23
Oct
wm_IMG_2023

As we all know by now, Google purchased Motorola in August of 2011 for a whopping $12.1 billion. Nerds rejoiced, analysts balked, and the general public didn't really notice or care. But Motorola's newest wave of handsets - the excellent Razr M and the new Razr HD/ Razr Maxx HD - aren't the result of Google ownership. They were already in the pipeline, so they're products of the old Motorola.

I'm happy to report that the analysts' skepticism was unfounded. The Razr M hinted that Motorola was already on the right track before being acquired; the Razr HD confirms it. Although it has some silly software flaws, it's one of the most lovable devices I've used in ages.

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The Specs

  • Price: $200 on contract, $600 retail
  • CPU: 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4
  • OS: Android 4.0.4 with MotoBlur, update to Android 4.1 promised
  • Display: 4.7" Super AMOLED HD (1280x720)
  • Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB storage, microSD slot
  • Cameras: 8MP rear, 1.3MP front
  • Battery: 2530mAh (!)
  • Ports: microUSB, microHDMI
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Radios: LTE, GSM, CDMA (Global)
  • Dimensions: 5.19" x 2.67" x 0.33", 5.15 oz.

The Good

  • Excellent build quality. This thing could definitely survive a few hard drops and its fair share of nicks and bumps. Plus, the industrial-style design looks pretty snazzy. (In the same way a nice fork lift looks snazzy, but still.)
  • It feels great to hold. Though I prefer slightly rounded edges to right angles, it's a very nice, comfortable size for my (admittedly large-ish) hands, and the weight and textures are great.
  • The screen is beautiful, despite one minor shortcoming mentioned below. Colors pop, the image is crisp, black levels are fantastic, and it's exceptionally bright.
  • I must be getting senile, because I actually dig the newest iteration of Motorola's custom UI. It looks good, performs (mostly) well, and differentiates their products.

The Bad

  • Though the screen is great overall, it is PenTile. If you're aware of that fact, you'll notice it every now and then (read: rarely). Thankfully, because of the resolution, the effect is greatly minimized - but it's still there.
  • Performance isn't always smooth, particularly when you power on the screen after 2+ minutes of downtime. This concerns me a bit since... well, it's 2012. Ice Cream Sandwich provides a great, efficient code base, and it's coupled with solid specs. It simply shouldn't happen on a flagship device, and it happens like clockwork with the Razr HD.
  • Radio performance was unpredictable. Sometimes data speeds were amazing, and sometimes they were completely and utterly sub-par.
  • For a flagship phone, the camera kind of sucks in virtually every meaningful way.

Deep Dive

Design & Build

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Most people will probably find the Razr HD highly attractive. It's very, very similar in design to the first-gen DROID RAZR, so if you're familiar with that, imagine it slightly blown up but with a much more subtle camera bump and you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

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It's not actually a ruggedized phone, but it certainly has what I'd consider industrial design. The back is grippy Kevlar with a carbon fiber pattern, there's an aluminum strip around the sides, and the front is Gorilla Glass. Even the details feel industrial: the screws on the bottom are exposed, the textured aluminum buttons are very firm and clicky, the ports are machined out of the aluminum, and the cover for the microSD and SIM cards is on so firmly that I'm still not sure how to open it.

Display

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The display is 4.7" and 1280x720, though 96 pixels are taken up by the on-screen buttons. Those who are into the dirty details of tech are probably aware that Motorola continues to fall back on Pentile displays for their phones. This is unfortunate, because as we've complained about many, many (many) times before, a Pentile display is a lot like a fast food: it's a lot of bang for the buck, sure, but it's not the best quality. Thankfully, the execution here is significantly better than it has been in the past thanks to the bump in resolution. It's much less "hey, look at all the jaggies" and more like the displays found on the SGSIII and Galaxy Nexus - in other words, it's only noticeable if you're looking for it.

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It's also very bright and the colors are absolutely fantastic[ally oversaturated]. As with most AMOLED displays, the image just pops out on a whole different level than traditional LCDs. It's admittedly unnatural, but the colors aren't as ridiculous as they are on Samsung's AMOLEDs, and whites are actually white, too. Black levels are also impressive.

Viewing angles are good, but the display is fairly reflective. For the same reason, outdoor visibility is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the display gets bright enough, but on the other, it's very reflective. It almost seems like the screen isn't close enough to the glass.

Software

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Dedicated readers, brace yourself, because this is the second review in a row where I actually (mostly) like the manufacturer's UI. I still prefer the look of stock Android, but the latest iteration of MotoBlur is pretty attractive. The biggest draw to me: it's not a complete reskin, but more akin to the work done by a movie make-up artist. In other words, it's fundamentally recognizable as having roots in stock Android, yet has some heavy customizations on top. And, unsurprisingly, it stays true to the DROID line with futuristic, robotic-feeling looks. Compared to the latest skins from Samsung, HTC, and LG, it's a fantastic departure from the right-angled, ugly nature-inspired norm.

It's also simple and thoughtful; for example, there's only one page on the home screen by default. Swipe to the left and you're greeted by Quick Settings, similar in scope to the quick toggles found in the notification shade of many other skins these days. Swipe to the right and it gives you page management options. It's from here that you can easily add a new page to your homescreen, either blank or from a template, as well as remove and rearrange the existing ones.

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The widgets are admittedly a mish-mash of Blur, stock Android, carrier bloat, and app-installed. I'm surprised Ron's OCD didn't make his heart explode when he reviewed the Razr M, but most users probably won't care (or even notice). And I have to admit, the default Circles widget is rather brilliant.

Performance

Believe it or not, performance is a bit of a mixed bag. The vast majority of the time it's good. In fact, prior to this review, I was starting to wonder if we even need to bother including this section in reviews as a rule. The latest versions of Android provides a phenomenal base, and coupled with the latest gen of CPUs, provides a fantastic experience on the vast majority of devices. Or so I thought.

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The Razr HD is a bit of an oddball in that respect. For some reason, it's rather easily bogged down. If you're installing or updating an app - even if only one - you will notice a bit of stuttering and lag in just about everything you do. In fact, even if you're not doing anything else in the background, it's still not always smooth. For example, if you pick it up and swipe around, there's a good chance things must stutter or hesitate just a bit.

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In the grand scheme of things it's certainly minor, but compared to other current-gen devices, it's noticeable. Worse, even recent mid-range devices like the LG Escape and Pantech Marauder offer better performance despite slower processors and heavier UIs. I'm not sure what's to blame, but if I had to guess, I'd peg it either on Blur or on some sort of memory bandwidth problem.

Radios & Battery Life

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Radio performance was... well, frankly, all over the board. I clocked a new record high of 25Mbps at home, where I normally get a max of about 10Mbps on other Verizon LTE devices. Other times it repeatedly pulled 3-4. And there were numerous instances (both at home and out and about) where it simply dropped the network connection entirely. When it did work, it averaged out to about the same as usual (8Mbps). Consistency is key, though, and the ultra-wide variation here (it's more of a horizontal line than a bell curve) is a cause for concern. Given Motorola's very well-earned reputation for high-quality radios, I'd hope that a software update could even things out a bit.

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Battery life was good - on par with what you can expect from the Galaxy S III. It's good for about 7 hours of HD video streaming over LTE with the brightness turned up, or a full day of moderately heavy use without concern. Idle battery consumption was, for me, about 1% per hour out of the box. It's certainly good enough for my needs and likely the needs of most people, but road warriors will probably want to look to the MAXX HD.

Camera

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Camera performance was merely fair. The exposure is horribly indecisive, and even when holding it still, will cycle up and down incessantly. Shutter speed, too, is mediocre; sometimes it shoots in half a second, other times it takes twice as long.  The most annoying trait is that it only wants you to take photos in HDR mode really, really badly; it tells you so every few seconds in a speech-bubble style popup. Worst of all, the camera just failed to initialize at one point, whether I tried to launch from the lockscreen or homescreen. It simply crashed every time, and I was forced to reboot in order to use it. The greatest benefit of a smartphone camera is that it's perfect for catching spur-of-the-moment photos, and in that context, a camera app that doesn't launch isn't going to get you far.

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As for photo quality.... well, let me put it this way: if you like photos with poor exposure, a lack of detail, and an abundance of multi-colored graininess, then boy have I got the smartphone camera for you!

Conclusion

Ultimately, the Razr HD is full of compromises. It's clearly high-quality, but it's plagued by minor software faults. Performance is good 95% of the time, and that's good overall - until you remember that virtually all new midrange-or-better smartphones perform well 99% of the time. Signal reception is good, but the radio performance was unpredictable. The screen is a Pentile, and that's hard to ignore when you're aware of the shortcomings that entails. And the camera was mediocre at best, and non-functional at worst.

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But truth be told, it's a device I'd buy myself, and recommend for others. As far as I'm concerned, it's the most well-designed and sturdy phone I've used since the days of the legendary bulletproof Nokia - better, even, than my ultra-tough One X. The screen, despite the corner-cutting display tech used, is stunningly beautiful and vibrant. It's thin, light, and offers good battery life. Plus, prospects are good for modability.

It's not perfect, but that doesn't stop me from loving the Razr HD.

Aaron Gingrich
Aaron is a geek who has always had a passion for technology. When not working or writing, he can be found spending time with his family, playing a game, or watching a movie.

  • KC

    "the excellent Razr M and the new Razr HD/ Razr Maxx HD - aren't the result of Google ownership. They were already in the pipeline, so they're products of the old Motorola."

    Yea well wait about a year when every other phone is getting upgraded to key lime pie and you're stuck on the old OS because moto uses the excuse that they want to focus on "the new motorola devices" or some other BS to withhold software updates and google stands by and watches because these devices weren't made under their ownership..

    #motofail

    Trust me and the thousands if not millions of other disgruntled moto users.. don't get it.. the device might be good but the software support isn't going to be..

    Moto never again..

    • jak_341

      Can't say it any better. I have yet to see any proof the new Moto is different than the old.

      Nexus or nothing.

      • uneedhelp

        Y'all kill me with this nexus shit go get a nexus then and stop reading about the razr nerd

    • onpoint G

      I swore MOTO stated they would like to have a pure Android experience but carriers like Verizon tell them to add skins to their phones

      • jamaall

        Moto's skin is great. And if they stick to their upgrading schedule (jelly bean before 2013), i will really start liking motorola again.

        • chris125

          Ics moto blur has all kinds of bugs it made the original maxx lag worse than when it was on gb

          • jamaall

            i'm talking the new motoblur. the one on the Razr M,HD,HD MAXX. its much better. FYI, I used to have an OG Droid Razr, now I have a Razr M.

  • jammer

    Is the bootloader locked?

    • Freak4Dell

      On the Verizon version, yes. The international versions have bootloaders that can be unlocked, and there is a Developer's Edition for Verizon that can have the bootloader unlocked.

      • http://twitter.com/Bateluer Robert Boluyt

        If one gets the Intl version, can it be used on any US carriers with its radios?

        • Freak4Dell

          You can use it on AT&T and T-Mobile, as well as any of the prepaid MVNOs that run on those networks. The only catch is that I don't think any of the international versions support the AWS bands for HSPA+, so you won't get 3G/4G on T-Mobile unless you are in an area where they have refarmed the spectrum. The Rogers one for Canada might support it, but I'm not positive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1660901409 Steve Coller

    Moto's camera really just sucks! I had an Atrix HD for a week. Loved the phone; untill I used the camera. I use the camera on my phone a lot. So it has to be dependable. Took the AHD back and got a HCT One X. Haven't regretted it.
    Actually really liked everything else about the AHD. If you don't need the camera function the Moto's a nice phones.

  • TheKaz1969

    is it good enough to buy for my wife, for whom not getting through a day without recharging is an issue...?

    • jamaall

      if you get a maxx, it will easily last more than a day. The regular HD should too, but i wouldn't always bet on it if she uses it a lot.

      • AaronGingrich

        Exactly. I'd suggest the Maxx.

  • Disqus Sucks

    Only Android 4.0.4? Hello Motorola, 4.1.2 is current, get with it.

  • jamaall

    you're not the only one with connection issues. my Razr M will just randomly drop internet connection with 2 and sometimes 3 bars.I still have phone connection, but it just doesn't give me internet connection. Also, in weak connection (when it works) it is much slower than my old Droid Razr. And you're completely right about the lag, it happens all the time. Plus the camera is terrible on the M (worse than the original droid razr). Besides from these (major) issues, I still love my Razr M. The motorola UI is great. And if Google sorts the issues on their next phone, it will be a hell of a phone!

    • http://www.facebook.com/josuekjoseph Josue Joseph

      That is happening with my original Razr i think that just might be Verizon ill also randomly lose data its been happening the last couple of days

  • http://www.facebook.com/CraigHwk Craig Hawkins

    There really is no excuse for a bad camera on a high-end phone any more.

  • http://profiles.google.com/danielm.nc Daniel Marcus

    I suspect several of those problems will be fixed by firmware updates. I have noticed that my Droid 4 camera performs very well, and this is likely the same hardware. I have a sneaking suspicion that Motorola gave a "good enough" go ahead on this firmware to focus on the Jelly Bean release.

  • Jeremy626

    can't really trust this review. he's way too biased and it shows in his writing too much. how can anyone say that brick feels good in the hand?? it's so big and wide. look at that hedious back. and the crap camera... yuck. no thanks.

  • Sadman

    Does anyone know if the maxx hd is upgradeable to key lime pie when it's released? Right now I have the Thunderbolt that was supposed to be VZ's flagship phone that they have all but forgotten about with their empty promises.

  • uneedhelp

    Dude u suck at reviews u might want to find a néw profession I bought this phone after taking my gs3 back and the HD is awesome

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