Sunday, December 30, 2012

Motorola RAZR HD LTE Review

Motorola’s first attempt at the revival of the RAZR brand was well received by some and not so well by others. To make things worse the RAZR happened to be announced on the same day the venerable Galaxy Nexus was unveiled. This time around, things have changed, Motorola unveiled its newest iteration of the RAZR brand, one of their most important product launches to date under the Google banner. The Motorola RAZR HD LTE looks like a real winner on paper but we’ll see if it really is a compelling offering.

Overall Construction
As we’ve seen with just about every Motorola phone we’ve reviewed the RAZR HD LTE is built like a tank, both in terms of design and overall build quality. From the now infamous Kevlar back, to the aluminum band around the edges to the Corning Gorilla glass covered 4.7-inch display, the RAZR HD LTE is a simple, clean, yet very masculine and unapologetic looking phone. Even the splash proof coating makes a comeback and is a continuation of the Motorola’s commitment to making a rock solid phone.

What is very different this time around, with this RAZR, is the thickness of the phone. You won’t find the mind boggling 7.1mm thickness of the original RAZR since (we suspect) Motorola saw fit to sacrifice thinness for a significantly larger battery, which we will cover later in the review. At 8.4mm thick the RAZR HD LTE is far from the thickness of its predecessor and even infringes on the thickness territory of competing flagship phones like the One X and Galaxy S III which in their own respects are respectably thin phones.

In terms of ergonomics the RAZR HD LTE distances itself a bit the original RAZR, being still slightly unwieldy and still having a tad too much bezel. On the original RAZR it was clear that ergonomic sacrifices were made to reach the impressive thinness of the device but on the HD LTE ergonomics were improved.

When holding the phone the more tapered edges and overlapping Kevlar back allowed for a very reassuring grip. This is a stark contrast to the challenge it was to grip the original RAZR. This improvement in ergonomics comes with a larger screen on virtually the same footprint. This can only mean the bezel must have been reduced to accommodate the larger screen. While this certainly is the case we still feel like Motorola could have done with an almost bezel-less design like on their own RAZR M.

Like all Motorola phones, the RAZR HD LTE comes with a notification light. What’s different this time around is that the notification light screams for attention as it flashes, quite noticeably, from under the Motorola branding. To be quite honest, it fits the “muscle car” design of the RAZR since nothing is really subtle about the design.

Motorola RAZR HD LTE

The original RAZR, had a qHD AMOLED screen to achieve the thinness Motorola was seeking. This was unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that Google and Samsung unveiled a 720p AMOLED screen on the same day. Not only was the screen of the original RAZR a bit of a disappointment but it had been completely outclassed on the same day of its unveiling.

With the RAZR HD LTE, you’d imagine that Motorola would try to make amends with “HD” appended to the name and we’re happy to say that is exactly the case. The 720p display of the RAZR HD LTE is one of the nicer ones we’ve seen from a Motorola device despite the fact that it is a PenTile display rather than a traditional LCD like on the Atrix HD LTE.

We wouldn’t be surprised if the display from the RAZR HD LTE were the same one as in the Galaxy S III. We really liked the display on the Galaxy S III so naturally this carried over to the RAZR HD LTE. Like the Samsung made counterparts, the HD resolution overpowers the inherent downsides of PenTile with sheer brute force.

Colors, contrasts, viewing angles were all excellent as we expect of a HD display be it RGB or PenTile display. What the AMOLED screen does however excel in is black level and color saturation. While the deep blacks are appreciated universally the color saturation is something one either loves or hates about AMOLED displays.

One aspect of the front panel of the RAZR HD LTE that it unfortunately inherited from its predecessor was the recessed segment of the Corning Gorilla Glass that joins it to the phone’s edge. Like the previous iteration, it catches a ton of lint if you keep your phone your pocket and again we fail to see any appreciable need for the intentional gap.

If there is something that is a standout difference from the original RAZR, it has to be the buttons. For one, the buttons on the original RAZR were okay but really didn’t feel any better than your average smartphone. The RAZR HD LTE however goes above and beyond that but using what we believe to be machine aluminum for their buttons which matched the metal trim around the phone perfectly.

While this might not be a big deal to some we love to see manufacturers step up and beat the established norm, and Motorola certainly did that here. Attention to little details like this is what sometimes makes the difference for a customer going with one phone rather than another.

On the topic of norms, without trying to sound contradicting, we like Motorola’s adhesion to the new Android button guidelines by going with the recommended “Back, Home, Multitask” configuration and dropping a menu button altogether. This was yet another aspect of the original RAZR that was outdated on the same day as it had capacitive buttons, including a menu button that was deprecated by the unveiling of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

If you’ve read any of our review of Android 4.0+ phones still using Menu buttons, you’ll know we are not happy with manufacturers that continue to use the legacy menu button. It’s been over a year that ICS and the new guidelines have been released and we look forward to the day we don’t have to dock points for its inclusion. The move was however to be expected, given that Motorola now operates as a Google subsidiary.

Battery Life
Much ink (or pixels) has been spilled about the merits of a sealed battery vs. user replaceable battery but to be honest, to the majority of people, performance is really all that matters. In the case of the RAZR HD LTE, battery performance was absolutely fantastic.

While we certainly are green with envy toward our friends south of the border for the availability and superior battery life of the RAZR MAXX HD, Rogers/Fido’s RAZR HD LTE has battery endurance that is nothing to be scoffed at.

At 2530mAh, the RAZR HD LTE’s battery is one of the largest we’ve seen on any smartphone available in Canada. Considering the foot print of this phone, we wonder why other manufacturers aren’t packing a similarly sized battery in their smartphones. At this point 2000+mAh should be the bare minimum.

In practice, the RAZR HD LTE gave us two solid days of moderate to heavy usage. With lighter usage we wouldn’t be surprised if a third day would be possible. We believe the excellent battery life can be attributed to a combination of custom power management tweaks by Motorola, Smart Actions battery saving options and Qualcomm’s power efficient Dual Core Snapdragon S4 processor.

During our review period with the RAZR HD LTE, we were granted more time with the phone than we normally would get with review phones so we tried a more unorthodox test. The RAZR HD LTE was left in deep sleep (still on but screen off) with most power consuming option turned off (except Wifi) to see how long the phone could go on one charge. The RAZR HD LTE lasted a very remarkable nine days before throwing in the towel, all while still receiving various push notifications.

Internal Hardware
Like other flagship smartphones, the RAZR HD LTE is sporting very familiar specs with a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Processor, 1GB RAM and 4G LTE. As we’ve seen on other devices it helps deliver a great Android experience.

- 1.5 GHz Qualcomm 4th Generation Dual Core Snapdragon S4 Processor
- 1GB of RAM
- 16GB of Internal storage expandable with microSD card slot upgradable to up to 64GB
- Adreno 225 Graphic processor
- 4G LTE and HSPA+ capable chipset
- WiFi b/g/n
- 8 MP camera with LED flash and 1080p video recording capabilities
- NFC (Near Field Communication)

As far as day to day performance is concerned the RAZR HD LTE was a solid performer with excellent responsiveness across the entire OS as well as in games and browsing. We aren’t surprised at all given our past experience with Snapdragon S4 powered phones.

In synthetic benchmarks, the RAZR HD LTE did phenomenally well in Antutu and was in the range we expected in Quadrant. Overall we were really happy with the performance of the RAZR HD LTE.

LTE 4G Capabilities
Unlike last year’s RAZR, this year’s model isn’t an LTE exclusive to Verizon. The RAZR HD LTE, as the name implies, is capable of LTE speeds on Rogers and Fido’s 4G LTE network. In our tests the RAZR HD LTE performed very well giving us 30+mbps in well covered LTE areas of Montreal. More than enough speed to do high bandwidth media consumption like music and streaming and incredibly fast for uploading pictures to your favorite social media sites and cloud storage.

As usual, we have to mention that your mileage will vary on Rogers/Fido HSPA+/LTE coverage in your area.

Speaker and microphone
As we’ve mostly seen on Motorola devices speaker and microphone performance on the RAZR HD LTE were quite good. They fall slightly under the quality of the Atrix HD LTE but really nothing to be noticed by the average person.

Like the Motorola Atrix HD LTE, the RAZR HD LTE falls short of meeting the image quality of competing flagships like the One X, Galaxy S III and Optimus G. Pictures aren’t “bad” by any stretch of the imagination, but clearly fall short to the competition.

The software on the RAZR HD LTE was, like on the Atrix HD LTE, quite good but really couldn’t make up for a lackluster picture performance. Colors were a bit dull, sharpness wasn’t very good and low light shots were pretty riddle with noise.

We aren’t sure if overzealous photo compression software is too blame or if the hardware isn’t up to par but we certainly weren’t too pleased with what otherwise was a pretty good phone experience. If I were to guess, I believe the compression algorithms used to compress the pictures were set for to aggressively as pictures taken on the same scene with the Optimus G and Galaxy Note II were often a megabyte (or more) larger in size.

Video quality on the other hand faired far better. Colors were a bit more washed out in low light situations but we can’t really fault the RAZR HD LTE as all cameras do pretty poorly in similar situation. Motion blur was kept to minimum and sharpness was quite good.

Sample Pictures


(Almost!) Stock Android 4.0
As with the Atrix HD LTE, there simply isn’t that much to say about the software running on the RAZR HD LTE, and that’s a good thing. It was expected that a Motorola under the guidance of Google would probably move away from drastic customization like HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony and with the RAZR HD LTE have done just that.

Again, like the Atrix HD LTE, there are some slight tweaks that differentiate the RAZR HD LTE from other Android smartphones. For one the familiar “Bubble” widget found on the Atrix HD LTE makes a return providing users with weather information, time and battery level in one widget.

The leftmost homescreen is a page dedicated to quick settings, which we can appreciate with the lack of quick settings in the notification pane. On the rightmost panel, depending on the number of homescreens you decided to have will show possible templates to add additional screens.

We are however disappointed to see the “swipe up from icons” feature that we saw on the Atrix HD LTE missing on the RAZR HD LTE. It was a nice feature that is very widget-like without consuming the space needed by a traditional widget.

Again, to the uninitiated to Android these changes can be quite useful but problematic to anyone switching from a competing OEM.

Overall we are glad to see an almost stock Android experience on the RAZR HD LTE, but are definitely disappointed by the heavy amounts of pre-installed Rogers Apps and the fact that the RAZR HD LTE launched with Ice Cream Sandwich when other flagships like the Galaxy Note II launched in a similar timeframe with a more up to date OS.

Rogers has committed to an update to Jelly Bean next month and we look forward to it as it will nullify one of our big gripes with the software.

Smart Actions
Unchanged from the version we saw on the Atrix HD LTE and really not really that different from what we saw on the original RAZR, Smart Actions is still our favorite Motorola enhancements on the RAZR HD LTE. We would like to see it expand further than the current options offered, but at this point it will probably necessitate new hardware features or new API hooks in Android’s core OS to expand it any further.


By having a name like RAZR HD LTE, it’s pretty obvious what to expect of this device. While it isn’t the mind blowing 7.1mm thin that the original RAZR touted, the RAZR HD LTE surpasses it in just about every other conceivable way. It’s faster, has incredibly better battery life, a much better display and a more ergonomic design.

The problem lies in that fact that the RAZR HD LTE isn’t simply being compared to its predecessor, it has to step up against other manufacturer flagships and sadly, like its predecessor, it was almost completely overshadowed by Google’s Nexus device. Timing was the real factor playing against the RAZR HD LTE as it was relatively late to this year’s crop of flagship devices.

Regardless, the RAZR HD LTE is a really solid device overall and is in our opinion the second best Android phone available to Fido users, despite the disappointing camera performance. People picking up the RAZR HD LTE will most likely be pretty satisfied with their purchase. We feel the RAZR HD LTE is exactly the step in the right direction needed for Motorola to regain lost relevance in realms of smartphones.

Final Verdict
Overall Appearance: 9/10
- Good tradeoffs for thinness in exchange for improved ergonomics. Built extremely well, feels solid and would probably withstand above average amounts of abuse.

Screen: 8.5/10
- A solid screen that, like the Galaxy S III, is held back only by the PenTile display.

Buttons: 10/10
- Great to see Motorola move to virtual buttons and great attention to detail in the machined power and volume buttons.

Internal Hardware: 8.5/10
- Very familiar hardware that did very well in in overall speed and responsiveness in UI transitions, browsing and gaming. Issues we had on the Atrix HD LTE were happily absent on the RAZR HD LTE.

Battery Life: 10/10
- Incredible battery life, only bested by the Galaxy Note II.

Speaker and Microphone: 8/10
- Good speaker microphone and loudspeaker performance.

Camera: 7/10
- Really disappointing stills, redeeming video recording quality

UI Changes: 8/10
- Just like on the Atrix HD LTE, we are glad to see Motorola move towards a more stock Android Experience. We are sad to see the Icon “swipe up” feature missing on the RAZR HD LTE.

Addition Enhancements: 8/10
- Again, we still love Smart Action but wish it was expanded in options or made more user friendly.

Included Apps/Bloatware: 6.5/10
- Plethora of Pre-Installed Rogers Apps

Final Score: 8.4/10

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