Motorola Droid Razr M Review: The Smaller Sibling
The Droid Razr M represents a baby step for Motorola, and quite literally -- compared to its siblings, like the Razr HD and Razr Maxx HD, it's the runt of the litter. 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 to achieve a sleek look -- no capacitive buttons here -- and a grippy Kevlar back. The slim bezel minimizes the bulk, though I wish Motorola did away with it entirely. The corners are softer than the Razr Maxx, and at 0.3-inches thick, you won't have to make 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-repellant nanocoating, 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 is just around 256-ppi pixel density, so the amount of details you'll see are mediocre. For comparison, the iPhone's Retina display has a razor-sharp 326-ppi.
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. Of course, the front-facing VGA lens is pretty blurry -- it's adequate for video chat, and nothing more. But even for that, the fuzziness will drive your friends crazy. Just like the rest of the phone, the compromises on the camera are very reasonable. I can't say I'm not just a little disappoint, but frankly, sacrifices to the front lens for price are fine. But the main camera is pretty solid. Really, that's all that matters.
The M ships with ICS, with a promise to upgrade to Jelly Bean. In the meantime, ICS works like a charm, and I like Motorola's custom "circle" widget -- instead of a normal homescreen, you get a 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, and it's just a simple way to see everything you really care about. Luckily, Motorola didn't mutilate Android with a heavy skin, and in many cases you'll think you were using a vanilla version -- and that's great. The changes are generally positive -- swiping away from the homescreen takes you to the settings, for example. But it's not very helpful to change them within an app, since you can't do it.
But where Motorola really shines is its "SmartActions" feature. It lets you create "rules" to toggle functions on and off. For instance, if you want to reduce battery drain, you can turn on a "low battery save" rule, which turns off features like GPS, and reduced screen brightness to prolong the life. Have an important meeting? No problem. Set up the "meeting" rule and when you're at the office, when there's a meeting in your calendar, your phone will go into silent mode. Time for bed? Set the "sleeping" rule and the phone will turn in for the night when you do. The best part is you can even set a "VIP" list, so people can still wake you up in an emergency. It all works automatically. I found SmartActions genuinely helpful, and it's one of the best features out there.
But unfortunately, Motorola also added a bunch of useless bloatware. I mean, you'll have a few nice ones from Google, but then again, there's a bunch from Amazon too, including one for Zappos shoes. That's much too specific to preloaded, in my opinion, but you can disable them -- you just can't delete them. On the plus side, 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.
Motorola added a 2,000 mAh non-removable battery -- it's not as ridiculous as the Maxx HD's 3,300 mAh behemoth, but still outstanding and a cut above most smartphones. Don't worry about carrying your charger around -- even with heavy use, you'll get a day out of it. With moderate use, you can expect two or more days. Meanwhile, the 1.5-gigahertz dual-core chip is on par with the Galaxy S3, and that means it'll work like lightning. 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.
If you like the Razr series, but the large size freaks you out, the M is a fantastic alternative. 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. ♦
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