review There’s a new top-end Motorola model in town, and on paper it ticks all the boxes which a high-end smartphone buyer would want in mid-2012. From 4G support to a dual-core CPU and a vibrant large display, the RAZR HD appears to have it all. But does this latest addition to the RAZR family do enough for the money? Read on to find out.
Like its major rivals in the Android camp, Samsung and HTC, Motorola has been evolving a distinct design sense of its own in its recent models, and the RAZR HD continues that trend. As with models such as the RAZR V before it, the RAZR HD is lovely little slap of black, dark grey and steel colours, melded together in a way that reminds us of the most expensive dark grey business suits that money can buy.
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the RAZR HD is how stark and simple its front is. Unlike Apple’s iPhone, there’s no physical button on its front, and the RAZR HD even eschews the little icons marking where its capacitive buttons are below the screen. You just get a flat black oblong, with a small Motorola logo at the top of the screen (it can light up in different colours for certain functions) and a small front-facing camera to the right of it. To be honest, we would have preferred it if Motorola had lost even its logo from the RAZR HD’s front – if you’re going to go for minimalist, why not go all the way? – but as it is, the touchscreen design makes a marked impression which we really liked.
The second thing you’ll notice when you pick up the RAZR HD is how nice its rear cover feels. Made from a robust Kevlar material and in a diagonal stripe/squares pattern, the rear cover of the RAZR HD simply feels lovely in the hand. When you run your fingers over it, you’ll feel a material which is slightly velvety, and a bit reminiscent of the polycarbonate materials which have made models from HTC and Nokia famous over the years. But there’s also just something a little different. Something which does provide a grippy surface and yet feels smooth at the same time. It’s hard to describe precisely what the feeling is, but we’re sure you’ll like it.
Apart from these two factors, much of the rest of the RAZR HD is as you would expect from a modern, Android-based smartphone. There’s an on/off button on the right-hand side, above the normal volume rocker, and the left-hand side contains, pleasingly, a combined recessed slot that can take both a SIM card and microSD card. Next to it is the normal micro USB socket; but we were also pleased to discover a HDMI jack. On the top of the RAZR HD sits a 3.5mm headphone jack, and the camera is in the normal place on its back.
Now, it is perhaps hard to illustrate how nice the RAZR HD feels in the hands with words, but this is a smartphone which is truly more than the sum of its parts. There’s something about the lovely slim steely sides of this model that goes perfectly with its velvety Kevlar back; something about its slightly octagonal corners which differentiates it from the normal square or gently smartphones we see so often. Its buttons are thin, but not too thin, and they go well with the rest of the RAZR HD’s design. Overall the model is slightly heavier than we’re used to – at 146g (the HTC One XL is 129g, for example, and the iPhone 5 is 112g). It measures 69.9mm by 131.9mm by 8.4mm.
We get a lot of smartphones to test at Delimiter, and in the past few months we’ve had some standout models with great physical design; the HTC One XL comes to mind, for example, and Nokia’s Lumia series. Then too, Samsung’s Galaxy S III screams quality all over, and we’re also testing Apple’s iPhone 5 at the moment. So we know quality when we see it. So you’ll know that we’re not exaggerating when we say that the RAZR HD has build quality and design integration which matches those devices. It doesn’t exceed them; but finally Motorola has put together a smartphone which we just love to fondle; and that’s a good thing.
We should note one caveat here: This is not a smartphone for teenagers or the more frivolous amongst us. The RAZR HD’s physical design appears to have been put together with a business aesthetic in mind; it’s not the sort of phone we’d expect to see in a classroom or near a beach. But if someone was to whip it out in a darkened lounge bar in Sydney’s financial district, it would fit perfectly in place. It’s classy and businesslike.
Like its design, most of the features of the RAZR HD are top end. Its touchscreen is a Super AMOLED HD model; it’s 4.7” and runs at a resolution of 1280×720. Its main camera is an industry standard eight megapixel model, and its front-facing model is a 1.3 megapixel model. It comes with 1GB of memory and 16GB of storage space (expandable with a microSD card up to 32GB – we always love this capability), and its CPU is a 1.5GHz dual-core model. Perhaps most importantly, the RAZR HD supports 4G speeds on the 1800MHz band being used by Telstra and Optus (although Telstra has an exclusive on selling the phone until the end of 2012). We find it really hard to recommend any high-end smartphone without 4G in Australia right now, so we’re really glad to find this feature here. The battery is a 2530 mAh model, which is solid. All of this is good news. The RAZR HD’s features list puts it right alongside other high-end rivals.
However, there is perhaps only one feature on which we can fault the smartphone: The lack of the latest version of Android – version 4.1, otherwise known as ‘Jelly Bean’. Once you’ve tested Jelly Bean on a device (we used it on the Nexus 7 tablet), you just don’t want to go back to using Ice Cream Sandwich, which is the version of Android included with the RAZR HD. Thanks to the ‘Project Butter’ work which Google carried out on the operating system over the past year, Jelly Bean is simply so much faster than Ice Cream Sandwich that it blows it out of the water. Quite a few apps – such as Gmail, for example, just function better under Jelly Bean, and the sooner Google can convince all of its partner manufacturers to start shipping it, the better. Adding to the urgency is the fact that some manufacturers, such as LG and its Google-branded Nexus 4 handset, are starting to ship the next version of Android – version 4.2. This will bring even more new features to Android.
Now, of course very few smartphones currently ship in Australia with Jelly Bean included, and like companies such as HTC, Motorola will doubtless eventually issue a Jelly Bean upgrade to the RAZR HD over carrier networks. However, at least one of the RAZR HD’s main rivals – the 4G Samsung Galaxy S III – does ship in Australia with Jelly Bean enabled, and we would have liked to see the operating system update on the RAZR HD too, given that Motorola is actually owned by Google.
In general, the RAZR HD performed very solidly in our testing on all benchmarks, and we have to say that we were more than satisfied with it.
The user interface of the RAZR HD is pretty close to stock Android, and we have to say that this is a great thing. We wish more manufacturers would follow this approach; as much HTC’s Sense and Samsung’s Touchwiz interfaces are flashy, we’ve never found them as purely functional and useful as the basic Android experience; and we also would like to see more user interface consistency between different manufacturers, to enable us to switch more easily. There are a few small Motorola flourishes here and there on the RAZR HD, but it feels pretty stock Android to us. The dual-core processor and ample amount of RAM means applications perform smoothly and the user interface is very responsive.
The 4G performance of the RAZR HD was solid, and we had no problem taking full advantage of Telstra’s 4G network in the Sydney CBD, which we normally see range anywhere up to 35Mbps.
In terms of the RAZR HD’s camera, it feels like a pretty stock eight megapixel model – the kind which is being used everywhere in high-end smartphones at the moment. Some manufacturers, notably Apple and Nokia, put a huge amount of innovation into their phone cameras, and get marginally but noticeably better results than the competition. We don’t feel that Motorola is doing the same, but the camera included with the RAZR HD is certainly more than serviceable, and we don’t think you’ll have any complaints. A sample shot is below. The only minor complaint we had is that the RAZR HD appeared to produce photos which were a little dim, but we don’t see it as an issue. Click the photos below to see larger versions.
Apple iPhone 5:
HTC One XL:
Motorola RAZR HD:
The RAZR HD’s battery is a standout compared with the competition. The HTC One XL, for example, has a 1800 mAh model, while the 4G Galaxy S III comes with a 2100mAh model. In comparison, the RAZR HD comes with a substantially larger model, coming in at 2530mAh. This, no doubt, is one of the main factors behind the RAZR HD’s larger profile than either of those two models – it’s a degree thicker; but it also translates into better battery life.
We’ve been using the One XL personally for several months, and our recommendation at this stage is to leave it on the charger whenever possible – and you’re going to need to fully charge it every day and a half if you’re using 4G. In comparison, the RAZR HD lasts a bit longer, pushing out close to a couple of days of light use. It also lasts longer – a few days – on standby, but again, if you leave it on a desk for a week, don’t expect to come back and find it still active, as with Nokia’s Lumia line. To sum up: The RAZR HD has good battery life for a 4G phone, but battery life on 4G phones is still not that great. If you can, turn off 4G speeds in the settings if you don’t need it. We haven’t finished testing the iPhone 5’s battery life, so we can’t do a direct comparison with that model just yet.
It’s a bit chunkier than its main rivals, but it has better battery life than its Android compatriots and its build quality, specifications, design and performance are all top-notch. The RAZR HD is a solid all-rounder top-range Android smartphone, and one we really liked. If you’re in the market for the best high-end smartphone on the market, this is one model which should be on your list for consideration, alongside the 4G Galaxy S III, the One XL, the Lumia 920 and the iPhone 5. This is a solid smartphone and the best model we’ve seen from Motorola for a while. With the addition of Jelly Bean – which should be coming soon – we think many people, especially in the business market, will be very happy with this strong performer.
Image credit: Motorola, Delimiter