Motorola Droid Razr M

The Motorola Droid Razr M is a mid-range Android smartphone from Motorola and designed for those who want something that works, won't break the bank, but still fits comfortably in their pocket - not everyone wants phones with huge screens, don't you know. But can the Razr M be just that? We've been testing one in New York and London to find out.

Design

Around the size of an iPhone, albeit slightly taller, the Droid Razr is a lot more masculine in its design than the Apple iPhone 4S. The aluminium frame helps to exude that feeling, as does the Kevlar backing and Motorola's use of visible screws down each side, in black (it's also available in white) there's a meanness about it. That meanness is due partly to there being very little material on the front of the phone aside from glass and metal.

The big trick of the Razr M is that it has an edge-to-edge display with little room for a bezel or anything else. In reality that means Motorola has fitted in a screen much bigger than the iPhone (4.3-inch vs 3.5-inches) and it certainly makes a difference. Combined with its AMOLED technology, the screen really stands out against the competition.

On the right side is a dedicated power button, and volume controls. The left offers micro-SIM and microSD slots along with micro-USB socket for charging. The top houses the 3.5mm headphones jack - a good location for this, in our view. 

At the rear there is a Kevlar backplate and the 8-megapixel camera. The camera unit is housed in a glossy mirrored panel which sits uncomfortably with the rest of the design. It would have been much nicer if the Razr M followed the styling of the new Razr HD and let the Kevlar flow around the camera lens and flash. Ho hum.

The phone is light, the materials nice to touch, and the build quality excellent. It feels good in the hand and that's important, with the Kelvar giving a unique and strangely soft touch to what is quite a cold device.

Specs

Press the power button and the screen spurts into life, shining with all its vivid colours. It's the same screen that Motorola already uses on the original Razr, which launched last year. That means a 4.3-inch qHD 540 x 960 Super AMOLED Advanced screen that's both very crisp and very bright. The colours are strong and vivid and whether you are surfing the web or watching a TV show you won't be disappointed. Given that the screen is so large and the chassis so small it makes the iPhone 4S screen look rather pathetic in comparison.

Of course there are those who will say the screen technology is now a year old and with a better quality screen to be found in the Razr HD and Razr Maxx HD and that you shouldn't settle for second best. That's fine, but neither of those phones is aimed at the mid-range market and neither of those phones costs $99 with a contract.

But it's not just about the screen, the Ice Cream Sandwich running smartphone packs a dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage (of which just 4.5GB is available to you) and the usual array of aGPS, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and 4G connectivity - to enjoy Verizon's 4G network.

To power all this is a 2000mAh battery, which in itself means absolutely nothing, but the important thing to know is that it Verizon promise around 20 hours of mixed usage. In our tests we were able to do around 24 hours with light use, and around 15 with heavier use. As is always the case, it depends how you use the phone as to how long the battery will last. On the whole though, if you use it normally, rather than as a rabid dog with a penchant for 4G web surfing, you'll easily get to the end of the day with no issues and possibly even to the office the next morning, if you're lucky.

Software

Having a phone capable of doing lots of tricks is one thing; doing them is sometimes completely different.

For the most part Motorola, which is now owned by Google, has left well alone in the customisation of Ice Cream Sandwich on the Razr M. That's not to say it delivers a completely vanilla experience of Android 4, but the tweaks it HAS made, we think, are for the better and have a minimal impact on how the phone performs. 

The first minor difference is the removal of the home pages normally found on Android smartphones. Realising that having seven empty home pages is confusing to new users, Motorola has ditched them as standard, leaving you just the one to start with. That's not to say you can't add them, and sliding to the right from the home screen gives you the chance to create a blank page or start with a template, but it does save that initial, "Where's that app gone?" moment we know some new users have.

Sliding to the left also gives you a new treat: quick access to settings allows you quickly to adapt and manage your phone's settings. It's a nice trick and very iPhone (iPhone users get to swipe left to reveal search). It's also very different from other Android phones that let you swipe left and right to reveal home pages rather than just to the right as is the case here, but whether it really saves you any time over Samsung's quick access to settings -  accessed via swiping down - is still to be seen. Being able to customise the page to reveal available Wi-Fi networks might have been a bit more useful, for example.

Motorola has also included Google's Chrome browser as standard, and it's the default browser for the Motorola Droid Razr M. That's good news as it is a great browser, and comes with a number of features we love, like being able to sync with the desktop version of Chrome, as well as offering incognito browsing for when you need to surf the web for Christmas presents.

Then there is the time, weather and battery widget that lets you see just that at a glance. The widget is "playable" - pointlessly so - but you'll find yourself constantly wanting to spin the clock widget to switch from digital to analogue faces.

And if all that sounds too confusing, or a little too daunting, then Motorola has you covered there too. It has added a very helpful help app that guides you through set tasks as if they were quests in a Dungeons and Dragons game.

While you could argue that by having the app Motorola and Google is admitting that Android is way too complicated for those who have bought this phone, it should save anyone from having to feel they don't want to bother those more knowledgeable by sounding stupid.

The help app does everything from explaining why you might want to use the phone's Bluetooth capabilities, to showing you how to turn off your phone. It's certainly going to appeal to first-time Android users and the guidance it offers will save them having to ring others to act as tech support. 

The software tweaks combined with ICS make the Razr M a very easy-to-use phone. That, added to what is a fairly beefy set-up (aside from storage), and the phone zips along with little trouble. It might be entry-level, but there isn't any lag. Apps open quickly, games run smoothly, it's a nice experience.

Aside from the tweaks to Android, the Motorola Razr also has plenty of its own features to excite. We especially like Motorola's "smart actions" which allow you to automate certain tasks. Those include everything from silencing your phone when it knows you are in a meeting, to turning off data sync at night when you aren't using your device, to save battery.

Camera

The Motorola Droid Razr M sports an 8-megapixel camera and that comes with 1080p video capture too. It's not the best camera on the scene, but it's not dishwater either. The Razr M proves itself more than capable of snapping pictures of the kids as they brighten up your life.

In our tests around London, after picking up the phone in New York City, the camera proved fast and easy to use. We are very happy with the test shots. 

4G

We were able to test the Verizon 4G network around New York and were impressed by its speeds. Surfing the web is a lot quicker than 3G connectivity and that as Verizon is always keen to point out, makes you a lot more productive.

Verdict

The Razr M doesn't attempt to punch above its weight, instead preferring to sit in the mid-tier and get on with the task at hand. In that respect it does a good job. The design is compact enough to sneak into a pocket or clutch bag without being Samsung Galaxy S3 huge, and the battery life and software specs help deliver good performance too.

Motorola has said that the Razr M will be getting Jelly Bean in the near future - combating the usual complaints about upgradability and we can't see why this wouldn't only enhance what is on offer already.

Yes there are bigger phones out there, yes there are better phones out there, but if you are on a tight budget and want a decent phone that delivers, this might just be what you are looking for.



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