Motorola Razr i & Droid Razr M Review

Pros

  • Looks good
  • Vanilla Android ICS
  • Fastest CPU on the market
  • Great form factor

Cons

  • A tad expensive
  • No 4G

Combining the reviews of the Motorola Droid Razr M (XT907) and the Motorola Razr i (XT890) makes sense because these handsets could have been separated at birth.

These phones also show how handset manufacturers might move forward, creating a singular design, but with a different chip running the show.

The differences first: there are three big ones and this is the big one; the Motorola Razr M is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC whereas the Razr i gets an Intel Atom-based solution.

This is first time a top-five handset manufacturer has released an Intel-based smartphone - i for Intel. Other manufacturers have made Intel-based handsets, but Lava, Orange, ZTE and Lenovo are fairly small fish compared to the Google-owned Motorola.

By using a similar hardware & software platform for two different chips, Motorola - and other manufacturers - are saving considerably on design, tooling and manufacturing costs, while still bringing multiple products to the market. The choice of the CPU has an impact on connectivity as well; the Razr M comes with LTE, while the Razr i doesn’t. Sadly this means that the Razr i won’t be compatible with EE’s upcoming LTE network.

The second big difference has more to do with Intel’s SoC platform itself. As with all other Intel-based smartphones launched to date, the Motorola Razr i has a camera with a dedicated camera button that doesn’t require the user to unlock the phone. It can take up to 10 pictures in multi-shot mode and in less than one second.

The third one is that both smartphones use different cameras with different focal lengths and different maximum aperture values, a surprising decision from Motorola.

Design

Other than those two differences, the Motorola Razr i and Razr M are almost perfect lookalikes. The phone (either model) has a slightly tapered case with a maximum 8.3mm thickness and a very industrial design, with the six screws holding it together in full view.

At 61 x 123 x 8.3mm, it has roughly the same dimensions as an average 3.7in smartphone and is significantly more compact than the Razr Maxx (69 x 130.7 x 9mm), the phone that it will replace. The reduction in overall size can be mainly attributed to a wafer thin bezel, measuring a mere 3mm at its thinnest. (Check out the iPhone 5 against the Razr i comparison).

As for the chassis, its plastic finish isn’t in the same league as the iPhone 4/5 or even the Nokia Lumia series. The phone feels rugged and tough, but still reasonably slim and sleek.

Display

The screen of the Razr i/M is a 960 x 540 4.3in PenTile qHD AMOLED edge-to-edge affair (coined Super AMOLED Advanced), which is a definite improvement (subjectively) on what was delivered on the Razr and the Razr Maxx. 518,000 pixels spread on a 4.3in diagonal means that its pixel density is sufficient to ensure crisp and detailed pictures and well defined text.

That said, at 256ppi, it is lower than much cheaper handsets like the Sony Xperia U (280ppi). Colour rendition is better than many AMOLED screens, with a less aggressive and over saturated look. Note that the display is covered with a layer of scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass.

Hardware

The Razr i runs on a dual-core Snapdragon MSM8960 SoC clocked at 1.5GHz. It’s based on the Krait architecture, has an Adreno 225 GPU and a dual-channel memory architecture. The UK-bound Razr M runs on a single-core Intel Atom Medfield-based chip, the Z2460, reaching the heady heights of 2GHz, making it the fastest SoC in the market (as far as clock speeds are concerned).

The chip runs on a PowerVR SGX540 GPU clocked at 400MHz which should help it outclass its ARM-based counterpart.

The rest of the hardware is fairly standard for a mid-range Android handset. 8GB storage (only 5GB usable) and 1GB of RAM plus a 2Ah Li-Ion battery with up to 20 hours talk time (in mixed mode), which Motorola claims is up to 40 per cent better than the competition - the iPhone 4S.

Software & user interface

Both smartphones run Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich. They have both shunned Motorola’s Motoblur user interface opting instead for a few tweaks, like the ability to access settings using a left-to-right finger swipe and a triple Circle widget that can be flicked around and shows time, weather and battery capacity respectively.

This means that the user interface is still based on the clean, standard ICS UI which should make updates more timely. Motorola also bundled an intriguing feature called SmarterActions, which makes the phone a virtual personal assistant by learning the user’s habits and automating things like turning a ringer off during meetings.

Users can also create their own rules from scratch and customise their mobile usage. In real life, both platforms are fairly similar performance wise with both delivering pristine user experience despite us not using the final firmware versions. Multi-tasking on either is as smooth as it could be with the inevitable occasional stuttering.

Web browsing was excellent on the Razr i as Intel confirmed that its engineers had worked on optimising the browser’s Javascript engine for the Atom. Scrolling was more than adequate and so were page load times. Motorola hasn’t confirmed when Jelly Bean will be available but the update should arrive before the end of the year. Below, pictures taken with the Razr i.

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Camera

Both phones feature an 8-megapixel camera with full HD video recording, 1080p 30fps video encode and decode, flash and autofocus plus a front-facing VGA camera. That’s as far as the optics and camera electronics are concerned. When it comes to the Image Signal Processor (or ISP), it is normally included in the SoC, which explains why the Razr i and the Razr M have sensibly different specs.

The ISP on the Qualcomm’s MSM8960 is equipped with the company’s proprietary 3A camera technology (Autofocus, Auto Exposure and Auto White Balance) which allows applications such as blink detection, smile degree and gaze estimation, and features such as zero shutter lag, gesture control, image stabilisation and “range-finding”.

As for Intel’s Medfield chip, the ISP is designed by Silicon Hive (a company purchased by Intel in March 2011). It includes a technology similar to Qualcomm’s 3A and can take up to 10 shots in less than one second. Below, pictures taken with the Razr M.

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Connectivity & Price and Availability

Both smartphones are DLNA and NFC compatible, have a microSD card slot that can take 32GB cards, can double as a Wi-Fi hotspot, have a micro-USB v2.0 port and are compatible with GSM and HSDPA. However the Razr M outflanks its sibling by offering Bluetooth 4.0 rather than Bluetooth 2.1, CDMA and LTE compatibility, GLONASS and a microHDMI port, all due to it using a Qualcomm rather than an Intel hardware.

The Motorola Razr i costs £335 SIM free in the UK, which is £45 less than the HTC One X, a phone that is superior in most measures, bar size and battery life. It will also be available on pay monthly plans from as little as £20.50 per month, which is on par with the class leading Samsung Galaxy S3. As for the Razr M, it is exclusive to Verizon Wireless in the US and can be had from $99.99 excluding the price of a new two-year contract, which makes it an interesting option, although the iPhone 4S, the Droid Incredible 4G, the Droid Razr 16GB and the Droid 4 are all available in that price range.

Conclusion

Slimming down the Razr has proved to be a daunting but superbly executed move and we can safely expect the next iteration to sport an HD display like the Razr HD and the Razr HD Maxx.

This is a decent smartphone if you’re after a handset that's robust and packs some useful features (like a great battery life) in a compact form factor.

In the UK, there are worthy alternatives costing roughly the same (like the Sony Xperia S), or even less(like the HTC One S) or marginally more (like the HTC One X) but none really matches the all round package of the Razr i/M yet.

The Motorola Razr i/M is a premium phone wrapped up in a svelte case that will also survive the trials of life. The part-Kevlar casing can withstand the knocks, and the splash-proof sealing means you don't need to worry about being caught in the rain. Whether that's enough to tempt you away from an Apple, Samsung or HTC alternative though, is another matter.