Remember the Motorola Razr? The super thin clamshell was one of the most popular feature phones of all time, racking up more than 130 million sales during the mid-naughties.
It was also Motorola’s undoing. As smartphones and touchscreens began to take over, its reliance on the design saw it fall behind the South Korean twin giants of Samsung and LG. Then Apple strolled in with the iPhone. Jump to 2011 however, and a newly invigorated Motorola, now backed by Google, is all Android all the time, and it’s resurrecting the brand. But the Razr is no flip-phone: instead, it’s an obscenely thin touchscreen smartphone with a 7.1mm profile.
The engineering feats don’t stop there either: the back case is made out of stab proof Kevlar, it’s packing 1GB of RAM and a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, and in a first for Motorola, it’s sporting a Super AMOLED screen.
Ever since Motorola launched its first Android phone, the Droid, it’s clung to a very masculine design language: its black and grey styling and straight edges all scream Batman, and that continues with the Razr, despite its petite frame. That’s perhaps slightly out of sync with the original Razr’s appeal, but we have few complaints with the device’s exterior. Provided you’ve got hands large enough to handle the 4.3-inch display, it’s a pleasure to hold. It’s plastic, but as rigid and premium as a unibody metal smartphone – the Kevlar back case has a lovely feel to it, though it’s entirely superficial. The only real drawbacks are that the battery is non-removable, and you’ll have to switch to a Micro SIM card, but these should be minor inconveniences for most.
We say it’s 7.1mm thin, but it isn’t quite all the way through. A slight ridge at the top provides the extra space to house the 8MP camera module, as well as a 3.5mm headphone socket and mini-HDMI jack on the top of the phone. It’s less of a cop-out than it sounds, and Samsung’s Galaxy SII, another ludicrously thin smartphone, adopts the same ploy.
Speaking of similarities, the qHD resolution Super AMOLED panel is actually made by Samsung.We had high hopes for it on the Razr as the technology provides superb contrast, but it’s actually the Razr’s most disappointing physical feature. The Pentile display uses fewer sub-pixels than normal, and as a result, the sharp 540×960 resolution is misleading: in reality, this is blurrier and grainier than the market leading Super AMOLED Plus screen on the Galaxy SII.
To rub salt in the wound, it’s set deep inside the front face of the phone, with an enormous bezel on either side, and the four capacitive buttons below, while responsive, aren’t illuminated, which can make using the phone in the dark tricky. Petty it may sound, but it’s hard to adjust to when HTC and Samsung’s Android phones have the appearance of being all screen these days and little else.
Still, Motorola is to be commended for its internals. The speaker is loud and clear, and the OMAP 4430 processor blazes through applications and games, and regularly clocked 2800 or above on the Quadrant Standard benchmark.
The 8 megapixel camera meanwhile grabbed respectably sharp shots with almost no delay: processing is so fast, you can just keeping pressing the shutter. We were impressed by the camera’s sharp macro abilities, although noise quickly makes itself known in anything but optimal lighting. 1080p HD video is smooth, but the lack of auto-focus in this mode is a disappointment: the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc S and Galaxy S 2 are still the imaging Android to beat. A 1780mAh battery meanwhile cleared a day of use with all accounts syncing and connections turned on: this performs, even if it doesn’t quite deliver.
Razr Gingerbread going stale
Android is at its core a superb operating system, with clever syncing options and many thousands of apps available. If you’re tied into Gmail and can live without the host of polished iPhone games, there’s nothing better. But it’s open source, and for better or worse, manufacturers can tweak it as they see fit. Motorola has caused issues with more than one phone with its unnecessary ‘Motoblur’ social networking and contact management service, but we’re pleased to report Motorola has turned it down for Android 2.3.5 ‘Gingerbread’ on the Razr: it’s now an optional account you can sign into, and we strongly advise you not to, since your favourite social networks’ apps provide a much less frustrating experience. Beyond that, Motorola has provided some extra embellishments of note. Smart Actions allows you to set up automated tasks: you could have it turn on the Wi-Fi when you get home, or open the music player when you pop in headphones. It’s easy to use, though the £3.99 Android app Tasker will give you this functionality and more on any Android phone.
Swype, great for one handed typing, also comes preloaded alongside the excellent default QWERTY keyboard, and the five pane launcher screen also shows you your 12 most recent apps instead of just eight. Thoughtful, little touches, but welcome nonetheless.
The Razr is also an adept media player. HD video plays effortlessly, and for the first time that includes the MKV format as well as the natively supported MP4 container, and looks superb output to a HDTV. Music can be controlled from the lockscreen, and Motorola’s MotoCast software provides an easy way to stream music from your computer.
Its skills don’t stop there either: when attached to Motorola’s HDMI dock or Lapdock 100, the Razr even runs a bare-bones version of Linux: the phone’s display appears as a window within this, and you can use Firefox to surf the web on a desktop, and even log into Citrix. It’s not for everyone, and nor is the £270 Lapdock 100 pricetag, but it does mean the Razr should play nice with your employer’s IT policies.
Sadly though, Gingerbread is now a year old, and about to be replaced by version 4.0 AKA Ice Cream Sandwich. Motorola say the Razr will get this update in due course, but do be aware that the company’s software update record in the UK has been poor in the past. It’s a tough sell for this reason alone, with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus arriving this month, dispensing Ice Cream Sandwich goodness as it goes.
With the screen turned off, the Motorola Razr is every bit as impressive as the stick thin Samsung Galaxy SII, but it simply can’t match Samsung’s phone of the year for display chutzpah. However, the raw power and accessory options are key here – the Razr is a tech fiend’s dream. The remote access to your PC, Linux options and fastest camera on the block will impress gadget geeks instantly.
WHAT MOBILE TEST VERDICT: 4/5