Motorola Razr Maxx mobile phone review

Pros

  • Great battery life
  • good screen and build materials
  • useful bespoke applications

Cons

  • No Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 OS
  • long time to recharge
  • display a little on the larger side

In October 2011, Motorola announced the Razr: a 7.1mm thin Android mobile phone, with a 4.3in screen, powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor. This handset was heralded in as the world's thinnest smartphone. The Razr Maxx I'm reviewing today retains many of the design features of its predecessor, but is noticeably thicker to accommodate a far larger battery. It's that battery that provides the Maxx's headline stat - 17.6 hours talk time!

Setting up the Motorola Razr Maxx for the first time presented me with the same screen as the Motorola Razr. Not a similar screen, but the same, identical screen: even calling the phone the XT910 (the same model number as the 2011 Razr). At this point, we had to check whether we were using the correct phone, as both of the handsets look very similar. From this moment on, I knew that the experience I had with the Razr would not be too dissimilar to the Razr Maxx, with battery life being the major differentiator. The phone uses the standard Android set-up procedure, with the obligatory Gmail account and password requirements. There is the addition of a Motorola legal agreement that needs to be agreed to, before proceeding. This is followed by an option to restore from a previous Motorola handset, which makes use of a Motorola online account that contains all the backed up information.

From there you are presented with a screen for setting up accounts, such as: corporate email, regular email, Facebook, Flickr, Google, LastFM, MotoCast, Photobucket, Picasa, Twitter, Windows Live Hotmail and YouTube. This is followed by a quick walkthrough demonstrating notifications, touch and holding apps and widgets, along with using the options menu. Both of these are good additions, with the walkthrough being especially useful as often, manufactures leave this out.

Design

The Maxx measures 130.7 x 68.9 x 8.99mm (HxWxD. This is a tad larger than the 7.1mm depth of the 2011 Razr, but that model does still have an 8.99mm section at the top of the phone where the camera resides. There has also been a weight increase from its skinnier counterpart, from 127g to 145g - which is all down to the new battery. This may look like a large increase on paper, but it isn't a heavy handset to hold. For example, the iPhone 4S weighs in at 140g and you wouldn't consider that to be overly heavy.

The sides of the handset are slightly tapered to produce chamfered corners, to a lesser extent than the Motorola Xoom 2 tablet but still with the same design ethos. The right-hand side of the Maxx house the power and volume buttons, while the left houses the microSIM and microSD card slots - accessible through a flap, toward the base. On the thinner Razr, I found this flap to be rather flimsy and a weak design point of the phone. It felt that anything but the gentlest of tugging could snap the flap, but on the Maxx it is now far more durable, thanks to the thicker chassis.

The top of the Maxx sports two open sockets, a microUSB and a micro HDMI port. These are very close together and are often mistaken for each other, resulting in trying to force a charging-lead in to the wrong socket. Some distance between the two ports, or placing them at opposite ends of the phones might have been a better idea.

The non-removable rear of the case is made from Kevlar - the same material used in bulletproof vests. This aids in protecting the Maxx against scratches, but the 15mm camera lip isn't covered. Ensuring the rear of a mobile is resilient to life's little knocks and scrapes is a good idea, as often the display of a mobile is made from tough materials, but often the back is forgotten.

A further level of protection comes courtesy of the water resistive coating included - splashguard. This won't add an IP rating to the handset, but both the external and the PCB circuitry inside have been coated. When water is spilt on to the handset, it beads up and just runs off the device: think water off a ducks back, rather than a waterproof fish.

Next Page: Hardware >

Hardware

The screen on the Motorola Razr Maxx is a Super AMOLED 4.3in tough Corning Gorilla Glass display, with a qHD 960 x 540 resolution. The display might not have an HD resolution, but it is good nonetheless, with sharp images and good colour rendering. Let's not forget that this phone is just an extension to the Razr, and at the time of that handset's arrival, HD screens were thin on the ground. In fact, Motorola is yet to join the HD display club, falling behind HTC, LG and Samsung.

There is a good 15mm of space between where the screen actually ends, and the very top of the mobile phone. This amount of space is replicated below the screen, but the options, home screen, back and search touch-sensitive buttons are located here. Therefore, this area of the phone serves an actual purpose but the top, is just wasted space. This gives the handset a much larger form factor than it actually needs. I found it impossible to grip the Razr Maxx in one hand, and then reach the two furthest corners of the screen, comfortably. The new thickness compounds this issue, but only slightly. The only way to effectively operate the Maxx with one hand is to balance it on my little finger, while tentatively supporting the mobile with my remaining fingers - then use my thumb to operate the screen. Only then, could I reach all the areas of the display and with great ease. While this is fine in the office, on the move, it isn't the most secure way to handle the phone.

Driving the Razr Maxx is the same dual-core 1.2GHz Texas Instruments OMAP4430 chipset that was seen in the Razr. The Quadrant Android app produced a benchmark result of 2269, where the dual-core 1GHz Panasonic Eluga obtained just 1836. This puts the Razr Maxx on par with the CPU score obtained from the LG Optimus 2X - the first dual-core mobile phone, from early last year.

We saw no noticeable lag when using the phone, from running apps to web browsing and we wouldn't have really expected to either with a processor of this nature. Even running MKV videos was a good experience and there was no delay in rendering that higher bitrate footage, which is a testament to the CPU. Motorola has yet to produce a quad-core CPU mobile phone and we thought that the Razr Maxx could have been that mobile. The lack of a quad-core device now puts the company behind the other handset manufacturers. Even Apple has produced a quad-core device in the new iPad, albeit on the GPU front.

The Maxx sports 1GB of RAM and a quoted 16GB of internal storage. After I installed two Gmail accounts, social networking apps and updated the preinstalled apps to the latest version - only 8GB was available to use. This is fine, although I wish handset manufacturers would make this clear, as it is misleading to the buying public. Next to the microSIM is a microSD card slot, which can expand the internal storage to 40GB, via a 32GB SDHC card.

The Razr Maxx has an 8-megapixel camera, with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing version too. The image capture is sharp and clear (as seen below), just as we would have expected from Motorola's flagship phone. The front-facing camera can record 720p video, while the main camera can capture at 1080p. It isn't obvious that the 8-megapixel camera can offer this video resolution, as the radio button for selecting it is hidden off the screen. The slider to discover this option is not even presented, until you start to touch the display on various options. There are also only two still picture resolutions on offer with the rear camera: a widescreen 8-megapixel and a 4:3 6-megapixel image. Other phones we have used offer a wider range of options geared up for social networking, email and multimedia messaging.

The signal and call quality were fine, but the audio still doesn't match the Samsung Galaxy S II - our benchmarking phone. The call quality was clear and distinct, but there was a noticeable speaker reverb. This was experienced when calling another mobile, landline and when accessing voicemail. The reverb was heard on the speakerphone, as well. The only way to remedy this, was to reduce the volume level quite considerably, essentially making speakerphone redundant.

Next Page: Operating System >

OS

Motorola has deployed Android Gingerbread 2.3.6 on to the Razr Maxx, this is a step up from the Android Gingerbread 2.3.5 on the old Razr but we would have liked to have seen Ice Cream Sandwich. Frankly, it's remiss of Moto not to have included ICS with the Razr Maxx, or in fact, on any of its new mobile phones. It is even more of confusing as to why this has happened when you consider that Motorola is now a part of Google: the maker of Android. To the more informed, we know that Moto is just a subsidiary of the large company. But to the average consumer, who buys a new phone and has read in the papers that Google has bought Motorola, a missing new OS will be very disappointing.

Motorola has promised an upgrade to Android Ice cream sandwich 4.0 soon, which is hammered home on the device's product page. Details of the ICS roll out are posted regularly, with more information about what phone or tablet will be receiving the new OS and when. This doesn't make up for the fact that every new, top tier device coming out today is running from Ice Cream Sandwich.

The overlay used with Android Gingerbread is quite light, which helps when booting up and allows the UI to whizz along nicely. There are some minor enhancements, such as the ability to open the camera from the lock screen, scrollable and resizable widgets. All of this is a far cry from the Motoblur that the company has used before, but I found that to be more of a hindrance than a help.

The familiar apps and widgets are present, from Google's arsenal of applications. There are a couple of additions to the standard array of Android apps, these are: Amazon Kindle, Evernote, the game Hot Pursuit and the GotoMeeting, meeting app. These apps mirror what's offered on the Xoom 2 tablets and it does extend the usefulness of the Maxx.

Motorola has included two of its own developed applications that we first saw in last year's Razr handset: Motocast and Smart Actions. Motocast streams music over 3G or Wi-Fi from your PC or Mac. You do need to install client software on the devices you're streaming from though. A Motocast ID is required, but this can be created within seconds, or you can now sign in with a Google account. Each computer is set up with a unique ID and the media streaming appears to bypass firewall or router protocols.

The Motocasted streaming media is then accessible through various applications on the Razr Maxx, all identified by two red symbols in the top right corner. These are: my files, my gallery and my music, with the Motocast functionality being thoroughly integrated. The files then appear, as if they were already on the phone. Files can actually be downloaded as well as streamed. It is a nice feature and this extends to pictures, videos and documents too. The computer does need to be powered on though, if you want to access its media and a cloud-storage aspect to this wouldn't have gone amiss.

Motorola believes Smart Actions takes a complicated smartphone and makes it more intuitive and easier to use. The app offers up simple rules that be run concurrently. The Razr Maxx then changes the settings and actions, along the way. For example, there is a night-time battery saving trigger. This comes into play at a predetermined time and powers down background data syncing. Other built-in samples are the car mode, which opens up maps and adjusts settings to optimise the device for use in the car - which can be triggered, by just entering the vehicle. The customisations are endless, such as setting an event - like when you leave the office - to alert you that the dry cleaning needs picking up. Once again, it's a nice feature and one that could actually be rather useful.

Next Page: Battery Life & Verdict >

Battery

The main reason for the existence of the Motorola Razr Max is the extended battery. The built-in, non-removable battery is the largest I have heard of, shipping with a mobile phone. It comes in at 3300mAh, with the basic Razr housing only half of that, at 1780mAh. The battery is bordering on that of the Motorola Xoom 2 media edition tablet's 3960mAh battery. On paper, Moto claims the power source can offer 17.6 hours of talk-time, or 607 hours of standby - that's 25 days! In our real world testing of the Razr Maxx, we found something different.

We set up the Motorola Razr Maxx with a regular Gmail account and a Corporate Gmail apps version, along with Facebook and Twitter installed. These pulled in over 100 emails during the day, along with status updates from 650 friends and 1650 followers. This is all while we used the phone to call another mobile, in order to deplete the battery. We also used the phone to send emails, text messages and status updates.

On our first test, the Raz Maxx managed to make 12 hours, 11 minutes and 42 seconds worth of calls. In our second round, the phone managed 10 hours and 17 minutes worth of calls. The original Razr accomplished only four hours, six minutes and 26 seconds worth of calls. The first test saw less activity than the second one, as it branched over a night, while the second saw more traffic due to the test being run during the main part of the day.

In my experience, the Razr Maxx would last more than two working days on heavy use; approaching three days on mid-to-heavy use and perhaps four or more on mild use. The recharging time of the Maxx is five hours while completely powered off; add about another 2.5-hours if charging while powered up.

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Verdict

The Motorola Razr Maxx is just last year's Razr, with a larger battery - let's not kid ourselves it's nothing more than that. But I feel that it's a better phone than the Razr, as it feels more comfortable to hold and with more of a symmetrical build.

The original Razr, or the return of the Razr brand, boasted a 7.1mm thin chassis and the claim of the world's thinnest handset, only it wasn't entirely 7.1mm. A good 15mm of its 130.7mm length was 8.9mm and it felt an odd device to use in landscape mode, and top heavy, in portrait. The Motorola Razr Maxx's entire body is now 8.9mm thick and this lends itself to being more of a complete mobile phone.

The Maxx is a good Android handset, albeit an older model that might be perceived to be a bit of a novelty with its larger battery. Running an older version of Android lets it down, along with some niggles around the camera, battery charging and form factor.

Next Page: Feature Table >

Feature Table

Manufacturer and Model

Motorola Razr Maxx

Network

GSM 850/900/1800/1900 HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100

Processor

Dual-core 1.2GHz Texas Instruments

Memory

16GB

Memory expansion

microSD

Display

4.3in, 960 x 540 pixels

Main camera

8-megapixel

Front camera

1.3-megapixel

Wi-Fi

Yes

GPS

Yes

NFC

No

Battery

3300 mAh

Size

130.7 x 68.9 x 9 mm

Weight

145g

OS

Android ‘Gingerbread’ 2.3.6