review It’s back! Motorola’s famous RAZR, the ‘it’ phone that predated the iPhone by three whole years. You had to have owned at least one of them – Motorola certainly flogged enough variations of it before finally (and perhaps blessedly) killing the brand off in 2007.
Competition is pretty fierce in the smartphone space right now, and Motorola has yet to bring out a hero device that successfully competes with the flagship phones from other vendors. Bringing the company’s most iconic phone brand back is a smart move, but it will make as big of a splash as the original RAZR? Read on to find out.
If you’re expecting something that actually looks like a RAZR, ie clamshell form factor, aluminium-clad body and that Tron-like metal-etched keypad, you’ll be disappointed. The new RAZR has more in common with Motorola’s less well-known SLVR, which was a candybar phone that was super-skinny for the time at 10.2mm.
The RAZR is even skinnier at 7.2mm, officially making it the thinnest smartphone so far, although Motorola has cheated a little by having a small hump at the top (housing the camera, speaker, and microUSB and microHDMI interfaces) that sticks out by 11mm. At the same time, the RAZR is extremely wide at 68.9mm, so it’s not the most comfortable phone to grip.
One thing the RAZR isn’t is flimsy. There’s a KEVLAR fibre coating on the back, Corning Gorilla Glass on the front, and diamond-cut aluminium accents throughout. Inside, there’s a stainless steel core and frame to prevent the phone from snapping. A splash-guard coating on the outside is designed to repel water and moisture, although it’s not waterproof or IP67-rated like the Motorola Defy.
The RAZR has a lot in common with the popular Samsung Galaxy S II. Both run Android Gingerbread, are powered by dual-core 1.2GHz processors and 1GB of RAM, come with 16GB internal storage plus microSD expansion, and have eight-megapixel cameras and 4.3” Super AMOLED displays. But there are some slight differences that tip the balance in the RAZR’s favour: it runs the newer 2.3.5 version of Android out of the box (with minor extras like video capability in Google Talk), has a higher qhD (960 x 540) resolution and comes with a microHDMI port built-in.
The RAZR’s screen deserves special mention. After experiencing the superlative Super AMOLED Plus display of the Galaxy S II and the roomy qHD resolution of the HTC Sensation, we longed for a screen that combined both of these attributes into a single 4.3” display, and this is exactly what the RAZR offers. We haven’t been able to get an answer from Motorola as to how the RAZR’s Super AMOLED Advance technology differs from Samsung’s Super AMOLED Plus, but we picked up a few differences by sitting the two side-by-side.
We preferred the colour reproduction on the RAZR, as the colours are warmer, with purer whites and more natural-looking greens, without the bluish cast that plagues the Galaxy S II. However, the Galaxy S II is able to display more details, despite having a lower 800 x 480 resolution. We were able to make out the texture of a baby’s face and the pattern on a black bag, neither of which was visible on the RAZR’s display. But it’s only noticeable when you view photos and movies, and even then, only when you compare the same media to the Samsung’s screen. Overall, we were happy to sacrifice those extra details for superior colour fidelity of the RAZR’s display.
When to comes to actually using the phone, however, we preferred the Galaxy S II. Motorola has never been very good at software (remember the torturous interface on the original RAZR?), and the GUI and software additions that have been added on top of Android, such as icons, widgets, launcher and custom apps, lack the polish and visual appeal that we’ve gotten used to in smartphones from Apple, HTC and Samsung.
Eye candy aside, there are a few things in the RAZR that you won’t find in other Android smartphones The Gallery app can display photo albums from multiple online services like Facebook, Flickr and Photobucket, and there’s a Smart Actions app that lets you automate everyday tasks and maximise battery life (similar to the third party Tasker app). There also a bundled MotoCast app that works well for streaming and downloading your files and multimedia from your desktop over 3G or Wi-Fi.
Before we jump into the RAZR’s performance, we should note that our review unit was running pre-production software, so the benchmark scores and bugs we encountered may not be same as on the shipping units.
In day-to-day use, the RAZR was quick for most things, but it lagged in a few key areas. The preloaded Swype keyboard (which is active by default) was occasionally sluggish, and more than a few times we had to press letters three or four times before the keyboard caught up. There’s also a slight delay when you move from the homescreen to the apps launcher and when bringing up the multi-tasking window – complaints that may seem petty, but when you do it dozens of times a day, it’s a lag that gets old very quickly. The camera is slow to start up as well, notwithstanding the fact that there’s a shortcut to get to it from the lockscreen.
The RAZR’s call quality is above average for a smartphone. The earpiece is loud enough to hear in noisy environments, and it produces reasonably clear, if not occasionally crackly, voice quality. While it’s exclusive to Optus until next year at least, it supports quad-band 3G, so it’ll also work on Telstra’s and Vodafone’s 850MHz networks. Its main weakness is the low volume of the speakerphone – even at the maximum setting, we struggled to hear callers while we were driving, and it’s even harder to hear when you’re in a public setting. This shortcoming is puzzling given how loud and powerful the speaker is when you’re playing music and movies.
One of the concessions that Motorola had to make in getting the RAZR so skinny was opting for a sealed battery. Thankfully, it’s a good-sized 1780mAh battery, and we were able to get close to 26 continuous hours of medium usage before it ran out of juice. You’ll be able to squeeze even more out of the battery by taking advantage of some of the power-saving settings in the Smart Actions app. It also uses the smaller microSIM format, making it the third smartphone now that uses one, after the iPhone 4 and the Nokia N9.
The new-age RAZR may not be a game-changer like the original, but it’s nevertheless one of the most impressive smartphones we’ve seen yet. It has the best screen currently available on a mobile device due to the triple threat of the 4.3” size, qHD resolution, and Super AMOLED Advance technology. It packs all the latest technologies like a dual-core processor, eight-megapixel camera and microHDMI, and Motorola has confirmed that it will be offering an upgrade to Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) sometime next year. And despite being the world’s thinnest smartphone, it’s remarkably durable.
Is it better than the Galaxy S II that it seeks to emulate? We’re not so sure. It does a few things better, but overall, the Samsung Galaxy S II offers a better experience. The RAZR may be thinner, but it’s also wider to the point of being awkward to hold, and in day-to-day usage, you tend to notice the latter far more. The Samsung also feels far more responsive; its TouchWIZ UI isn’t our favourite Android customisation, but it’s laughably better than Motorola’s software.
The RAZR is available from today exclusively through Optus for $0 on the $59 Optus Cap Plan. If you get it on the $79 cap, you get a bonus ‘Work, Play and Drive’ kit.
Jenneth Orantia turned her back on a lucrative career in law to pursue her unhealthy obsession with consumer technology. She’s known for having at least half a dozen of the latest gadgets on her person at a time, and once won a bottle of Dom Perignon for typing 78WPM on a Pocket PC with a stylus.
Image credits: Motorola