Motorola Razr HD

We'll be honest. We've got HD fatigue, so when the Motorola Razr HD arrived in our office we didn't jump for joy. HD, we thought, big whoop, everything is HD these days, hell, they even make HD make-up for some reason. So what is Motorola up to here? Is this a phone worth considering, or is the firm just treading water?

Part of the question about Motorola handsets at the moment is that its owner, Google, seems disinterested in the current line and people who work there have been saying really unhelpful things like none of Motorola's current pipeline is "wow" and "we've inherited 18 months of pipeline that we actually have to drain right now, while we're actually building the next wave of innovation and product lines". None of it is really a glowing recommendation from the company, and it's actually a pretty miserable way to disrespect the hard work of the people who have built your handsets.

And we've always liked Motorola phones too. Take a look back at reviews from past Razr products, and you'll see that we're usually very enthusiastic about them. So, despite some confusion about why it's "HD" and Google's own attempts to sabotage itself, we wanted to give the Razr HD a fair shake and find out if you should spend your money on it.

Solid design

If there's one thing that has been true of the whole Razr line, it's that the phones are built to survive anything. From a Kevlar weave on the back to solid metal sides, with a Gorilla Glass screen, the Razr honestly feels like you couldn't destroy it without either some explosives or a high-caliber sniper rifle.

The HD is a bit heavy in the hand, but we don't view that as a problem. More than likely, you'll fall into one of two camps on this subject. Either you'll like the weight, and it will give you confidence in the weight, or you'll find it too brick-like and want to go and buy something lighter.

But to look at, we find the HD actually very likeable. It's a bit of a monolith, and the darkness of the design won't appeal to everyone, but it's smart to look at and feels solid in your hand, and that somehow excites us, even now, in a world of increasing product quality.

As you'd expect, there is no way to replace the battery on this phone. Because of the way it's built, a removable battery is not an option. What you do get, on the left-hand side, is a slot with pin-hole, that conceals the microSD card slot, and the micro-SIM socket. A tray holds your sim, while you must take a leap of faith and push your SD card into the phone with your nail. If you have very short nails, good luck with this. The cover is neat though, and apart from needing a pin (provided) to get it out, it's a good bit of design.
Below this on the phone, are micro-HDMI and micro-USB sockets. The former allows you to mirror the phone on your TV and playback video from it, the latter is for charging, and data transfer, as you'd expect.

At the top of the phone is the headphone jack. We like this position, because we have OCD, and putting a phone into our pocket upside down just feels wrong. On the right-hand side there are power and volume controls.

The back of the device holds a speaker grille, the camera and an LED flash. It's all pretty standard, apart from the Kevlar of course. We really like the way DuPont's tough material feels, and it's matte surface means it's a lot more grippy than normal plastic. Compare this phone to the Samsung Galaxy S III and you'll feel more confident holding the Motorola, because it doesn't feel like it's going to fly out of your hand.

Screen

Although 1280x720 isn't a massive resolution by modern standards - 1920x1080 phones are here now - on a 4.7-inch screen, it equates to 312ppi, which is only slightly less than Apple's "retina" iPhones (326ppi). This means that there is LOADS of detail on the screen, and despite being smaller than a Galaxy S3 or a Note II, it's really easy to read text and see what's going on.

As with many phones, the Razr HD uses an AOLED screen. This means you get amazing brightness and colour, but at the cost of accuracy. It's a great screen for doing phone things, but it has its shortcomings when it comes to watching video, looking at photographs or viewing the phone in darker conditions.

Video looks great, as you'd expect with some pretty impressive detail, and despite the OLED colour, for most things it actually works very well indeed. We used Plex to watch some of the video we have knocking around at home, and really enjoyed looking at it. Even though the colours were a little more vivid than our TV, it still makes for good viewing.

3G, 4G and more

The Razr HD supports a decent range of 4G frequencies, including those which will be used in the UK when O2, Vodafone and Three launch their services, to join EE's in the coming months.

In addition to that, it supports 5GHz Wi-fi, which, if your router supports it, can offer you a less-congested, faster home wireless network. We can't get enough of 5GHz Wi-Fi, becuause it's usually so much less busy than regular wireless frequencies. The only downside is that it has a slightly shorter range.

One thing we did notice about the Razr's Wi-Fi is that it seeme to be a bit shaky at times. We had some problems with it not seeing our regular wireless network, and it seemed to go a lot slower at times than we'd expect. This could be some trouble with the way our router managed itself, but it might be worth looking into if you think it might affect you.

As you might expect, the most important part of a phone should perhaps be, the phone. Well, in this day and age, it's fair to assume that making phone calls is one of the lesser activities that a phone will perform. Mostly, it's all about internet services.

The good news is, we love the HD as a phone. Its size and shape are perfect for holding against your head, it's very comfortable. What we were particularly struck by is just how good the call quality was. We tested it on Three, which has a good signal in our area, but the audio from the earpiece was loud and clear. Impressive stuff.

Light-touch user interface

As is the trend with Motorola - even pre-Google buyout - the old customised user interface has sort of gone away, and we're now left with something that's a little bit more like the Jelly Bean standard look.

Unlike most handsets, the multitude of home screens are no more. Instead, you have one by default, on which is a basic set of widgets. We really like these, and weather and time take centre stage, with an addition of a battery meter on the right. It's a really cool look, and we like it.

Swipe right, from the home screen, and what you get is access to the phone's quick settings. Here you can adjust the ringtone muting, and toggle things like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There's also a shortcut here to the full settings menu.

If you swipe left, you'll get the option to add a new home screen. So if you're in need of a lot of screens with app shortcuts or widgets on, you aren't being left out in the cold. We really like this, and the reduction of home screens makes a lot of sense, considering there's almost no point in duplicating the apps from the app tray, and by default on Jelly Bean, each new app install would get an icon both in the app tray, and on a home screen. That's just pointless duplication, and we're glad to see the back of it, frankly.

We also like the fact that there is a "favorites" tray in the apps. We spend a lot of time scrolling around looking for the app we want, because it's got lost in a mass of very similar looking icons. This is a real problem for Android, and it's good to see the Razr HD has a solution for that problem.

As with most Motorola phones of recent times you get access to SmartActions. This is a really nice Motorola feature that allows you to make changes to your phone, automatically, based on the phone's state, or your location, or a mixture.

So, if you're at home, and your battery reaches 25 per cent, then you can tell the device to turn off data and Wi-Fi to save power. Or if you're at work, as determined by the location services, you can have the phone switch to a more professional ringtone, or just vibrate.

It's simple enough stuff, but it's a really good idea and it means the phone works harder to be useful when you really need it to be.

Performance

The HD uses a dual-core 1.5GHz processor to do its thinking, and it pairs that with 1GB of RAM. It's not a top-spec handset anymore, but it's not bottom of the pile either. We found that, for most things, it was fast enough. There were some occasions when we'd be scrolling around home screens to find apps, but we'd get a little stutter when it was happening. It's really not a big deal, and it won't affect your enjoyment of the phone at all.

Also, we played Real Racing 3 on it with no problems. It was smooth and fast, and worked every bit as well as on our Galaxy Note II, with a quad-core processor. It might not be the quickest then, but it's certainly very capable.

We also tested it playing a 720p network stream, which also worked brilliantly. There was no noticeable frame dropping - a sure sign a phone is struggling - and the video looked as good as it does on any quad-core phone we've used of late. 

Camera

We've heard some mixed things about the camera on the Razr HD, but actually, we thought it was okay.

In good light, there was a solid image, which when viewed at 100 per cent size had only a little softness and smudging we'd usually associate with cameras on phones. Things do get a little bit more troublesome when the phone boosts the light electronically. As you can see in the photo of the Facebook mug, there's a lot of noise here, because it was dark and the camera has had to do some work to correct for it.

But overall, it's really not bad, and you can shoot video at 1080p too. Mostly, video is 30fps, but there's also a slow motion mode that will speed up to 60fps at a reduced resolution. With most people using cameraphones to record other people's utter stupidity, this is a clever idea and is likely to be very popular.

Battery

The sealed-in power pack on the Razr HD is a 2500mAh capacity lithium polymer cell. For a phone with a reasonably small OLED screen, this is ample, and you should see some really good life from the phone.

We always avoid being too specific with battery life on phones, because it's impossible for us to give any meaningful information to you about how the phone will last when you start using yours. With that said, we're confident you'll get through a whole day with this phone, under average use.

 

Verdict

So there you have it, we have more faith in Motorola's products than Google CFOs do. While you could argue that the Razr HD isn't a "wow" device, you can't really argue that it's bad, because it isn't. And honestly, we really like its design and feel. It might not be one of the new generation of giaganto-phones that are all the rage now, but it will suit that audience who want smaller devices, with plenty of scope.

It's fair to say that the Razr suffers a bit for not having more processor power. It feels, in this regard, like a phone from last year. But let's not get too depressed about its performance, it does, after all, run Real Racing 3 perfectly and that high-resolution screen might be small, but it's bright, colourful and detailed.

Our main concern is that this is a premium-priced phone that perhaps is out-performed by Google's Nexus 4. And that's a strange problem for Google, as LG made that phone to its specification and has managed to keep the cost far lower than the Razr HD. No doubt, it's things like that which will hurt sales of the HD, but that shouldn't put you off. The Razr has that all-important microSD slot for one, and the battery life is better too.