You might call Motorola ELECTRIFY M a cousin of the RAZR M, RAZR HD, and RAZR Maxx HD. Like its predecessors, the ELECTRIFY M runs on Android and is enclosed in a slim, flat chassis. Under the tagline “compact without compromise,” the new phone hit the stores in late November 2012, just before the Christmas shopping rush began. After the $100 mail-in rebate, your cost for the device is between $99.99 to $149.99. As one of the devices spawned from Google’s May 2012 acquisition of Motorola Mobility, the Electrify M incorporates many notable Google features, such as Google Maps, Google search, Chrome browser, and Google+.
The ELECTRIFY M is a smartphone, intended for more than talking over the airwaves. The 4G LTE service offered with the device at authorized outlets is expected to feed the social media and multimedia addictions of those who check emails, post photos, stream music, find nearby restaurants, and browse Facebook, often all at the same time, from a single device. Is the compact device able to live up to its no-compromise tagline in that respect?
Technical Specs Highlights
Display: 4.3-in.; Super AMOLED Advanced qHD (540 x 960)
Dimensions: 8.69 x 61.5 x 123.1 mm, 111g.
Processor: Dual-Core 1.5GHz
Storage: 8GB internal; 4.5GB user available memory; support up to 32GB microSD
Battery capacity: 2000 mAh Li Ion
Cameras 8MP rear facing camera; HD 1080p video capture (30fps) up to 60fps in HD 720p. 0.3MP front-facing camera;
As promised by the marketing slogan, the ELECTRIFY M is meant to offer robust connectivity, media creation and sharing, and personal entertainment in a small, lightweight form factor. I don’t routinely use my smartphone to write articles from start to finish or create complex digital content. The screen size is just not meant for those tasks. However, I do need to review and make minor corrections to documents received if I happen to be checking emails from my phone.
I use my phone primarily to access my social networks, coordinate meetings via text messages and instant messages, look up nearby restaurants, and listen to music while I commute on public transit. I also have a habit of taking photos (food and friends tend to be my favorite subjects) and sharing them online, often while I’m on the road or in a WiFi-enabled venue. So a compact device with good, reliable web access and basic multimedia tools are just want I need.
Accordingly, I set out to examine how the ELECTRIFY M handles social media connection, email messaging, and WiFi network acquisition. To simulate how someone might actually use the phone on the go, I took the phone with me on a 45-minute bus ride as I sent and retrieved emails and surfed Facebook and Google+.
I also paid attention to the built-in camera’s performance by taking a number of shots in different conditions: first in bright afternoon light in a neighborhood cafe, then in night time at a dimly lit intersection. I also took some close-up shots of my accessories: my watch, pen, and pocket watch. For comparison, I used an iPhone 4S to take photos in the same conditions.
To round out my encounter with the device, I used it to play a few games (Angry Birds and Ice Age: Village), play movies trailers and songs, and text and talk with myself (at the risk of developing multiple personality complex). While doing these, I paid attention to the battery meter to see how fast it drained, and how fast it recharged. That gave me a pretty good idea how reliable the device would be if I ever need to use it without access to an outlet for an extended period (for example, on a long flight).
The ELECTRIFY M has an aluminum frame, with scratch-resistant, water-repellent finish. (As I tinkered with the phone at my local Starbucks, I was tempted to pour coffee on the device to observe its reaction, but, to Ubergizmo’s relief, I let my better judgement prevail in the end.)
The camera in the back, the microphone jack at the top, and the power and volume controls on the side are strategically positioned so they won’t interfere with the main display. At 123.1 mm height, the phone is slightly thicker than the iPhone 4S’s (115.2 mm), but the difference is hardly significant. But at 111 grams, it is noticeably lighter than the iPhone 4S’s 140 grams. If you get the chance to hold both in your hands or carry them in your shirt pockets, you’ll definitely feel the ELECTRIFY M’s lighter mass.
The Motorola phone also has a slightly larger display area (4.3-inch across) than the iPhone 4S’s screen (3.5-inch) or the iPhone 5’s (4-inch), but it dwarfs in comparison to larger mini-tablet devices like Samsung Galaxy Note II (a generous 5.55-inch). For a device whose primary purpose is neither reading (as with an e-reader) nor drawing (as with a tablet), the ELECTRIFY M’s pocket-fitting handheld size and respectable display are the right balance of form and function.
Google Integration (Very Good)
The ongoing rivalry between Facebook and Google+ notwithstanding, the ELECTRIFY M provides ways to access both social networks. But parent company Google’s footprints are quite prominent in its OS and default app collection. The voice-enabled Google search is in the home screen. Google Maps, Gmail, Google+, and Chrome browser are part of the standard setup.
Most smartphones, in my view, have screens that are less than ideal for document composition from scratch, but are adequate for review and minor edits. For those purposes, the ELECTRIFY M’s screen size is sufficient. The Quickoffice app gives you a way to read and edit Microsoft Office documents, like Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.
This too is the outcome of a Google acquisition, dated back to June 2012. Once an independent software maker, Quickoffice is now a Google property. This offers the Motorola phone a slight advantage over Apple iPhone, which doesn’t readily come with an app for handling Office documents. (Quickoffice for iPhone is available for download at Apple app store, as are a few other paid and free apps that accomplish the same tasks; but they don’t come pre-installed on Apple devices.)
Google applications, both desktop and mobile, are designed to encourage you to stay within the Google universe, spanning from Google Maps and Google docs to the cloud-storage Google Drive. Naturally, mobile versions of these loaded in ELECTRIFY M’s Android setup make life easy for those with Google credentials. For those without, the requirement to log into these apps through a Google account could be a detraction.
When you plug the phone into your PC for the first time, you’ll be prompted to install the device-control software. Once it’s installed, the phone appears in your Windows explorer just like another removable drive, with all its internal folders accessible to you. This allows you to drag and drop photos, songs, and movie clips into your phone for easy transfer. The method is a lot simpler than how you transfer content to your iPhone through iTunes–a complicated obstacle course involving associating specific apps with certain documents in the iTunes interface.
Multimedia Playback (Very Good)
Text in PDF documents and ebooks show up with crisp, clarity in the phone’s Super AMOLED Advanced display. The two games I tested, Angry Birds (a casual game that has become a phenomenon of its own) and Ice Age Village (a free HD game), played with good frame rate, response, and speed, free of glitches. I also tried the movie trailer for X-Men: First Class, downloaded as MP4. I chose that one in particular because it has enough explosions, music, and fast-paced editing to test processor’s performance. In all cases, the phone’s high-contrast display makes the graphics bright and colorful, a good treatment for eye-candy streaming media.
Multimedia Capture (Decent)
But when I took the phone outdoor to take photos, I noticed that the same vibrancy in the display sometimes made colors in photos look unnaturally intense, producing something like a color-burn effect in Photoshop. I searched in both the camera settings and display settings to see if I could reduce the contrast for captured photos or switch the color scheme to a more natural tone, but found no such option. The camera’s built-in effect collection gives you a handful of filters, including Negative, Sepia, and Aqua. As quick, one-touch effects, they work quite well, but they won’t give you the same breadth and variety of the styles available in a specialized app like Instagram or Pixlr-o-matic.
Comparing the photos and videos taken with the ELECTRIFY M to those taken with a Canon PowerShot SX150 IS and those taken with an iPhone 4S, I noticed that the ones from the ELECTRIFY M tends to have stronger cyan (bluish) and magenta (purplish) tinges. But you may find this appealing or annoying, depending on your aesthetic preference. Either way, it’s something that can easily be corrected in a photo editor if you need to. In capturing fine details, the iPhone 4S produced notably better results. The difference becomes evident if you zoom into details, such as wood grains on a bench or the edges of window frames.
Connectivity (Very Good)
At places where WiFi is available (like my neighborhood Starbucks), you can easily acquire the signal (with appropriate password where required, of course). I tried surfing the web and browsing Facebook on public commute with cell signal alone (the review unit on loan from Motorola came with a 4G LTE SIM card). The refresh and download during navigation was flawless. Data flow was smooth; signal strength remained good to excellent throughout inner city travels. (Bear in mind, however, that I conducted the experiment in urban San Francisco, where cell coverage is generally quite good. The results may be different in rural areas.)
Battery Life (Good)
The 2000 mAh Li Ion battery, according to Motorola, lasts up to 20 hours on mixed use. That’s significantly longer than the iPhone 4S’s 1,430 mAh battery and the iPhone 5’s 1,440 mAh. In my usage, I noticed it remained at more than 50% after a day’s intermittent use, comprising photo taking, video shooting, web browsing, and social media interaction. The recharge was also quick, even through a USB port on a PC. It recharged much faster from a wall outlet, as it should. This gave me assurance that, in normal usage, I could depend on the ELECTRIFY M to stay powered without access to an outlet for 6-8 hours at least. You may further conserve power by reducing the screen brightness or reducing the number of apps syncing in the background.
Voice Command (Fair)
Unlike the iPhone’s Siri, the voice command in the ELECTRIFY M currently doesn’t work if you issue a command in natural language. In operations like Google search, Google Maps, and Gmail, you can dictate a search phrase, a destination address, or a contact name instead of typing. And the phone can effectively interpret them. But you can’t, for example, say, “Find me the nearest pizza restaurant” and expect the phone to return a list of hits in the neighborhood. (Believe me. I tried it.)
Siri is by no means perfect, but it’s much farther ahead in parsing natural language and deducing logical commands from it. Siri can definitely identify nearby pizza places from a command issued in natural speech. (You can probably guess what I had for lunch.) The upcoming x phone that Google and Motorola are reportedly working on will have to include a more refined voice command if it’s intended as a threat to the iPhone. Otherwise, the iPhone’s Siri, even as flawed as it is, still remains the best of the bunch in interpreting natural language.
Antutu 3.3 is an overall system performance benchmark (CPU, graphics, storage), and what it shows is that overall, most recent phones land in a comparable performance footprint. This means that unless you do something very specific (like gaming or downloads), those phones should provide a similar overall performance. Note that this benchmark tends to scale with the number of cores, which is not always the case in real-world situations.
It’s not surprising that the ELECTRIFY M, equipped with a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, can reach only a little over half the performance of the Galaxy Note II, running on a 1.6GHz quad-core processor. The Galaxy Note II needs the added power to handle stylus-driven interactive applications (like drawing and sketching). For typical smartphone operations you perform on the ELECTRIFY M, its processor is more than adequate.
GLBenchmark 2.5: This test has been designed to “stress” the graphics processor (GPU) by running a game-like demo which features a fight between various characters in many different environments (indoors, outdoor, and so on). The results reveal how you can expect the device to perform under graphics-heavy applications like interactive games and augmented reality
The chart shows the ELECTRIFY M right between the iPhone 4S and the HTC EVO 4G LTE. For devices intended primarily for communication and connectivity, this is respectable graphics performance but would not qualify as being a gaming system these days. A higher GPU performance is desirable if you plan to use the phone to play 3D games and process real-time video in high pixel count, but that’s not typically how people use such a smartphone.
Geekbench 2: Geekbench tends to focus on synthetic floating point calculation performance rather than multi-core scalability. This is a good measure for general computing and generating accurate physics in games.
The numbers aside, I’d say the overall user experience on the ELECTRIFY M is quite good. The audiovisual playback is steady, clear, and stable. There was no image shakiness, freezed screens, or unintended sound distortion resulting from large data set (like scenes with lots of explosions, part of the X-Men: First Class trailer I watched). In ebook perusal (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, on the Google Play Books app), the animated page turns responded instantly. In HD games like Ice Age: Village, the game responded to touch and commands with no delay.
Conclusion (Very Good)
For those who routinely rely on Google’s free browser-based products, the tight integration of Google apps in the ELECTRIFY M phone will make the environment feels like an extension of their primary computer. The camera captures high-res photos and videos that are, by the standard of smartphones, quite impressive, even if they don’t meet the high standard set by the iPhone.
The drag-and-drop device management is much easier than the cumbersome approach in Apple devices, which force you to use iTune to transfer most types of documents, media, and files. The slim handheld device, which conforms to the tried and true form, is a good ergonomic fit for long conversations in your hand (though I find that more people are talking less on their phones these days) and an easy fit in shirt and jacket pockets. As a smartphone, Motorola ELECTRIFY M packs a lot of functions in a lightweight, pocket-size device–proof that compactness doesn’t always require compromise.