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First Australian review of Motorola’s 4G RAZR HD

By Leigh D. Stark | 3:34 pm 04/10/2012

The first handset from Motorola to support the next-generation of high speed 4G mobile connections, the new RAZR brings with it a bigger screen, heavier battery, and LTE performance, marrying it with some strong materials to help survive day to day life.

Features

Motorola has been mostly missing in action from the smartphone scene this year, with only a handful of handsets released and none really stealing the flagship crown from last year’s reincarnated Motorola RAZR.

With only a few months until the end of 2012, the company is back with a new RAZR, designed to take on strong competitors like the Samsung Galaxy S3 4G and Apple iPhone 5.

First up is the screen which sits at 4.7 inches and supports 720 x 1280 (also known as 720p HD), up from the 4.3 inch 540 x 960 qHD screen used in last year’s RAZR. The technology used here is Super AMOLED covered in Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, and coated in a splash-resistant nano-coating. This also covers the back, which itself is encased in Kevlar fibre.

Those are some high quality materials, and Motorola aims to impress not just with the RAZR’s build, but also its innards, which enclose a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, 1GB RAM, and 16GB storage. You can increase capacity via a microSD slot, which is located next to the microSIM card slot.

One of the most recent versions of Android is available here – Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich – and while it’s not the newest iteration there is, Motorola says the upgrade is coming soon.

Multimedia and connection options are all fairly standard, with many of these features seen on other top-tier handsets we’ve seen this year, but we’ll go through them nonetheless.

You’ll find an 8 megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash on the back, plus support for capturing Full HD 1080p video, with a 1.3 megapixel front camera for video conferencing and the occasional self-portrait.

Connectivity is covered with WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, Near-Field Communication (though this relies on the SIM card), and microUSB charge and data port, and Motorola has been kind enough to include a microHDMI port, too.

Anyone who just can’t live without the web will be pleased to know that Motorola’s RAZR HD supports Telstra’s 4G network running on Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology. This offers speeds over 20Mbps when you’re in range, and just under it when you have to switch back to a 3G connection.

With all of this onboard, Motorola is hoping the phone can not only survive your regular day, but also not run out of juice, and to help the engineers have thrown in a massive 2500mAh battery, the same sized battery from Samsung’s massive Galaxy Note.

Unlike most of 2012’s phones, there are no painted-on or decal-printed soft buttons for using Android, with most of front occupied by the 4.7 inch screen.  Yhe regular three bottom buttons – back, home, and app switcher – are provided in software with an onscreen display that can change based on the app you’re running.

There are two physical buttons on the handset, though, with a power button and volume rocket both sitting on the right edge of the Motorola RAZR HD.

A 3.5mm headset jack can be found at the very top of the handset.

Performance

The first of two 4G phones Motorola that will be launching this year, the Motorola RAZR HD is the result of Google and Motorola really working together, thanks to the search engine’s acquisition of the owner of the RAZR brand.

Designed to be strong, competitive, long-lasting, and stylish, it’s a different machine from the RAZR we saw last year when Motorola relaunched the once seriously successful brand.

While obvious things like the screen size, chip, operating system, and connection have changed, so too has the thickness, which has actually increased from 7.1mm to 8.4mm, no doubt thanks to the bigger battery in the new handset.

In the hand, it’s a better experience than last year’s RAZR. Even if you have small hands, you’ll find the grip is noticeably better, with a slight curvature of the back – compared to none on the original RAZR – that makes it rest in the palm much more easily.

There’s a touch more heft here – 20 grams, actually – and all up, the RAZR HD manages to feel like a solid phone.

You can feel the quality in its design too, with the Kevlar-backed handset exhibiting an almost rubberised feel, making it just that much harder to fall from the hands. Motorola’s power button has little lines cut into it too, which provide a touch of resistance and help to point out which of the two buttons you’re touching.

The left side of the RAZR features a SIM card slot hidden by a tray, with a microSD slot underneath. The microUSB charge and data port is further along the right, next to the microHDMI out.

The same water-resistant coating from the first RAZR is included here, so don’t worry if you get caught in a flash storm. Likewise, Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass will protect the screen from your keys, adding more robustness to this already well-built handset.

While the use of Kevlar on the back is an awesome concept that lends itself to more protection, you’ll be surprised just how dirty this can get with simple touches. Chances are that you won’t notice the grubbiness until you shine some light on the back, and the good news is that it’s easily wiped down with a cloth, but it’s worth noting just how easily it can pick up on smudges.

Using the phone, you’ll find Motorola has provided a reasonably recent installation of Google’s Android operating system, with version 4.0 here, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, with 4.1 or ‘Jelly Bean’ set to arrive later in the year.

The main screen on Motorola's RAZR HD starts in the middle. Swipe left and you'll have a quick option toggle, while swiping right yields the page creation screen.

We’re used to seeing the different overlays that various manufacturers bring to Android, but Motorola’s unique perspective means its handsets can take on an approach more in line with what the company that owns it – Google – wants.

That means that the look of Android on the RAZR HD is very close to stock Android Ice Cream Sandwich: it’s clean, simple, and close to what we’ve seen on recent tablets, so if you have one of those, you’ll very much be at home here.

Like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus released late last year – the first phone with Ice Cream Sandwich – there are no printed-on soft buttons like other handsets, with the screen reserving a section of the 720p display at the bottom for on-screen soft buttons that can change based on what you’re doing and what app you happen to be running.

Most of the design here appears to come from Google, with a four icon dock with menu shortcut in the middle, the blue and black dropdown menu and status bar, and horizontal scrolling application menu.

The latter of these works by scrolling left to right, with tabs set out for your favourite apps, the Google Play Store, widgets, and every app or game you have in general. Getting around the menu can take repeated finger swipes, as there doesn’t appear to be shortcuts to let you jump from page one of your widgets to page ten, which appears to be one of the negatives of this layout.

It’s not all Google though, and Motorola has provided some neat changes, with the home screen offering a settings toggle page when you scroll all the way to the left, and extra home screens easily created from either a blank page or one of several pre-loaded templates.

The phone’s regular lockscreen is Google’s typical “drag the circle to a different spot,” but Motorola has pre-mapped applications to load when you pull the unlocking circle up (phone), left (camera), or down (text messaging), with the right direction bringing you back into whatever app you had before you locked your phone. A touchscreen volume switch also sits at the top of this lockscreen, allowing you to quickly turn the ringer on and off.

Smart Actions

Motorola has also programmed in a feature called “Smart Actions” which is a series of programmed variables that can save you battery power, send you notifications, and do a lot more. You can design your own actions by selecting certain things – GPS location, time of day, date – and then get the phone to respond by acting on something, such as playing music automatically, running an alarm, sending an SMS, or turning off data and letting you get some sleep.

The phone will even monitor your battery life over time and pop up with a message informing you that these exist, and that maybe you should run them, which is useful, especially if you’re trying to conserve power.

For the most part, performance of Motorola’s RAZR HD operating system flies without any problems. Apps usually open quickly, benchmarks show that it’s a reasonably fast system, and while we have the odd slowdown here and there, the RAZR HD performs quite well.

Mobile connectivity is also very, very good, as can be expected with 4G inside the RAZR HD. In the centre of Sydney, we pulled speeds of 48Mbps down and over 20Mbps up, which is over twice the theoretical maximum of ADSL2+, enough for anyone to really appreciate.

Even Motorola’s camera isn’t bad, though it’s not the best we’ve ever seen.

There’s no dedicated macro mode that you can force, the shutter is loud and impossible to silence, snapping pictures isn’t quite as fast as the immediacy we’ve come to expect from Ice Cream Sandwich, and the light meter constantly evaluates itself for whatever you’ve focused on, as opposed to the whole scene.

All up, the images aren’t terrible, but they won’t replace a dedicated camera and lack clarity when viewed up close.

One of the problems with the autofocus is that it tends to change the metering of the scene.

In some ways, it feels as if Motorola spent more time on the video mode, though, with some interesting modes, such as a time lapse mode, 60fps slow motion mode capturing in 720p, and audio modes designed to get the microphone recording better in different environments, such as when there’s strong wind or at a loud concert.

Where we do chuck a tantrum is the battery, which only manages roughly a day, especially if you use the screen often. Based on our tests, that’s the area where the battery really takes a hammering, with Android’s battery monitor showing us that roughly 77 percent of the battery was dedicated to the screen.

Our test consisted of pulling the phone off charge at 7.30 AM and using it with 4G tests, social networking, phone calls, emails, web browsing, and the odd game, with the handset running down to 10 percent at midnight.

That’s roughly a day of life, which is about on par with most 4G handsets we’ve tested: not terrible, but it’s certainly not the amazing battery performance Motorola suggests is possible with the RAZR.

One way around this is with Motorola’s specific battery saving Smart Actions, though we suspect you’ll want to keep the screen off for as long as possible to truly maximise the battery life of the RAZR HD.

How does the RAZR HD compare? Take a look at the sizes, with the Samsung Galaxy S3 (left), Motorola RAZR HD (middle), and Apple iPhone 5 (right).

Conclusion

Motorola may be a little late in bringing a new flagship handset to the party, but what it has done with the RAZR HD is pretty fantastic in and of itself.

Sure, it doesn’t have the quad-core processing speeds you may see in other devices, and it doesn’t have the best battery life, but the RAZR HD does feature an impressive build quality, strong 4G performance, and a video camera worth mentioning.

All up, Motorola has done a tremendous job with the RAZR HD, and while we wish the 2500mAh battery would give us a little more juice, it’s a top notch phone worth owning.

Price (RRP)

$720 outright; Available on plans from Telstra;

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Well priced against its competitors; Excellent build materials that make it more resistant to everyday life; Great video modes;

Product Cons

A little on the heavy side; Kevlar back can look grubby; microSD slot hidden under SIM tray, requiring a pin to get access to; Mediocre battery life;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Design

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