I'm impressed it doesn't make deal-breaking sacrifices to bring down the price -- yes, you'll get less storage and a lower resolution display, but you also get a more compact design. In short, it's a good phone at a great value.
Unlike the bigger brethren, the M is closer in size to the iPhone 4S. But like the HD and Maxx HD, the M comes with a Gorilla Glass screen spread across the front for a sleek look -- no capacitive buttons here -- and a grippy Kevlar back. The slim bezel cuts down the bulk, but I wish Motorola did away with it entirely. The corners are softer than the Razr Maxx, and at 0.3-inches thick, it's slim enough to leave plenty of room in your pocket.
Thin doesn't equal flimsy here, though, and the six Torx screws on the sides give it a sturdy industrial feel. The only design feature I don't like is the side flap covering the microSD and micro-SIM slots. It feels as if it's going to fall off. The phone is protected by a water-repellent nano-coating, so I suppose exposure to the elements won't be a problem.
Despite the smaller body, the 4.3-inch display is generously-sized compared to the 3.5-inch iPhone, an achievement made by the edge-to-edge configuration. Super AMOLED gives robust saturation and makes colors stand out, even in direct sunlight, but the PenTile pixel layout sacrifices on clarity around images and text, so objects look a bit blurry and grainy close up.
Meanwhile, the 960-by-540 resolution impressed me; it gives impressive detail for a mid-level device. Still, it falls short of high-end displays, like the 1,280-by-720 pixels on the Atrix HD, which is an older model at the same price. So if you'd rather have a better screen instead of a newer phone, give the Atrix some thought. That said, the M has just 256 pixels in every square inch, so the amount of details you'll see are mediocre. For comparison, the iPhone's Retina display has a razor-sharp 326.
The 8-megapixel camera comes with the same LED flash and 1080p video recording as the more expensive Razr models, and there's a lot to like: the shutter snaps quickly, and HDR mode, in particular, gives you stunning, dynamic high-contrast images. It's impressive. If you like to take photos of bold sunsets or roiling thunderstorms, you'll get great results. But, there's a caveat. For some reason, the shutter makes an annoying, loud "snap" sound by default. You can disable it, luckily -- but it'll startle you.
The front-facing VGA lens is pretty blurry and adequate for video chat, but nothing more. Just like the rest of the phone, the compromises on the camera are very reasonable. I can't say I'm not a little disappointed, but frankly, sacrifices to the secondary lens for price are fine. But the main camera is pretty solid. Really, that's all that matters.
It runs on ICS with a promise to upgrade to Jelly Bean. But rather than the normal homescreen, you get Motorola's cluster of disc-shaped icons, which show you the time, weather, missed calls, incoming messages and battery level. You can switch the circles to other useful menus. It's just a simple way to see everything you really care about.
Motorola didn't use a heavy interface, and you'll think you're using stock Android, which is great. The few tweaks are good -- swiping away from the homescreen takes you to the settings, for example, but where it really shines is "SmartActions," which lets you create "rules" to toggle on and off settings.
Say you want to reduce battery drain -- just turn on the "low battery save" rule, and it'll automatically turns off GPS and reduced screen brightness to prolong the life. Have an important meeting? No problem. Set the "meeting" rule and when you're at the office, and there's a meeting in your calendar, it'll automatically go into silent mode. Time for bed? Set the "sleeping" rule and it'll turn in for the night when you do. The best part is you can even set a "VIP" list, so important contacts can still wake you up in an emergency. Everything works automatically, and it's one of the best features out there.
The M ships with Chrome as its default browser, and it comes with the useful array of Google apps, including Gmail, Google Talk and Google Maps. There's also a widget to stream Amazon music -- one useful Amazon app -- and for Smartdrive, a helpful app that automatically sends calls to voicemail when you hit the open road.
But Motorola also added a bunch of bloatware. You get a few nice apps from Google, but also a bunch of useless ones from Amazon. Zappos shoes, anyone? You can disable them, but you just can't remove them.
Motorola's 2,000 mAh battery is sealed in. And while it's not as ridiculous as the Maxx HD's 3,300 mAh behemoth, the M still outlasts most devices. Don't worry about carrying your charger around -- even with heavy use, I got over a day out of it. With moderate use, it lasted two or more days.
The 1.5-gigahertz dual-core chip, meanwhile, is as fast as the Galaxy S3. There's no stalling or hiccups, and apps load quickly and without hesitation. If you like to keep music and movies, the 8-gigabytes of storage won't be enough, so pick up a microSD card -- just make sure not to rip off that suspiciously delicate flap on the side that protects the slot.
Take a look at the M if you like the Razr series, but want a more compact package. The only drawback is the lack of Jelly Bean, but you'll get it when the update rolls out. The display is decent, but not exceptional. Still, for the price you'll pay, the perks make it a fantastic deal.
Take a look at the Razr HD and Maxx HD. Both have better hardware and a ridiculously-long battery life. Of course, they're even bigger and bulkier than the M, so it's a trade-off.
If you want to stay with the same size, the Galaxy S3, Atrix HD and Incredible 4G LTE are great all-around Android devices. And if you're willing to try Windows, the Lumia 920 and 820 are excellent multimedia phones. ♦
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