Motorola Droid Razr HD review: How phones should be built

Motorola's new Android smartphone makes a lasting impression with its first-class build quality and outstanding battery life.

With its recent acquisition by Google, it's no understatement to say Motorola Mobility is on the brink of a brand new era. While Google's influence on Moto is just barely starting to show, the company's newly launched line of Droid Razr phones makes me optimistic about its future.

The flagship of Motorola's new lineup, the Droid Razr HD, is available now from Verizon Wireless for $200 with a new two-year contract. The new Android 4.0 smartphone is accompanied by the Droid Razr Maxx HD, a near-identical device with a bigger battery that sells for $300, and the Droid Razr M, a smaller and slightly lower-end model that costs $99 with contract.

I've spent the past several days using the Droid Razr HD in place of my own personal device. While the phone is far from perfect, it gets a lot of things right -- and with its focus on build quality and battery life, it fills an important niche in the ever-expanding Android market.

How 'bout that body?

The first thing you notice when you pick up the Droid Razr HD is how well constructed it is. The phone feels rugged and durable while still achieving a high-quality, premium look.

Motorola Droid Razr HD

The Razr HD is 2.7 x 5.2 in. and 0.33 in. thick. It weighs 5.2 oz. -- a bit heavier than some of its contemporaries but still quite comfortable to carry. The phone has a textured Kevlar material on its back, a silver metal band around its edges, Corning Gorilla Glass on its front and a water-repellent nanocoating on its surface to protect it from spills. This is no plasticky, flimsy-feeling phone; the Droid Razr HD is built to survive.

The phone has a 4.7-in., 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED HD display. It does utilize Pentile technology, which will undoubtedly disappoint some display aficionados, but with its 720p resolution, the screen actually looks quite good by most standards. It's bright, clear and easy on the eyes, with little to no visible pixelation.

Above the display sits a giant 3/4-in. LED indicator that flashes different colors to alert you of missed calls and other notifications. As with other Android phones, you can install a third-party app to take control of the LED, and customize how and when it works.

The Razr HD has a single speaker on its back. On my review unit, the speaker sounded somewhat distorted when playing high-pitched sounds, like the tones for incoming text messages and other system notifications. This may or may not have been a defect specific to my review unit; it's hard to say for sure.

Buttons, ports and slots -- oh my!

Motorola's Droid Razr HD has separate micro-USB and micro-HDMI ports on its left side -- so that, unlike most smartphones these days, it doesn't require any special adapters to be hooked up to a TV. The left side of the phone also hosts a microSD slot -- another much-appreciated rarity for smartphones. (One oddity: The microSD slot has a door that opens only with a special pin tool included with the phone. Better not lose it.)

The Droid Razr has a headphone jack on its top. On the phone's right side sits a metal power button that's textured by a series of tiny notched indentations; this gives it a rough sort of feel, which is a bit jarring at first but makes it easy to identify the button by touch. Below the power button is a volume rocker, which is textured in a different way -- with single protruding notches on its top and bottom.

Speaking of buttons, the Droid Razr HD uses virtual on-screen navigation buttons instead of physical buttons on its face. This gives the phone a significant advantage over other current devices when it comes to overall user experience, as physical buttons are a dated element of Android that simply don't jibe with the 4.x-level platform. It baffles me that other phone manufacturers continue to include physical buttons despite Google's recommendations and the subpar experience they provide.

Under the hood

Motorola's Droid Razr HD runs on a 1.5GHz dual-core processor along with 1GB RAM. For the most part, I found the phone fast and pleasant to use: Apps loaded quickly, Web browsing was smooth and speedy, and multitasking was snappy as could be. I did, however, notice some occasional choppiness with home screen swiping and system animations during my time with the device.

I noticed the same occasional choppiness when reviewing the Droid Razr M -- which shares the same processor and RAM as the Razr HD -- last month. On both phones, the effect was subtle but apparent. Given the fact that other devices with less horsepower don't suffer from this problem, I suspect the software is to blame.

One area where the Razr HD really excels is battery life. The phone packs a 2530mAh nonremovable battery that's more than capable of keeping it running all day. Even with moderate to heavy use -- and while relying exclusively on 4G LTE, a notorious power drainer, for connectivity -- I never came close to hitting empty at the end of the day.

(If you want even more power protection, the Razr Maxx HD model boasts a battery that's about 30% bigger than the Razr HD's and is listed for twice the amount of "mixed usage." I've been testing that phone as well and will share my thoughts on it soon.)

The Droid Razr HD comes with 16GB of internal storage, about 11GB of which are actually available for use. You can add up to 32GB of external storage via the phone's microSD slot, though you'll have to supply your own card.

The Razr HD has an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera along with a 1.3-megapixel front-facing lens for vanity pics and video chat. The main camera is pretty good for casual use, though it pales in comparison to the high-quality lenses on photo-centric phones like the HTC One X and One S.

Voice calls on Motorola's Droid Razr HD were A-OK in my experience; I could hear people loud and clear, and callers on the other end reported being able to hear me fine and with no distortion. Verizon's 4G LTE network performance on the device was as zippy as I'd expect, though connection speeds and reliability will obviously vary from one area to another.

The Droid Razr HD supports near-field communication (NFC) for contact-free sharing and services; just don't expect to find Google Wallet on the phone, as Verizon doesn't want you to use that service.

The software

Motorola's Droid Razr HD runs a modified version of Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS with Moto's own custom user interface. It's disappointing to see the phone shipping with last year's OS instead of the current Android 4.1 Jelly Bean release, but Motorola says it'll upgrade the phone to Android 4.1 by the end of the year.

At a Glance

Motorola Droid Razr HD

MotorolaPrice: $200 (with a two-year contract from Verizon Wireless)Pros: Excellent build quality; outstanding battery life; microSD and micro-HDMI ports; adheres to Android 4.x design standardsCons: Ships with dated version of Android; some choppiness in system animations; camera and display not as impressive as on other high-end devices

The good news: While the Razr HD isn't a pure Android phone, Motorola's changes to the software are relatively minor. The UI-oriented changes are a step down from Google's stock Android 4.x OS, mind you -- Moto arbitrarily switched out system icons, for instance, resulting in a less consistent and less visually pleasing environment -- but compared to the messes other manufacturers make of the OS, the negatives are pretty minimal and unobtrusive.

Interface aside, Moto has added in a handful of unusual software features, like a "Quick settings" screen that shows up when you swipe to the far left of your home screen panels. The company also created a home screen configuration tool that lets you add or remove panels; the phone actually starts with just one home screen panel by default and lets you add up to seven in total. The Razr HD includes Motorola's Smart Actions utility, too, which is basically a simplified version of the popular location-aware Android settings tool Tasker.

There's not much more to say about the Razr HD's software that I didn't already say in my coverage of the Razr M; the devices share the same exact software (including bloatware, which, courtesy of Verizon, there's no shortage of here). For a detailed analysis of Motorola's current Droid Razr software setup, including a visual guide to the UI, see the "Software" section of my Razr M review.

Bottom line

Motorola's Droid Razr HD is easily one of the best high-end phones on the market today. With its rugged build, outstanding battery life and close adhesion to Android 4.x design standards, the Razr HD presents an impressive overall package that stands out from the pack and earns a well-deserved spot among the Android elite.

Of course, nothing's perfect; the Droid Razr HD ships with last year's version of Android, it doesn't have the best camera or display, and its performance is a hair short of where it should be. But the phone has enough good things going for it that it's easy to forgive those faults and enjoy the excellent experience it provides.

JR Raphael is a Computerworld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. For more Android tips and insights, follow him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

Read more about smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.

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Tags mobilesmartphonesMotorolaGooglewirelessAndroidNetworkingconsumer electronicsVerizon WirelessMotorola MobilityMobile/Wireless

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JR Raphael

Computerworld (US)
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