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Motorola Droid RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD review

Motorola improves upon its original Droid RAZR, but forgets what the name stood for

Motorola Droid RAZR HD / RAZR Maxx HD

Last year, Motorola relaunched its RAZR brand with a pair of new smartphones, the Droid RAZR and Droid RAZR Maxx for Verizon Wireless. While the resurrected RAZRs impressed with solid build quality and remarkable thinness (for the time, at least), they were saddled with disappointing displays and less than cutting edge processors. But Motorola decided to tweak its original formula, and this year’s RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD offer an improved screen, cutting edge Snapdragon processor, and a newer version of Motorola’s interpretation of Android.

At $199.99 and $299.99, the RAZR HD and RAZR HD Maxx are launching during a very busy season for smartphones, with stiff competition from the likes of Apple, Nokia, HTC, and Samsung all vying for the attention of the holiday smartphone buyer. Do the new RAZRs have what it takes to stand out from the pack and be the smartphone to get for Verizon Wireless customers? Read on to find out.


Video Review

Video Review

Hardware / design

Hardware / design

Not quite a RAZR anymore

The Droid RAZR HD is massive. The original Droid RAZR was not a small phone by any means, and the new RAZR HD carries on that tradition. We praised the RAZR M for its petite size and ease of use with one hand, but the RAZR HD (and the RAZR Maxx HD) is a different beast altogether. At 2.67 inches wide, 5.19 inches tall, and 0.33 inches thick (the Maxx version is equivalent in width and height, but measures 0.37 inches thick), the RAZR HD is a big device that really pushes the limits of what we consider a "phone." While other large phones, like HTC’s One X or Samsung’s Galaxy S III, employ rounded corners and minimal borders around their displays to mask their large size, the RAZR HD’s squarish design and large bezel makes it feel bigger than the competition.

The Razr HD and Razr Maxx HD are incredibly similar in size and feel

Using the phone with one hand can be quite a chore, and the RAZR HD is not a phone that disappears into your pocket. At 5.15oz (5.54oz for the Maxx), it’s certainly not the heaviest phone on the market, but with the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S III both clocking in at well under 5oz, the RAZR HD can feel heavy comparatively. Motorola and Verizon both made quite a fuss about the original Droid RAZR’s 0.28-inch thick frame, but the RAZR HD is noticeably thicker than its forebear, which only serves to magnify the large feel of the phone. As a result, the RAZR HD loses some of the appeal of the older model — and really makes you question its RAZR naming.

Though the RAZR HD isn’t as eye-popping thin as the first RAZR, it does retain the general design and look that the RAZR debuted. That means squarish masculine corners, lots of bezel around the display, and an abundance of Kevlar on the back. Gone are the capacitive keys below the display, since the RAZR HD runs Android 4.0 and uses virtual keys for back, home, and multitasking. Above the screen is a front-facing camera and your standard earpiece that hides a convenient notification light below the Motorola badging.

The RAZR HD features a metal band that wraps around the edge of the entire phone and houses the power / sleep / unlock key and volume rocker on the right side, and Micro USB and Micro HDMI ports on the left side. Also found on the left side is the Micro SIM card tray and microSD card slot, which is oddly obscured by the same door that covers the Micro SIM card (yes, you need to use either the tool provided in the box or a bent paper clip to swap out microSD cards). Instead of being a continuous unit, the metal band is actually segmented numerous times, making it look poorly finished and disjointed. Despite the fact that you can’t access the RAZR HD’s battery or internals, the RAZR HD does not have a unibody frame like the One X or Nokia Lumia smartphones. With other smartphones, the sacrifice for giving up access to the battery is gorgeous design or super thin profiles, neither of which are present on the RAZR HD.

The back of the phone features the Kevlar material with a faux carbon fiber finish we have seen on the Droid RAZR and RAZR M, and it’s just as ugly here as it was before. Instead of being inlaid in a plastic frame as on the other models, the RAZR HD features the soft-touch finish on its entire back surface, and it makes it easier to keep grips on the thing. Unlike Samsung’s big smartphones that have an abundance of glossy plastics, the RAZR HD’s soft touch exterior provides grip and offers a solid feel when in your hand. The back of the phone is also home to the 8-megapixel camera and LED flash, as well as a microphone and external speaker. Though the RAZR HD has a relatively flat back, the speaker resisted muffling when the phone was placed on either hard or soft surfaces.

Like the original RAZR and the RAZR M, the RAZR HD also features Motorola’s water-repellent nanocoating on its internal components, which provides a little reassurance that your phone won’t become a useless paperweight should it get exposed to some water. But, overall, the hardware of the RAZR HD and Maxx HD is pretty disappointing, as they are just not as nice as last year’s models.

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Display

Display

Can you say over-saturated?
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The RAZR HD features the largest display Motorola has ever seen fit to put in a smartphone — and at 4.7 inches, it’s a stunner. The 1280 x 720 pixel Super AMOLED unit keeps the RAZR HD in the same league as the rest of the high-end smartphones available today. It is also very bright, usable outdoors, and offers very wide viewing angles.

But once you dig a little deeper into the display, the cracks begin to show. For starters, there is a very large border framing the display, which makes the phone feel larger than it really should be. The RAZR HD doesn’t have the "edge-to-edge" display that Motorola loves to brag about with the RAZR M. Further, as we saw on the RAZR M, the display’s ultra-saturated colors are cartoonish to the point of being garish. Like many AMOLED displays, blues are much more prominent on the RAZR HD than other tones, and whites are never truly white. And finally, the screen does indeed have a PenTile subpixel layout, which can lead to odd color fringing and a lack of crispness in text. Fortunately, the 312ppi pixel density helps mitigate the ill effects of PenTile, and most users won’t have an issue because of it.

Cameras

Cameras

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The camera app on the RAZR HD is virtually identical to the app found on all of Motorola’s smartphones for the past year or two. The app offers on-screen zoom controls, tap-to-focus, automatic scene recognition, quick access to flash settings, and a host of various effects. It also makes it easy to swap between still and video modes, as well as switch to the front camera from the rear. In video, it’s possible to refocus on a different subject by tapping on the screen, and you can also capture stills while recording. Additionally, I like the option to mute sound while you are shooting video.

If there is one complaint to make with the camera app, it’s that by default it’s set to shoot 6-megapixel widescreen images instead of the more traditional 4:3 format that takes full advantage of the camera’s 8-megapixel sensor. The RAZR HD’s camera also has the same odd whine noise after taking a shot as the RAZR M, and you still have to go into a menu to disable the shutter sound, as silencing the phone won’t take care of that.

Motorola has never been known for putting stellar cameras in its smartphones, and the RAZR HD’s camera doesn’t break the mold here. Captured images are sharp and detailed when looked at from a distance, but peer in close and you can see a good amount of digital noise — even when the picture was taken in good lighting. Images also tend to be flat and lack contrast, and overall are softer than we would like to see from a high-end smartphone these days.

Similarly, the 1.3-megapixel camera front-facing works well for video calling and the occasional check of your hair, but beyond that it’s not very useful for taking great self portraits. The front camera’s lens is not nearly as wide as some other smartphones, so you have to hold the phone a good distance from you in order to properly frame your face when making video calls.

Lots of noise and lack of punch disappoint
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Software

Software

Motorola's laissez-faire attitude towards customizing Android continues
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The RAZR HD runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich with the same customizations from Motorola that we saw on the RAZR M. That means that Android 4.0 is left mostly untouched, save for the replacement of stock app icons with far uglier counterparts, a modified launcher that only offers one home screen by default, and a quick access settings menu available to the left of the primary home screen. Motorola has also tweaked the lock screen to offer shortcuts to the phone, messaging, and camera apps, as well as a toggle for silencing the phone’s ringer and notifications.

Of all the manufacturer customizations done to Android, Motorola’s is by far the least intrusive and the closest to "stock" Android as you can get (which makes a bit sense, seeing as Motorola is now owned by Google itself). This is a good thing, as Google did a good job with the UI and design of Android 4.0, so there isn’t much need for a lot of customization by manufacturers as there was with earlier versions of Android. Motorola has stuck with the virtual on-screen keys for back, home, and multitasking, and the ever-present Google search bar can be found at the top of each and every home screen that you have set up. I still would rather have the quick settings menu accessible from the notification tray (a customization on other phones that I am rather fond of), since you can’t access it when you are within an app in Motorola’s current implementation.

Alas, while Motorola’s cozy relationship with Google has produced a relatively untouched version of Android on the RAZR HD, it still hasn’t meant that Motorola is using the latest version of Android, 4.1 Jelly Bean. Motorola and Verizon both have promised that an update to the RAZR HD would be coming before the end of the year, but it would have been much better to just have Jelly Bean available on the phone at launch.

Out of the box, the RAZR HD includes the usual smattering of Verizon pre-loaded apps, none of which can be removed and most of which have questionable value. Fortunately, Android 4.0 does let you disable apps that you don’t want visible in your app tray, although that doesn’t quite completely remove them. Oddly enough, where the RAZR M was also stacked with a host of Amazon-branded apps, the only Amazon app on the RAZR HD is Kindle. Motorola also included its actually useful Smart Actions app that lets users set up triggers to automatically change settings on their phone as they go about their business. We’ve always been a fan of Smart Actions, and we’re glad to see that Motorola is still developing on it.

Performance

Performance

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The Droid RAZR HD and Maxx HD are powered by the ever-popular, dual-core 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM — a processor that we saw in the RAZR M and countless other high-end smartphones released this year. The S4 has always impressed with its snappy performance and power efficiency, and fortunately, both of those qualities are manifest in the RAZR HD. In general day-to-day use, the RAZR HD is quick and responsive, with only the occasional stutter from the user interface. Apps open quickly, never present any lag, and the RAZR HD has no trouble handling intense 3D games. All of this is reflected in the HD’s benchmark scores, which put it near the top of the heap of modern Android smartphones (though, not quite as high as LG’s new Optimus G and its quad-core S4 Pro processor). I would have loved to seen the smoother animations that come with Jelly Bean on the RAZR HD, but I don’t really have any complaints with the HD’s performance on Ice Cream Sandwich.

As with any modern smartphone carried by Verizon, the RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD run on the carrier’s nationwide 4G LTE network. Average speeds when in LTE areas were around 16Mbps down and 8.5Mbps, which is quite respectable for a smartphone. Should you not live in one of the 400-plus markets covered by Verizon’s LTE service, you will have to make do with the much slower 3G CDMA network. The pair of RAZRs do have the ability to roam internationally, if you happen to travel overseas. Call quality with the RAZR HD and Maxx HD was solid, though not quite up to the bar set by the iPhone 5. The earpiece is loud enough for most any environment, and the speakerphone can be almost too loud. But both the earpiece and the speakerphone had a certain metallic, robotic quality to them, which made callers sound unnatural.

Last year’s Droid RAZR sacrificed battery life for a thin profile (which prompted the release of the thicker Maxx edition), but thanks to its portlier dimensions, the RAZR HD features a much larger battery that can power it for much longer. Motorola says that the 2,530mAh unit in the HD has 40 percent greater stamina than the RAZR, and in our tests, that’s been very apparent. The battery in the Maxx HD is a massive 3,300mAh unit, matching the original RAZR Maxx. In The Verge Battery Test (which continuously loads a sequence of websites with the display on at 65 percent brightness), the RAZR HD lasted a staggering nine hours and 35 minutes before tapping out, which is considerably longer than most smartphones manage. Unsurprisingly, the Maxx HD went even longer, going a full 12 hours and 43 minutes before giving up. In real world use, the RAZR HD had no trouble lasting an entire day with moderate to heavy use including web browsing, text messaging, syncing of multiple email accounts, social networking, using maps, and placing a handful of calls. The HD could even make it well into the next day before quitting, though it doesn’t quite hit the full two day mark. The Maxx HD on the other hand, easily lasted two full days of normal use before it needed to be plugged in.

Not the fastest phone on the block, but no slouch either
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Wrap-Up

  • Motorola Droid RAZR HD
  • Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx HD
The RAZR Maxx HD is the one you want if you must be a Motorola customer

Motorola has managed to improve upon the original RAZR’s weak points with the RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD — a much better display, faster performance, and longer battery life — but at the same time, it lost the one thing that made the RAZR stand out from the crowd. The original model’s impressively thin design made it worthy of wearing the storied RAZR badge, but the updated version is just another slab smartphone among a sea of many others. Apart from solid battery life (which to be honest, may be enough of a differentiating factor in itself for many people), the RAZR HD doesn’t offer the best display, the fastest performance, or the best camera that you can get on a smartphone these days.

Should you decide to spring for Motorola’s latest, it would behoove you to save your pennies for the RAZR Maxx HD version, as the difference in size and weight between it and the normal RAZR HD is negligible, but the improved battery life is most definitely noticeable. Motorola also offers twice the internal storage on the Maxx model, so you won’t have to fuss with the annoying microSD card slot nearly as much.

But with rumors that Google plans to introduce a number of Nexus smartphones in the near future, you might just be better off waiting to pull the trigger on the RAZR HD.

GOOD STUFF

  • Bright display
  • Good battery life
  • Minimal software tweaks

BAD STUFF

  • Over-saturated colors
  • Large, hefty design
  • Disappointing camera

THE BREAKDOWN

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • Design 6
  • Display 7
  • Camera(s) 6
  • Reception / call quality 8
  • Performance 8
  • Software 8
  • Battery life 9
  • Ecosystem 8
The RAZR Maxx HD is the one you want if you must be a Motorola customer

Motorola has managed to improve upon the original RAZR’s weak points with the RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD — a much better display, faster performance, and longer battery life — but at the same time, it lost the one thing that made the RAZR stand out from the crowd. The original model’s impressively thin design made it worthy of wearing the storied RAZR badge, but the updated version is just another slab smartphone among a sea of many others. Apart from solid battery life (which to be honest, may be enough of a differentiating factor in itself for many people), the RAZR HD doesn’t offer the best display, the fastest performance, or the best camera that you can get on a smartphone these days.

Should you decide to spring for Motorola’s latest, it would behoove you to save your pennies for the RAZR Maxx HD version, as the difference in size and weight between it and the normal RAZR HD is negligible, but the improved battery life is most definitely noticeable. Motorola also offers twice the internal storage on the Maxx model, so you won’t have to fuss with the annoying microSD card slot nearly as much.

But with rumors that Google plans to introduce a number of Nexus smartphones in the near future, you might just be better off waiting to pull the trigger on the RAZR HD.

GOOD STUFF

  • Bright display
  • Great battery life
  • Minimal software tweaks

BAD STUFF

  • Over-saturated colors
  • Large, hefty design
  • Disappointing camera

THE BREAKDOWN

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • Design 6
  • Display 7
  • Camera(s) 6
  • Reception / call quality 8
  • Performance 8
  • Software 8
  • Battery life 10
  • Ecosystem 8
The Verge
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