phone but just so many things about the visual aesthetics bug me. It's just lots of little things from the loading gear animation to the way that the dialer app is lit up but I'm not in love with some of the custom UI Motorola has done. To be fair, things like re-sizeable widgets came from Motorola's customization and I still think its pull down notification window is neat with its transparent effects.
Beyond the custom user interface stuff, Motorola has added some neat software features which could make the Droid Razr stand out. The Zecter purchase has led to the MotoCast software for tunes (I'll cover that in the multimedia section), the software keyboard is excellent and I'm really digging the Smart Actions feature. This allows you to set automatic tasks to make your life easier. For example, you can set up your phone to automatically know when you're at work thanks to geolocation and it can do things like set your ringtone to silent. Some of the preset examples include loading up the news for you in the morning, open the Maps app and adjust to a car-friendly mode when you're drive. You can also set up your own things by inputting triggers and specified actions. I think it's very neat if a tad clunky and my mind is racing about the possibilities of future versions that have Siri-like voice command inputs.
The Motorola Droid Razr comes with a bunch of preloaded software and many of these can't be uninstalled without rooting the device. That's annoying. The device comes with the Amazon Kindle, Flash Player, GoToMeeting, MotoACTV, Netflix, Quickoffice, Slacker and a host of Verizon apps including the VCast stores and the NFL Mobile app. You can also augment your device with apps from the ever-growing Android Market, as well as third-party app stores like Amazon's. As I've said before, I tend to find the iOS app selection to be a bit more polished and there are still some iPhone-only apps out there but Android app makers are not as far behind as they used to be.
Despite my distaste for the Motorola custom user interface, I'd be lying if I said it truly detracted from the overall performance. I've loaded it up with apps and things remain fairly smooth thanks to the dual-core processor and newbies should be pleased with what Android offers. Die-hard Android fans will probably want to wait a few weeks for the Android 4.0 experience on the Galaxy Nexus but people looking for a powerful device that can handle your e-mails, browse the web, play music and make calls should be pleased with the Droid Razr.
Web Browser, Multimedia And Camera
The Droid Razr is capable of using the Verizon 4G LTE network and I've found this to be the best 4G in the United States. I've consistently seen 8-10 Mbps down in and around my apartment in San Francisco and have even seen peak speeds of 15 Mbps in other parts of the city. More importantly, my previous experiences with the 4G LTE network have shown me that it is super-fast and consistent in the markets where there's coverage and Big Red is doing a great job of expanding availability.
The Motorola Droid Razr has a few tricks up its sleeves when it comes to multimedia and it's a more-than-capable device for audio and video pleasures. The Zector acquisition leads to the MotoCast wireless syncing and streaming music solution and I've found this to be a neat way to manage and play your tunes. The default Motorola music app also offers the ability to buy tunes, get podcasts and Internet radio. I prefer using Google Music for this type of music experience but I know that it's not fully available to everyone. Slacker is preinstalled on the device and when you throw in Spotify, Pandora, Stitcher, Mog, Rdio and other music streaming services, you can quickly make the Droid Razr an audio-playing beast. It's too bad that the external speaker is tinny and a bit distorted but I always use headphones, so I'm not too concerned.
Videos look solid on that 4.3-inch screen but not as clear as on an iPhone and not as bright and beautiful as on a Super AMOLED Plus display. You'll be able to find multiple video sources though, as you can use the Netflix app to easily stream videos on that 4G LTE connection and the Verizon V Cast stores actually have a decent amount of things to watch. It's pretty comfortable to hold in landscape mode too, so watching videos during your commute should be doable.
I've had a streak of amazing smartphone cameras that can truly replace your digital camera without a sweat. Whether its the iPhone 4S, Amaze 4G or the Galaxy S II lineup, we now have excellent cameras in our pockets which have virtually no stutter lag, produce stunning pictures and are simple and easy to operate. Sadly, the Droid Razr isn't one of those devices but it's still an adequate 8-megapixel camera.
The Droid Razr essentially has the same camera as the Droid Bionic so it suffers from the same issues as Motorola's last 4G LTE cameraphone: images don't have the clarity and focus that other phones provide, focusing takes too long and low-light performance isn't great. To be fair, I do kind of like how your picture options are overlayed over your viewfinder, so you can still capture a spontaneous moment while you're fiddling with settings. The front-facing camera is capable of doing some video chatting and some self portraits but it's a 1-megapixel camera, so don't expect much.
Call Quality And Battery Life
The Droid Razr provided good voice calls in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, as the calls came through clearly but callers reported a slight bit of distortion in my voice. They could tell I was on a cell phone and didn't say it sounded bad but it's not as clear as some of the other phones out there. Verizon voice and data coverage has been excellent in the testing areas but your mileage may vary.
The Droid Razr has pretty decent battery life ... for a 4G LTE phone. It's much better than the first crop of devices we saw like the HTC Thunderbolt but don't expect much more than about 7-8 hours. If you're using a lot of the 4G LTE for things like streaming video and audio, expect that figure to drop even further. We're still in the early days of 4G LTE technology, so if you buy a Droid Razr, make sure you have a second charger at your work. Remember, you can't get to the battery, so carrying a spare battery is out of the question.
The Final Take
The Motorola Droid Razr is an eye-catching device that really shows that we're not done with how we can design high-end phones but should you buy one? Motorola's latest smartphone is entering an extremely-crowded field of amazing devices and its super-thin design does make it stand out from the crowd, even if its camera, software version and Motorola's custom user interface don't blow me away.
If you're on Verizon or thinking of switching to it, you also have the option to get an iPhone 4S and soon the HTC Rezound and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The iPhone is the iPhone, so users who want that will likely not be swayed by the Razr. The Rezound should provide a better camera experience and the Beats Audio support will be good for audiophiles and the Galaxy Nexus should have a better display and the latest version of Android.
Is this much different than the Motorola Droid Bionic, which just came out a few months ago? Beyond the super skinny frame, the Droid Razr is not much different but that physical appeal of the device is important to many, many people. The appeal of the Droid Razr is simple: if you want the best-looking device that is packed with enough hardware to be future proof for the next few years, then this is the smartphone for you.