review It’s a little smaller than its bigger brother, the RAZR HD, but Motorola’s RAZR M still packs a punch on paper, with top-end specifications and support for 4G mobile speeds to boot. But can this mid-sized powerhouse perform in the hand well enough to beat the competition? 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 M continues that trend. As with models such as the RAZR V and HD before it, the RAZR M is a lovely little slap of black and dark grey colours, melded together in a way that reminds us of the most expensive dark grey business suits that money can buy. In fact, it’s pretty much a direct replica of the RAZR HD, which we recently reviewed — but its screen size is a little smaller, 4.3″ compared with 4.7″, meaning it fits a bit more comfortably in the hand.
Because of this direct similarity, much of this review will be quite similar to our previous review of the RAZR HD.
The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up the RAZR M is how stark and simple its front is. Unlike Apple’s iPhone, there’s no physical button on its front, and the RAZR M 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 M’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 M 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 M 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 M 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 there’s no HDMI outlet as with the RAZR HD. On the top of the RAZR M 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 M 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 sides of this model that goes perfectly with its velvety Kevlar back; something about its slightly rounded 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 M’s design.
The difference between the RAZR HD and the RAZR M in the hand is subtle, but profound. The RAZR M is quite a bit lighter than the RAZR HD — 126g compared with 146g — which makes it more comparable with competing models such as the HTC One XL (129g) and iPhone 5 (112g). It’s pretty much the same thickness as the RAZR HD (8.3mm compared with 8.4mm), but it’s almost a centimetre shorter at 122.5mm, and almost a centimetre narrower at 60.9mm.
Overall, we’d say that the RAZR M has all the same quality design elements as the RAZR HD, but it’s aimed more at competing directly with the mid-sized form factor which Apple has gotten down pat with the iPhone, rather than aiming at competing with the larger Android phones you see out there these days such as the HTC One XL and the Galaxy S III. One other difference is that its side materials appear more plasticky than metallic. Overall, we really loved the way the RAZR M fits in the hand, and its build quality is excellent.
We should note one caveat here: This is not a smartphone for teenagers or the more frivolous amongst us. The RAZR M’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 M are top end. Its touchscreen is a Super AMOLED Advanced model; it’s 4.3″ and runs at a resolution of 540×960 (qHD). Its main camera is an industry standard eight megapixel model, and its front-facing model is a ‘VGA’ model. It comes with 1GB of memory and 8GB 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. It also comes with an NFC chip.
Perhaps most importantly, the RAZR M supports 4G speeds on the 1800MHz band being used by Telstra and Optus (it’s mainly sold through Telstra at this point). 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 2,000 mAh model, which is solid but not exemplary. All of this is good news. The RAZR M’s features list mainly 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 M. 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 M over carrier networks. However, at least one of the RAZR M’s main rivals – the 4G Samsung Galaxy S III – does already ship in Australia with Jelly Bean enabled, and we would have liked to see the operating system update on the RAZR M too, given that Motorola is actually owned by Google.
There are probably three main issues you’re interested in with respect to the RAZR M’s performance: UI and general performance, camera and battery life.
First, let’s look at UI. Like the RAZR HD, The user interface of the RAZR M 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 M, 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. Certainly we didn’t notice any real difference between the RAZR M and RAZR HD here.
The only caveat we would say is that the RAZR M’s screen can feel a little yellow or off-colour at times — just a slight tinge. It’s especially noticeable when you hold the RAZR M up next to a flagship handset such as the Nexus 4, which we had in our labs at the same time. Likewise, the pixel density on the RAZR M is not where we’d like it to be — if you hold up the phone next to the Nexus 4 or iPhone 5, the RAZR M’s screen looks a little furry.
With respect to camera performance, it’s honestly very hard to go wrong with moderate to high-end smartphones these days and the RAZR M has a solid model. When every smartphone and its dog ships with an eight megapixel monster, and quite a few have additional tweaks built-in, there’s usually not a lot of difference between models.
We shot the below shots (click for the larger versions) on an overcast day in Sydney. Of the lot, HTC’s Windows Phone 8X handset took the best shots, with the RAZR M coming in a little bit dim comparatively, but still solid. Perhaps surprisingly, of the shots we took that day, we liked the iPhone 5’s the least, due to the excess of light it picked up. The shots have been cropped and saved in Photoshop Elements at a JPG level of ‘6’, but otherwise unaltered.
Motorola RAZR M:
Google Nexus 4:
Apple iPhone 5:
HTC Windows Phone 8X:
Huawei Ascend D1:
Battery life for a 4G phone was solid. You’ll probably get through most of a full day’s light to moderate use between charges, but remember that battery life on 4G networks is always a different scenario to that on 3G networks. You will burn through battery if you’re constantly streaming data over 4G. It’s a given. If you want long battery life in a phone, we recommend sticking with 3G models at this point, or at least turning off the 4G chipset.
The Motorola RAZR M is an unusual beast. In its form factor, capabilities and style, it reminds us most of Apple’s iPhone 5. But it runs Android, and most of the Android competition to Apple these days is larger — think about the 4.7″/4.8″ screens of the 4G Galaxy S III, the HTC One XL and even Motorola’s very similar RAZR HD. These are phones which are trying to compete with the iPhone by offering features it doesn’t have — such as larger screens, more dynamic form factors and so on. In comparison, the RAZR M offers pretty much what Apple does with its iPhone 5, and in a surprisingly solid package.
If you don’t want a large smartphone and prefer a medium-sized 4.3″ screen, but you do want 4G and you do want Android (especially if you’re a fan of the stock Android experience), then the RAZR M is a very solid option which we recommend you take a look at. It’s not a cheapie, but it’s got almost all of the guts of larger models, in a more modest form factor and with an Android experience which is pretty close to the stock ideal. We’d like to see more phones along these lines, and we’re sure we’re not alone — nice one, Motorola.
Image credit: Motorola