Review: Motorola RAZR HD
Just in time for the end of the year, Motorola has brought their new flagship Android phone, the Motorola RAZR HD, to Telstra, packing an extra-large battery and 4G LTE speeds in a 4.7″ package. Is this new RAZR enough to overcome the current kings of the Android hill? Read on to find out!
|Great, solid construction||Weak camera performance|
|Nearly stock Android, and added software is useful||LTE is still a battery hog|
|Incredibly fast processor and network||Accessing SIM and SD slot is inconvenient|
|Great battery life (on 3G)||Occasional lag spikes|
|Good screen||Can get quite warm with heavy use|
WHAT WE LIKED
Motorola has a reputation for incorporating solid hardware in their flagship phones, and the RAZR HD continues the trend. Not once did this phone feel cheap or fragile. The phone is a glass, metal and Kevlar sandwich. The volume rocker and power button are both made of metal, and feel like they’re built to last – there’s no wobbliness at all in any part of the construction. I’ve had this phone in a pocket with keys and coins and there’s no evidence of any damage whatsoever.
The phone is also very comfortably proportioned despite the 4.7″ screen; it’s still a tad large for the average jeans pocket but not dramatically so. Overall, plus points for the construction and hardware design – definitely above the Galaxy S III, and I would take this over the One X’s hardware but that’s much more a matter of personal preference.
Since Google’s buyout of Motorola, there has been a strong shift in how Motorola has pushed its devices. Gone is the hideous, bloated Motoblur of old; replacing it is a very lightweight skin that is as practically close to stock as one can get.
The only customisations are on the lock screen, home screen, camera interface, and several apps, including tutorial apps and a Tasker-like Smart Actions. Chrome is preloaded as the default browser on the RAZR HD, which is a big plus in my eyes.
Smart Actions is genuinely useful – it suggested it automatically preserve power by killing off unnecessary background services and connectivity when I forgot to charge my phone overnight – and while it’s not as powerful as Tasker it is definitely a worthwhile addition that those less familiar with the Android ecosystem would appreciate. Finally, Swype is preloaded (yes!), and works very well on the large screen. There is some cruft (ahem, MOTOLOUNGE), but overall I’d have to say Moto has done an excellent job with adding value through their software instead of bloatware, while keeping a consistent user interface.
The combination of top-of-the-line parts and very light software customisations means only one thing: speed. Since the customisations are so light to have practically no impact on performance, performance is generally excellent most of the time; others I have handed the RAZR HD to have commented that it feels faster to navigate and operate than their respective One XLs and Galaxy S IIIs.
It’s not just speed, though – the oversized 2500 mAh battery makes a substantial difference in getting through the day. At the launch event, Motorola advertised the RAZR HD as “the all-day phone”, and it largely lives up to that promise; I’m finding I still have close to 50% battery life left by the end of a day with moderate usage, when mostly out of 4G reception (4G radio left on). This battery life promise does come with a caveat, though; which I’ll explain later in the review.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE
During the launch event, Motorola spent approximately zero minutes talking about the camera on the RAZR HD on stage, and I can understand why. My one biggest gripe with the RAZR HD’s software is the camera interface and performance.
There are additional features added, such as HDR, that do work well, but at the expense of many settings I would consider vital, such as selecting image size and white balance. The camera is slow to focus and has a ridiculously loud shutter sound, which cannot be turned off in any way – great for knowing you’ve taken a photo, rubbish for taking candid photos on the street without scaring everyone.
Video isn’t any better; the specs suggest 1080p resolution but you wouldn’t know it from the video output quality. The front facing camera isn’t much to write home about either. Overall, image quality is passable (see full size samples attached), but if you’re looking for a camera phone, look elsewhere.
(Addendum: The full-size images are 6MP, not 8MP – I’ve left the default settings on, which reduces the capture area to 6MP to fit the widescreen aspect ratio of the phone screen.)
THE BATTERY DRAIN IN 4G MODE
While I’ve noted that battery life overall has been excellent, I do have to take issue with battery life when running in 4G LTE mode. While the combination of Telstra’s 4G network and Motorola’s expertise in radios results in great speeds – I measured on average 25 Mbps down / 16 Mbps up and peak 50 Mbps down / 25 Mbps up speeds – the price paid is in severe battery drain; I could see the battery widget clock down my life at a concerning rate despite the oversized battery.
I doubt one could make it through a whole day with 4G connectivity and background data usage. Turning off 4G in Settings-More-Mobile Networks-Select Network significantly slows down battery drain in 4G areas for when you don’t need the blistering speed.
The other concern with battery life is overnight battery drain, about 15% over 8 hours, which is a touch more than comparable Android phones, but Smart Actions was able to suggest an action to conserve battery overnight and limit the damage.
THE SOFTWARE ISSUES
Although performance was very good overall, there were a couple of lag moments – particularly with heavy multitasking, such as with 10+ apps open; the RAZR HD also had some lag spikes with third party app launchers such as Apex. The other software issue I noticed was one occasion where the phone home screen seemed to hang for a long time (on the order of minutes) after turning off mobile hotspot connectivity, but I’ve not been able to reproduce it – although other reviewers have reported more frequent lag spikes. Perhaps the software isn’t completely polished yet, which is a minus compared to its competitors who have been out in the market for quite a while now.
The design of the RAZR HD is certainly not what one would call revolutionary; but then, it doesn’t need to be, since overall it is a very good design. The phone exterior is essentially a glass, metal and Kevlar sandwich, and actually is somewhat reminiscent of Microsoft’s Zune HD music player in profile view. The front facade of Gorilla Glass is only broken by the Motorola name at the top, a notification LED bar just below it (blue and green, I’m yet to see red show up), a front-facing camera to its right, and a minuscule microphone hole at the bottom of the glass panel.
Otherwise, there are no hardware buttons or any other markings to speak of on the front – which makes the phone look pretty sleek. There is a hard but unobtrusive plastic rim around the edge of the glass, presumably to provide a little protection against corner or edge drops. Around the metallic rim surrounding the sides of the phone, the headphone jack is to the top-right corner on the top of the phone; the power and volume buttons on the right side, two Torx screws on the bottom, and a micro USB, micro HDMI, and hidden micro SIM and micro SD slots on the left.
The Kevlar back has a zig-zag two-tone black and grey visual texture, while being soft to the touch. The rest of the back features the camera, an LED flash, a speaker grille and a Motorola logo, and the requisite regulatory markings are practically camouflaged. Overall, an understated, yet classy design.
The screen quality is very good. It’s exactly the same 720p Super AMOLED HD panel used in the Samsung Galaxy S III, and while it does use a PenTile subpixel matrix, it’s unnoticeable in everyday use. One has to look uncomfortably closely at the screen to discern the graininess of the PenTile screen; at normal viewing distances, it’s a non-issue. Colours are obviously as oversaturated as AMOLED screens traditionally are, but again it’s not a huge issue in everyday usage. (Unless you’re critical on colour accuracy, in which case I’ll have to ask why you’re doing colour critical work on a phone.)
The home screen and lock screen customisations are also worthwhile. The default lock screen looks better than the stock Android lock screen, and, while it cannot be customised to show more information like the one in HTC Sense, features a four-way unlock area that can be used to launch the camera, phone or text messaging apps as well as unlocking the phone. The home screen also gets useful changes; swiping to the left brings up a quick settings page with access to the most commonly changed settings; and swiping to the right (or pressing the home key on the first home screen) allows the user to add and remove homescreen pages as necessary. Finally, the default Circles widget shows time, weather and battery life, while providing easy access to missed calls/texts, alarms and battery management.
The RAZR HD can get quite warm with heavy use; while I haven’t managed to replicate the 40+ degree Celsius temperatures claimed by commenters, heavy multitasking or graphically intense tasks do cause the phone to heat up quite noticeably. That being said, it’s well controlled – my Nokia Lumia 800, in comparison, heats up to the point of discomfort with heavy GPS navigation use; I suspect the lower-power 28nm process of the Snapdragon S4 chipset, compared to the 45nm process of the older Snapdragon S2 in the Lumia 800, is the reason why temperatures are still manageable.
There are a couple of aspects of the RAZR HD’s hardware and software design that I find inconvenient. Firstly, the micro SIM and microSD slots are behind a cover, which needs a pin to open, much like the iPhone; I’m not a fan of design, and would prefer a design that lets me get to the SD card if a pin is not handy. Secondly, the toggles in the Quick Settings panel appear identical to the ones in the settings application, but cannot be swiped; they have to be tapped, and the inconsistency is mildly frustrating. Finally, the 16GB on-board local storage cannot be mounted as USB mass storage when plugged into a computer; only the external SD card can be, which is frustrating for managing files from a computer.
|OS||Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 (1.5 GHz dual-core Krait, 28 nm, Adreno 225 GPU)|
|Screen||4.7″ Super AMOLED HD, 1280 x 720 pixels|
|Camera||8MP rear, 1.3MP front, 1080p video recording|
|Storage||16GB, 12GB user accessible, microSD expansion up to a 32GB card|
Overall, while the camera means this isn’t the right phone for me, the Motorola RAZR HD is definitely the right phone for a lot of people out there. It’s a phone I’d be perfectly happy to buy for my dad – it’s got the juice to get him through the day’s work and play, and the right mix of speed and ease of use.
While the moments of lag should be noted, I’m optimistic about the remaining minor performance bugs being ironed out with the upcoming Jelly Bean update before the end of the year. With killer performance and battery life, a solid design, combined with clean software that is genuinely useful to consumers, makes the RAZR HD a worthy competitor in today’s smartphone market, and gets my recommendation.