Nov. 7, 2011 at 12:32 PM ET
By Mark Spoonauer
If you're going to revive the venerable RAZR brand for an Android phone, you had better bring it. And Motorola definitely does for the Droid RAZR, which sports the thinnest profile of any smartphone and a gorgeous Super AMOLED Advanced screen. Priced at $299, this slim stunner for Verizon Wireless also boasts serious speed in the form of a dual-core processor and 4G LTE connectivity.
Sorry, the Droid Bionic is officially obsolete (yes, already), but is this the new king of the Android hill?
The Droid RAZR is equal parts super thin, tough, and elegant. Measuring 0.3 inches at its thinnest point, this 4.5-ounce device has the lowest profile of any handset on the market. The Samsung Galaxy S II and iPhone 4S measure 0.4 inches. The Droid Bionic tapered from 0.4 to 0.5 inches, making that phone look positively bloated in comparison. However, like the Bionic, the Droid RAZR has a bulge that protrudes at the top that houses the speaker and camera. Although the 4.3-inch screen gives the Droid RAZR a fairly large footprint, we barely noticed it in our pocket.
Thanks to a Kevlar Fiber back, a scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass screen, and even a water-repellent coating, Motorola has crafted a very durable device. It felt very solid in our hand and not the least bit slippery. The Droid RAZR is also quite the looker, thanks to diamond-cut accents (such as the Motorola logo above the screen) and angled corners. We especially like the soft-touch finish on the back, which has a cool zig-zag pattern.
Motorola calls the 4.3-inch display on the Droid RAZR Super AMOLED Advanced, as opposed to the Super AMOLED Plus screens on the Samsung Galaxy S II line. "Advanced stands" for the extra resolution, as the panel on this phone packs in more pixels (960 x 540) than the Samsung (800 x 480).
When we put the two handsets side by side, the Droid RAZR fit more headlines from The New York Times website on the screen, but the S II delivered a slightly brighter picture when we played The Avengers trailer on YouTube. We also like that Samsung squeezed a larger 4.5-inch display into a design that's nearly as thin, at least for the Sprint and T-Mobile versions of the S II.
Regardless, whether we were enjoying photos, videos, or games, the Droid RAZR's panel delivered high-contrast and rich colors, such as the bold red in Thor's cape. Plus, you get fantastically wide viewing angles. Just keep in mind that this screen isn't as bright as traditional LCDs. We had more trouble making out the dialpad in direct sunlight on this phone than on the Droid Bionic when we held them up together, and the Droid RAZR had more problems with glare.
Some may want to wait for the sharper and bigger 4.7-inch 720p screen on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but the Droid RAZR's display is certainly one of the best that Motorola has ever put in a phone.
You might expect such a thin smartphone to produce weak sound. And you'd be wrong. The Droid RAZR's back-mounted speaker got surprisingly loud when we cranked Linkin Park's "New Divide" on Slacker. We also had no problem hearing the female voice in Google Maps Navigation when we got spoken directions from Brooklyn to New Jersey.
Like the Droid Bionic, the Droid RAZR is powered by a 1.2-GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB of RAM, yet we found the RAZR to be the swifter performer both anecdotally and in benchmark tests. For instance, the Droid RAZR notched a CPU score of 3,802 in the Benchmark app, compared to 2955 for the Bionic. That's also better than the Galaxy S II (3,341).
Everyday usage backed up these results. The Bionic was a step behind the Droid RAZR on some tasks. It took a half second more for the Bionic to open the app menu and to show all apps when we pressed and held the home button. In addition, the Droid RAZR took 2 seconds less to load the same Google homepage over Wi-Fi.
However, while the RAZR let us flick through home screens quickly, it took longer for this phone to launch the app menu and show all open apps.
4G speeds and Web browsing
The good news is that the Droid RAZR is capable of fantastic 4G speeds. In one Brooklyn location, the phone averaged 12.3 Mbps downloads and 5.8 Mbps uploads, slightly above Verizon's claims of 5 to 12 Mbps down and 2 to 5 up, respectively. Our problem with the device is that it took the phone longer than the Bionic to latch onto a 4G signal when traveling out of a 3G area. Still, that's better than the Bionic's tendency to drop both 3G and 4G data altogether at times.
The two phones were pretty much neck and neck when downloading websites, with a slight edge going to the Droid RAZR. The RAZR took between 3 and 7 seconds to load the mobile versions of NYTimes.com, ESPN.com, CNN, and Yahoo, compared to 6 and 7 seconds for the Bionic in the same location. Both handsets took 10 seconds to pull down the full desktop version of NYTimes.com, which is fast.
One of the most unique features of the Droid RAZR is MotoCast, a program that lets you stream or download files from a PC over the web to the smartphone. The underlying technology is similar to what Motorola provided on the Bionic, but this device takes things a step further by integrating the functionality into multiple apps.
For example, we could stream iTunes tracks from our computer right to the handset just by firing up the Music app and tapping My Library. Provided your PC is powered on and connected to the web, you can listen to your tunes remotely. We also loved that we could pull up any one of thousands of photos from our computer from within the Gallery app — neatly organized by date in a carousel interface. Downloading each photo took a few seconds, however, even over a Wi-Fi connection.
MotoCast also let us open documents such as Word docs within the Files app. Unfortunately, we couldn't play our iTunes videos because they're protected with DRM. Early adopter types might prefer cloud services such as Dropbox and iCloud, but overall MotoCast is a useful and well-designed app.
If you're going to spend time tinkering with any of the RAZR's pre-loaded apps, make it Smart Action, which lets you create rules to automatically adjust the Droid RAZR's settings. For instance, you can have the phone turn off the ringer when you go to bed (based on your location and time of day) or you can turn on the Workout Smart Action to automatically play music when you plug in headphones.
Smart Actions comes with 10 sample rules you can tweak, or you can create rules form scratch, many of which can save battery life. We created a rule that turned off Bluetooth and cellular data when we got home, because we just wanted to use Wi-Fi.
The Droid RAZR has plenty of entertainment options on board, too, such as Amazon Kindle, Blockbuster, Netflix, and Slacker, plus trials of both Let's Golf 2 and Madden NFL 12.
Camera and camcorder
It looks like Motorola took the complaints about the Droid Bionic's lag to heart, because the 8-megapixel camera on the Droid Bionic is much faster from shot to shot. Although it takes a second or two for the camera's focus to lock on, we were able to capture additional images quickly.
Outdoors, the Droid RAZR's camera took some sharp photos with pleasing color balance, such as the brick facade of an apartment complex's entranceway. Indoors, however, the Samsung Galaxy S II took sharper pictures. We could really tell the difference when we zoomed in on some flowers; the Droid RAZR's image looked fuzzy and indistinct, while the S II's image was brighter and sharper.
The 1080p footage we captured with the Droid RAZR's 1080p camcorder delivered plenty of detail — we could easily make out cracks in pavement from several feet away. We also appreciated the clear and loud audio. Our only nitpick is that the camera had a bit of trouble adjusting from lighter to darker objects.
The Droid RAZR's front 1.3-MP camera supports Google Talk video chat, so we accepted a call from a friend using a MacBook Pro (running Windows) using Wi-Fi. He noted that our face looked very clear, and we could easily make out stubble on his face. Audio was loud and clear in both directions, and it only fell out of sync for a few seconds during the end of our call. This was one of the better video calling experiences we've had on a smartphone.
Call quality and battery life
We've noticed that the Bionic will sometimes produce a rattling sound when making calls through the earpiece. Thankfully, that wasn't the case with the Droid RAZR, which delivered clean audio in both directions. We just wish there was a little more volume through the earpiece. Still, the speakerphone was plenty loud.
The Droid RAZR packs a relatively large 1780 mAh battery inside its slim frame, but we weren't blown away by its staying power. When using the phone regularly (to run benchmarks, surf the web, and download apps), we were down to just 30-percent juice after 3.5 hours. To be fair, though, we had the phone's screen set to 100-percent brightness. In another real-world test, the Droid RAZR's battery was down to 40 percent after an hour of mobile hotspot usage.
The Motorola Droid RAZR is easily one of the best smartphones on any network, thanks to its ultra-thin but strong design and beautiful Super AMOLED Advanced display. The smartphone is also noticeably faster than the Droid Bionic, and it makes the most of its blazing 4G speeds with useful apps such as MotoCast. However, while the RAZR's camera is quicker on the draw than the Bionic's, it's not quite as sharp or as good in low light as the iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S II's. We also wish the Droid RAZR switched from 3G to 4G networks faster.
Many will want to wait to see just how tasty the Samsung Galaxy Nexus — which will run the newer Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS on a larger and sharper 720p screen — is when it arrives on Verizon later this month. And those who prefer HTC's Sense software might want to hold out for the Beats Audio-packin' Rezound. But the Droid RAZR is certainly Motorola's best smartphone yet — and one of the best Android devices on the market.
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