Review: Motorola RAZR M

The Motorola RAZR M is a compact Android smartphone that doesn't sacrifice on features

The Motorola RAZR M is a compact Android smartphone that doesn't sacrifice on features.

Design and display

If you're annoyed by the bigger is better trend that seems to be common place in the smartphone world, you're more than likely going to love the design of the Motorola RAZR M. Forget the display, the processor or the software — the physical design of this handset is the real killer feature. Motorola says it pushed the RAZR M's display as close as possible to the edge of the phone in order to maximise the screen size without compromising on physical size. The end result is a compact and lightweight phone with a strikingly thin bezel. Squeezing a 4.3in screen into a phone that's almost the same size as the iPhone 5 is certainly an impressive engineering feat.

Size aside, if you're familiar with Motorola's recent Android phones, you'll feel right at home with the RAZR M. It follows the same industrial looking trend that the company is well known for. However, the RAZR M adds some of its own distinctive touches that make the handset comfortable to hold and use. The rear edges are curved and slip comfortably into your palms, the bottom edge is tapered and angled downwards and the corners of the device are slightly rounded so they don't dig into your fingers.

We like the matte black finish on the sides of the RAZR M. The surface holds up well to the the rigours of day to day use and doesn't scratch or mark easily. The same can't be said of the glossy, reflective surface that surrounds the camera on the back — it's a fingerprint magnet and we feel it cheapens the overall look of the handset. The speaker hidden behind the Motorola logo above the screen is a nice touch, though.

Three visible torx screws on either side immediately peg the RAZR M as a typical Motorola phone. The rear once again has a Kevlar fibre backing that the company says makes it sturdier than most other smartphones. Like the more expensive RAZR HD, the RAZR M is coated in a splash-guard treatment that makes it "water repellent", aiming to protect both the outside and the internal components.

The splash-guard treatment works as well as Motorola says — any water drops on the RAZR M simply slide off the surface easily, much like water beads rolling off a car when it's just been polished and waxed. Keep in mind the coating makes the RAZR M water-repellent to splashes, but not completely waterproof.

The Motorola RAZR M has well placed controls. There's a power button and volume controls on the right side, a headphone jack at the top, and a micro-USB port for charging on the left. The micro-SIM and microSD cards are also stored in the left side of the phone, hidden behind an annoying plastic flap that feels rather flimsy when removed. It's the only black mark on the design of the RAZR M, which otherwise feels impeccably well constructed. Two downsides to the construction, however, are the non-removable battery and the lack of a micro-HDMI port.

The Motorola RAZR M uses a 4.3in super AMOLED screen that has a qHD resolution of 960x540. Naturally, it can't display the same super crisp text as larger rivals with higher res screens, such as the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy S III and the HTC One XL. However, we found colours typically vibrant and viewing angles are excellent. There are notable visible pixels around the edge of icons and text and high definition video doesn't have the same wow factor on larger screened devices, but all in all, the display is hardly a weak point of the RAZR M.

Software

The Motorola RAZR M comes with the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android. The company says the phone will be updated to the latest 4.1 Jelly Bean version by early 2013, but hasn't set an exact date as to when it will be available. The software update will need to be tested and approved by Telstra, who is the exclusive carrier selling the phone in Australia.

At the RAZR M's Australian launch event, Motorola says it "revamped" its user interface because users find Google's mobile operating system "fairly complex". The look and feel of the RAZR M's interface is very similar to Google's stock Ice Cream Sandwich UI, though there's a few Motorola features that add some value.

The lock screen, for example, allows you to swipe to the right to unlock the screen, swipe to the left to jump immediately into the camera app, swipe up to access the phone menu and swipe down to jump into text messages. A small switch on the top right corner of the lock screen also puts the RAZR M into silent mode.

By default the RAZR M is set up with a single home page. A swipe to to the right lets users add a blank or preset template page, while a swipe to the left shows a quick settings menu that includes the ability to change the ringtone, toggle Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, mobile data and airplane mode and change the default screen lock option. There's also a link to all settings on this screen. A question mark next to each setting lets users learn more about each item in the list, a nice feature for first time Android users.

Motorola's circle widget is another appreciated touch. It displays three circles that include a clock, a weather forecast and a battery life indicator. A simple swipe on each circle will flip between different modes, like showing a digital or analogue clock, adding a city to the weather widget and adjusting notifications settings. New text messages, missed calls and voicemail notifications will conveniently appear instead of the clock when active. Other Motorola widgets include a "favourite contacts" widget that lets you swipe down on it to show up to 20 contacts with an image, along with a "Drive Smart" widget that can be set to activate a specialised car menu when you're driving.

There's also favourite apps tab in app drawer, which allows users to add selected applications to appear in that menu. A setting that automatically adds future downloaded apps to this favourites menu is another nice touch. Motorola includes the Swype keyboard as a pre-loaded option, though you'll need to activate it from the settings menu.

Motorola has once again included its excellent Smart Actions app on the RAZR M. This automation app allows you to preconfigure tasks so you don't have to do the same things over and over again. As an example, Smart Actions allows you to set up an action that will automatically begin playing music when you plug in your headphones, automatically set your phone to silent when you nominate a location as a "quiet location" and even turn on Wi-Fi and turn off Bluetooth (or adjust a wealth of other settings) when you get to the office, or arrive home. The app uses a combination of location based and user nominated settings to automate tasks and you can create and activate as many as you like.

Motorola's Guide Me app is also handy inclusion for first time users. It runs you through basic tutorials that cover general usability, apps, calls and contacts, settings, and messaging and calendar details. It includes an interactive, step-by-step guide with highlighted screen taps and instructions.

Performance, camera, battery life

Smaller phones usually mean downsized performance but that certainly isn't the case on the Motorola RAZR M. While it isn't as butter smooth as more expensive models like the Samsung Galaxy S III 4G and the Samsung Galaxy Note II, the RAZR M is relatively fast and responsive straight out of the box.

The RAZR M is powered by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor and 1GB of RAM, the same internals used in the larger RAZR HD. Like that model, we didn't experience any regular lag or slowdown during day-to-day use but there are still some basic elements in Google's Ice Cream Sandwich software that aren't as smooth as both iOS and Windows Phone platforms. As an example, opening and closing the app draw, swiping through widget heavy home screens and scrolling in the Chrome browser sometimes offers a visible stuttering animation. We expect this and many other small issues to be ironed out once the RAZR M is updated to Jelly Bean in early 2013.

The Motorola RAZR M is a 4G compatible phone in Australia and it's exclusively sold by Telstra. We managed to achieve download speeds of up to 36Mbps when testing the RAZR M, but data speed and performance will depend on a number of factors including location, network congestion and time.

The Motorola RAZR M has an 8-megapixel camera with single LED flash. The camera app itself is both slick and fast, with minimal time between photos if you are quick on the shutter button. We love the fact you can use the external volume keys as zoom buttons, and you can even set the volume buttons to act as a shutter key, if you wish.

Images don't quite stack up to the top camera phones on the market, but the RAZR M's camera can capture decent quality photos with good detail levels. We found macro shots difficult to capture as the lens wouldn't always focus on close subjects. Low light photography is also below average and colour reproduction was often dull.

The RAZR M's camera also doubles as a full HD 1080p video recorder and the quality is decent for a smartphone with good detail and a sharp image overall. The video recorder features some interesting settings including a time lapse mode and a wind reduction mode that aims to eliminate noise when recording in windy conditions. Images and videos can be saved on the 8GB of internal memory or an on optional microSD card.

Battery life on the Motorola RAZR M is about what you should expect from a modern day smartphone. With constant use, the RAZR M almost lasted a full day but often fell short. However, it should push most moderate users through a day of use before requiring a charge. 4G connectivity appears to be the biggest battery drainer. If you're constantly in a 4G coverage zone expect the battery to drain fairly quickly, though it's fairly power efficient when in standby.

The Motorola RAZR M is available exclusively through Telstra stores and online in Australia.

Tags android phonesMotorolaMotorola RAZR M

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