Motorola Droid RAZR: Not quite thin enough to cut metal (review)

Summary:Verizon will be selling the Motorola Droid RAZR this Friday, the thinnest LTE-enabled smartphone around.

You may have seen the television ad campaign for Verizon that shows the Droid RAZR as a thin throwing weapon that cuts metal. While the ad doesn't show anything about the new phone, it does make a statement that it is as thin as can be. Holding the RAZR sideways shows this to be the case, it is as thin as any smartphone out there.

The new Droid phone from Motorola is the thinnest phone with 4G LTE capability, and even though it only has a 4.3-inch display it is the widest phone I have ever held. I have large hands and find the Droid RAZR to be almost uncomfortable to hold and use. I am not sure those with small hands could even use the RAZR due to this strange width.

See the Droid RAZR, the thinnest smartphone on the Verizon 4G LTE network


Image Gallery: The Droid RAZR by Motorola is one of the thinnest smartphones
Image Gallery: Charge
Image Gallery: Charge
Most likely Motorola had to make the phone this wide to pack everything in the super-thin casing. The phone is very durable despite the thin profile, due to Corning Gorilla Glass on the display and a Kevlar fiber construction. The RAZR could easily stand up to the rigors of the heavy user. The only concession Motorola had to make due to the thinness is with a sealed battery. There is no way for the user to change the battery of the Droid RAZR.

Specifications:

  • Processor: Dual-core 1.2 GHz
  • Memory: 1GB system RAM, 16GB internal RAM,  16GB microsSD installed, HDMI out
  • Display: 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Advanced (540×960)
  • Cameras: 1.3MP front, 8MP rear (LED flash), 1080p HD video capture
  • Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, 3G/4G LTE
  • Battery: 1780 mAh
  • OS: Android 2.3.5 (Gingerbread)
  • Dimensions: 5.15 x 2.71 x 0.28 inches, 4.48 ounces

Hardware

The Droid RAZR casing is sleek and, dare I say it, sexy. It is so solidly constructed that it feels like a single piece design, black and ready for high-speed use with 4G LTE connectivity from Verizon. The microUSB port, used for charging and PC connection, and the HDMI port are on the top of the handset.

On the left side of the phone is a drop-down access door leading to the SIM slot (for the LTE) and the microSD slot. Verizon ships the RAZR with a 16GB card to augment the internal 16GB of RAM. Looking to the right side of the handset finds the power button and volume rocker. There is nothing on the bottom of the phone.

The front of the phone is a smooth black surface. The front-facing webcam is at the top underneath the Motorola silver nameplate. There is a small green LED on the upper left above the screen that shows when notifications are received. Below the 4.3-inch display are the four standard Android soft buttons: Menu, Home, Return, and Search. There is quite a large bezel around the display due to the width of the phone in relation to the screen.

The 8MP camera and flash are on the back of the phone, located at the top inside the customary Motorola "hump". The small speaker is located in the hump to the right of the camera. Underneath the hump the back tapers down to the thin phone width, and is a smooth unbroken surface. The phone feels good in the hand due to the thinness and the hump at the top, although the width makes it a little hard to hold in one hand.

Software

Motorola has toned down the MotoBlur software for the RAZR, which is a welcome change from previous handsets. There is a collection of simple widgets that provide control over the phone and give information about various social networks if desired.

The specialized Gingerbread interface puts four icons on the bottom of each of the five home screens. A small indicator beneath this dock shows which of the homescreens is active with a blue line. There is a mild 3D effect when swiping among the home screens. The Apps icon on the dock opens the application drawer, which appears with a graphic effect that is cool once but then a little annoying after that as it delays getting to the apps.

The lock screen on the Droid RAZR is very useful with a dual slide for unlocking the phone and activating the camera without having to unlock the phone. There is a vertical slider between the two unlock sliders that mutes/unmutes the phone from the lock screen, which is a nice touch.

Motorola has included the Webtop app for using the phone with optional docks. The webtop dock lets you use the phone with an external display, keyboard and mouse. The laptop dock is a laptop shell that turns the phone into a laptop replacement. This app basically adds a full Firefox browser for use with the docks.

The included MotoCast app enables wirelessly shooting files between the RAZR and a PC on the network. There is also a Mobile Hotspot app for using the Droid RAZR as a hotspot with up to 8 devices over 4G and 5 devices over 3G. The hotspot service requires service with Verizon at additional monthly charge.

Those familiar with the Android utilities Locale and Tasker will be happy to see the Smart Actions app that Motorola has included on the Droid RAZR. This is essentially a scripting utility that lets the user define phone actions based on time of day, location, and even battery level. There are lots of example scripts to show what Smart Actions can do, and these can be modified as needed.

Using Smart Actions it is simple to make a script that triggers when the Location Services shows you get to work. This could then automatically shut off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Another script could perform other actions when you get home. There is an almost endless number of uses for Smart Actions. A particularly good use of the app is to have the phone automatically shut off radios at night to save battery life.

Using the Droid RAZR

Phone calls work as expected on the RAZR with good audio quality. The speaker is nice and loud when the speakerphone is active. I have experienced no issues in the short time I have been using the phone.

The display on the Droid RAZR is decent, but not as good as some phones I have seen. Those with Super AMOLED Plus displays are expecially vivid, more so than the RAZR.

Several reviews have indicated the battery life is not very good on the phone, especially when using 4G. After two hours of moderate use of the RAZR over 4G the battery is indicating 80% remaining. This is not particularly good, but it is not the worst I have seen on phones using LTE. Motorola has included some nice power management capabilities under the Settings to help stretch the battery as long as possible.

I haven't taken a lot of photos with the 8MP camera, but what I have seen it is nothing special. The typical shutter lag is present, and I don't think the camera would replace a dedicated point-and-shoot. The 1080p video shot from the camera looks good on a big screen, but not spectacular.

The super-thin design of the Droid RAZR has an impact on heat, especially when using the LTE connectivity. The phone actually gets hot when streaming video and during other sustained LTE activities. It is not dangerously hot, but very noticeable.

I am not fond of phones that have the charging port on the top of the handset, and that includes the Droid RAZR. I would rather have it on the bottom or even the side of the phone, but that is just my preference. The small power adapter included is nice, with a plug that folds flat for transport. There are two USB ports on the adapter which is unusual but a welcome addition for travel charging other gear.

Conclusion

The Droid RAZR is a well-designed smartphone from Motorola that is the thinnest LTE-enabled phone. It is light in the hand, and features sturdy construction for active lifestyles. Battery life is not the best on a smartphone, but it is not the worst either. Those who regularly carry a second battery (or use an extended battery) for getting through the day should give the RAZR a pass due to the sealed battery. Maybe the folks at Mophie will produce a battery/case for the Droid RAZR, which would be great.

Verizon will make the RAZR available Friday for $299 with a two-year contract. It qualifies for the carrier's double-down data special, which doubles the monthly data allowed for the regular plan price. The positives far outweigh the negatives on the Droid RAZR, and those looking for a good 4G phone should give it a look.

Of interest:

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Verizon

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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