Droid Razr M Review: Great specs at a great price

At a Glance
  • Motorola Droid Razr M

    PCWorld Rating

    The Droid Razr M is a top notch Android smartphone and the best phone around for budget-minded buyers.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m slightly smitten by the Droid Razr M (which will cost $100 with a two-year contract on Verizon when it goes on sale next week). Sure it doesn’t have a 2500mAh+ battery like its two bigger brothers, the Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD, but the M is packing an awful lot of features for a budget phone. It has an 8-megapixel camera, a high-resolution display, a high-end dual-core processor, and ships running Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich. However, as with most other phones out there, the M has its share of drawbacks that keep it from being perfect.

Design

The M is the smallest phone in the new Razr family. At 4.82 by 2.40 by 0.33 inches, the M is slightly shorter than the original Droid Razr—though both phones have the same 4.3-inch qHD display. Motorola accomplished this by removing most of the bezel on the front of the phone, leaving the face of the M to be dominated by the screen. Like Motorola’s Atrix HD and Photon Q, the M doesn’t have any of the physical Android navigation buttons and instead uses the virtual ones (Back, Home, Recent Apps) that are built into Ice Cream Sandwich, otherwise known as Android 4.0. The phone’s right spine is where you’ll find the power button and volume rocker, while the left spine holds the SIM and microSD card slots. The slots are hidden behind a long flap, and you’ll need a small tool (or paper clip) to insert or remove your SIM card or microSD card. The top of the phone has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and the back of the M is where you’ll find its 8-megapixel camera and LED flash (more on that later).

The phone is quite comfortable to hold in your hand, and you should have no trouble fitting it into any of your pockets. Its slim profile makes it easy to use one-handed, and the M feels durable enough to handle its fair share of drops. The front glass is made out of scratch resistant Corning Gorilla Glass 2, and the back of the phone has been coated with Kevlar for added protection. It’s not a rugged phone, but the M should survive even the most accident-prone among us.

Performance

Running on a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm S4 processor (the same one that’s in the Samsung Galaxy S III), the M will be able to handle pretty much any app or task you throw its way. Menus flew beneath my fingers, games played smoothly, and the phone handled multitasking like a champ. Having such a beefy processor also means that the phone won’t feel as underpowered in a year, and also increases the chances of it being upgraded to whatever version of Android comes after 4.1 Jelly Bean. (Key Lime Pie, perhaps?)

Call quality on Verizon’s voice network here in New York was surprisingly good. I called several people in California and everyone I spoke to said I came through clear with no hint of static or hiss. I did notice a slight echo on some of my calls, though it didn’t hinder my conversations in any way. Using the FCC-approved Ookla Speed Test app, I got download speeds of around 12 megabits per second (mbps) and upload speeds of around 2.13mbps over Verizon’s LTE network. This is on par with previous speed tests we’ve done over Verizon’s LTE network, though your speeds will vary depending on where you live and the quality of your signal. Be sure to consult carrier coverage maps to see if you live in an area with solid LTE coverage.

After four non-stop hours of downloading countless apps, watching HD videos, and making long distance phone calls, the M’s 2000mAh battery dropped by about 60 percent. We have yet to run the M through our suite of official battery tests, but I suspect that most people will probably be able to get six to seven hours of normal use (read: not downloading 24 apps while marathoning Breaking Bad) out of the phone before it needs to be plugged in to charge.

Software

It’s strange that Motorola, a company now owned by Google, isn’t shipping its new Razr line with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Instead, the new Razrs all ship with Android 4.0.4 and Motorola promises that the phones will be updated to Jelly Bean by the end of 2012. Here’s hoping that big M keeps its promise and that the update comes sooner rather than later.

The M ships with the same Motorola overlay we saw on the Photon Q and Atrix HD, though the company has added a few more features to make it more useful. Swiping left to right on the main home screen, for example, will now take you to a quick settings menu where you can quickly toggle on and off things like GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and mobile data. The M, unfortunately, also comes with a fair bit of bloatware. Aside from all the usual apps that Verizon seems to preload on all its Android phones (VZ Navigator, NFL Mobile, Slacker, and so on), the M also comes pre-installed with Facebook, the Zappos shopping app, the Amazon App Store, and the live streaming app Color. None of these pre-installed apps can be removed, though you can disable them in the Settings if you are afraid of them sucking up any precious resources.

Entertainment

The M’s qHD display may not be the sharpest, but it worked well for watching HD videos and playing back graphic intensive games. If you live in an area with good Verizon LTE coverage, you’ll be able to stream videos and music without having to wait for tracks to load and for videos to buffer. Streaming content can eat through your data plan pretty quickly though, so watch out that you don’t hit your data cap because you wanted to listen to every Fleetwood Mac song on Spotify in a single day.

If you’re more the type to store files locally, the M does have 8GB of internal storage that you can use for videos, photos, apps, and music. Though the phone has a microSD card slot, it doesn’t come with one. You’ll need to provide your own if you end up wanting more media storage.

Camera

The 8-megapixel camera on the M is serviceable, but it won’t replace your point-and-shoot anytime soon. Photos came through clear, with mostly even colors, though certain parts of the photos I took came out grainy and the camera seems to have trouble picking up finer details. The front-facing 0.3-megapixel VGA camera will be useful for Google Hangouts, but you won’t want to use it for anything else due to its low picture quality.

The M is capable of shooting in 1080p, but the video quality leaves something to be desired. Indoor videos looked a bit grainy, and videos shot outdoors had a jelly like effect to them whenever you moved the phone around. Perfect for YouTube? Absolutely. For your wedding? Might want to hire a pro instead.

Bottom line

With the M, Motorola and Verizon have done a good job at creating a budget phone that offers a lot of bang for your buck. The M has the specs and performance of top-of-the-line smartphones for only a third of the price. If you can look past the middling camera quality and don’t mind bringing along your own microSD card, the Droid Razr M is the perfect smartphone for anyone who wants a top-notch phone without having to pay an arm and a leg.

This story, "Droid Razr M Review: Great specs at a great price" was originally published by TechHive.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    The Droid Razr M is a top notch Android smartphone and the best phone around for budget-minded buyers.

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