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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Motorola Razr reviewed

Looks like an old friend got a big-time makeover.

Sometimes a phone just gets it right.

Motorola has re-introduced its Razr line of mobile phones. And while the new Razr bears very little in common with its predecessor, the built-in features blow the old Razr – and many other smartphones – out of the water.

The Motorola Razr is a mere 7.1 mm thick -- or thin.

After unboxing the Motorola Razr, two things immediately strike you. As expected, the smartphone is thin – thinner than any other smartphone I’ve ever held or seen.  The second thing you notice is its size: this sucker’s big. When holding the phone next to my iPhone, the size difference is even more profound.

The giant 4.3-inch qHD Super AMOLED advanced screen is simply brilliant. As with the Stratosphere I reviewed recently, the OLED, or organic light-emitting diode screen has two very important advantages over traditional LCD screens that are used in most phones, including iPhones.

First, they are capable of producing truer, more saturated colors. Greens, blues and reds seem to pop. This is especially noticeable if you hold the phone next to another phone with a traditional LCD screen with the same photo loaded on both. Those primary colors are not just brighter, but seem more real. These screens are capable of producing hues that just can’t be generated on LCDs. And, mark my words, OLED is a term you will be hearing a lot about in the next few years.

The second advantage of the Super AMOLED screen is that it is capable of producing darker, truer blacks. This may not sound so special, but it helps increase the contrast of the phone, and when you juxtapose that with the richer primary colors, it’s rather impressive.

Don’t let the thin frame fool you. Motorola decided not to skimp when it came to hardware. The Razr is one of the most turbo-charged smartphones on the market. Tightly packed inside that slim body is one of the fastest processors on a smartphone today: a 1.2 GHz dual-core OMAP 4430, made by Texas Instruments, along with its own video co-processor. The phone comes with 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of built-in storage, which can be expanded with a built-in microSDHC card slot.

The phone also comes with an HDMI port for viewing pictures or videos on a high-definition TV.

My only complaint with the hardware is with battery life. The battery is rated at 12.5 hours talk time; however, while using the phone, I found it to drain a bit quicker. And standby time – rated by Motorola at an average of 13.5 days – is definitely overstated. My phone would go from a full charge to nearly dead in about 2 days. Perhaps I could have done more to help with this by turning off Wi-Fi, etc. while it was in standby, but it still seemed rather quick to me. But, having a phone this thin must require some hardware sacrifices, and batteries definitely take up a  bulk of the space inside a phone. 

This photo was taken with the Razr's
 built-in 8 MP camera. Unfortunately,  
the colors aren't very sharp.
The Razr also comes with a high-definition 8 MP camera with auto-focus that is capable of recording 1080p video. While it is nice having an 8 megapixel camera on your phone, I did find the auto focus to be a little slow finding its subject, and the pictures were average at best. The camera comes with built-in editing tools, including crop, rotate, brightness, color, enhance, flip, resize and effects. However, I was not impressed with the quality of the pictures taken by this phone. Outdoor shots seemed to have very pronounced edges, as if they were over-sharpened. Indoor pictures lacked saturation - or color level. Please see my photos for examples of what I'm talking about.

Some shots had enhanced edges  
that seem to be over-sharpened.  
The phone also comes with other standards you’d expect in a smartphone today, such as built-in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and works on Verizon’s 4G service, which I was able to test while in Charleston this week. While running a bandwidth test on Android's version of Speed Test, I was able to get download speeds of over 10 MBps and averaged well over 8 MBps while using the 4G service.

Primary colors (reds, greens and blues) are brilliant on the Razr.

While not nearly as advanced as Samsung's Galaxy Nexus (look for that review next week), the Motorola Razr does come with Android version 2.3.5, or Gingerbread. And whether you like it or not, the phone comes loaded with several apps ready to run out of the box, including YouTube, Amazon Kindle, Google Search, Blockbuster and several games, such as Let’s Golf 2 and Madden NFL 12, which is a little difficult to play in a small format. I like all the apps, but buying a phone that’s already loaded with three pages of apps could be a turnoff for some.

On top of the preloaded apps, I also downloaded Facebook and Netflix, to name a few. Netflix movies loaded very quickly, and the video quality was top-notch on the Super OLED screen (see image). Android’s Facebook app is a little difficult to navigate, but maybe I’m just used to the iOS (iPhone) version, and I found the virtual keyboard to be a pain in the … uh, fingers. Even though the screen is much larger than the iPhone 4 screen, I found myself constantly hitting the wrong keys, which is something I rarely do on the iPhone. A minor complaint, I know, but it’s annoying nonetheless. 

Overall impression
If you will allow me to state the obvious here: Not all phones are created equal. And the Razr definitely stands out from the crowd. The brilliance of the late Steve Jobs was that he was able to step inside the minds of his consumers a bit and think like a user: How would I want to use a phone? What apps would I want? How would I want it to look? I think Motorola was on the right track here with the Razr. The earlier version of the phone, which became ubiquitous in the mid 2000s, was the first phone that had that “I have to have that” buzz. If you didn’t own a Razr back in 2004 or 2005, then you probably knew somebody who did.

That’s what Motorola was trying to recapture here - some of that Steve "Jobsonian" magic; and for the most part, they got it right. The big difference? The first Razr had one thing the new one doesn’t: affordability. And that’s a big one. The Motorola Razr averages around $300 with a contract, about $550-$600 without one.

Back in 2004, I bought the first Razr for $50. And with the economy teetering on the edge of recession, price is still one of the biggest deal-breakers for consumers.  Now, if Motorola would take a cue from its earlier self and drop the price a bit, they could have the biggest thing since, well, the Razr.