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What follows is a review for my latest smartphone: Motorola's Droid Razr M. It's an Android powered smartphone that runs on Verizon's network. A review of this sort may seem late, but I don't believe you get a true feel for a device after just a few days — or even a week — of use. I've been using the Razr M for about a full month now. Since I've been using this phone for an extended period, I'll be better equipped to give a complete picture of it for those in the market for a new smartphone. However, this will be more of a
This is how I use my phone, and this is how well it works for me. review. Obviously, different people will have different priorities. Let's begin.
Prior to owning the Razr M, I had an HTC Droid Incredible. The Incredible was pretty a good phone for me because 1. I got it for free and 2. I rooted it.1 I wrote an article on the benefits of rooting your phone, so I won't rehash that here.
Shortly after buying the Razr M and using it for a few days my intial impressions were overwhelmingly positive. I was genuinely excited I had gotten a phone — from Motorola — that didn't suck. It had a good display. The physical size of the phone was perfect for me (not too large). They also managed to fit a large screen into this smaller-than-average sized phone. I made numerous tweets on how awesome it was, along with any downsides I had noticed at that point. My overall impression was: good, solid phone.
I think Motorola managed to create a gem of a phone in the Razr M. I love the look of it. I don't say this lightly. This is coming from someone who, for comparison, loathed the design of the original Razr. In framing its phone, Motorola has managed to capture the unique essence of a razor —
sharp edges, slight tapering from top to bottom — and distilled that into an aesthetically pleasing form.
The phone seems solidly built as well. There's a heft to it that wasn't there with my Incredible, or even my T-Mobile Vibrant before that. The Razr M isn't remotely close to indestructible though. I used it as a flashlight while changing oil in our minivan and the plastic frame got a few scrapes around the edges. The rear of the plastic frame is dominated by what is reportedly a Kevlar surface. It's a soft touch material that feels pretty good to hold. The plastic body is assembled with Torx screws which effectively prevents casual tampering and easily swapping the battery, both points I'll address below.
Since the Razr M's frame is secured with torx screws, I assumed this meant any self repair work would be a pain. Not so, as teardowns reveal that once those screws are off, Motorola has made repairability a breeze. Contrast that with reports of the original Razr's user repairability. This is commendable as it makes replacing or repairing parts for the DIY fixer less prone to catastrophic failure (read: needing to buy a new phone). Seeing that phone repairs are one of my freelance services, I appreciate it all the more.
Battery Life and 4G Internet
As I alluded to above, the Razr M does not have a removable battery. I don't see this as a problem though. It uses micro usb ports for charging, so in a pinch you shouldn't have too much trouble getting it charged. Micro usb is all but ubiquitous; unlike the iPhone 5's new proprietary connector. Battery life is actually great, provided you aren't using 4G all the time. The day after I got the phone I barely made it to 8 hours before the phone was dead. This was because I was both tethering AND using the 4G Internet which, let me tell you, is blazingly fast. If we didn't stream so much online video at home I'd kill our cable Internet subscription and use this all the time (which is to say, Netflix will rape your bandwidth if, like us, you have a mobile internet cap).
Increasing Battery Life
Knowing a bit about cell radios and not really needing or even being able to consistently get 4G indoors (at work) I disabled it. After telling the radio to only search for a 3G signal I was easily able to go a whole day without needing to charge. By the end of the night it was still possible to have a 15-20% charge left.
After I set the phone to connect to 3G only I'm able to get through an 8 hour day of heavy activity without needing to charge at the end. I consider heavy activity :
- Checking email and twitter hourly in the background
- Talking on the phone infrequently
- Texting intermittently
- Surfing the web often (at the lowest brightness setting)
- Tethering for an hour or two
Your mileage will vary depending on your definition of heavy activity.
The take home though is: If 4G is enabled, even if you're not using it, your battery life will suffer. Coming from an Incredible and never, in any configuration, being able to get a day's worth of service without needing to charge, I'd say the Razr M has pretty good battery life. Let me put it this way, as long as 4G is off, battery life doesn't suck. If 4G is on, but not in use, battery life is bearable. If 4G is on, and in use, bring a charger.
Disabling 4G — for the brave.
As far as I know all Android phones have so called
secret codes which allow access to extra functionality deep within the operating system (OS). To prevent the phone from using its 4G powers we'll be using one of these secret codes. Beware though. I've found that after rebooting, the Razr M changes back to its default setting of using 4G service. There are many other settings present that can do VERY BAD THINGS TO YOUR PHONE, so you should probably leave these alone if you're not prepared to deal with breaking your phone. Before I give any instructions, I'd like to point out that you're doing this at your own risk, should you follow along on your phone.
- In the phone dialer type *#*#4636#*#*
- Hit the dial/call button
- You should now be in the Phone information section. If not, just choose that option now. This is where the magic happens.
- Scroll to the top, then start scrolling down the screen slowly. Once
you've gotten to the first drop down box select
CDMA auto (PRL). If you're feeling particularly adventurous there are other options present.
Once your phone is set to only search and connect to 3G signals only, you should be able to notice an increase in battery life.
The biggest drain for the battery besides — or perhaps in conjunction with — 4G service, is the screen. It is a beautiful screen though. I remember reading a review complaining about that type of AMOLED screen this was. To my not-quite-30-yr-old eyes the screen looks lovely in its 4.3 inches of 960x540 glory.
Supposedly this is a midrange phone but the only thing that is midrange in my mind is the screen resolution. In the era of 720p and upcoming 1080p screens,
540p — the previous gold standard — is no longer top of the line. That's fine since every other aspect of this phone screams
I'm here to play with the big boys. And by big boys, I do mean big. Those beastly 4.5, 4.7 and 5.0 inch screened phones are huge and a definite turn off for me. The Razr M is a phone that provides me with the perfect fit: large screen size, compact form factor. As Hannah Montana would say,
it's the best of both worlds. As a point of reference, it's not much taller or wider than an iPhone 4. It's actually a bit smaller once you factor in the protective iPhone case.
Speaking of midrange, the price of the Razr M does indeed put it in midrange territory, but the performance is anything but. Apart from the screen, the specs are similar to the Samsung's Galaxy S III line. That means it can do just as much as those phones, but with a smaller screen, and of course, smaller cost. I've played a variety of games: Temple Run, Plants vs. Zombies, Cut the rope, and none of these had any slowdowns during gameplay.
The phone is smooth and responsive in going to the home screen and swiping from screen to screen. This even persists while running to live wallpapers. I've been using the Galactic Core live wallpaper since getting this phone and have noticed no issues with its animation. Ever. There is the occasional issue where, after using a lot of apps then going back to the home screen, it takes some time to repopulate the screen with icons and widgets.
It is rare to get a phone that isn't a part of Google's Nexus program without a manufacturer skin added. Unfortunately these skins — additional layers of artwork and software meant to differentiate a manufacturer's version Android — usually mar the experience. I'm happy to report that Motorola has only made minimal changes to Android. Of the changes it has made, I've found them to be welcome additions. I'll list some prominent ones below:
— Quick Settings: These are Motorola's quick settings. They're accessed by swiping all the way to the left of the homescreen, and provide quick access to commonly toggled settings. They work well but are not customizable so I don't use them much. I've instead installed Settings Extended and configured it exactly as I want. Settings Extended is conveniently located in the notification bar, just one swipe away.
— Artwork: Motorola's also changed up the artwork in order to brand this device. I don't love it, but I don't hate it either. It's ok
— Widgets: Motorola's provided a nifty little circle widget that gives weather, battery and time info. The clock area also doubles as a notification area telling you when texts come in or calls are missed. I like it a lot.
— Lockscreen : The lockscreen has a toggle for quickly changing the volume. Love it! It also allows you to unlock to one of 4 activities: phone, camera, text, or whatever-you-were-doing-before.
— Crapware: Ugh. Verizon's loaded this up with a host of programs that I wish would die in a fire. I went to Settings → Apps → All and froze as many as I could. Now that we've got root), this too shall pass.
— Smart Actions: The smart actions allow you to program your phone to do actions (launch a program, send a text) based on certain predefined conditions (I'm at work, battery is low, etc.) being met. I find them very useful. My main use is to turn off the volume while at work, or sleeping, so that the phone will only vibrate, unless certain people call then it should ring. Yeah, you can get that detailed with it.
— GPS/Location services: GPS works, and works well. Except when it doesn't. I was having issues with the GPS working, but I tracked this down to the smart actions I had setup. I had it set up to turn off GPS if the battery was below 25%. At the end of a work day with a good deal of tethering, the battery would be right around those levels and toggling the GPS setting would not help. Once I remembered the smart action and disabled this setting, all seemed well. Motorola also offers its own location service, as does Verizon (VZW), in addition to Google's offering. These are separate from GPS functionality and they seem to work well.
After moving to another building for work, I get worse reception from VZW's cell towers. It also seems that tethering takes a hit from that. My iPad, which I tether to the Razr M, will be connected but stops/slowsdown halfway through loading a website. I have yet to determine whether this is a VZW or iOS 6, or RAZR M issue, but I thought I'd point it out in the meantime.
Is it for you?
I don't know if its for you, but it definitely is for me. My subjective opinion is that the Droid Razr M is an excellent device and I highly recommend it.
Given the discount you get if purchased from Amazon, 2 and given that I get a portion of any sales I refer to Amazon, and given the fact that its now possible to root the phone, I say if you're in the market for a new phone and with Verizon, this is definitely a phone you should be considering.
If I were a scoring man, I'd give it a 9 out of 10. It starts out with 10. -1 for battery life. -1 because its not the best design out there (HTC One X). -1 because its not HD resolution (720p). +1 for price and another +1 because I like it so darned much.
Want to comment? @reply to @opinion8d_logic on twitter with the hashtag #razrmreview. I'll post the ones I deem worthy here.
- Rooting is the process of obtaining administrator access on your phone. It grants you complete control of both hardware and software. ↩
- I'm not sure if ordering a phone from Amazon is a great idea because they have an early termination fee in addition to Verizon's already hefty ETF. If for any reason you foresee the possibility of needing to leave your Verizon contract, I say purchase it from VZW directly. You may even want to wait and see if there are any Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales. Just sayin'. I got mine from a VZW retail store, but that's because I didn't want to wait. Otherwise I would have gotten it from VZW's online store (for the instant rebate) or Amazon (if I had no plans to leave VZW in the next year). ↩