Review: Motorola Droid RAZR M for Verizon Wireless
Motorola must have struck a bargain with the devil to pack as much functionality as it did in the RAZR M. This impressive device claims to have it all, and just might deliver on that promise.
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Motorola packs a big display in a small phone with the RAZR M, its latest Droid for Verizon Wireless. If you want a great screen, but don't want to carry around a huge device, the RAZR M is the no-compromises device you're looking for.
The Motorola Droid RAZR M takes the design language we first saw from Motorola a year ago with the Droid RAZR and compresses the height and width. The result is an attractive device that has a comfortable footprint and doesn't leave out any features.
The M's look isn't quite as clean nor as seamless as that of its predecessors. There are more obvious parts and pieces screwed (literally!) together. There are six torx screws plainly visible, three on the left and three on the right. It lends the M an industrial look. I found the white model - with contrasting black display and Kevlar back - quite appealing.
The M is wedge-shaped, so it's thicker at the top, slimming down toward the bottom. Thanks to the minimal bezel around the display, the M is narrow and comfortable to hold. I was able to grip it firmly with my fingers wrapped all the way around. The back surface is textured just a little bit, adding some tackiness (not tacky-ness!) to the phone. All of the buttons and controls are used easily with one hand. It's certainly small enough to slip comfortably into your pants pocket.
I have to hand it to Motorola. The front of the M really is all screen. The amount of bezel on the left and right sides is the thinnest — or close to the thinnest — we've ever seen. Even the bezel above and below the display is tiny, especially since Motorola ditched the dedicated control buttons that might normally appear on the bottom. The result leaves the M with no wasted space. Spartans would approve.
The sides are a wee bit busy in appearance. In addition to the three torx screws, the left edge houses the microSD and SIM cards, and the microUSB port. The two small card ports are protected by a single hatch. You really have to sink your thumbnail into the slots to retrieve the cards. The power button and volume toggle are on the right edge. They both have good travel and feedback. The power button is silver and has ridges, while the volume toggle is white and smooth. The different textures make them easy to tell apart. The 3.5mm headset jack is on the top edge of the phone.
As with other modern RAZR designs, the M does not have a removable battery. Instead, the battery is locked under a patterned Kevlar surface. Don't expect the M's Kevlar lining to take a bullet for you. Instead, it is merely highly scratch resistant and adds a cool look to the device.
In all, I am impressed with the RAZR M's body. It is one of the most usable pieces of hardware Motorola has brought to market in the last year.
The M's display is excellent. It measures 4.3 inches and offers 540 x 960 (qHD) resolution. It isn't the highest-resolution display on the market, but the small size and generous pixel count make for a great screen. Text, images, and graphics looked razor-edged, and colors were bright and beautiful. Thanks to the Super AMOLED Advanced technology, the display worked well outdoors and was easy to read under bright skies.
The M is another signal hound from Motorola. Like a Labrador Retriever, the M was able to sniff out Verizon's network everywhere I took it. The M went to toe-to-toe with every Verizon device I've ever tested. No matter what the signal meter read, it made calls and surfed the net with the best of them. I experienced no dropped calls, and, since the M never dropped to 3G, browsing sessions were always snappy.
The sound is, in a word, outstanding. I was able to hear calls made in a crowded, noisy event space with ease. In fact, a raging DJ had nothing on the M, so loud is the phone's earpiece. Clarity of calls was excellent. Calls routed to the speakerphone were loud and clear, just the way I want them to be. I was even able to hear the speakerphone in a loud bar. Quality didn't suffer at all. Ringtones and alerts were also plenty loud. The vibrate is good, but not awesome.
Thanks to the M's 2,000mAh battery, it delivers a full day of battery life with power to spare. Quite often the phone lasted 36 hours or more on a single charge — all under 4G LTE coverage. I used the M quite heavily during the day to check email, RSS, and Twitter, as well as to stream tunes via Google Music. Motorola said at the M's splashy NYC debut that it is prioritizing battery life on all of its devices, and the M proves it.
The M runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which has been lightly skinned by Motorola. The most noticeable changes made by Motorola all appear on the home screen, as many of the deeper functions of the operating system are very close to stock Android 4.0.
The M includes some lock screen shortcuts that can take users directly to the camera, phone, or messaging apps in addition to silencing the ringer, rejecting calls, and unlocking the device. These shortcuts aren't customizable.
The M has only a single home screen panel when you first boot it up. You have to add more yourself, if you want to. Motorola offers a selection of home screen panel templates (which are pre-populated with apps/widgets), as well as blank screens. No matter how many home screen panels you choose to add, the left-most panel is the main one.
Beyond these customizations, the M runs a fairly clean version of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. The drop-down notification shade, main app menu, and settings tools are all unadulterated Android 4.0.
The M's customization powers are as good as any other Android phone. You can add and delete home screen panels at will, stick all sorts of widgets, apps, and shortcuts on them, and do all the normal things such as change ringtones, wallpapers, and such.
Performance is rock solid. The 1.5GHz dual-core processor gets the job done with horsepower to spare. I didn't experience any hiccups or problems with the user interface, with apps, nor any other facet of the M.
Pressing the phone button on the home screen brings you to the dialpad. You can swipe sideways to access the call log and your favorite contacts. The call log provides some information about calls (time, duration) in addition to shortcuts for redialing or sending a text message to that number.
In-call actions are available via controls that appear on the bottom of the screen, You can open the dialpad, turn on the speakerphone, mute calls, or add a line.
The contact cards are clean and organized in appearance. The tools for accessing, editing, sharing, and otherwise interacting with your contacts are all easily found.
As noted, you can place contact cards, direct dial, or direct message shortcuts on the home screens. These give you instant access to your closest peeps. You can also add contacts to your Favorites list — which is visible in the phone application.
The M includes Motorola's contact widget for the home screen, which appears in the form of four empty boxes at the top. Drag the set of boxes down, and the stacks will open up to show you a grid of your top 20 contacts, complete with photo ID. Tap the photo of your contact, and it will open a drop-down menu that offers a handful of quick actions.
Motorola includes the expected collection of stock communications tools on the M and offers no surprises or special features.
The SMS application offers threaded conversations. The usual two Android email applications are also present. There's the generic email app for POP3/IMAP4 and Exchange, as well as the native Gmail application.
On the instant messaging side of the equation, the stock Google Talk application is on board for Google IM users, but Yahoo, AIM, and Windows Live aren't supported out of the box. You'll have to find alternatives in the Google Play Store. Both Twitter and Facebook are pre-installed.
Other social apps/services on board include Google Latitude, Google+, and Google+ Messenger.
All of the stock Android media tools are available on the M. That includes Google Play Music, Play Movies, Play Books, and Play Magazines, as well as the Google Play Store.
In terms of performance, music that I played through the Google Play Music app sounded good, even when streamed over the cellular network or Wi-Fi. I wish the Google Play Music app had more controls for fine-tuning the sound, though.
The Google Play Movies app is a fine video player for sideloaded, captured, or purchased content. Movies looked really good on the Super AMOLED display, and sounded good on my favorite pair of earbuds.
Of course, this is a Verizon phone, so its NFL application is on board, as well. Football fanatics may enjoy the access it provides to games on the weekends.
The M does not have a dedicated camera button, but the camera can be accessed from the lock screen. It launches quickly. The camera controls are nicely arranged and intuitive to use.
The M's camera can shoot at a maximum of 8 megapixels with a 4:3 aspect ratio. If you want to shoot in a 16:9 ratio — matching most of today's TVs and computer monitors — images are 6 megapixels.
The focusing box hovers in the middle of the screen, but the M also includes touch-to-focus if you want to be specific. There's a slide on the left of the display for zooming and the volume key doubles as a zoom key.
The M's camera offers shooting modes such as portrait, landscape, close-ups, sunsets, and more. It has an easy panorama mode for taking shots of wide vistas.
Overall, the camera functions well. It opens quickly, is quick to focus, and is fast to capture/save images.
The M's camera does a better job than the Photon Q or Atrix HD. I thought the low-light performance was vastly improved when compared to these other Motorola devices. Focus was good, exposure accurate, and white balance correct most of the time. Shooting in low light adds some grain to the results, but that's not out of the ordinary. The flash does a great job when lighting is poor, as long as your subject is only a few feet away. Overall, the results are laudable.
The 1080p HD video camera does a good job, too. Most of the time exposure was spot on, focus was clear, and colors looked good. The results will look excellent on YouTube as well as your HDTV.
The M uses the standard Android 4.0 gallery app. It shows stacks of photos and videos floating on the screen, which are broken down into groupings such as Camera Shots, All Photos, All Videos, and Screenshots. The gallery also includes access to online accounts, such as Facebook or Picasa.
When viewing images, buttons appear along the bottom for performing actions such as share, delete, play, and so on. It's a snap to share photos through any social network/messaging service you want.
Editing features are decent, though the bulk of them are simply different filters. For example, some of the "edits" that can be applied include: Fill Light, Shadows, Posterize, Vignette, and Fisheye. The M also lets users crop photos, eliminate red-eye, straighten them, rotate them, flip them, and sharpen them.
The M ships with an average number of apps for a Verizon device. The generous on-board storage (8GB) combined with support for 32GB microSD cards means you don't need to worry about running out of room for your own apps. In addition to the Google Play Store, Verizon has supplied its own app store, as well as the Amazon App Store. Yeah, there's no shortage of ways to search for apps on the RAZR M.
The M is one of the few devices that ships with Google Chrome as the default browser. Chrome is an excellent mobile browser. It is fast, does a great job of rendering web pages, and offers plenty of advanced tools. Mated with Verizon's LTE network, you have a web browsing powerhouse on your hands.
The M supports the typical set of Bluetooth profiles, including those that allow you to connect to mono and stereo headsets, other phones, PCs, cars, and so on. It paired with all device without issue and had no trouble communicating with other gear. Phone calls sent to Bluetooth headsets were quite good, as were those I routed through my car's hands-free system. Music sounded OK when passed through stereo Bluetooth speakers.
If you're in a hurry to check the time, a quick press of the lock key lights up the M's display, making the large digital clock visible. The clock is white, so choose your wallpaper carefully. The behavior of the lock screen clock can't be adjusted, but of course there are myriad clock widgets for the home screen panels.
The M includes Google Maps and VZ Navigation. You know the drill here. Google Maps is great for a free service, with cool features such as offline use and 3D maps. VZ Navigator is an excellent navigation app, but it costs $10 per month to use. As far as the GPS performance itself goes, the M was quick to locate me. It often found my exact location in less than 10 seconds. Accuracy was within about 10 feet.
Motorola did a bang-up job with the Droid RAZR M. It hits the mark on nearly every feature. It's small, light, and easy to use; offers an excellent display; excels at communications features; and even has a good camera.
The Android 4.0 software and Motorola customizations run smoothly thanks to the zippy processor. Battery life exceeded my expectations (especially for an LTE 4G device).
The RAZR M doesn't skimp on anything, except for perhaps the super huge footprint that plagues some of today's flagship devices. The RAZR M is the most balanced and usable smartphone I've come across in a long time. The Motorola Droid RAZR M is all killer and no filler.
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