The Motorola Droid RAZR HD is coming to Verizon soon, but we’ve got our hands on the Canadian version to put through the paces. This is the first major iteration on the reborn RAZR from last year. Updates such as the RAZR i, the RAZR MAXX and the RAZR m have kept the brand fresh, but the Droid RAZR HD kicks things up a notch with a larger, higher-resolution display. At first blush, the Droid RAZR HD feels exceptionally well-built, but it comes at the cost of a non-removable battery and a rather steep pricetag (at least if you're buying in the U.S.). Is it worth the trade-off?
Let's give this one the ol' Canadian what-for.
Feels downright solid in the hand. Even the non-MAXXy version has a battery that just won't quit. Motorola's software additions to the core Android experience continue to be smart and useful.
Even with all of the battery life in the world, some users will want to be able to pop in a back-up, and they'll be out of luck here. $199 on contract is a fair bit to ask, as premium as it may feel. Google owns Motorola, but they're still shipping phones without the latest OS.
If you’ve got the money for it, the Motorola RAZR HD is a top-notch Android handset that with a strong build and solid battery life.
Inside this review
Motorola DROID RAZR HD hands-on video
It’s hard to overstate just how well-built the RAZR HD feels. Everything is just super-tight and dense. The real metal banding around the outside feels downright executive, and you get the distinct impression that the Kevlar weave on the back will weather the test of time. The sharp notches on the power key are an especially nice touch, since they ensure your finger easily catches on when fiddling for it blindly. The icing on the cake is the water-resistant nano-coating to protect against everyday spills.
The Motorola RAZR HD boasts a 2530 mAh battery, which is most definitely enough to handle the demands of LTE data and the the large, high-resolution display. If you’re looking for more juice and are willing to drop another hundred bucks, there’s the MAXX variant available. I streamed music for about 8 hours, half on Wi-Fi, half over LTE, and still had a little under 40% battery life left. This was in a Rogers coverage area with only about 2 to 3 bars of LTE at any given time, which I imagine would have been an additional strain. Later on the same day, I was able to hotspot in another location for about a half hour, and still have a smidge of battery life left before hitting the sack. Motorola lists 16 hours of usage time, which lines up with my experience.
The microSIM card and SD card slot are tucked away in an embedded tray that requires a pin or the included tool to gain access. Most folks aren’t regularly swapping SIMs or memory cards often around often, but for the times you need to do so quickly, it could pose a hassle. On the whole, I'd say it's worth keeping secure and tucked away.
As for looks, there’s not much ground-breaking here. The Motorola RAZR HD still has the ever-so-slightly angled corners on either side, and maintains a largely unadorned front face. There’s a long notification LED just below the Motorola logo at the top, but it’s tricky setting up notifications to actually use it without a third-party app. The front glass bezels oh-so-subtly just before it reaches the razor-sharp edge.
The biggest departure in style is that this phone isn’t nearly as focused on thinness as the name might imply. Personally, I don’t mind. I'm glad to see a high-end device that stops trying to play the “thinnest phone EVAR” card, and is instead providing a nice balance of battery life and performance, chubbiness be damned. Besides, are we really considering 8.4 mm an unbearable thickness?
There are a variety of video output options, including DLNA, Wi-Fi direct, and a dedicated micro-HDMI port. There should be very few roadblocks to getting any of the video content on the phone to the big screen. The Motorola RAZR HD’s own 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED display performs admirably in sharpness, contrast, viewing angles, and brightness. In daylight, it’s not ideal, and pretty much impossible to see at a lower brightness setting, but otherwise the quality has been acceptable.
With a screen this big, watching a full-length movie isn’t entirely out of the question, especially when there’s a battery strong enough to keep it going for a couple of hours. Motorola is making a lot of noise about how slim the borders are around the outside of the display, but honestly, it isn’t so dramatic as to warrant the “edge-to-edge” verbiage Verizon has been using. The only time you really notice is when you compare the RAZR HD to something like the Galaxy Nexus (which has a nearly identical physical footprint) but the display is 0.05 inches bigger on the RAZR HD.
The external speaker isn’t particularly good, so make sure you have a pair of quality headphones or a nice stereo Bluetooth speaker if you want to share audio from your phone. The Motorola RAZR HD comes with 16 GB of internal storage, which could very easily be enough for light users, though anyone willing to shell out for a premium smartphone are likely going to make use of the microSD memory card slot to store music locally. The DROID RAZR MAXX HD comes with 32 GB, just in case you needed more than just battery life as an excuse to upgrade.
You’ll recognize many of the software customizations to Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich on the RAZR HD from Motorola’s other recent devices. The lock screen has room for quick-launch icons, though they’re not customizable, which limits their utility. Motorola’s slick Circles widget is here again, displaying weather, time, battery life, missed calls, text messages, and voicemail. One customization I hadn’t noticed before that was tucked away in the accessibility menu was the ability to set an application to open when double-tapping the home button. Pretty handy, that.
The home screen doesn’t rotate for landscape orientation, which highlights the distinct lack of Jelly Bean on the DROID RAZR HD. Although the 4.1 update is on the way and arriving before the holidays, it just plain looks bad when Google's own company can't release a phone with the latest Android software. The Photon Q had a mini-widget system that allowed users to jump right to specific functions before launching into the app, though it’s absent on the RAZR HD.
This overall home screen layout is a nice shift in the usual Android paradigm that the middle home screen is where everything starts. Swiping to the left of the main home screen pulls up a wide variety of power toggles, which is a lot more convenient to view in a full screen than trying to cram in with the notification menu. A display brightness slider would have been a nice inclusion, mind you.
Swiping to the right of the last page gives the option to create a new page. You can just insert a blank page, but there are also templates available to get started quickly. Unfortunately, there are only three templates to start; a wider selection would have really helped users personalize their experience right out of the gate. Finally, the app grid offers a dedicated tab for favorite apps. That seems a bit redundant since your favorite apps are probably already on one of several home screens, rather than tucked away in grid view.
SmartActions are also still here. They allow users to set up specific actions to automatically take place when certain triggers are met. There are some pre-made SmartActions that are included, such as a driver mode or battery saver mode, but the really cool stuff is when you start building your own. With a bit of work, these can really make a phone that reacts to circumstances in exactly the way you want it to. SmartActions is an excellent system, and a fine example of how manufacturer additions to Android can add a ton of value.
Unfortunately, carrier preloads aren't the same story. Rogers dumps about 9 apps onto the RAZR HD. Some, like visual voicemail and account management, are helpful, but most, like the Games and Anyplace Live TV section, are just opportunities for them to up-sell. At least the bootloader for the RAZR HD will be unlockable, so you can pry those preloads out with a bit of work.
There's an excellent Guide Me app included which gives users a wide variety of interactive tutorials, ranging from the most basic functions, such as swiping between screens and moving home screen icons, to more advanced functions, such as ignoring incoming calls but replying with a canned text message.
The stock keyboard included with the Motorola RAZR HD does a fine job of handling day-to-day messaging. The keys are long and slim with a decent amount of space between each one, plus there's voice input which tends to be reliable enough. The Rogers version of the RAZR HD had Swype installed as an alternative, if you’re looking for a gesture-based keyboard instead.
In terms of performance, the dual-core 1.5 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM are more than enough to handle everything you have to throw at it, even though it's no improvement in horsepower compared to previous Motorola devices. I played high-end 3D games without any issue, browsed the web with plenty of tabs open, plus the LTE kept the data flowing nicely. There’s the usual spread of connectivity included, such as NFC, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi (with Direct file transfer and DLNA media sharing). Call quality was perfectly acceptable for everyday use.
The quality of the pictures taken with the 8 megapixel camera were decent, but again, not a huge leap from previous high-end Android hardware. It didn’t fare particularly well in low light, and the HDR shooting mode provided mixed results. The timelapse and slow-mo shooting modes are both cool, but are only really useful in the right situations. I found the colors a little faded, and pictures had a habit of being grainy even if the day was merely overcast. Even in situations where the flash is needed, as in the portrait below, I wasn't that happy with the results.
The shot-to-shot time was alright, but barring the rapid-fire mode, nothing you could call instantaneous. Many of the usual functions are there, including touch to focus, flash, and exposure control. There are a few helpful shooting modes, such as panorama and timer. Scene modes are limited to auto, portrait, landscape, night portrait, and sunset. There are also a handful of artistic effects available. if you’re into that kind of thing. The camera can handle 1080p video recording with additional options for wind noise cancelation, timelapse, or shooting at 60 frames per second for slow-mo playback. As you can see in the sample below, the colors are about as washed out as they are in the stills.
The bottom line
The excellent build quality, strong battery life, large, sharp display, and smart software customizations all contribute to the RAZR HD being a solid flagship device. Of course, it’s an uphill battle against the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the upcoming Galaxy Note 2, but the Motorola RAZR HD is at least worth a gander if you're in the market for a new phone, even with the slightly above-average pricetag.
The Motorola DROID RAZR HD will be available on October 18 for $199 on a two-year contract with Verizon, while the RAZR MAXX HD will cost $299. Rogers currently has the RAZR HD available for $99 on a three-year commitment.