JR Raphael

Motorola Droid Razr M review: A powerful phone at a nice price

September 10, 2012 12:32 PM EDT

Oh, hello, Moto -- it's been a while.

Motorola Droid Razr M Review

After a quiet year and a major transition, Motorola is diving back into the Android phone market and hoping to make a splash. The now-Google-owned company announced a trio of new Droid Razr devices last week, and the first of the three phones is ready to hit store shelves.

The big boys of the group -- the Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD -- won't launch until later this year (sometime "before the holidays," Motorola says), but the lower-end device, the Droid Razr M, goes on sale this Thursday. The phone will sell for $99 following a $50 mail-in rebate and with a new two-year contract at Verizon Wireless.

I've had a chance to spend several days using the Droid Razr M. While the phone isn't a top-of-the-line, flagship-style device -- nor is it meant to be -- it's a solid and strong-performing handset with an awful lot to like.

Motorola Droid Razr M: Great body, okay face

Motorola Droid Razr MThe Droid Razr M is relatively small by today's Android smartphone standards, measuring in at 2.4 x 4.8 in. with a thickness of 0.33 in. The Samsung Galaxy S III, for comparison, is 2.8 x 5.4 in. and 0.34 in. thick.

Having grown accustomed to larger devices (I usually use the 2.7 x 5.3 in. GSM Galaxy Nexus), the Razr M felt strangely small in my hand at first. But hey, size isn't everything: The Razr M is very comfortable to hold, so much that I frequently found myself not wanting to put it down. If you have smaller hands or just don't like the idea of lugging around a larger phone, the Razr M's compact profile could really appeal to you.

What makes the Razr M unique is that despite its small size, it has a relatively large screen: The phone's display is 4.3 in., putting it on par with the Galaxy S II (international and AT&T edition) -- a device that measures 0.2 in. longer and 0.2 in. wider. The reason is that Motorola has decreased the borders, or bezels, as they're called, in order to make the Razr M's screen take up the majority of its face.

The screen itself isn't the best around: It's a Super AMOLED Advanced display with 960 x 540 resolution, comparable to what was used on last year's original Droid Razr phone. It's bright with vivid colors, though the lower resolution makes its images less sharp than what you'll see on many current high-end devices. The display also utilizes a type of technology called PenTile, which -- particularly when combined with a lower resolution level -- can result in jagged edges and visible pixels during certain types of usage. Ultimately, if you're a serious phone enthusiast or display aficionado, you'll probably find the display disappointing. If you're a casual phone user, I doubt you'll think twice about it; I showed the Razr M to a handful of non-techie-type people, and they all actually commented that the phone's screen looked really nice.

Like the rest of Motorola's Razr line, the Droid Razr M is built with a textured Kevlar material on its back and Corning Gorilla Glass on its front. It also utilizes a water-repellent coating to help protect from your inexplicably sweaty palms and frequent grape soda spills. The end result is a phone that feels rugged and durable while still achieving a high-quality, premium look.

Motorola Droid Razr M (Back)

Motorola also went with a button-free design for the Razr M -- hallelujah! -- which provides a much better Android 4.x experience than the dated button-reliant approach other manufacturers have insisted on using with their recent devices. This alone gives the Razr M a significant advantage over other current phones when it comes to the overall user experience.

Under the hood

The Droid Razr M packs a dual-core 1.5GHz processor along with 1GB of RAM. Generally speaking, the phone performed quite well in my experience: Apps loaded quickly, even while multitasking; video played without any stutters or slowdowns; and Web browsing was smooth and speedy. I did, however, notice some occasional choppiness while swiping between home screens.

The Razr M uses a 2000 mAh battery that promises 20 hours of "mixed usage." I was able to get through a full two days of moderate usage without having to power the phone back up, even while using Verizon's 4G LTE network (yes, the Droid Razr M is a 4G phone -- I understand that quality may become "revolutionary" later this week). The Razr M's battery is not removable, which may be a downer for users who like having the option to swap the battery out.

With the Razr M, you get 8GB of internal storage, about 4.5GB of which is actually available to use. That's not much by today's standards, but the phone does have a microSD slot on its left side if you need more space. You'll have to provide your own card, though, as one isn't included with the phone.

The Razr M supports NFC for contact-free sharing and services (but good luck with Google Wallet; Verizon doesn't exactly want you to use that). It has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 0.3-megapixel lens on its front for video chat. The main camera is okay but not great, especially compared to photo-centric devices like HTC's One line of phones. The Razr M also lacks an HDMI out-port -- something its higher-end sibling phones will have.

The Motorola Droid Razr M worked fine for me when it came to voice calls (people do still make those, right?). Friends with whom I spoke sounded loud, clear, and irritated that I kept asking them how my voice sounded. Everyone reported being able to hear me fine, too, with no signs of distortion and the usual levels of sarcastic tone.

NEXT PAGE: The software and the bottom line

All right, so how 'bout that software? The Droid Razr M is no pure Google experience, but Moto's changes to the OS are actually quite mild compared to other manufacturers -- and parts of them aren't half-bad....

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