Motorola Droid RAZR Review

Recently Motorola unleashed a bunch of devices it was keeping up its sleeve, and the latest for Verizon is the Motorola Droid RAZR. A while ago we reviewed the Bionic, which was the first time we got to see 4G LTE connectivity (courtesy of a Motorola Wrigley LTE baseband) alongside a dual core OMAP4430 SoC. The RAZR continues with those two components and brings a new industrial design, a different display, and revival of the RAZR brand itself.

It’s safe to say that both elements of the tech press and a large demographic of end users are starting to wake up to something we’ve known and been talking about for a while now: that unique combinations of SoC and cellular baseband (what I call a hardware platform) define devices, and that often new devices are just iterations of those existing hardware platforms with tweaks to accommodate individual carrier customers (different cellular frequency bands, different aesthetics, different software preloads, etc.). A shaky analogy is to compare it to putting a different case on the same computer or how PC ODMs shop around reference designs. The extra component in the smartphone world is of course carriers, (and the endless variants of hardware platforms that result as a consequence) but there are really only a few different unique hardware platforms that emerge each year.

To that end, the RAZR is an obvious evolution of the Bionic purely because it has the same OMAP4430 SoC (albeit at 1.2 GHz as opposed to 1.0 GHz in the Bionic), the same 3G and 4G basebands (MDM6600 and Motorola Wrigley), and the other same big component choices. The real story of the RAZR is its incredibly thin profile and the new direction in Motorola’s industrial design that it embodies.

I’ve outlined the specs in our usual comparison table for your perusal, and though we haven’t seen them quite yet, the two other devices that are noteworthy for Verizon shoppers right now are the HTC Rezound and the LTE-enabled Galaxy Nexus. 

Physical Comparison
  Motorola Droid Bionic Apple iPhone 4S Samsung Galaxy Nexus (LTE) Motorola Droid RAZR
Height 127.5 mm (5.02") 115.2 mm (4.5") 135.5 mm (5.33") 130.7 mm (5.15")
Width 66.9 mm (2.63") 58.6 mm (2.31") 67.94 mm (2.67) 68.9 mm (2.71")
Depth 10.99 mm (0.43") 9.3 mm ( 0.37") 9.47 mm (0.37") 7.1 mm (0.28")
Weight 158 g (5.57 oz) 140 g (4.9 oz) 150 g (5.3 oz) 127 g (4.5 oz)
CPU 1 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4430 Apple A5 @ ~800MHz Dual Core Cortex A9 1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4460 1.2 GHz Dual Core Cortex-A9 OMAP 4430
GPU PowerVR SGX 540 PowerVR SGX 543MP2 PowerVR SGX 540 PowerVR SGX 540
RAM 1 GB LPDDR2 512MB LPDDR2-800 1 GB LPDDR2 1 GB LPDDR2
NAND 16 GB NAND, 16 GB microSD class 4 preinstalled 16GB, 32GB or 64GB integrated 32 GB NAND 16 GB NAND, 16 GB microSD class 4 preinstalled
Camera 8 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, VGA front facing 8 MP with LED Flash + Front Facing Camera 5 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing 8 MP with AF/LED Flash, 1080p30 video recording, 1.3 MP front facing
Screen 4.3" 960 x 540 RGBW LCD 3.5" 640 x 960 LED backlit LCD 4.65" 1280x720 SAMOLED HD 4.3" 960 x 540 SAMOLED Adv.
Battery Removable 6.6 Whr Internal 5.3 Whr Removable 6.85 Whr Internal 6.7 Whr

The RAZR is absurdly thin, and coming from the Bionic (which when it launched was itself absurdly thin for an LTE device) it’s almost shocking. With the two side by side, this difference is dramatic. Lately there’s been something of a ‘who can make the thinnest smartphone’ war going on between manufacturers, and the RAZR even bests the SGS2 when it comes to its waistline.

Of course, every design decision has a tradeoff, and what the RAZR had to do away with to get to this kind of design profile is the user-replacable battery. Instead, the RAZR’s battery is sealed inside the phone. When I reviewed the Bionic, I made note of the device’s higher than normal Li-Ion voltage battery (3.8 V nominal) and later received word that this is actually a new Li-Ion battery chemistry that Motorola is adopting across its device line. We’ve now seen it in the Bionic, the Atrix 2, and thanks to some teardowns know that it’s inside the RAZR as well.


The RAZR's 3.8V nominal, 6.7 Whr internal battery (courtesy iFixit)

As an aside, people love to talk about how battery tech is going nowhere, but here we have a clear example of a few mass-market devices actually shipping with higher voltage batteries. Now that I know it exists, I want this in everything.

Interestingly enough, the sealed internal battery on the RAZR is 1750 mAh at 3.8 V (6.7 Whr) which is ever so slightly larger than the Bionic’s stock 1735 mAh at 3.8 V (6.6 Whr) battery. Like the Bionic, the battery has a thin profile and extends across almost the entire area of the device. We’ve now seen two different approaches to getting devices ultra thin: dual-sided PCBs that take up about a third of the areal profile (which is what Samsung and Apple do), saving the rest for a thick battery, and the Motorola approach with a single-sided PCB and a thin battery that extends over the entire area.

The result of this design methodology is that the RAZR has a huge areal profile with a lot of bezel at the top and bottom. It doesn’t look like much, but as a result the device feels large in the palm (which is primarily a function again of areal size), but small in the pocket (which is a function of thickness). These are the kinds of tradeoffs that we’re still seeing happen in this slate form factor, one which shows no signs of going out of style.

One lingering question is what you’re supposed to do if the RAZR hard locks - obviously since the battery is sealed inside, a battery pull is out of the question. Thankfully holding volume down and power/lock for 10 seconds reboots the device even when the device is totally unresponsive (which I did in fact encounter once).

Back to purely subjective aesthetics, the front of the RAZR is one continuous piece of aluminosilicate Gorilla glass just like the Bionic, complete with the interesting taper and gap at the edge where it meets the plastic case. I haven’t had much dust settle in here or get stuck, but just like the Bionic it does seem like it’ll happen eventually and warrant a blast with some compressed air. The profile of the RAZR isn’t a square, nor is it rounded at the edges, instead taking on something of Battlestar Galactica’s octagonal paper shape. We’ve seen photos of other upcoming Motorola smartphones emerge with this shape, and it’s clear that their industrial design is going in this octagonal direction.

Between the menu and home capacitive Android buttons is the primary microphone, and at the very top are proximity and ambient light sensors. At the right on top is the RAZR’s 1.3MP front facing camera.

The right side of the RAZR is home to a chrome ringed power/lock button, and below it is a one-piece volume rocker. These buttons are all plastic, but feel pretty good in spite of being very thin. The chrome textured power/lock button helps make it easy to identify with the index finger and is a nice touch.

Up top is the headphone jack, microHDMI and microUSB port. The bulge at the top echoes the earliest Droid X designs with this ever-present bulge which traditionally was to accommodate the camera module. In this case you could make the argument that the bulge now accommodates the camera module and headphone jack, considering its size.

Since the RAZR is essentially sealed, you might be wondering where the microSD and SIM cards go. The answer presents itself underneath a small door on the left side. There’s a thumb gap which opens to reveal that the microSD and microSIM card slot. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Verizon using a microSIM, if you recall back to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 LTE which also used a microSIM, and consider the LTE enabled Galaxy Nexus which will use a microSIM. Thankfully using a microSIM isn’t that big of a deal anymore given how relatively common and cheap SIM cutters and microSIM adapters are now.

The RAZR backside is a bit more complicated. Like most new phones, there are two microphones here for noise cancelation and to support stereo audio recording for video. One is just off-center at the very bottom on a chrome lip, the other is center at the top just to the right of flash.

Of course the most prominent and noteworthy feature here is the kevlar backplate, which gives the RAZR a distinctive in-hand feel and style. The kevlar area is definitely flexible - you can press and poke it with your fingernail - and has a rubberized feeling. The result is better than expected in-hand feel, and not the typical homogenous plastic texture I’ve grown accustomed to after handling lots of Samsung devices. This kevlar region looks nice, feels good, and sounds pretty serious, but don’t be fooled - the RAZR isn’t going to stop any bullets, and its real purpose here is to keep thickness to a minimum. Further, kevlar’s actual valuable material property is in tensile strength, whereas for a back plate I’d wager the more important metric is compressive strength. The RAZR’s plastic frame offers plenty of rigidity and doesn’t yield or flex at all in normal use.

The kevlar backing continues up to the RAZR’s top bulge which houses the phone’s 8 MP camera module, flash, microphone (as we’ve mentioned already), and speakerphone grille. This little area has a reflective chrome region that definitely collects grime but comes clean pretty easily.

I have to admit that I like the direction that Motorola is taking with its industrial design. After seeing a lot of the same from everyone in 2011, this feels like a big departure from previous devices in a good way - the RAZR is freakishly thin (and relatively light) but still has the build quality that makes it feel like it’s worth the high-end price tag and reviving a brand that’s 6 years old. It’s also safe to say that we’re going to see this style and design replicated in Motorola devices coming out in the immediate future, including the Droid 4.

I usually don't give unboxings or packaging much attention, but in this case the RAZR deviates from the standard Verizon 4G LTE box shape and instead is thin and squareish.

In addition Motorola is shipping a different USB power adapter now that's much smaller, square in shape, and has two USB ports, though output per port is at 750 mA as opposed to 850 mA on the previous chargers. 

Battery Life - No Surprises
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  • secretmanofagent - Friday, December 16, 2011 - link

    Brian, have you seen any data connectivity issues that plague the Droid Bionic on the RAZR? It was something Verizon confirmed was a known issue (there was a patch released yesterday but don't know if that addressed that issue) and was happening to me quite frequently. I managed to move from the Bionic to the RAZR because of Verizon, and I've seen some hiccups that looked similar to the Bionic issue (it's the same LTE and CDMA baseband). Reply
  • flyfishin69 - Sunday, December 18, 2011 - link

    I to am an (almost) former owner of the Bionic. The phone will loose all cellular data after coming in contact with 4g and trying to negotiate back to 3g. And especially in the Hagerstown Md. Area where verizon has no 3g service only 4. I would always find the bionic lifeless. I spoke with a verizon rep and he is sending my Razr tomm. Are we seeing these same problems in the Razr? Reply
  • Nfarce - Sunday, December 18, 2011 - link

    Hmmm. I have had the Bionic for three months, since it first came out, and never had a single issue. Here in the greater metro Atlanta area I go between 4G and 3G all the time depending on how far outside the city. I have roamed all over the Southeast while driving and never had a problem either.

    Sounds to me like you just got a lemon.
    Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Monday, December 19, 2011 - link

    Nope, they weren't lemons. Check out Verizon's update:
    http://www.droid-life.com/2011/12/08/droid-bionic-...

    Big one is "Improved stability of data connections on 3G and 4G". Worst part for those who still have it: Verizon says it will "help alleviate" the problem.

    You're only one of three people that I know of who have said they weren't affected, out of about 10-15. Consider yourself lucky.
    Reply
  • Nfarce - Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - link

    Yes I guess I was lucky. I actually had no idea this update was even coming until trying to make a call Thursday evening last week. About the only gripe I had of the phone was the crappy autofocus problem. It seems to be a lot better now. I surmise the 3G/4G issue depended at least to some extent what region of the nation you lived in. Two co-workers have the phone (one got a RAZR and gave the Bionic to his wife) and neither reported problems either. Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Monday, December 19, 2011 - link

    I've seen a couple times like what I had seen with the Bionic, but only momentary losses. Reply
  • loribeth - Tuesday, December 27, 2011 - link

    Both 4G and 3G data drops for me. I live 30 miles north of Indy, which is 3G, but work in 4G territory. The upgrade has not helped and only created other buggy issues. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, December 16, 2011 - link

    I just did a lot of research before picking up a phone this week. The RAZR was among the half a dozen smartphones I considered --until I picked it up.

    I have relatively large hands with long fingers, and the phone is STILL too wide to comfortably hold in the hand. It's actually wider than the Droid Bionic (which I did purchase), and its relative thin-ness makes it less comfortable in the hand rather than more. Making a slightly thicker phone, and using that extra thickness to increase battery size would have actually made it more comfortable.

    Of course, that would make the phone a Droid Bionic. Which is now $100 cheaper due to the RAZR coming out, so you can save $100 and get a phone that's every bit as capable, with more battery options. They also released a major update to the Bionic this week that squashed a ton of bugs.

    At the $299 price, I'd probably look at the Galaxy Nexus or the HTC Rezound --not the RAZR. The Bionic is a much better value if you want a Motorola phone. So far, I'm happy with mine.
    Reply
  • Nfarce - Sunday, December 18, 2011 - link

    Yep, I like the feel of the Bionic more than the RAZR. I got the thin rubber-like enclosing protective case and it helps even more on the grip. My friend's RAZR feels too fragile and I'd definitely be more worried about dropping it. Thinner isn't always better to some of us.

    I would have waited for a price drop on the Bionic, but since my older Droid died and I was going month to month without a contract, I had to buy a new phone like yesterday, and in September, the Bionic was the best. Verizon threw in $70 worth of free accessories for me at the full $299 purchase price, so that eased the pain a little (case, car charger, screen protector).
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Saturday, December 17, 2011 - link

    "Thankfully holding volume down and power/lock for 10 seconds reboots the device even when the device is totally unresponsive (which I did in fact encounter once)."

    Something I often encountered on my original DROID and also on my Thunderbolt 4G LTE. I'm honestly a bit sick of the issues with Android. You would think they would fix them. My phone has been known to do some really quirky stuff. From calling people on contact lists from that others who share a phone plan with me have on THEIR phones (the people my phone called are NOT on my phone!), to random reboots, SMS's not sending, and the 3G/4G service acting dodgy, even though I may not leave the house for awhile. Those are just a few of the issues I have suffered through over the last 2 years.
    Reply

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