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Motorola (Droid) RAZR M Review: The Best Non-Giant Android Phone

Android phones have been getting bigger and bigger, but that’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. As Motorola said at unveiling of the Droid RAZR M, some people just want a smaller phone. Does this phone, designed to fill that niche, still deliver on performance?

What Is It?

The Droid RAZR M is a relatively small and thin Android phone that will be known in Australia as simple the RAZR M. The mid-range smartphone will initially be a Telstra exclusive and is expected to launch here by the year’s end.

Who’s it For?

People who want an Android phone that fits into skinny jeans.

Design

Super solid — hard metal body, laminated Kevlar back and 4.3-inch Gorilla Glass. Dense and very thin with no bezel. Just 8.3mm thick.

Using It

It’s fast. Call quality was excellent on Verizon’s LTE network in the US, and the speakers are nice and loud. Motorola’s UI skin is pretty close to plain Android, which is a good thing.

The Best Part

The size. The main differentiating factor isn’t a gimmick — it feels good to use. 4.3 inches is plenty big for most purposes, and you can reach every part of the screen without straining your thumb.

Tragic Flaw

The camera. The results are terrible — reds bleed together, it struggles with contrast, the focus is inconsistent, image stabilisation is basically non-existent and tap-to-focus doesn’t adjust the brightness. It’s possible to take a nice, sharp shot, but it’s tougher than it should be. Click for sample photos/video.

This Is Weird…

The back has two panels. The larger Kevlar panel and a smaller glass panel where the camera is. It’s very reflective, almost mirror-like. Maybe for helping you frame your self-portraits?

Test Notes

  • The 4.3-inch screen is pretty low resolution. 960×540 gives it a pixel density of 256ppi. There’s a noticeable drop-off coming from a 720p screen. That said, it’s not a bad screen, it’s just nothing to write home about.
  • This phone got some of the fastest speeds I have ever seen come through 4G. Peaks of 29Mbps download and 18Mbps upload. That’s three times faster than my cable internet, which makes me want to cry. We’ll be keen to see how its performance stacks up on Telstra’s network.
  • This phone actually has NFC! That’s not something you generally see in a “mid-range” phone. We were able to use Google Beam to send photos, sites and maps back and forth.
  • It’s pretty incredible that Motorola crammed a 2000mAh battery into this thing. It always made it past midnight, even with gaming, GPS usage and other abuse. It’s not the 2500mAh battery on the forthcoming RAZR HD or the dreamy 3300mAh battery on the RAZR MAXX HD, but it’s still very good.
  • On the software side, it comes pre-installed with a fair amount of bloatware. Most of it is stuff you can disable or just ignore. Most of Motorola’s customisation is inoffensive, but there are some settings that are on by default and lead to excessive notifications. Also, while you can reorder the pages on your desktop, you can’t choose to make another page the default.
  • The phone only has 8GB of built-in storage, which will fill up pretty fast for some people. There is a microSD card slot, so you can theoretically add another 32GB or 64GB of storage.
  • Got caught in a major downpour with this thing and it worked just fine, giving some credence to its “splashproof” claims.
  • There is the occasional lag and stutter. It ships running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), but Motorola says it will receive the Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) update by the end of the year. We got to play with one running an early version of Jelly Bean for a second and indeed it seemed much smoother. We’ll have to wait and see if Telstra and Motorola can deliver the update on time in Australia.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, especially if you’ve been wanting a smaller phone that still has plenty of horsepower. But the camera is a downer. And if you do a lot of reading, gaming or video watching on your phone, you might want to go with a larger 720p screen. The Droid RAZR HD (also coming to Telstra) and MAXX HD (no plans for Australian release) with their prettier screens and bigger batteries will certainly be tempting (especially if they have better cameras than this one). All in all, this is a terrific phone for not too much money.

Motorola (Droid) RAZR M

• Network: Telstra (launch exclusive)
• OS: Android 4.0 (Android 4.1 coming)
• CPU: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4
• Screen: 4.3-inch 960×540 Super AMOLED Advanced
• RAM: 1GB
• Storage: 8GB + up to 64GB microSD
• Camera: 8MP rear / 0.3 front
• Battery: 2000mAh Li-Ion
• Price: $US549 outright, Australian pricing TBC