The Motorola Droid Razr rolls out to the United States on Friday, bringing an unusually thin smartphone into the hands of Android aficionados. Let’s put it to the test.
Its claim to fame is its industrial design — the ultra-thin Motorola Droid Razr (Verizon, $299.99 with 2-year contract, $111.11 if you order it from Amazon on 11/11/11) is a mere quarter-inch thick. That’s the big story here. For those of the metric persuasion, that means it’s sporting a thickness of 7.1mm, quite an achievement considering the amount of tech goodness crammed into such a tiny package. Everyone who saw it was impressed by its slim form factor and smart good looks. If you’re sold on Verizon and Google‘s Android smartphone operating system, that might be enough to get you to plunk down your three bills.
Upon closer examination, it feels unusually light. It has a Gorilla Glass screen, but its plastic sides feel cheap. I like its handsome woven Kevlar back, the same material of which football helmets are made. To the untrained eye, it might be mistaken for more-expensive carbon fiber. But I like Kevlar as a material used on the back of a phone. It’s tough. It’s not the pleasantly grippy material I liked so much on the Motorola Atrix 2, but it’s still excellent.
While many users will complain about the lack of a removable battery, as far as the Razr’s design goes, that’s a plus. The back is uninterrupted by doors and latches, giving it a much cleaner look. However, I’ve never been fond of the big “chin” at the top of the back of many Android smartphones (see our gallery below for pics of this compared with an iPhone 4S), and this super-thin model’s design is marred by that raised ledge that contains the 8-megapixel camera/lens, its flash and a speaker. That “chin” is at least double the width of the rest of this otherwise-thin phone.
On the side is a plastic door for the SIM and microSD cards, and it feels so flimsy that I wouldn’t be surprised if it broke off after a few months of hard use. That, along with the plastic volume controls on the other side, imparts that overall feeling of lightweight cheapness to this otherwise beautifully designed handset.
Here’s a complaint I haven’t often seen: Why does no smartphone maker (except Apple) object to cellular providers placing a company logo front and center — and on the back, too? This might be seem like nitpicking, but I really don’t want to be reminded of Verizon every time I look at the screen of my smartphone, and that’s what I’ll have to do with the Droid Razr with its Verizon logo glaring at me from the bottom of the screen.
Speaking of the screen, I’ve seen better. Completely spoiled by Apple’s “retina” display, for close-up viewing angles, no matter how many superlative-sounding names you attached to this (albeit generously sized) 4.3-inch “Super AMOLED Advanced qHD” screen, I could still see distracting and visible pixels. Not good. I’d give it a C+.
A plus for spec hounds (see detailed specifications here) is its dual-core 1.2GHz processor, making everything happen in a snap. It’s satisfyingly fast. Along with its 4G LTE connectivity, this phone is a speed merchant.
However, even with all this processor power and graphics goodness, for some reason the Droid Razr can’t scroll smoothly enough for my taste. No matter what app I’m using or what I’m doing with the phone, if I’m scrolling from one screen to the next or from top to bottom of a long Twitter list, it’s just not the kind of buttery-smooth movement I’d like to see on a phone with this kind of power and technology. This is an example of a product with superior specs but inferior usability.
The 8-megapixel camera does an admirable job of shooting both stills and 1080p video, with vibrant color and sharpness in both. Its focus and exposure snaps into place a little slower than I’d like, and its motion stabilization when shooting video doesn’t help much, but its level of quality is still slightly higher than most Android smartphone cameras I’ve used. See the gallery for a couple of unretouched examples of its photos, demonstrating the vibrant color and sharpness that’s possible in good lighting conditions.
Android users can find better screens on which to view their beloved operating system, but they won’t find a thinner 4G LTE smartphone than the Motorola Droid Razr. There’s improvement on the horizon as well — Motorola promises the new Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system will be available for this Droid Razr in early 2012. That’ll be a plus, adding better usability and an enhanced feature set to Android, which still feels to me like a work in progress.
Overall, even though it has more shortcomings than I’d like, I think the Motorola Droid Razr is a notable technological achievement. It offers a large screen that looks acceptable until you get too close, along with the satisfying speed of its dual-core processors, graphics and connectivity. Although it doesn’t have the smooth usability of other smartphones, its pleasant good looks and ultimate pocketability make it a strong contender for your Android dollar.