Verizon Motorola DROID RAZR M Written Review

The Motorola DROID RAZR M is an interesting addition to the Verizon DROID RAZR line. It is the third RAZR in the current lineup, accenting the RAZR HD and RAZR MAXX HD. Compared to its high end siblings, it’s squarely aimed at the mid end market at only $99.99 on contract. But with impressive hardware and some really nice software, it can be considered a great phone even for the power user on paper. But how does it fare in the hands of a power user thirsting for a high end experience? Keep reading!

Hardware

This phone may be mid end, but its specs say otherwise. It has a 4.3″ Super AMOLED Advanced display with a resolution of 960×540 (qHD). It also houses a 1.5GHz dual core Snapdragon S4 processor, identical to the one in the US Galaxy S III, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage (with a microSD slot), an 8MP camera capable of 1080p video, and a nice 2,000 mAh battery.

The RAZR M was built to match the other phones in the DROID RAZR series, so you can expect an industrial look with some tough materials. And I have to say, the front looks gorgeous. Its glass edge-to-edge display dominates the front, more so than most phones, and the metal bezel surrounding it looks subtle but classy. The small rounded chin suits it well, the silver speaker grille with the Motorola cutout is a nice touch, and the entire phone slants from thicker at the top to thinner at the bottom. The aesthetics are amazing.

Here you can see a big part of the industrial design: there are screws on both sides of the device. It looks great and isn’t too pronounced. The left side has a micro USB port towards the bottom. I dislike this design decision, as it prevents using a universal mount that grips the sides of the device. It also makes it uncomfortable to hold while it’s charging. It is overall a bad idea, as bottom USB ports are better in every way.

The left side also has a long plastic flap. When it is moved out of the way, there are slots for the microSIM and the microSD card. Yes, this phone has external storage (which is necessary with the small amount of built in storage). The flap closes securely and I’ve had no problems with it.

The right side has both a silver power button and a black volume rocker very close together. It’s easy to press the wrong button, and I dislike this layout. However, some have said that they prefer it, as having the buttons opposite each other means they’re both pressed the way some people grip their phones. It’s a personal preference more than a right or wrong design choice. The top has a solitary 3.5mm headphone jack.

The earpiece is actually under the Motorola logo, which is nothing but a cutout. It’s an elegant design choice. Next to it is the standard array of sensors, plus a notification LED. This LED is somewhat dim, but never too dim not to see. It’s a good addition and works well. Light Flow allows you to customize it, too.

The back is a very interesting design. Most of it is Kevlar, with the top being glass, all surrounded by matte black plastic. It was strange looking to me at first, but I quickly grew to love it. The top glass piece houses the camera and slightly protruding flash, along with a small speaker cutout. It’s surrounded by raised plastic so there isn’t a huge chance that the glass will shatter from a drop. The Kevlar has a nice texture to it, being soft but not too grippy.

The phone is surprisingly small. Compared to a Galaxy S II, which also has a 4.3″ display, it is slightly shorter and significantly more narrow. It’s surprising how small they got this phone to be, and it translates into a great, easy to handle device. It also fit pretty well in the hand, due to the rounded plastic on the sides. The design is fantastic, and Motorola deserves some serious credit for getting such good specs into such a small package.

Display

The display is arguably the most important part of a smartphone. It makes or breaks the user experience. Apple knows that, and putting the Retina display into the iPhone 4 made the phone enjoyable to use. So how does the RAZR M’s mid end display fare?

Honestly, quite well. While it may not appeal to the most demanding of geeks, it’s a great display for most people. Its colors are bright and vivid, oversaturated in the pleasant way all AMOLED panels are. Some might not like the oversaturation, but I definitely do. It makes colors pop and makes everything surreal and pretty. Also, at a qHD resolution, it’s decently sharp. At 256 pixels per inch, it’s nothing special in that regard, but it is a big improvement over the WVGA panels we are used to in mid end phones.

This display does have a few problems. The biggest one for me is that it uses the PenTile matrix. Instead of the standard 3 subpixel per pixel layout of RGB, you only get two subpixels. This both impacts sharpness and has a checkerboard effect on text. The checkerboard is especially noticeable on straight lines. When looking closely, it does distract from the positive user experience, but many people simply can’t see it in day to day use. It bothered me, but not very often.

It also has a few problems that all Super AMOLED panels have. A fabric-like look (lines all over the screen) on low brightness is obvious, which is normal. It’s usually unnoticeable unless you have it on lowest brightness with an all black screen. Along with that comes slight burn in, especially from the keyboard. It’s a lot more susceptible to temporary burn in than any of the previous Galaxy devices I’ve owned aside from the original Galaxy S, but it tends to fade after a while. Hopefully it won’t be a big problem in the future.

Overall, I did enjoy the display a lot. In most conditions, it looks beautiful. It’s bright, easy to see in direct sunlight, and is pleasant to stare at. Unless you care a LOT about the display, this one will do you justice.

Build Quality

Long story short, build quality is pretty fantastic. The phone is solid, hefty without being heavy, and very resistant to damage. It feels very high end and I definitely appreciated that. The Kevlar feels extremely solid, the plastic sides had no creaks, and the metal bezel added a good weight to the device. All the glass was recessed, so it never touched anything while laying on a surface. The only issue I had was that the metal rim scratched a little too easily, but that isn’t a really big deal. Otherwise, the build quality is great

Software

Motorola released this device with Ice Cream Sandwich, and a stock-looking version at that. Soon after, it was updated to Jelly Bean 4.1.1. Jelly bean brought both Google Now and Project Butter, greatly improving the functionality of this device. Plus, it runs on decently modern software now.

The software may have a significant amount of Motorola modifications (it’s not nearly stock, as some claim), but a lot of aspects are either left AOSP or slightly modified. A lot of Motorola modifications are appreciated, and as all manufacturer mods, some are not. However, the software is overall very nice.

The lockscreen is similar to AOSP, but it starts in the center. There are four ways to unlock: right to unlock normally, left to camera, up to Phone, and down to Text Messages. There is also a sound switch to the top left, under the music controls. It’s a useful addition. And they even left stock music controls in there, unlike other OEMs.

The notification window is left absolutely stock, as you can see. You get expandable notifications, but are limited to expanding them with two fingers. One finger expanding is in 4.1.2, which the RAZR M doesn’t have. Despite that, expandable notifications are very useful and the entire system looks sexy due to the AOSP theme.

As you can tell, the phone uses Nexus-like on screen buttons. This is an absolutely amazing design decision and really adds a lot of functionality to the phone. Not only are software buttons faster than physical buttons (no need to long press home anymore), they also do more. The multitasking button is great, swiping up for Google Now is quick, and they’re very responsive. I love them.

The Text Messages app is stock-based, but Motorola decided to slap an ugly theme onto it. It isn’t that bad, but I didn’t enjoy the boxy, washed out blue and gray look. Also, every week or two, it popped up this message. I understand the need for such security, and I applaud them for implementing it, but at least whitelist the built in texting app. And if anything, it shouldn’t ask me to allow it 15 times in a row to stick for a week, doing so again and again. Definitely a minor annoyance, but it’s strange.

Motorola kept the stock keyboard in there, along with the stock correction system. So if you mistype a word, you can always go back and replace it. Google nailed that system down, and it’s good to see Motorola embrace it instead of remove it (Samsung). Also, it does not pause music when notifications come in, it lowers the volume. This is a great addition, very enjoyable.

However, it does come with some problems. First of all, music doesn’t always pause when the headphones are unplugged. It’ll often continue playing through the speaker, even if for a short amount of time. Also, 90% of the time, the earphone button would not pause music on any music player I tried aside from PowerAMP. It did literally nothing, while working on all my other devices. Rarely would it do something. There is also very minor stuff like an animation pause in the stock launcher when opening the drawer, and a large gap between the airplane mode icon in the notification bar and the next icon (it seems that it reserves space for the 4G LTE logo, even when airplane mode is on).

On top of that, I had issues with two apps. Dead Trigger had messed up visuals, and QuickPic overflow menus just disappeared. This may not be the phone’s fault, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Every other app I tried worked flawlessly.

Overall, the software was done nicely. There is enough AOSP to please most people with some nice additions here and there. It isn’t perfect, but it might be the cleanest manufacturer skin available. Whether that’s Motorola listening to its customers or Google’s recent influence, it’s a great change.

Performance

This phone houses a Snapdragon S4 Plus dual core processor running at 1.5GHz paired with 1GB of RAM, so it has some pretty powerful internals. And a majority of the time, this phone flies. It has ample RAM for multitasking, while the quick processor opens and resumes apps near instantly. Generally, performance is great.

However, this phone suffers from slowdowns. Sure, all phones do, especially Android phones. But this one occasionally gets severely slow, where things barely move for a minute or two. It goes away by itself, you often don’t even need to reboot, but it’s strange. I believe it’s a software issue, as the internals are plenty powerful. It can get annoying, but it doesn’t happen very often. You’ll be pleased by how fast this phone works.

Camera

The camera on this phone is pretty good. While it lacks sharpness and detail, it does produce some decent shots for capturing memories. Its HDR mode makes some nice shots, while low light performance is very poor. Even when the phone is stationary, the shots come out extremely noisy. It also doesn’t like to focus perfectly, although focus is almost never significantly off. In the end, it’ll do just fine for most people, while those who demand more out of a phone camera should be going a little higher end.

The camera software is Motorola’s own design, and while the app is decently nice, it resets every time you exit. Do you want to keep flash off? Too bad, it’s set to auto every time. Of course, you can always replace the camera app. The stock Jelly Bean camera app is on the market, which should fix any issues quick.

Here’s a gallery of some of the photos from different situations: HDR, low light, and macro.

Network

This phone kept a good connection most of the time I was using it. It lost LTE often at my house, but my neighborhood has shoddy coverage for all carriers (except AT&T, which recently went from garbage like all the others to excellent). However, outside of my house, it kept an LTE connection and got a consistent 6-9 mbps down. It’s about the same as AT&T LTE in the area. Outside of my neighborhood, I consistently got over 20 mbps down, maxing out at 30 mbps. Upload was 7-20 mbps too.

Call quality was clear and as good as it can get. The earpiece is very nice. I got signal everywhere I went, which is fantastic. Verizon never fails to impress me with their coverage, speeds, and network quality. And Motorola did the part of making a phone to keep up with the network.

Battery Life

With a 2,000 mAh battery powering such a small device, battery life was surprisingly good. It easily lasted me a day each time, and even went a day and a half (overnight) with 3 hours of screen on time, some voice calls, and a good amount of music. The battery life is great overall. The battery drains slowly while playing music, so even playing hours of music on long road trips won’t kill it. It won’t last as long as a Note II, but I doubt anyone would be disappointed.

Pros

  • Great internals = great performance
  • Good looking screen
  • Somewhat AOSP software with light modifications
  • On screen navigation buttons
  • Notification LED
  • Very well built
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • Camera isn’t great
  • Occasional slowdowns are really slow
  • Metal bezel scratches easily
  • Screen is PenTile and suffers from burn in
  • Side USB port gets in the way
  • Minor software issues

Conclusion

All in all, this is a pretty fantastic phone for the price. It’s the first small phone in a while that I can say I really enjoyed using as a power user. It has a decent camera, some great performance, a nice screen, and a great build. There are problems here and there, but nothing you can’t live with. If you’re budget minded, I would highly suggest you check out this phone. If you’re going to be stuck in a two year contract, you might as well get something that will last.

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