21st Nov 2011 | 12:30
The legendary Moto brand gets reborn in an Android skin
Overview, design and feel
We've updated our review to include a greater range of camera shots and to reflect a price drop to just £21 per month on contract.
The familiar Motorola Razr brand is back, but this time it's re-imagined with Android 2.3.5, an 8MP camera with Full HD recording and a super slim chassis that's just 7.1mm.
That doesn't make it the thinnest phone in the world, as it's still got a thicker end to it at the top of the phone - but given you don't hold that section, it certainly feels slim.
However, lumping most of the components at the top does make it feel a little oddly-balanced in the hand, although it's only 127g heavy (incidentally, the original Razr was 95g - but that didn't have GPS, Wi-Fi, 3G or a camera on board).
It can also be had for just £21 per month on a contract these days, which helps it enormously to battle with the rest of the dual-core brigade.
The screen is also oddly designed in our opinion, with a large amount of chassis surrounding the display. This means that, despite being 4.3-inches in size, it does look smaller than similar screens.
That's not to take anything away from the Super AMOLED technology used, as it's top notch: we're talking qHD resolution (960 x 540) and clear and crisp colours making it a joy to use.
The design of the phone is slightly odder though: it's a very angular design, and elements like the power / lock key take their cues from the likes of the Milestone range, with golden coating and ridges to make it easier to find in the hand.
The front of the phone is sparsely populated, as we've come to expect from many mobiles at the moment - we're talking a front facing camera (1.3MP) and the four Android keys. We're always pleased to see the search key added, as it make contextual search for things like Music or Emails that much easier.
The top of the phone features three ports: the 3.5mm headphone slot, the microUSB port and another for the mini HDMI lead, which sadly doesn't come in the box but allows you to pump content to a larger display.
It's a unibody design, obviously to preserve the super thin form factor - this means that you can't access the battery or take the back off. The only way to pop in a microSD card or the microSIM that this phone takes is to pull down a small flap on the side. However, we encountered no freezes so never needed to rip out the battery, and the SIM and SD set up was super painless too.
The Motorola logo at the top could be better quality in our opinion, as it was scratched within a couple of days' use.
There's no camera button to speak of, but the 8MP sensor on the rear is joined by a single (but bright) LED flash and the speaker grille, which offers up some pretty loud sound for such a small opening.
We found the larger screen was just about OK for manoeuvring around with a single hand - we had to stretch to reach items on the far side of the display, but on the whole it was pretty good and easy to use.
Moto has skinned Android to within an inch of its life on the Motorola Razr, and although it's not giving the altered UI a name, it's still something pretty novel.
Let's start with a positive: like so many of the 1.2GHz dual core phones on the market, it whips through the home screens with no issue at all, and is adept at opening and closing a number of applications, no matter how many you have open at one time.
There's no 'pinching to see all your home screens at once' option here; instead you swipe up from the bottom of the screen to see all your displays in one place. It's sad that you can't add in any more home screens, and are stuck with the basic five, as there are so many widgets you'll want to play with that you'll quickly fill up the space.
There is a way to slightly mitigate this, thanks to Motorola: you can resize each widget to make it bigger or smaller, depending on the kind of application. This means you can see more or less of your calendar, incoming messages or emails, and can therefore chuck in a little more stuff.
However, it's not the best system, as some widgets (like music) simply don't want to be resized.
The notifications bar (accessed by dragging down from the top of the screen) is a little different too - sadly, there are no controls on offer with it, meaning you have to jump into the settings menu or put a widget on the homescreen to activate Wi-Fi and the like.
And if you get a message, there's no preview of it in the pull-down menu either, which is odd when so many other phones manage it. We're not fans of the big 'No Entry' signs next to each notification, which allow you to clear said alert - these look ugly and we'd prefer to access them via swiping or the like.
Calling and contacts
The contacts system on the Motorola Razr isn't much different to most other Android phones on the market, with the ability to join and separate accounts to a single person available.
Like the Samsung range, it's not the easiest thing in the world to link up your buddies - you have to press the menu key once inside their profile and select 'Join' to choose from a list of social networking accounts that they could belong to. It's a world away from the ease with which HTC manages it with HTC Sense.
If there's already a lot of information in the contact card, then sometimes you'll have to dig even deeper to find the 'Join' functionality, which can be irritating if you have hundreds of people on your phone... you lucky, popular thing, you.
However, there is a fairly nifty widget on the home screen that lets you select your favourite friends and have them arranged in a grid formation to look at whenever you like, which makes it a lot easier to stay in touch.
We're getting a little bored of saying call quality is 'fine' on today's smartphones, and usually all we can comment on is the volume of the speakerphone.
However, there's a definite issue with the earphone on the Motorola Razr, as making a call means you can hear a definite 'chirrup', almost like a very slight echo, whenever sound comes into your ear, which is a little annoying and ruins the premium feel of the phone.
That aside, we can't really fault the Razr for calling ability though, as it was above average at maintaining signal, even in areas where we've previously struggled to get it going.
There's also smart dialling too, so when you fire up the easy to use dialler, simply tap out the corresponding letters to the persons' name on the phone and the Razr will work out the possible matches, making it very easy to search for people you want to chat to.
The Motorola Razr's messaging capabilities are as good as anything else from the Android range, meaning you can connect up to the likes of Corporate email over Exchange, webmail (with Yahoo, Windows Live and Googlemail all supported from the start), Facebook and Twitter.
Where the Razr beats most of the competition is the ability to aggregate these messages into an easy to use inbox, where all messages from all the accounts will show up in one place.
It's a slightly clumsy system in practice, as it's not always easy to get to the universal inbox without a couple of taps. For instance, you have to pop into 'Messaging' before you can get access to the icon to open up your full list of messages, and there's no way to put an icon for the universal inbox on the home screen.
The widget is supposed to solve that issue, but all this does is bring up a list of unseen messages, and then takes you straight to the Messaging centre again, where you have to click again for the universal inbox. That's after being asked whether you want to mess with the widget settings, so it's not simple to just see all your messages.
It's similar to the Samsung Galaxy S2 in this respect, with its myriad steps to jump into all your messages (and issues with syncing them all at once too) and pales in comparison to the likes of the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and Torch 9810, which both have very easy to use methods of seeing all your messages in one place.
However, we do like the fact you've got offline support for your social networking messages - being able to see and respond to Facebook mails offline and without having to open up the app is a big plus.
There are two pre-installed keyboards on the Motorola Razr, with the standard multi-touch option (based on the Gingerbread keyboard from Google) and Swype on offer. Many people will prefer to use Swype, as it's proved a popular option - and we found it to be as good as any other iteration on alternative handsets.
We preferred the multi-touch keyboard though - the prediction was pretty good, and the auto-correct mostly on the money. We would advise you to look at some of the other decent keyboard on the Android Market, such as Swiftkey X, as they can really improve your typing speed too.
You may have noticed we're fans of the internet browser on many Android phones, and the Motorola Razr is no exception.
Thanks to the 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen, words and images look pin sharp and easy to read even zoomed out, thanks to the upgraded qHD resolution too.
The 1.2GHz processor is also pretty darn adept at whizzing through web pages when it's on song too, jumping from one site to the next without missing a beat.
However, we say 'on song' there because for some reason the Motorola Razr can be a little erratic when browsing the web. Sometimes you can ask it to open up a new website or search on Google and the phone will respond instantly, matching the iPhone 4S or the Samsung Galaxy S2 for speed.
But other times it will seem like it's simply ignoring your request, with no progress bar and just a blank screen to watch, even with a decent signal strength displayed.
This was intermittent, but enough to be irritating - only constantly refreshing the browser brought solace, which is lightly to annoy several users.
Another HUGE gripe is the bookmarking system, with five bookmarks locked in from the likes of ESPN and CNN. We're not fans of loads of prescribed bookmarks from manufacturers at the best of times, but being forced to have a link to those that some people have no intention of ever visiting is particularly galling.
There's also a noticeable judder when moving around the screen, and when zooming into text it's not the smoothest experience on a mobile phone, which again reduces the premium feel.
However, at least there's text reflow on offer - it's not in HTC's league, which automatically re-jigs the text to make sure it always fits the screen no matter how zoomed-in you are. With this version you'll need to double tap the text to make it re-align once zoomed in, but it's not too difficult to achieve.
And good news: Flash video works very well on this powerful little grunt nugget. It loaded up instantly for us in nearly every scenario, and was one of the better versions of the platform on a mobile. Which makes it a big shame that's it's going to be canned from handsets.
There's also an option to Tweet or post to Facebook whatever site it is you're looking at - it's a nice function to have, and shortens your URLs for you. It's annoying to have it so close to the Bookmarks button though, as we constantly pressed it accidentally.
The Motorola Razr comes with an 8MP camera on the back capable of capturing shots of up to 3264 x 2448 pixels and a 1.3MP camera on the front.
There is also a single LED flash on the back, to aid you in low light situations.
You can get to the camera app easily from the lock screen, with a dedicated slide action to take you straight into camera mode. There is also the generic camera app located in the app tray and on the home screens.
The app opens quickly enough, usually taking 1 second. If you wait and allow the phone to focus first (denoted by the white square in the middle turning green), the phone will take the image almost instantly as you press the button. However if you're in a rush, the phone will focus after you have pressed the shutter which causes a second or two of delay, which is a bit frustrating.
The phone does have auto focus, but this can sometimes take a couple of seconds to settle, depending on what you're shooting. We're glad to see tap to focus in play here, which allows you to select a certain object/area of the image for the camera to focus on.
For those of you who like to tweak settings to get that perfect picture, the Razr has a range of options you can choose from. All are easily accessible from the settings toolbar which your can bring up within the app
There are four shooting modes available; single shot, panorama, multishot and timer and when you're using single shot or timer, you can select from six scene options.
We tended to leave the scene toggle on Auto, but if the mood takes, you can select from Portrait, Landscape, Sport, Night Portrait, Sunset and Macro.
To further enhance your photos, there are 8 effects to choose from; normal, black and white, negative, sepia, solarise, red tint, green tint and blue tint. You are also able to tweak the exposure level, from -2 to +2.
Well lit, outside scenes are handled well, as you are easily able to see the ripples in the water around the swan in the image above.
The camera struggles a little with indoor scenes with poorer lighting.
However, it produces better quality images with the flash in use.
Using the default settings on the camera, with no special mode, scene or effect we were able to shoot the harbour scene above.
This is the same scene, using the Black and White effect
This is the same scene, using the Negative effect
This is the same scene, using the Sepia effect
This is the same scene, using the Solarise effect
The digital zoom (up to 8x) performs relatively well, the above was shot through a 3rd storey window.
The macro setting is useful if you wish to capture an object in close up deal and we found the Razr performed well in macro mode.
Also within the settings is the option to capture widescreen images – which will naturally fill the whole of the Razr's display, but the resolution falls to 6MP if widescreen is turned on. You can also select to geo-tag your photos – so you can plot all the locations of your photos on a map, if you so wish.
The Panorama mode works relatively well, automatically taking a series of snaps as you move the camera round and then stitching them together. We did find some blurring if we moved round too quickly, so make sure you take your time.
In multishot mode, once the shutter is pressed, the Razr will take a burst of 6 consecutive images. This is ideal for trying to snap a moving object, such as a car, as it gives you a better chance of getting a centralised photo.
Unfortunately the flash is automatically disabled in multishot mode, so don't bother trying to montage your mate doing the funky chicken in a nightclub – you won't see nuttin'.
The Motorola Razr boasts full 1080p HD playback, and doesn't hide the fact with it clearly printed next to the lens on the back of the phone.
Video recording is reached via the camera app and requires a flick of a switch to change from camera to video mode.
There are various settings available in video mode, which are easy to access via the same toolbar as found on camera mode.
Auto focus is supported in video mode with at tap to re-focus mode, but you cannot select a point on the screen for the Razr to focus on. The single LED flash can be used as a light while shooting in low light, but this only works for short distances. A little bit annoyingly you have to turn the light on or off before videoing, as you are unable to toggle the option while recording.
You can also opt to film using the front facing, 1.3MP camera, however quality here is greatly reduced. As with the flash, you cannot switch between this and the rear camera while filming, you need to select the camera you wish to use before hitting record.
Motorola has included the same effects it has with the camera app, with 8 options to choose from; normal, black and white, negative, sepia, solarise, red tint, green tint and blue tint. You can also adjust the exposure, from -2 to +2.
You'll also find five audio scenes to select; stereo, wind reduction, concert, balanced and front facing.
The Razr allows you to shoot in a range of resolutions from full HD (1080p), all the way down to QVGA (320 x 240), with 720p, DVD and VGA options also available.
Plus there is a video stabilisation feature, which will keep you footage smooth, even after a few shots of tequila. We were pleased to find the zoom option enabled during filming, allowing us to zoom in and out without having to stop recording.
As you can see below video playback is clear and crisp with strong colours and the Razr copes with moving traffic well.
The zoom while recording does a commendable job, with quality only slightly dipping when used.
The auto focus can sometimes be a little sluggish when keeping up with moving objects, but it is not enough to detract from the video itself.
Now we come to a real strong point for the Motorola Razr: media. From an innovative music player to high-quality video playback, we're fans of using the Razr as a day to day PMP.
The music player on the Motorola Razr may not be anything extraordinary sonically, but it's certainly innovative with a number of features that make it different from the reams of similar Android music players.
For starters, it's a portal to start with, rather than a straight list of music. Should you want to browse internet radio, stream over DLNA or simply hop right into your music collection, it's a simple task to choose an option.
It's not an amazing layout though, with album covers scattered all over the screen (most of which are blank, given few people actually update their music collections in such a way) and the options to tap are quite 1997 in their design.
But once you've bopped your way into the music player, you've got the option to not only listen to a song, but also have the lyrics displayed as well. It's almost unerring in picking the right song, and is a fun feature to have - although we suspect you'll be turning it off before too long as like us, you just want to listen to your songs.
The good news is the skin doesn't preclude the full use of the quality Android music player. Fancy it ain't, but if you want to shuffle songs, skip through tracks or set up a playlist, it's all as easy as pie here.
Plus there's also a handy widget that sits on the lock screen, displaying album art and allowing you to skip through tracks without having to head into the phone.
Audio quality is slightly hard to judge here - it's pretty good on the whole, but seems to change markedly depending on the buds you attach to the top. Lower end headphones sounded dreadful (more so than we're used to) but decent options made everything sound rosy again - so we suggest you invest.
We expected video performance on the Motorola Razr to be up there with the best, thanks to the Super AMOLED screen technology it's nabbed from Samsung.
And on the whole it fully lived up to that promise, with excellent colour rendering and deep contrast ratios, making it the equal of the Samsung Galaxy S, if not the S2, which does have the superior Super AMOLED Plus technology on board.
One gripe we do have is the lack of a dedicated video portal. You have to pop into the Gallery application and look for your videos by thumbnail - this is less than ideal when you're not entirely sure what your movies look like compared to one another.
The video player is also a little basic - we're talking a timeline to scrub forwards and back, plus Play/Pause options too. It's not a terrible thing, as this is really all you'll want to do when watching a movie, but if you try some of the third party options on the Android Market like MVideoPlayer, you'll see the world of difference.
The camera roll on the Motorola Razr is a little enhanced compared to the usual grid layout of photos, as it's also pulling in from your social networks.
We're fans of the 'Cover Flow' style of showing the albums of your friends from Facebook, although there don't ever seem to be that many to choose from, yet some persist from a while ago.
That said, opening the pictures is a slick experience considering they're being pulled from the cloud, and it's elements like this that show how far social network photography storage has come - we can now see hideous pictures of ourselves right before we go into a job interview.
Hands on photography
The Motorola Razr is one of those phones that, like the Atrix, we instantly looked forward to when we saw it launched. A super thin body, oodles of RAM, Kevlar casing and a top end processor are all things we want to see in a phone of this ilk, and it's good to see Moto attempting to compete with the likes of Samsung and Apple.
The current Motorola overlay might not be explicitly called MotoBLUR, but we liked it nonetheless. It's bright, colourful, and adds something different to the Android system with resizable widgets, a fancy notifications bar and the ability to hide the apps you don't like from the menu.
The media options on the phone are excellent as well, with the video and music players both managing to be excellent additions. They're not the best we've seen on a phone, but the range of functionality is certainly impressive.
And the dual core processor - sure it's nothing new, but there's a lot to be said about a phone that simply WORKS when you want it to, and doesn't just return a blank thinking screen while you wait for your smartphone to think about doing what you asked it.
Smart Options are a nice touch as well, with the ability to make your phone do certain things based on time of day, location or functionality. It's something we're sure we'll see a lot more of, and remember: you saw it here (sort of) first.
However, despite running a very similar feature set to the Samsung Galaxy S2, there was a lot we weren't so impressed with on the Razr. The top heavy design means the phone feels a little odd in the hand - almost unbalanced at times when typing. It's not a big problem, but detracts from the impressive slimness.
The fact we can only have five home screens is irritating too - the onus here is on widgets, and while you can resize them, we quickly ran out of space to chuck them.
Battery life is similarly unimpressive, with our Motorola Razr often beginning to panic around 8PM each evening. While is mostly lasted until charge time, it's irritating to be told you should be looking for a charger - like a child that worries too much about bedtime.
The fact we're not allowed to delete certain bookmarks also annoyed us beyond belief - sure, this is a little thing, but it's OUR phone and we should jolly well be allowed to choose which sites we want to look at regularly and which we don't. This had better be fixed with the next software update or we'll... well, do nothing. But keep moaning to people about it when they mention the phone.
Motorola needed a phone like the Razr in its arsenal, and now it has one to be proud of. It's got all the dual-core power of the Atrix, plus a superior screen; more importantly, it's jumped from a squat chassis to a sumptuous slimline affair that glides into the pocket.
However, we're not sure about the way the screen is swamped in the frame of the phone, nor about the certain elements Moto has locked down - plus the battery life remains an issue.
Looks- and functionality-wise, there are many comparisons to be made with the Samsung Galaxy S2 - and we can't help but recommend that latter over this phone, with a superior range of customisation on offer and a snappier UI to boot.