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Mobile Monday: Motorola RAZR Review

Once upon a time, Motorola captured cool in a bottle with the RAZR brand. Can lightning strike twice for its first Android RAZR?

In some ways, Motorola had its thunder stolen out from under it with the relaunch of the RAZR brand. RAZR used to be iconic, and clearly Motorola’s hoping that some of the positive associations that the brand used to have will transfer to its new handset.

Motorola launched the RAZR on the same day as the Google Galaxy Nexus, another large and high-end Android handset, but one that has the critical market advantage of coming preinstalled with Ice Cream Sandwich. The RAZR’s just “plain old” Gingerbread at this stage, and while Motorola’s fast-tracked to become part of Google in the near future, that doesn’t guarantee that the RAZR will see Ice Cream Sandwich any time soon. It’s an Optus exclusive locally, available on contract starting at $59/month.

What We Like

The thin design. Sure, it’s a little spoilt by the bump at the top that houses the camera and ports, but it’s still an impressive bit of engineering to look at. The bump also makes it relatively easy to hold up to your ear without the phone slipping away. That’s an important design note, as this is a huge handset that won’t suit everybody — more on that later.

It’s also a relatively fast phone for most tasks, and the qHD screen looks gorgeous when playing back video and viewing photos. The fact that Motorola’s made MOTOBLUR more of an add-on than a mandatory part of the phone’s setup process is a definite plus. If you’re a fan of MOTOBLUR — there must be someone out there who is — you’re welcome to it, but here on the sane side of the fence, it’s nice to be able to ignore it.

It’s also a nicely robust unit. The back is Kevlar, the front gorilla glass. It wasn’t present on my preproduction review unit, but the final units should also be coated in a treatment that makes the RAZR actively water repellent. It’d still be a bad idea to take it swimming, but it should mean it’s a phone that can survive the odd bump or splash.

The camera is decent. Just decent, not spectacular, with a very slight tendency to wash out photos when taking quick snapshots.

Specs
130.7 x 68.9 x 7.1 mm
127 grams with battery
4.5-inch 960×540 qHD Super AMOLED touchscreen
1.2GHz Dual-Core
Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread
1GB RAM
8GB ROM
microSD up to 32GB
8MP camera with autofocus, LED flash
1080p HD video recording
1780mAh battery

What We Don’t Like

The thin design. Yeah, I know, this was also in the “what we liked” section, but bear with me. It’s impressive engineering to be sure, but the wide size of the phone, and especially all that wasted bezel space means that you’re still holding a wide phone even if it’s relatively slender. The thickness of the phone doesn’t do a whole lot to aid in ease of use or holding, and the bump means you’re rarely going to aesthetically appreciate its thin nature. Against the flat back of the similar Samsung Galaxy S II, the RAZR feels paradoxically fat.

Here’s some size comparison shots to give you a rough feel of the RAZR’s size, but trust me; you need to get actually hands-on with one to work out if it’s right for you.

RAZR vs Samsung Galaxy S II

That damn bezel. At first, I was just a little surprised to realise that the screen display doesn’t go to the curve at the edge. I’ve now moved on; it’s become that damn bezel. Damned, because it’s a damned shame that it’s there; without it the RAZR would be as thin, but the width would be significantly reduced. Either that, or it’d sport a slightly larger screen, justifying its width. Either way, it’s a crying shame this isn’t so. This is more than just aesthetics; the larger size of the handset makes it trickier to hold when using the camera, as an example. It’s not a problem that everyone will have, but it has to be said; don’t buy the RAZR on sight. Pick one up and make sure your hands are comfortable with it beforehand. In the interests of balance, I should point out that the same is true of the HTC Sensation XL, and will presumably be true for the Galaxy Nexus too.

General stability. I’ve got to tread a fine line here, as the model supplied to me by Motorola was noted as a preproduction unit, with specific mention made of the fact that it lacks the water resistant coating that the final models will have. Fair enough, and I’ve been doing my level best to keep it out of nearby suburban swimming pools. Still, I’ve hit instances of lag and apps crashing with the RAZR, and that shouldn’t be ignored. How much of this is due to it being an early unit is all but impossible to say; I’d hope the final units don’t spend quite so much time waiting to declare (for example) that there’s no response from the Android market.

Verdict

Most phones sell themselves on a mixture of design and features. The RAZR’s feature set marks it out as a high-end phone, but what’ll either sell it or make you scorn it genuinely is the size. If you’ve got larger hands and you want a high end phone it’s a decent choice, as long as you can tolerate that bezel. It’s not alone in the market — there’s an obvious comparison point with HTC’s Sensation XL, which I’m testing at the moment, and the Galaxy Nexus, which I’m hoping to test very shortly indeed.

Would I swap the Galaxy S II for the RAZR? The RAZR’s got a better screen and a better chance of getting Ice Cream Sandwich, but I’d still say the S II pips it purely on physical grounds. That damned bezel gets in the way, making it an uncomfortable phone for me to hold. That aside, it’s a good phone, and Motorola’s been a bit hit and miss when it comes to quality handsets in recent years.