While other companies have already launched a new generation of flagship smartphone offerings - such as the HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III and LG Optimus 4X HD - Motorola sat back and insisted that their Droid RAZR was up to the task of being their flagship Android product. Finally, they have come around with a true successor to the phone of late last year, and I've gone hands-on with what they have to offer in the Motorola RAZR HD.
All the features that were loved in the Droid RAZR have made a comeback in the RAZR HD, including a slim profile, rock-solid Kevlar exterior, LTE connectivity and enough speed to satisfy. We're also seeing some features of the new Google-inspired Motorola here, including a build of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich that is only lightly skinned, plus on-screen buttons on its 4.7-inch 720p display.
The competition in the high-end smartphone market is very stiff at the moment, and it'll only get more competitive with the impending launch of Windows Phone 8. Has Motorola done enough to keep up, or has it slipped just a bit too far behind?
Out of the three main options for high-end smartphone chipsets, Exynos, Tegra and Snapdragon, Motorola has chosen the latter for use in the RAZR HD. As the phone supports LTE networks, Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 chips make the perfect choice as the LTE modem is embedded right into the silicon that also contains the CPU and GPU cores.
Here we have the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960, a chipset packing a 1.5 GHz dual-core Krait CPU, Adreno 225 graphics core, LTE/HSPA/GSM radios, dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 (yep, all in the one large chip). This chip is used in a number of other high-end smartphones, including the HTC One XL which I have looked at previously; it also forms the base for many upcoming Windows Phones.
The display here is a 4.7-inch Super AMOLED HD with a resolution of 1280 x 720, which suggests it should be similar in quality to the Galaxy Nexus' and Galaxy S III's display. Other notable features include the 8-megapixel rear camera which Motorola claims is "high quality" (I'll be the judge of that), 16 GB of internal storage plus a microSD card slot, and a giant 2500 mAh battery.
Note: there is also a version of this smartphone on Verizon (and other CDMA-based networks) known as the Motorola Droid RAZR HD. As far as I can tell this phone identical to the RAZR HD, except that there are fewer supported LTE bands, and CDMA support has been deactivated (HSPA remains though).
Check out the full specs of the device below.
|Motorola RAZR HD|
850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900
CDMA 800 / 1900 (Droid RAZR HD)
HSPA 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100
LTE 800 / 1800 / 2600 (RAZR HD)
LTE 700 (Droid RAZR HD)
4.7-inch Super AMOLED HD at 1280 x 720
312 ppi pixel density
Corning Gorilla Glass
Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 MSM8960
1.5 GHz dual-core Krait CPU
16 GB internal user storage
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (dual-band)
A-GPS and GLONASS
DLNA/Wi-Fi Hotspot/Wi-Fi Direct
8 MP rear camera with LED flash
1.3 MP front camera
1080p/30 video recording (rear), 720p/30 recording (front)
Slow-motion 720p/60 support
3.5mm audio jack
|Battery||Li-ion 2,500 mAh non-removable|
Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich"
|Launch Date||September 2012|
|Size & Weight||
131.9 x 67.9 x 8.4 mm
Unlocked & Outright: $720 RRP
Available on Telstra and Verizon (plus others worldwide)
At a first glance, it looks as though Motorola has ditched the signature bump in the design of the Motorola RAZR HD. To an extent this is true, as there's no immediately obvious bump in the design, but after looking closely you'll notice that the device is actually wedge shaped - it's thicker at the top near the camera (around 10mm) before tapering down to 8.4mm thick at the bottom.
While the bump was a signature Motorola look, in terms of ergonomics and design the wedge is far better. The bump in some respects ruined the thin profile of devices such as the Droid RAZR as it made the devices technically not as thin as they were listed to be: the RAZR's 7.1mm body was accompanied by a sizable 11m hump at the top. The wedge hides the necessary guts for the camera module, while still looking and feeling remarkably thin.
Also helping the disguised thinness is the tapering along the edges that makes the device much more comfortable to hold, as well as the faux-metal strip that runs around the edges of the device. This metal strip houses all the necessary ports and buttons, including the power and volume buttons on the right, 3.5mm headphone jack on the top, and microUSB, micro-HDMI and SIM card slot on the left side.
Interestingly instead of having just the single metal piece that goes around the sides of the phone, Motorola engineers have used four straight pieces plus four small corner parts. I know this is probably to save costs, but I can't help but notice the poor workmanship put into the joining of the corners to the longer parts. The pieces don't quite align in my review unit, and aren't flush with each other as you would expect from a premium phone.
Apart from that build quality issue I don't really have any other things to complain about when it comes to the design of the RAZR HD. Kevlar is once again in use for the back panel of the smartphone, which not only feels great but provides a thin and very durable material. It gives the back of the device a bit of character, and it's accompanied well by the black, square camera module in the center-top.
The overall design is far squarer than what Motorola used on its last-generation designs, but they still managed to curve the edges in to make it easier to hold the relatively large device. The screen is positioned slightly towards the top of the overall face of the phone, which along with the side power button makes the 4.7-inch display more accessible for one-handed use.
Another thing I liked about the design of the RAZR HD is the notification light, which occupies a strip below the Motorola branding on the front. It looks impressive when it lights up, and the size makes it very easy to identify when you have a new notification to attend to.
What Motorola has achieved with the design of the RAZR HD is not revolutionary, but it improves on their past smartphones in a number of handy ways. If it wasn't for some slight production line issues it would be one of my favorites on the market right now.
Here we have a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED HD display, packing a nice density of 312 ppi. However, I know some immediate thoughts of tech-savvy readers already: "oh no! Super AMOLED HD means a PenTile subpixel matrix" (riveting dinner table conversation I know). Yes, this display is PenTile, and that's due to the limitations of AMOLED technology at the moment that prevents an RGB stripe arrangement at such densities.
I will admit I do notice the slight degradation in quality compared to a non-Pentile display, most often in graininess to the left hand side of text and icons in the form of almost invisible red dots. This is due to the arrangement of the subpixels, and luckily it isn't too noticeable unless you're really looking for issues with the screen quality. Otherwise, the density of 312 ppi is above the magical 300 mark, meaning you will be exposed to crisp text and the no-visible-pixel phenomenon.
One thing I have been noticing as of late is the brightness of AMOLED panels compared to their IPS LCD counterparts. I have three AMOLED smartphones with me currently, using a variety of tech (Super AMOLED Advanced, HD (PenTile) and HD (non-Pentile)) and all of them are reasonably hard to see in direct sunlight outdoors. LCD panels have advanced significantly in this respect, with phones like the LG Optimus 4X HD and HTC One X being far easier to see outdoors; I can't say the same for Super AMOLED tech.
This is what it's like to use the RAZR HD in sunlight. The display here is at full brightness.
Most of the time though you'll likely be using the RAZR HD indoors, where the Super AMOLED HD panel is acceptably bright and very vibrant. Steps have been taken to make the RAZR HD's display appear more natural, but it still ensures the screen looks very nice in basically all circumstances. As I usually mention in reviews, it's not as nice as Sony's Super LCD 2 display used on a few HTC devices, but you won't be disappointed.
Despite the fact that the RAZR HD formally has a 4.7-inch display, the usable screen real-estate is reduced to 4.3-inches thanks to the on-screen buttons, although the display is wider than your traditional 16:9 4.3-inch screen. This actually makes the phone easier to use, while expanding to utilize all 4.7-inches during video playback and a few other full-screen tasks. Some may prefer to have a true 4.7-inch display, but personally I don't mind the slightly reduced usable display size.
Despite the fact that the RAZR V was released a few months ago, Motorola has slapped on a whole new build of Android 4.0 onto the RAZR HD. I was disappointed to see that Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean" is not included out of the box, but Motorola promises me that an upgrade is coming (although they wouldn't commit to when).
As with the RAZR V and the Android 4.0 upgrade to the Droid RAZR, the build of Android 4.0 is remarkably close to stock on the RAZR HD, although it does contain a few more features and tweaks this time around. Before I head into the specific features of the software on the RAZR HD, be sure to check out my review of Android 4.0.
I'm really glad that the software used on the RAZR HD is closely related to stock Android 4.0, because I really like the look of the Holo UI used throughout. Little has changed in this respect; you'll find blue highlights, flat and square interface elements, a lack of gradients and on-screen buttons that first featured in the Galaxy Nexus.
Motorola has tweaked the lockscreen to now contain three app shortcuts, although annoyingly you can't change which ones they are. Behind the lockscreen you'll find the homescreens, which upon initial inspection look similar to Android 4.0 with the static search bar, identical notification pane and dock. It may look vanilla, but it actually isn't.
Swipe to the left of the main homescreen and you'll reveal a set of quick settings rather than more homescreens. Often Android OEMs chuck toggles to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode and so on in the notification pane, but instead Motorola makes them a quick swipe away from an unlocked phone. As I'm not someone who utilizes a ton of homescreens, I prefer this location for quick setting toggles.
Swiping to the right reveals more homescreens, or if there are no more to be found it will prompt you to either add more blank pages or pages from a template. The great thing about having only a few homescreens active by default is that it doesn't hamper out-of-the-box performance, but it still provides an easy method for end users to add more.
Motorola offers a number of custom widgets on the RAZR HD, but none of them are particularly groundbreaking in their feature sets: for example the one included by default on the first homescreen features the time, weather and battery. Moving the widgets around uses the standard ICS method, including the ability to resize widgets as you see fit.
Pretty much all the apps included on the RAZR HD are the stock ICS versions, although usually with black backgrounds as opposed to white (probably to conserve power thanks to the way AMOLEDs function). Everything from Messaging, People, Calendar and Calculator to the Gallery, Dialer and keyboard remain exactly the same as ICS, and for a browser, Motorola has chosen Chrome over the stock ICS browser - it has better features so you should be glad.
The RAZR V used TuneWiki for the music player, but the RAZR HD ditches this in favor of the stock Google Play Music even though this Telstra review unit for Australia doesn't support downloading music through the Play Store (yet). Surprisingly TelstraOne is the only carrier-specific app loaded on the device and it's not too bad, although the Motolounge returns as a spam web portal to nowhere important.
Smart Actions returns as an exclusive Motorola app that can automate a range of mundane tasks in your life, such as automatically switching to silent mode when you reach work, or automatically replying to texts while you're in an important meeting. The app is extremely useful and contains a huge number of triggers that can help you out in a range of ways, so if you do get the RAZR HD or any other Motorola device it's really worth checking out.
Finally I should mention the Camera app, which is again horribly skinned and offers next to no features. After I tested the camera on this device I could perhaps have used a few more options to try and fix some of the issues, but you're only left with some basic scene and exposure controls. You might want to invest in a third party camera app for the RAZR HD.
Overall I'm quite happy with the software package the RAZR HD has, especially with the visual style and the inclusion of Smart Actions. It may not have as many cool features out of the box as, say, the Galaxy S III, but it includes everything important that a consumer would want or require out of the box in an Android smartphone.
As I mentioned earlier, the Motorola RAZR HD features one of Qualcomm's Snapdragon S4 chipsets, on this occasion a MSM8960 featuring a dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait CPU, Adreno 225 GPU and a whole bunch of appropriate radios. This chipset is accompanied by 1 GB of RAM, so the performance of this phone should be essentially identical to that of the HTC One XL I tested several months ago.
Even though this device is not a quad-core like the flagship HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III, you'll find everyday performance is remarkably similar because the core-for-core, clockspeed-for-clockspeed performance of the Krait CPU cores is better than that of the standard ARM Cortex-A9s used in other chipsets. Graphics performance should also be similar to the Tegra 3's ULP GeForce GPU, although keep in mind that you don't get any of NVIDIA's Tegra 3 game optimizations.
I'm sure though that the main reason Motorola picked the MSM8960 for the RAZR HD is that it includes HSPA+ and LTE radios right inside the chipset, making it easily the most efficient way to pack LTE inside a smartphone. Category 3 LTE is supported, meaning it supports 100 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up if your carrier supports it, while HSDPA is Category 24 (42.2 Mbps down) and HSUPA is Category 8 (11.5 Mbps up).
The review unit I received was set up to use Australian carrier Telstra's LTE network on the 1800 MHz band, and throughout the numerous tests I performed I averaged around 26 Mbps down and 8 Mbps up. Telstra claims the maximum speeds you can obtain on their network is 40 Mbps down and 10 Mbps up, so what I achieved on the RAZR HD is not bad at all.
Also supported thanks to the RAZR HD's Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset is Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n on both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, plus Bluetooth 4.0, A-GPS and GLONASS, and NFC. I had no problems with any of the aforementioned communication technologies, although I often found that Telstra's LTE network was faster than my home's internet connection so I generally stuck to LTE over Wi-Fi.
Back to the processor performance, and like essentially all the top-end Android smartphones on the market I found no problems in my everyday usage of the Motorola RAZR HD. The phone doesn't feel quite as fluid as the Samsung Galaxy S III, but apps open promptly without complaint and in-app performance is lag-free as you would expect. Browsing the web using Chrome was smooth, and the app easily handled multiple tabs of my favorite websites.
The gaming performance of the Qualcomm Adreno 225 GPU was very good in most circumstances, easily having enough power to play your favorites like Angry Birds and World of Goo. For more intensive apps like Grand Theft Auto III and Shadowngun it was obvious the graphics core wasn't quite up to the same standards as the Tegra 3's ULP GeForce or the current champion in the Mali-400 MP4, but games in the higher echelon were still smooth enough to easily play.
Below you can check out the performance benchmarks of the RAZR HD and how it stacks up in comparison to the similarly-spec'd HTC One XL.
As you can see the RAZR HD performs identically to the HTC One XL, but falls behind the more powerful quad-core chipsets. Once we start seeing some quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro chipsets we should have a real contender to Samsung's Exynos 4 Quad, but for now the dual-core Snapdragon S4 MSM8960 used in the RAZR HD is more than capable for smooth, everyday usage.
Jumping right into it, I would have to say I was disappointed with the camera on the RAZR HD. Specs-wise there is nothing wrong - it's an 8-megapixel camera, plus LED flash, capable of 1080p video recording - but there are some nasty software annoyances that keep the camera from reaching its full potential.
The main problem here are the exposure controls. Whenever you take a photo on the RAZR HD's camera you have no idea exactly how it's going to expose the image, because often it might over- or under-expose the image at the last minute. Exposure changes drastically between an auto-focused shot and a tap-to-focused shot, and indoors it's even worse than outdoors.
It seems the RAZR HD's camera software likes to measure all exposure from the brightest, or darkest area inside the spot focus area. This means if you tap on a dark area it will ramp up the brightness, and in turn you focus on a bright area and it takes it down. Occasionally this works if you are trying to see a dark area with more clarity, but often it ruins the brightness of the rest of the photo.
The left image is without focusing; center is focused on the bushes; right is focused on the house
For example, I could have some sort of statue I wanted to photograph, the majority of which is colored but the head is black. If I went to focus on the head, the exposure increases drastically and it throws the rest of the otherwise perfect image off; focus on the body to get the right exposure but the focus isn't right. It should be noted you can manually adjust the exposure, but this is fiddly and even then results can be poor.
Visually this image is fine, although it's underexposed compared to the "real life" scene.
Even after manually adjusting the exposure this photo is still not quite right
This indoor shot is washed out most likely due to dodgy software
Indoor shots in reasonable lighting can either be slightly grainy, washed out (in the case of the above shot), or with poor dynamic range. Motorola's camera software will warn you when you should be taking a HDR shot rather than a standard shot, although this is only going to fake a larger dynamic range, rather than actually having a decent one.
This is a HDR shot taken after Motorola said I should use HDR mode. It still displays disappointing contrast
If you can fight Motorola's camera software you'll find the color quality is actually quite good, as in the best of conditions it's possible to see vibrant colors. Often photos in strong sunlight come out rather warm, tending to have a yellow/orange tint, but luckily for my location this can accentuate the harsh Australian sun.
Also worthy of a mention is the focus and lens quality, which manages to focus quickly and closely when needed. Image sharpness is acceptable - not bad and not great either - but low light performance leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily the flash is quite bright, but as with most smartphones the LED flash is only capable of lighting a limited area.
This is a 100% crop of the center of a flower
Video recording is not too bad, managing to quickly change exposures and focus where needed. The audio quality is above average, however the overall picture quality seems to lack the vibrancy and definition it is possible to obtain in still shots. Aside from standard recording the RAZR HD is also capable of time-lapse videos, and 60 frames per second "slow-motion" video at 720p.
Below is a sample of the video recording at 1080p.
Out of everything the RAZR HD brings to the table in a high-end smartphone package, the camera is the biggest let-down. I believe it is possible to fix the random exposure issues I was having through a software update, although that would only improve the camera from poor to average. The RAZR HD's shooter is definitely no iPhone 5 or Galaxy S III.
This is the second smartphone in a row I have reviewed from Motorola, however both devices use different chipsets so naturally that should mean different media playback capabilities. Also for the second time in a row, I've had to disable the post-processing audio effects that, for some terrible reason, are enabled by default.
Once I put the device back to what should be the default settings, I experienced the usual quality audio playback from Motorola. Despite not having a quantitative method of testing sound output, to my ears the spectrum of sound appeared to be good, with no particular accentuation of frequencies. This was through headphones of course, as the rear speaker is useless for anything except for notification ringtones and speakerphone.
Volume wise I was a little disappointed with the RAZR HD as it seemed I needed to have the device quite loud to enjoy music at what I would consider a reasonable listening volume. This isn't so bad for music, but for videos you often need to bump the sound up for quiet talking scenes, and the RAZR HD has little room to do this unless your third-party video player app supports amplification.
When it comes to video playback this is one of the few times where the on-screen buttons disappear so you can enjoy the full screen space of a 4.7-inch 720p display. The chipset also easily supports 1080p playback, so if you have a bunch of high-definition content you should expect to enjoy it on this device.
Below are the results from my seven-part video playback that I've put almost every reviewed device this year through. So far the champion is the LG Optimus 4X HD, which manages to natively play back everything; let's see how the RAZR HD fares.
|Medium||Native Playback||3rd-Party Playback|
Cordy Gameplay (.wmv)
640x360 WMV3 video @ 3046 kbps
WMA2 2ch audio @ 96 kbps
|Perfect playback||Perfect playback using hardware decoding|
The Big Bang Theory (.avi)
624x352 XviD video at 1082 kbps
MP3 2ch audio at 128 kbps
|Perfect playback||Perfect playback using hardware decoding|
Epic Rap Battles of History 7 (.mp4)
1280x720 H.264 video at 2531 kbps
AAC 2ch audio at 128 kbps
|Perfect playback||Perfect playback using hardware decoding|
TRON Legacy (.mp4)
1280x720 H.264 video at 2461 kbps
AAC 6ch audio at 401 kbps
|Recognized, but "cannot be played"||Perfect playback using the H/W+ decoder and the software decoder|
Black Swan (.mkv)
1920x800 H.264 video at 17025 kbps
DTS 6ch audio at 1536 kbps
|Plays back fine, but with no audio||Perfect playback using hardware decoding (except no audio due to unsupported DTS codec)|
THX Amazing Life (.mt2s)
1920x1080 H.264 video at 9011 kbps
AC3 6ch audio at 640 kbps
|Not recognized by the Gallery||Perfect playback using the H/W+ decoder|
1920x1080 H.264 video at 2701 kbps
AAC 2ch audio at 128 kbps
|Perfect playback||Perfect playback using hardware decoding|
These results are quite good, indicating the Snapdragon S4 is more than up to the task of playing back most filetypes when the right software is used. Attempting to software decode any of the 1080p content does present lag issues, but luckily all the files worked smoothly in MX Player's new H/W+ decoder so expect decent playback of your movie collection.
Inside the Motorola RAZR HD we have a decent-sized 2500 mAh battery that should help keep the battery consumption of the LTE radios down. Also, you'll be glad to know that the Snapdragon S4 line of chipsets happens to be one of the most power-conservative on the market, so even with the LTE radios inside it should easily outlast devices like the One X and Galaxy S III.
I will admit that I had very good battery life on the Galaxy S III (not so much with the One X), but the RAZR HD is even better. Normally in my daily use of a smartphone, part of the time the device is on 3G while the other is on Wi-Fi, and I can usually get around 10 hours of moderate use (more if I use it less frequently). With the RAZR HD I achieved more than 10 hours of moderate usage without any period connected to Wi-Fi, in fact I was connected to power-sucking 4G LTE networks most of the time.
Naturally this translates into fantastic battery life - something that is often forgotten in high-end smartphones in favor of power draining performance. The RAZR HD gives you a perfect mix of battery and performance, with a best case scenario leaving me with 24% battery after over a day and a half off the charger (admittedly with only light usage).
When it came to more draining tasks, it is possible to bring the RAZR HD right back to death within 7 or so hours of a full charge. During this time I was punishing the phone with a large download over Telstra's LTE network while simultaneously enjoying the latest in games from Google Play; a combination of tasks you likely won't be doing on a regular basis.
In a more scientific test, you can check out the results of my battery test that focuses on movie playback. In this test, I set the phone to airplane mode and 75% screen brightness, before playing a 720p video on loop until the phone dies.
|Device||Movie Playback Life|
|Motorola RAZR HD||11:49|
|HTC One XL||9:03|
|Samsung Galaxy S III||8:41|
|Motorola RAZR V||8:32|
|Sony Xperia S||6:50|
|LG Optimus 4X HD||5:16|
As you can see the RAZR HD blitzed this test to become the new battery life champion; although it might not be for long, because I do have a Galaxy Note II with me, packing a whopping 3100 mAh battery.
The important question now comes: should you buy the Motorola RAZR HD? First, ask yourself if you are looking at getting a 4G LTE phone or not, because that does change things slightly. If you are happy with 3G HSPA+ for the next few years, you may benefit from the extra power given to non-4G phones such as the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III - their 4G counterparts use the same Snapdragon S4 chipset and so gain no advantage in performance.
If you are really set on getting a phone with an outstanding camera you'll find the Galaxy S III (4G) will suit your needs better, although you'll have to put up with abysmal build quality. Here with the RAZR HD, the Kevlar back feels and looks amazing, and its accompanied by a remarkably tough, ergonomic and visually pleasing design. When accounting for the RAZR HD's on-screen buttons, the S III's display is significantly bigger, which may or may not work in your favor.
The HTC One XL is the other main contender, which is available alongside the Galaxy S III 4G on Telstra and numerous other carriers worldwide. The Super LCD 2 display of the One XL edges out the Super AMOLED HD on the RAZR HD, however that's no reason to write off the RAZR HD as the AMOLED display still looks great. Depending on who you talk to the One XL has a better design, but I actually like both it and the RAZR HD equally (can't bash the Kevlar).
One area the RAZR HD is a clear winner is in the battery life, which annihilates the competition by quite a margin. If you're looking for an LTE phone, or any phone for that matter, and you require a long-lasting battery without a compromise in performance, the RAZR HD is certainly the phone for you. The software on-board also gets a tick of approval; while it may not have a huge feature set, Motorola has nailed the look.
On and off contract the RAZR HD is cheaper than the Galaxy S III 4G but slightly more expensive than the One XL. It's a really tough call to make as to which is the better buy: I'm heading towards tying the One XL and RAZR HD and placing the Galaxy S III 4G in third, but to be honest you need to carefully review what your smartphone needs are, test the phones out in person and then make an informed decision.
Even if I can't make a decision as to whether the RAZR HD is a clear winner in the flagship Android realm, one thing is definitely clear: Motorola is back in the game.
For this review the Motorola RAZR HD was provided by Motorola Australia in conjunction with Telstra. The device was fully updated at the time of review, and will be returned once published. Prices listed are regular retail prices (RRP) unlike some other reviews on Neowin and do not reflect the cheapest street price available.