Motorola RAZR review

Motorola’s return to the RAZR name is a very interesting Android phone. It’s big, featuring a high resolution 4.3″ 540×960 Super AMOLED Advanced screen, plus it looks slightly strange with its squared corners, KEVLAR back panel and the raised bump around the back which houses the 8megapixel camera sensor.

Inside you get a dual-core 1.2GHz TI OMAP4 processor, an incredible 4GB of app storage space and, in the case of this model, an onboard media partition giving you 8GB of space for music and photos and whatever else you dump on there.

This model has been supplied for review by Expansys, which is selling the RAZR for £429 at time of writing.

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The RAZR is very wide, with a large amount of bezel to the left and right of the screen making it feel absolutely huge in the hand. It manages to make the 4.2″ Xperia Arc feel like a tiny little thing in comparison.

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We love the back of it, though. The raised camera sensor bump is one of the new RAZR’s nicest design features, giving it a bit of a retro 1970s hi-fi look. And that’s the power button, which is a big, chunky, silvery thing, easy to access and in just the right spot high up on the right-hand edge.

It’s little bit odd that there’s no physical camera button, though, on a phone that’s trying so hard to do and be everything.

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It’s a superbly designed body. There’s a tiny rubberised seal that runs around the centre of the sides of the phone, which makes it much easier to hold than the slippery Galaxy S II, plus there’s a nice little door that hides the SIM and SD card slots.

The RAZR takes Micro SIM cards, though, so you’ll need a new one – or to take the risk of snipping an existing one down to size.

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And the Gorilla glass screen feels great, very smooth and solid, plus there’s a slight curve to the edges of the glass which adds a little extra style to what could’ve been a very boring big black lump of a phone. The capacitive touch buttons work well, and they’re automatically backlit when the sensor detects low light.

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The actual display takes some getting used to. It’s what Motorola calls a “Super AMOLED Advanced” unit, which delivers very high contrast. Although we found it a bit dark and gloomy, plus there’s quite an obvious mesh effect layered over the top of everything, meaning text isn’t quite as sharp as you see on the likes of the Galaxy S II or HTC Sensation.

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Also, the colours are a bit unpredictable. From some viewing angles everything has a blue tint, from others it’s a little yellowy. It’s not a deal breaker, but we did find it quite distracting. Also, Motorola’s added a brightness fading effect to the Home screen slide transitions, which again throws you a little when paging from screen to screen.

But it’s a superbly responsive phone to use, with the dual-core power doing a great job of keeping the Home screens and Motorola’s huge widgets, running smoothly.

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The user interface is Android 2.3.5 with a toned-down version of Motorola’s MOTOBLUR interface layered over the top. Which means you get resizable Home screen widgets, plenty of custom Motorola software tweaks onboard and some good DLNA integration.

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The Notifications field lets you dismiss individual notifications, binning some while saving others for actioning later. That’s nice. You also see plenty of “Smart Actions” notifications pop up here, which is Motorola’s own phone management system.

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Smart Actions is a big part of the RAZR experience. It mimics functionality of numerous time and location-based phone management apps, letting you switch off power-hungry features overnight, automatically start playing music when you plug your headphones in, mute everything when you’re at work and much more.

It’s simple to use and set-up and is one of the highlights of Motorola’s additions to Android.

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You can even set-up stupid Smart Actions. So our phone now opens the calculator whenever its battery level gets to less than 10% and opens Wikipedia when someone plugs in a pair of headphones. If nothing else, you could completely confuse a thief.

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Another highlight and the best widget by far is Motorola’s pull-down Contacts bar (top left), which is an animating collection of icons populated with any contacts you’ve starred as Favourites. Swipe it downwards and it tumbles to fill the screen, bringing up the full-page list of your favourite contacts. It’s by far the most visually impressive thing Motorola has put on here.

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The rest of the widgets are a bit of a mess. Different sizes, different colours, some with headers and some without. The social networking aggregator (right) is pretty useful, supporting lots of accounts like Flickr, YouTube, Last.fm and LinkedIn, but it’s a bit clunky. And with only five Home screens, we ended up begrudging giving such a bland widget an entire screen to itself.

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But some widgets can be resized on the fly, with the customary long-press to move and delete them transforming to a resizing bar, allowing you to scale them to a degree, just like on the Galaxy S II. But only some let you do this – the Music player widget can’t be resized. But the bookmarks widget can. Again, this kind of weird inconsistency can get on your nerves.

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That’s the overview (left), which pops up when you tap Home when on Home Screen #1. Also, there’s one other nice tiny little customisation – the option to select a task to launch when you double-tap the Home key, no matter where you are in the phone’s menus or what app you’re in.

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Apps inside the app drawer can be hidden from view, which makes organising collections nice and easy. You can also create your own sub-groups of apps, accessed through a drop-down menu, even giving your groups a little custom icon. It’s one of Motorola’s more thoughtful and elegant options in the RAZR’s user interface.

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Swype is pre-loaded on here as the default keyboard, and it runs beautifully on the hardware. If you don’t like Swype, there’s a dark-themed standard keyboard on here too, with long-press number characters, predictive text and support for Google’s commonplace voice transcribing tool.

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The email app is a pretty standard option, with ActiveSync (through Motorola’s compatible Corporate Sync option) and POP3 support. There’s a combined inbox, plus integration with Motorola’s MOTOPRINT app, which lets you browse your home networks for connected printers and print out your emails.

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Web performance is excellent. Embedded Flash content doesn’t slow page scrolling at all, and you can ping sites around at great speed even when a YouTube clip is streaming. It’s the best web speed we’ve seen this side of the Galaxy S II, and although Motorola’s interface tweaks aren’t particularly attractive…

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…there is a special bookmarks/history/recent scrolling tabs view that appears when you’re leafing through your online history in landscape mode.

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The custom photo Gallery also looks pretty boring. There’s some good new functionality in here, though, with the RAZR pulling in Facebook photos from any Facebook friends you’ve synced through the Contacts import feature, which is handy if you’re a big user of the social network.

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There’s also a pretty powerful photo editing tool on here which is a nice bonus, letting users add the usual array of pointless photo-ruining filter effects, plus you’re able to crop and rotate pics, mess with the colour balance, resize and apply an “enhance” effect which automatically sharpens pics up a little.

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As for the camera, it’s an 8megapixel model, with Motorola adding a simple and in this case quite pleasingly minimal skin to the Android camera app. You get a few common options like geo-tagging, digital image stabilisation when recording video, a digital zoom in both still and video modes, yet more photo effects you’ll literally never use…

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…manual scene selection, a manual exposure level, slider, a self timer, plus a photo-stitching Panorama option.

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The Panorama mode is excellent, stitching together shots pretty much seamlessly and working much more reliably than the temperamental software stitch tool found in Sony Ericsson’s latest OS update.

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There’s also an impressive “Multi-shot” option, which captures six shots in about the same time it usually takes to record one, with no noticeable drop in picture quality. That’s something we’d use all the time.

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Photos are OK. Colours aren’t that bold or bright, but we quite like the results. Detail’s good, even on organic things, plus it handles low-light well.

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What is very good is the secondary front-facing camera (left), which outputs shots at 720×1280 resolution and manages to be much brighter and bolder with colours than the main sensor.

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The customary macro mode example.

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One with the flash. Does a good job. It’s nice camera all round. Still definitely second best to the Galaxy S II, but quick and easy to use and in the same ballpark in terms of quality with the best out there today, as far as we’re concerned.

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Here’s a still from a 1080p video. The RAZR records 1080p footage at a solid 29.5fps rate, and we don’t really have any complaints. We never bother recording in 1080p anyway, as the resulting enormous file sizes are too much to bother with. But it’s there if you want it.

We’ve put an unedited 1080p video sample on line here [65MB] if you’d like to see it in action.

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You also get a selection of “Audio scenes” in the video app, which let you fiddle with the audio recording features. It’s a simple, usable app, that’s quick and straightforward.

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Media playback. Motorola’s put a welcome file manager app on here, so actually finding your video clips and rummaging through folders is simple. Video codec support is a bit patchy, but it did manage to playback a few AVI files, but no joy with high-def MKVs.

Motorola says it’s capable of playing H.263 and H.264 content, along with WAV files and MP4s, so the potential is there if you find a file format that suits.

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The music player contains more Motorola customisations, most notably integrating third-party software from Shoutcast and Tunewiki. Shoutcast provides built-in support for streaming internet radio, which is nice to have as a default option, while Tunewiki automatically looks up and displays lyrics for the currently playing track.

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There’s also DLNA support within the music app, with the Menu option “Play on another device” popping up Motorola’s built in DLNA tool, letting you ping tracks to another device on your home network.

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You can also bore people with endless spamming of social networks, with built-in support for pinging out updates to Twitter and Facebook, as if people care about what you’re listening to at any point in time. And that’s the music widget to the right, there.

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You may be wondering what that wallpaper is. It’s an animating Live Wallpaper called Forest, that pulls in weather data, giving you an animating backdrop of current conditions. It’s nice. There are others, but they’re more edgy, American sort of things, all bold colours and angles, as you’d expect from Motorola.

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Oh yes, the telephone stuff. It has all the numbers from zero to nine. We like that joke. It also auto-completes stored numbers if you type the first few digits, which is a simple way of bypassing the Contacts section entirely if you’d rather do it “old school” by remembering the phone numbers of people you know.

Voice quality is good. Very loud through the earpiece and onboard speaker. Although we’re still not happy about having to cut up a PAYG SIM to test this out. A phone this big doesn’t need to use a Micro SIM.

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Other things! Lock-screen music controls that pop up when you press the power button and touch the album art of the currently selected track, plus that’s what the Calendar app looks like in Motorola’s world.

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Battery life. By default, the RAZR and its social networking widgets and email accounts check far too regularly. Remove the social widget and the phone lasts surprisingly well for its size – we easily got a full day of use out of it, and that was hammering the thing heavily. As you may know, the RAZR’s 1780mAh battery is sealed inside the case, so there’s no option to replace it with a spare.

And app memory is colossal – how does 3.6GB of free space sound? Amazing. It sounds amazing. A big feather in Motorola’s cap, there.

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GPS. The RAZR got us a Google Maps location in about 20 seconds or so. It’s fantastic at scrolling and zooming around Maps, too.

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Miscellaneous things. Data checker and the option to have apps automatically shut themselves down after two minutes, via the RAZR’s own task manager.

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Blimey, is that the right time? Better stop.

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So anyway. Let’s summarise. We wanted to really, really love the RAZR, because it’s quirky and different. In the end, we only like it quite a lot. It feels like a solid, well made piece of hardware, but Motorola’s software is a little inconsistent and rough around the edges.

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It’s fast and robust in use, no doubt about that, but HTC, Sony Ericsson and Samsung have been making Android phones this good for the last year and a half. So while the RAZR is an impressive piece of kit, there’s no real reason to consider it as an upgrade to anything currently out there.

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That said, we’ll be sad to see it go. The Motorola RAZR has a charm about it you don’t get from many phones these days. It’s a proper enthusiast’s mobile that’s powerful and innovative in places, and is going to build up quite a cult following because of it.

HARDWARE: 9/10
Very solid and nicely made. The screen feels great to the touch, the body of the phone is tough and nicely designed, with a grippy rubber trim and that soft, tough KEVLAR back making it a nice thing to hold and stroke adoringly. It’s pretty big, though, a rather wide “two hander” of a thing.

SOFTWARE: 7/10
Motorola’s user interface isn’t as over-the-top as it was on last year’s Moto Android phones, but it’s still not what you’d call pretty. Large, mismatched widgets make the Home screens look a little tatty, but it’s a compromise worth making if you want resizable widgets, great sharing tools and Motorola’s clever Smart Actions management app.

PERFORMANCE: 9/10
It’s pretty amazing. Web use is up there alongside the blisteringly fast Galaxy S II, while general app performance is great and the Home screens and menus fly around without any glitch. The thought of seeing Android 4.0 on here at some point in 2012 is quite exciting.

OVERALL: 8/10
Physically, we love it. It’s perhaps a bit too wide and we did feel slightly silly using such a huge phone to take photos in public, but it’s different and solid enough that it’s always enjoyable to use. That said, the camera, software and screen aren’t quite as good as the options found on the Galaxy S II, or Xperia Arc, or many HTC models, so unless you’re a huge fan of its physical design there are no particularly killer reasons to actually own it.

And thanks once again to Expansys for the phone. It’ll sell you a Motorola RAZR for £429 if you are in any way excited by the above.

6 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. Rik Hemsley

     /  November 24, 2011

    That baby looks like Gary Cutlack off of the internet.

    • Gary_C

       /  November 24, 2011

      That “Take 37 Years Off” photo filter does a great job.

  2. Mr Anonymous

     /  November 24, 2011

    Awww. Was hoping it would be a phone you really love, instead it’s one you just really like. Decisions, decisions! Great review though.

    Can’t decide between the Razr and Sensation XE!

    • Gary_C

       /  November 24, 2011

      You should try to have a go on a RAZR in a shop somewhere, as the screen’s very different to the HTC ones.

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