Ten years ago, before the days of iPhone and Android, the hottest phone on the market was the Motorola Razr. It made the clamshell phone sleek and sexy instead of the bulky bricks many cell phone owners were used to carrying. Fast forward a decade and Motorola has resurrected the Razr brand into their flagship smartphone line. The original Droid Razr and Razr Maxx received high remarks and did well in a crowded Android market (see our full review here). Motorola is back in 2012 with a new and improved Razr line, and we’ve spent a couple of weeks with the Droid Razr HD from Verizon Wireless to see if it can cut it in an already crowded Android market.
The Droid Razr HD at a quick glance looks nearly identical to the original Droid Razr. Motorola has kept the same Kevlar-infused backside with a Gorilla Glass screen. However, at a closer look, you’ll immediately notice a marked improvement in the display. The Razr HD features, as its name implies, a high-definition 4.7-inch Super AMOLED 720p (720 x 1280 pixels) display. This is a step up from the previous Razr’s 4.3-inch 540 by 960 pixel display. Specs aside, the Droid Razr HD’s screen is simply gorgeous. Super AMOLED displays have come a long way, and users will immediately notice that difficulty seeing the screen clearly in the sunlight is no longer an issue. Blacks are deep, and colors are pure. The display also does better in not over-saturating the colors on the screen, giving a more true-to-life, high-definition image.
Motorola has also given the Razr HD an update with the internals. Powering this high-definition pocket computer is a dual-core 1.5 Ghz processor coupled with an Adreno GPU. These allow for smooth operation, and we experienced absolutely no hang-ups or crashes during our tests with this phone. Applications loaded quickly, and even graphics-heavy applications like Angry Birds: Star Wars played smoothly. Benchmark scores using the Geekbench 2 application, however, revealed that the Droid Razr HD still lags behind the iPhone 5, so we’re can’t honestly say the Droid Razr HD is the fastest phone on the market. Using the phone though, I didn’t see any real noticeable difference in overall performance over the iPhone 5, except in the camera. So unless you’re the type who has to “out benchmark” everyone, the Droid Razr HD is a solid performing smartphone overall.
Where the Droid Razr HD does lack in performance is with the camera. Despite the 8 MP camera, the shutter speed is much slower, especially in low light shots or shots that need a flash. So if you’re the type that needs a camera to be able to capture those Kodak moments immediately when they happen, relying on this camera may not be your best bet. Be prepared to have your children hold their smiles for way longer than they ever will with the Razr HD’s camera. The phone does have a 1.3 MP front-facing camera as well, which worked fine for the occasional vanity shot or video calling.
Like its predecessor, the Razr HD works on Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network, and like all 4G LTE devices you can expect speedy, reliable 4G speeds if you live in an area covered by Verizon’s 4G LTE network. If you don’t live in an area covered by Verizon’s 4G LTE network – an increasingly less common occurrence with Verizon – you’ll still have access to Verizon’s 3G network. Call quality was very good as well, and the speaker on the Razr HD was loud enough to bring calls into your ear loud and clear.
The Droid Razr HD also includes NFC (near-field communications) capabilities, meaning users can take advantage of this rapidly growing market of possibilities. Wireless payments like Google Wallet can be used, or users can use the NFC capabilities along with Android 4.0′s “Android Beam” software to “beam” (wirelessly transmit) things like photos, contact info, and music to other NFC-capable phones like the Samsung Galaxy S III. To hold these “beamed” items, the Droid Razr HD comes with 16 GB of internal storage with a micro SD card slot that supports up to an additional 32 GB. You can share these photos as well using the micro HDMI port on the lower left side of the phone right below the micro USB port.
With all of these whiz-bang features, many phones suffer going from speedy, beautiful devices to dead, beautiful devices if you’re not married to a charger. The Droid Razr Maxx when released promised to end the cat-and-mouse game of keeping your phone charged with exceptional battery life, and the Droid Razr HD is no different. The Razr HD features a 2530 mAh lithium polymer battery rated at 286 hours of standby, and 24 hours of talk time. In my real world test, the Razr HD bested my iPhone 5 in battery life by a few hours. After a full day of talking, texting, emailing, and browsing, a good overnight charge is going to be required.
The Droid Razr HD ships with Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” and Motorola’s custom user interface. I’ve been bullish in the past about custom UI’s on Android, such as Samsung’s overly iOS inspired, awfully buggy TouchWiz or LG’s confusing UI that makes you want to pull your hair out. However, I really enjoyed Motorola’s custom user interface given that it’s closer to the “vanilla” Android experience, like that found on Nexus devices. Instead of totally trying to make Android something it’s not like iOS (cough Samsung cough), Motorola instead left alone what works and improved on some things that make it easier to use. For example, swiping from left to right on the home screen brings up a “Quick Settings” menu where you can easily turn on and off features like Wi-Fi or GPS, ditching the buttons in the drop-down notifications menu. Minor, unobtrusive tweaks like this is what makes Motorola’s Android user experience the best, because it’s so subtle and natural you don’t even realize it’s there.
With the original Droid Razr, Motorola introduced Smart Actions. Smart Actions make managing your phone easy and seamless. For example, with Smart Actions there is a “Work” Smart Action where you can set the location of your office, and when you arrive you can set the phone to automatically silence the ringer, along with shutting down unneeded features like Bluetooth, GPS, or Wi-Fi. You can even set your phone to automatically text any incoming caller with a custom message such as “I’m at work, I’ll call you later,” or something else of your choosing. With Smart Actions, you can set customizable settings for almost any situation you may encounter with other modes like Home, Car, and even Meeting mode. With a few screen taps, you can set any of these modes up and be on your way. Again, what makes Smart Actions – like the custom user experience – is that it works so well you won’t even know it’s there.
Besides the great tweaks, you’ll find a typical Android 4.0 experience with the Razr HD. Apps run smooth, battery life is better, and overall a great smartphone experience. It is a shame that Motorola didn’t ship the Razr HD with Android 4.1 “Jellybean”, however, this phone will eventually get the OS upgrade. Users upgrading from earlier Android versions will find their experience much smoother and easier with Android 4.0, and iOS users switching to Android will find the transition easier since Motorola hasn’t fooled with the Android experience which is already very similar to iOS.
At $199.99 with a new two-year contract with Verizon Wireless, the Motorola Droid Razr HD falls in the same price point as other high-end, best-selling smartphones like the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S III. Like its competitors, the Droid Razr HD also comes in either white or black as well. iPhone 5 aside, at $199.99 the Droid Razr HD is a better phone than the Samsung Galaxy S III. It features the same internals as the Galaxy S III, but has a much more solid build with its Kevlar-infused casing instead of the cheap plastic feel of the Galaxy S III. Both the Galaxy S III and the Droid Razr HD feature Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and both will get the upgrade to Android 4.1 Jellybean. However, with a much more pure-Android experience than the horribly iOS-influenced TouchWiz on the Galaxy S III, you’re find a much smoother experience on the Droid Razr in our tests. The Droid Razr HD, while certainly a more evolutionary than revolutionary device (like pretty much every other smartphone today), keeps in spirit with the original Razr a decade ago by offering a great looking, high-quality and high-powered phone you’ll be proud to own.