Motorola RAZR V3i Review| By Tom Heffernan
The original Razr was released for Cingular in late 2004. And while rival carriers released more advanced versions of the iconic handheld, Cingular customers have patiently waited for a successor.
With the new Razr V3i, Motorola undertook the challenge of improving upon the look, design and features of the original. Replacing a legend is never easy, but the V3i presents a long overdue upgrade over the V3, while offering a design update that maintains its trademark ultra-slim profile.
The V3i, originally scheduled for release at the end of 2005, was mysteriously delayed. Consequently, some of the features are dated and no longer cutting edge, but the addition of a memory slot, 1.2-megapixel camera and iTunes makes the V3i a welcome improvement over the V3.
Building on the V3's popular design, the V3i offers an updated and streamlined look while maintaining its ultra-slim profile. A dark gunmetal-gray casing features a brushed texture, giving the phone a stylish look. The V3's solid feel and smooth lines are enhanced on the V3i.
The clear area that surrounds the 65,000 color external LCD has grown and now encompasses the Motorola logo that glows blue whenever the backlight is activated. The display offers at-a-glance access to the time, network status and battery strength. Located at the top is the 1.2-megapixel camera. For self-portraits or group shots, the external display can be used as the viewfinder.
Along the sides, shortcut keys offer easy access with the clamshell closed. A dedicated voice key on the right activates "MotoSpeak," an advanced speech recognition feature. On the left, volume keys adjust the ringer, earpiece and external speaker. Below, a smart key offers a variety of uses -- as a selection key and to take a picture with the clamshell closed. A multi-function port on the bottom accommodates the charger, Motorola headset and USB cable to connect to a PC.
The external speaker found on the lower back is used with the speakerphone and MP3 player. And the upper back comes off to reveal the battery, memory and SIM cards.
The stylized interior features minor improvements, like a nickel-plated copper alloy keypad and a blue electro-luminescence panel. The keypad offers a cleaner look and raised arrows on the five-way navigation. And an iTunes button replaces the messaging key -- for easier to access to the music player. The internal display is bright and vivid.
At the top of the keypad, menu and left and right soft keys offer intuitive control, while MEdiaNet and iTunes buttons provide convenient shortcuts. Send and end keys fill out the rest of the top section. The ultra-thin keypad features a cool-blue glow, and is easy to use but does have a different feel that may require some adjustment for heavy texters.
Inside and out, the V3i combines style with cutting edge details that make it unique from other phones on the market -- it even manage to set itself apart from the original V3. Out of the box, the Razr V3i comes with a battery, charger, 512-megabyte memory card, headphones with handsfree speaker, USB cable, iTunes CD, quick reference guide and user manual.
A 1.2-megapixel camera is built into the slim case. Operating the lens with the smart key, you can turn the internal display as a viewfinder to snap photos up to 1,280-by-960 pixels -- a significant step up from the 0.3-megapixel camera on the V3. In addition, the V3i can also take pictures at 640-by-480, 320-by-240 and 160-by-120 pixels.
The navigation pad adjusts the lighting conditions -- automatic, sunny, cloudy, indoor home, indoor office and night -- and the 8x digital zoom. Available at all resolutions, the zoom doesn't actually get closer, but rather it merely crops the image. A self-timer -- off, five and 10 seconds -- is also offered. In addition, self-portraits are easy -- just press the smart key to take photos without opening the clamshell.
The phone lacks a flash, so low-light conditions are a problem for the camera. Indoor and night lighting modes can improve the performance, but it merely applies filters, which is limited when the lights go down.
Video clips can be taken and stored or sent through the MMS. Zoom is available for video but the level can't be adjusted once recording has begun. The length is limited only by the amount of space on the memory card, but to send through MMS, they're restricted to around 30 seconds.
At 1.2-megapixels, the camera is a mid-level offering that can serve as an adequate replacement for a digital camera -- under regular lighting conditions. While it doesn't boast the resolution of the 2- or 3-megapixels lens on newer phones, the V3i is far superior to the VGA lenses on entry-level devices. The camera is able to take print quality photos, but its video quality is limited, making it a novelty feature with little else.
Similar to the V3, the V3i offers quad-band service that lets you roam seamlessly across countries and continents -- provided it's unlocked. Airplane Mode is new on the V3i, preventing the phone from making or receiving calls, but handy when you still want to access the features.
It uses the same Motorola interface, which is challenging to navigate. But it has the advantage of being at least familiar to Motorola owners. The main menu is listed in the traditional 3-by-3 gird and background pictures are shown faintly behind, giving a slightly custom look.
Motorola rated the battery at three hours of talk time and eight days of standby, which falls just shy of the ratings for previous Razr models. These times are under optimal conditions, so actual performance will vary. With all of the features, the battery life is a concern, but you shouldn't have problems as long as the phone is charged regularly.
An external display offers a convenient look at the battery level, network status, and date and time. Made from STN technology, the 65,000 color 96-by-80 pixel screen is a bit dull, but offers power-saving features to extend the battery life. By contrast, the 262,000 color internal display is constructed of TFT technology. The inner screen provides rich contrast and brightness, but still trails high-end devices beginning to offer 16.7 million colors. TFT screens have circuit transistors on the glass to provide more intense colors and by not having to scan pixel locations, for faster refresh rates as well.
With its small size and limited color and brightness, the external screen can be challenging to use -- especially in sunny conditions. But the efficient display lowers power consumption. The more crucial internal display offers greater performance and is a noticeable improvement over the V3.
Integrated with iTunes, the popular software from the iPod, the V3i is able to access Apple's software with its MP3 player. You can create playlists or sort songs by artist, album and title. ITunes can be accessed through a dedicated key on the keypad for intuitive controls. The left and right navigation arrows are used for fast forward, rewind, skip and back. Song volume is adjusted through either the up/down arrows or the earpiece volume button on the side.
ITunes software is well-integrated and lets you listen to songs while using the other features. You'll be able to take advantage of the music while sending text messages, snapping photos and checking email. In addition, the music pauses when you get an incoming call.
The V3i has enough storage for music, but iTunes imposes a hard limit of 50 songs. Added to prevent Apple from cannibalizing its own iPod market, the V3i shares the same faults that led to the downfall of the Rokr, which had a 100 song limit. If you try to add more than 50 songs, you'll be greeted with: "Some of the songs in the iTunes music library were not copied to the mobile phone because this mobile phone is limited to 50 songs."
If you don't need a lot of songs, you can enjoy the stereo sound on included headphones, or blast it through the speakers. ITunes, unfortunately, doesn't let you pair Bluetooth headsets.
Through the included USB cable, the V3i can transfer songs from a Mac or PC. Songs are dragged and dropped onto the V3i through the included software -- or iTunes can auto fill the V3i with a random mix from your music library. You can also buy songs through iTunes on a computer and then drag and drop them onto the V3i using the USB cable. You can buy ringtones from Cingular's MEdiaNet service.
ITunes is a popular feature, but it offers little improvement over existing music phones. Any benefit is severely crippled by the 50 song limit imposed by Apple.
The V3i runs iTap predictive text for faster typing. It features SMS, EMS for positioning layouts, and MMS to send photos, sound and video. Pre-installed with popular IM services, the V3i includes AIM, ICQ and Yahoo too. In addition, the V3i can access third-party email accounts through POP3, IMAP4 and SMTP protocols.
Basic apps include an alarm clock, calculator, datebook and a program for saving passwords. This is a limited list, and you can download more programs through the MEdiaNet service. With J2ME, you can play a variety of games on your phone. Designed more for entertainment than business, the V3i comes pre-installed such as Asphalt Urban GT to race while avoiding the police, Bejeweled Demo Version for a rubix cube-like puzzle and Blockbreaker Deluxe to set in distinctive night-life settings. In addition, Tetris Demo, one of the most popular and addictive games of all time, features updated graphics and animation.
In Flee, you attempt to flee the country, while in Rebels, you eliminate all of the enemy space ships. Lastly, there's the popular card game, Solitaire.
Motorola's speech recognition system, MotoSpeak, is impressive. It lets you place name and digit calls with just the sound of your voice, the program doesn't require pre-recording or training. So you simply press the dedicated voice key on the side and say a command such as "name dial," "voicemail" or "camera."
Intended to be released almost a year ago, the V3i shows its age with outdated GPRS Class 10 technology. You can expect around 48-kilobits per second download speeds, suitable for the occasional ringtone or song download, but limiting for heavy multimedia users.
Failing to improve upon the original Razr in this area, the V3i is not capable of accessing Cingular's EDGE network, a 2.5G standard. The latest phones already surpass EDGE, offering HSDPA 3G speeds for speeds that are three to 12 times faster than GPRS.
Motorola's Screen3 technology offers zero-click access to news, sports, entertainment and other Web content. The data automatically appears along a ticker like display at the bottom of the home screen without having to select it or run a program.
While the V3i isn't intended for the heavy multimedia use, making the phone at least EDGE capable would've been an important improvement. If it had been released at its original launch date this wouldn't have been as glaring problem, but even most mid-level phones offering EDGE, it's surprising for a higher-end phone to not offer it.
The addition of a 512-megabyte memory card greatly increases its capability as a multimedia device -- one of the most critical improvements over the V3. With the limited 12-megabytes of internal storage, the memory card gives it sufficient space to store MP3s, high-resolution photos and videos.
The V3i supports Bluetooth v1.2, and can connect to compatible accessories within a 30-foot radius. It also supports headsets and handsfree car kits, and even dial-up networking to connect to a laptop and go online. ITunes media player can't be used with Bluetooth headphones.
The V3i does not offer infrared support, but a USB cable is included for easy connection with a computer. With Bluetooth and a USB cable to help with music transfers, the V3i offers myriad connectivity options.
The Razr V3 was a runaway success because of its thin profile, but with other companies creating their own "thin" phones, the V3i needed substance to go with its slender build. Motorola added an impressive list of new and improved features while giving it an updated look.
Addressing the biggest weaknesses, Motorola equipped the V3i with a memory slot, a 1.2-megapixel camera, quad-band service and an improved internal screen. Other unique features include airplane mode and Screen3 technology to give the phone scrolling news, sports and weather updates. ITunes, which replaced the regular media player, provides easy song transfers. But the 50 song cap is a bit problem.
Meant to be a fun phone with plenty of entertainment options, the V3i has a variety of pre-installed games and also offers complete messaging options from email to multimedia and instant messaging. It also provides complete Bluetooth and advanced voice activation software.
The only area where the V3i comes up lacking is its Internet speed. Motorola elected not to add 3G or even EDGE. While you're probably not bothered by this, most of the competitors -- including the Samsung D807 -- at least offer EDGE.
The unique look of the Razr was an important part of V3's success. And with the V3i, Motorola needed to give it an updated look of its own. With a dark gunmetal exterior and a brushed texture that gives it a different appearance, depending on the light conditions, the V3i has a distinctive appearance that will allow it to stand out in a Razr saturated marketplace.
Maintaining its trademark ultra-thin profile, while adding substance and an updated design, the V3i has met the high Razr standard and looks like a capable successor to the original V3. ♦
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