Despite the outcome of certain widely publicised court cases, every smartphone manufacturer definitely has a distinct design fingerprint. Sure, they are typically black rectangular boxes with a touchscreen on the front and a camera on the back, but each brand has a unique personality. The Razr HD definitely shares something with last's year's reborn Razr, though where the Razr had sharp, cut corners, the HD now has gently tapering sides. It's still, for us, instantly recognisable as a Motorola phone.
It still has a Kevlar battery cover, too, though this year, Motorola isn't gunning for the absolute thinnest phone on the market. Where the last Razr had a skinny bottom and a thicker camera bump, the back of the Razr HD is uniformed in its depth, with a subtle herringbone pattern across the back that has a soft-touch, rubber-like finish. Still, at 8.4mm deep, the Razr HD is on par with phones like Samsung's Galaxy S3 in the slim stakes.
This design makes way for a larger battery, with a comparably huge 2530mAh capacity unit below the Kevlar cover. Also, the screen is now bigger and in HD, measuring 4.7-inches diagonally and packing in 1280x720 pixels. It's an AMOLED screen like last year, and delivers similarly rich colours, but with sharper detail, thanks to the bonus pixels.
Unlike many of its competitors, Motorola still includes a micro-HDMI port on the side of the Razr HD, and although you don't get a micro-HDMI cable in the box, this is a handy addition for anyone who is interested in using Google's Play Movies service and watching the streams on a flat-panel TV.
The handset has only two external buttons, a power/standby toggle and a volume rocker. There is also a single removable tray for a micro SIM and a microSD memory card.
|Motorola Razr HD||Samsung Galaxy S3 4G||Apple iPhone 5||HTC One XL|
|16/32/64GB storage||32GB storage|
|Android ICS||Android Jelly Bean||iOS 6||Android ICS|
|Telstra||Telstra, Optus||All carriers||Telstra|
You may have read recently on CNET Australia about the direction that Motorola's new Google leadership intends to take the company. The first order of business, it seems, is to ditch the Motorola designed UI's from the past, and to turn the focus in future releases more towards a stock Google Android experience. Perhaps not entirely stock, but certainly closer than its competitors at Samsung, LG, Sony and HTC.
The UI on the Razr HD is a great mix of this philosophy. It runs on the Ice Cream Sandwich build of Android (Jelly Bean is on the way), and there is a lot of ICS on show. Motorola uses its own icon designs, but the layout and flow is mostly stock, with a few neat exceptions. Our favourite is a persistent Quick Settings menu. This settings screen lets you quickly silence the phone, toggle Wi-Fi and Mobile Data, enter Flight Mode and enter the complete system settings easily.
Some of the nice Motorola UI tweaks: the Quick Settings page and the triple-clock widget.
(Screenshots by CBSi)
There are a few nice widgets to choose from as well, including an excellent triple-clock face widget offering the time, weather and remaining battery life, in a trio of interactive bubbles. Also interesting, is seems that Motorola (or Google) has taken heed of Apple's patent on Swipe to Unlock, and the Razr HD is now unlockable using two distinct touches on the screen. However, you can just swipe your finger from the first place to the second. Very clever, Mr Moto.
The problem is that there are processing roadblocks that pop up all over the UI, creating frequent momentary lag-spikes that damage the experience. The Quick Settings page is a good example. The first time you swipe left, it takes two-seconds to load the page, and the same lag is there whenever that action is cleared from the phone's memory. To test this further, we installed a third-party launcher to see if it showed signs of similar lag, but it was buttery smooth. Hopefully, Motorola will iron out these bugs in its next software release, or that the Jelly Bean update makes a significant difference when it is rolled out in a few months.
The camera interface on the Razr HD is superbly laid out, with lots of great functionality at your fingertips. You can easily add (or remove) a small range of image colour filters, change the exposure and switch the LED flash on and off. We also like that there is an option to switch the function of the volume rocker on the phone from "zoom" to "capture", but the position of the volume switch isn't great for use as a shutter.
Under the glass, Motorola includes an 8-megapixel image sensor that is capable of shooting HD video, but unlike several of this year's top camera phones, you can also take photos while shooting a video on the Razr.
Overall, image quality was a little under par, with subdued, dull colour reproduction and somewhat inaccurate focus. Our test photos are fine for thumbing through on the phone itself, but when we viewed them on a PC, they looked pretty uninspiring.
4G and battery life
One of the key elements of this release in Australia is the inclusion of 4G/LTE radios, which adds fast web speeds, but can effect battery life. Motorola acknowledges this by including a 2530mAh battery — the largest we've seen included in a phone this size. And yet, it is still not enough, with the phone's battery life nose-diving towards zero at too steady a pace each day. Like the Galaxy S3 4G, the Razr HD chews through battery too much when the phone is in standby, running dry in about 12- to 14-hours (depending greatly on usage). Also like Samsung's 4G flagship, we switched the Razr HD back into 3G, repeated the tests and doubled the battery life. If you buy a Razr HD, it would be well worth your time to figure out how to switch 4G on and off. You should see better battery life than the GS3 4G, but not as much as we feel you should see from day to day.
If you put the phone into Flight Mode, you will see this enormous battery in action. We ran a continuous 720p video playback test and the Razr HD came out well ahead, adding between 90-minutes and two-hours to the best results by other major phones from this year. That's an extra feature-length movie's worth of playback, which is a boon if you have a micro-HDMI cable and you plug the Razr HD into your TV.
It's also worth pointing out that the Razr HD includes Motorola's Smart Actions app, which lets you trigger certain phone settings that are based on rules you establish in the app. It's not solely designed with battery maintenance in mind, but it is capable of switching battery draining features on and off or up and down. It can't, however, switch the phone from 4G/3G/2G network mode to 3G/2G, so unfortunately, it can't solve this particular problem.
There is a lot to like about the Razr HD, but ultimately, it lacks the polish of its nearest competition. Most users will be un-phased by the frequent, if short, lag-spikes, but it isn't something you will need to contend with on better smartphones. Likewise, 4G should be a big draw-card for this phone, but instead, it is a hindrance, despite Motorola's inclusion of an enormous battery. All elements of the Razr HD are good, if not great, but most of these features are also available in the competition.