JR Raphael

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

September 10, 2012 12:32 PM EDT
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The software

Motorola's Droid Razr M runs a specialized version of Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS with Moto's own custom user interface -- you know, the interface formerly known as MotoBlur. As you may know, I'm generally not a fan of manufacturer-made UI modifications, but I've gotta say: Moto's changes to the software are actually quite mild compared to other manufacturers, and parts of them aren't half-bad.

The Razr M sticks pretty closely to Google's stock ICS setup, making just a handful of scattered tweaks and changes. System icons are somewhat different, for example, as are the home and back navigational icons. The settings area of the phone is reskinned to have a less subdued vibe. Icons in the Favorites tray also have titles below them, which is not the case in stock ICS.

These UI-level changes aren't really improvements; for the most part, they make the Android 4.x design a little less cohesive and appealing. They're change for the sake of change and at the expense of user experience (hmm...where have I heard that before?). The best thing about them is that they're pretty minimal and unobtrusive, particularly next to other phone-makers' misguided and over-the-top efforts.

Motorola Droid Razr M Android

The more significant -- and potentially worthwhile -- modification is the addition of a "Quick settings" screen that appears when you swipe all the way to the left on your home screen. The "Quick settings" screen has one-touch toggles to change things like your ringer setting, Wi-Fi status, and Bluetooth status. I'm not sure it's any more useful than simply having a widget with the same options, but it's an interesting idea nevertheless.

Motorola has also added in a home screen setup tool that makes it easy to get your stuff set up: By default, the Razr M has just a single panel; swiping to the right brings up a screen on which you can add additional panels -- bringing yourself up to seven total -- and also move any existing panels around or delete them entirely. 

Motorola Droid Razr M Software

Other UI changes include the addition of a "Favorites" section to the app drawer -- which otherwise sticks with the Android 4.x apps-and-widgets-all-in-one setup -- and the addition of extra options on the (unsecured) lock screen that allow you to swipe in different directions to jump to certain tasks.

Motorola Droid Razr M Changes

The Razr M features a couple of Moto-made widgets, too, including one that shows the current time, weather, and battery status of the phone in a trio of interactive and dynamic circles. The time circle changes to show you pending notifications like missed calls or messages, and you can flick it up or down to flip the circle and have it display other information. You can similarly flick the weather circle to show forecasts for multiple cities. Pretty slick, really; if this were a standalone app in the Google Play Store, I'd imagine it'd be quite popular.

Motorola Droid Razr M Widget

The potential downside to these types of customizations, of course, is the added delay in OS upgrades -- and the fact that the Razr M is shipping with the already-dated Android 4.0 OS instead of the more current Android 4.1 Jelly Bean release is a prime example of the cause for concern. Let's be honest: A phone shipping with Android 4.0 two months after the 4.1 release is a little bit embarrassing.

Motorola, for its part, promises it'll upgrade the Razr M to Jelly Bean "by the end of the year." The fact that the company's OS modifications are fairly light -- and that it's placing a new strong emphasis on upgradability following its Google acquisition -- makes me hopeful it'll stick to that word. Still, if fast and frequent OS upgrades are important to you, an unlocked Google Nexus phone is always the wisest path to take -- no question about it.

As you'd expect from a Verizon phone, the Razr M has a decent bit of bloatware -- well over a dozen apps that you probably won't want and can't uninstall from your phone (short of hacking it). Joy, oh joy, I know. The good news is that Android 4.x does allow you to disable and hide the apps, even if you can't completely remove them.

Bottom line

Android Power TwitterMotorola's Droid Razr M is a nice little phone with a lot of good things going for it. It's not a groundbreaking or name-making device -- and it probably isn't the right choice for the hard-core enthusiast crowd who craves the absolute best technology available -- but for someone looking for a well-constructed, small-sized Android phone that's packed with power and fun to use, the Droid Razr M is an excellent option at an affordable price.