The introduction of the new Droid RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD represent Motorola’s first entry in the high-end smartphone market since it was acquired by Google. With a new management in place and a clear strategy oriented around “speed, battery life and the best of Android”, Motorola wants to re-affirm that it too can make great Android phones.
In fact, it would be bizarre if a Google company wasn’t able to build great Android phones… In any case, those two smartphones are designed to represent the above commitment from Motorola, which has chosen a “racing” design in reference to the idea of high-performance.
The battery life is probably the most important point here. With a 3300mAh battery (2X the iPhone 5 capacity), the Motorola RAZR Maxx HD is the king of the hill when it comes to battery capacity. There are only two ways of improving battery life: use less and have more. Motorola has decided to go for both.
So, it looks great on paper, but how are those smartphones in the real world? We have used them for more than a week, so it’s time to find out.
|Droid RAZR HD||Droid RAZR Maxx HD|
|Display Size “||4.7||4.7|
|Display Type||Super AMOLED||Super AMOLED|
|Main chip||dual-core Snapdragon S4 1.5GHZ||dual-core Snapdragon S4 1.5GHZ|
|Battery capacity||2530 mAh||3300 mAh|
|Internal Storage (GB)||16||32|
We all use smartphones differently, so it’s important that I tell you what I do with my smartphone(s): I typically check email often with the built-in email app (via Microsoft Exchange), and reply moderately because typing on the virtual keyboard is tedious. I browse the web several times a day to check on news sites, but rarely watch movies or play music. I don’t call much – maybe 10mn a day, if at all.
On the “apps” side, I have a couple of social networks (FB, G+), a receipts manager and random apps (<20), but I rarely play games or do something super-intensive like video editing. This usage pattern will affect battery life and the perception of what features are useful. Now you know where we’re coming from…
Industrial designThe new Motorola RAZR HD MAxx and RAZR HD build on the design that was created for the previous versions. Motorola has made both of them better and pushed the used of great materials even further (glass, metal and kevlar). Booth phones are extremely similar and most people will have a hard time to tell which is which.
If you happen to have both like we do, you can lay them on a table, and the most obvious point is that the RAZR Maxx HD’s is a little thicker than the RAZR HD toward the bottom of the phone. This is obviously due to the difference in battery capacity from 2500mAh to 3300 mAh. Other than that, both phones are very similar to one another.
Because one of the key point of the Motorola message is “speed”, the company has opted for a “Racing” design that is well executed as it leave room for imagination. I personally like the black version better because it has a cleaner visual feel to it. The white version is interesting, but there are too many things that distract from the pristine white (speaker, moto logo, Verizon logo). This is something that Motorola should take into account going forward, and Verizon most definitely needs to help.
So, the front of the phone is a single piece of glass that covers the display, microphone etc. It is nice and upon a closer inspection, you will see that the glass edge is actually tapered, which gives it a smoother feel. The glass is encased into a thin outer edge. I can’t tell if it’s plastic or metal, but this may be something that would help protect from drops. I don’t dare trying on these units.
The side is dominated by a metal frame that seems to be built very precisely. This has a very high-quality feel, and the ports (HDMI, micro USB, SIM tray, custom 3.5mm jack) and the buttons (volume control and power control) are very finely crafted. If you like the details, the buttons are actually very interesting: the Power button has little ridges in it to provide for additional “grip”. The volume button has two notches to improve tactile feel as well. It’s very easy to tell if you’re touch Power or Volume.
In the back, we find the Kevlar texture that Motorola has been using for some time. Just like in previous phones, the Kevlar provides a very resistant material that will not shatter and that will be difficult to scratch — that was one of the friction point on the iPhone 5, which has a more “scratchable” material. At the top, the loudspeaker is quite visible next to the HD Camera and LED light. Finally, the Motorola logo in the middle looks pretty good, but I fell like the “LTE” branding doesn’t help the design here (although it does help the marketing – maybe).
Overall, whether or not you actually like the design is up to you (drop a comment below!), but what I can say is that the build quality is very high, there’s no question about that.
Both Motorola RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD have a beautiful Super-AMOLED HD display (1280×720). In fact, the default image wallpaper image that Motorola uses does NOT make it justice, and this is something that the company needs to address in the future. Fortunately, there are beautiful and colorful wallpapers preloaded into the phone, so you can simply choose one of those.
With that in mind, don’t forget that AMOLED displays tend to consume more power than their equivalent LCD counterparts when the image is bright. That’s probably why Motorola chose to have a dark wallpaper and a dark background in the Apps list or the Email app. They want to maximize the battery life.
Virtual keyboard (very good): Ironically, despite having hundreds of thousands of apps at their disposal, most users still refer to text-based communication as being the “critical” application for them. That’s why you must not underestimate the importance of a virtual keyboard. The more productive you want to be, and the more likely this element may get in the way.
Out of the box, what is called the “Motorola Input” keyboard looks very much like the stock Google Android keyboard. It is clean-looking and fast. If you want something more fancy Swype is preloaded in the phone, but keep in mind that Swype works better with dictionary words, not slang, or technical lingo.
Email (very good): Structurally, the email client is very fit for productivity and business folks will like it. It is very easy to batch action across multiple items, and flagging an email is just one tap away. I would have loved having the option of using a white background because it is more readable in direct sunlight. I don’t see any here.
Some clients “cheat” by checking only the notifications, but download the actual message only when you open the email app. This *may* save some battery life, but it is also a major annoyance in my opinion – this is not the case here.
I get a lot of emails, so this is a big deal for me, and I feel like I can actually get some work done in an efficient way with this. On a daily basis, the most important features are the search and background download. Not having a search is a “no go”, and having the app load the emails only when you open the app is frustrating.
Google Maps: As usual Google Maps is excellent and truly rules when it comes to effectiveness and completeness – worldwide. Recently, I have traveled to Tokyo, Japan and needless to say that things worked remarkably well there. Sometime, competing solution may be OK at home, but terrible abroad. Ironically, it is when you’re far from home that you rely on the maps even more! Good job Google.
Mp4 playback: both Motorola RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD can easily play any of the 1080p videos that we have on hand (5Mbps bitrate), so this is not a problem. We haven’t noticed any compatibility issues either, but don’t forget that videos that aren’t in a format supported by the the hardware may be decoded using the CPU – this concerns every Android phone, not only those ones.
Gaming: with a game like Riptide GP going between 30FPS and 60FPS, it is fair to say that games are playable on this phone. It may not be the solid 60FPS that can be reached by the fastest phones, but many players would feel that it is fast enough. Not the best, but still a very good performer.
Speaker-quality: The speaker is fairly good. Although not the best or the loudest we’ve seen, it does well and I don’t think that users will complain — unless they are in a noisy spot, in which case the volume may not be loud enough.
In terms of digital imaging, Motorola could do better. While both the RAZR HD and the RAZR Maxx HD provide a fair quality, they unfortunately cannot rival with offering from both Samsung, Nokia and Apple which are providing better quality photo and video capture.
I have uploaded some photos so that you can see the differences for yourself. This may sound like a tough judgement on Motorola’s digital imaging efforts, but I know that Motorola is a data-driven company which can take criticism and use it to make their products better. As a reviewer, I need to set your expectations properly because we think that informed buyers are happy users.
For this performance test, I’ve compiled both the Droid RAZR Maxx HD and the Droid RAZR HD into one because they have identical internals, and basically score identically.
Antutu 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.
As you can see, both phones are doing very well for dual-core powered systems. Note that Antutu tends to scale with the number of cores, so quad-core chips will do much better (as seen above). However, in the real world, most applications don’t use four cores, so the “perceived performance” isn’t as dramatic as those synthetic results.
GLBenchmark Egypt, offscreen 1080p: 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, outdoors…).
The RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD do well in the graphics test, but you can see that smartphones using more recent chips are pulling away quite rapidly. Samsung and Apple make their own chips, but LG uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro, which is something that Motorola could do as well in the future. To put some perspective on this, note that both phones score better than Tegra 3 phones, which were the top gaming ones not so long ago.
“Perceived performance”: Synthetic benchmarks can only carry us so far. What they don’t show for example is the user experience is smooth and responsive (responsiveness is not always solved with brute-force processor power). In the end, what good is raw performance if you can’t perceive it?
Overall, it is fair to say that the phone is very responsive. The user interface is smooth, even when many apps are loaded. The LTE network is fast and overall, there’s little to complain on that side. It performs similarly to other “top phones” on the market. Now, there is a clear gap when it comes to gaming, physics or video editing where faster graphics processors and more cores should make a significant difference. Other than that it performs nicely.
Battery life (excellent)
Battery life is really where the RAZR Maxx HD shines, while the RAZR HD remains no par with the top phones out there. For instance, 60mn of Google Play Movie consumes about 9% of the battery while on most phone, that is 15%. I wanted to simulate mild gaming with the Nenamark 2 3D wait screen, and after 60mn, only 6% of the battery was gone. This is quite remarkable, and in terms of battery life, this is as good as it gets.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is the closest smartphone in terms of battery capacity (3100mAh), but its size puts it in a different category altogether.
Keep in mind that battery life varies a lot depending on the apps that run in the background, your network reception, your local network density and the amount of time that the: display is ON. You can always refer to the Android battery report to see what is consuming the power. Finally, keep in mind that network transactions generated by apps can appear as “Android” as it is ultimately the OS that handles those transactions.
To optimize the battery life, could also (but have not for this test) enable a couple of simple rules from the Motorola Smart Actions:
1/ when in the office or at home, shut down the wireless broadband. Other phones do this as well.
2/ I’ve also activated a “no motion, no data” rule, so that if I leave my phone on a desk or something like that, it won’t sync until I pick it up again. This has been working quite transparently, and in theory those rules should help further extend the battery life.
Software is a huge part of the battery life performance, and this should not be underestimated. The best way to reduce power is still to not use the circuitry when it’s not needed. For that, Motorola has provided excellent tools to optimize power consumption.
Conclusion (very good)
Motorola has done a really good job with its new smartphones: the Motorola Droid RAZR M is probably the best “compact” Android phone for the holidays, and the Motorola Droid Maxx HD should remain the king of battery life for this holiday season.
I’m not sure what to make of the Droid RAZR HD model. It’s a very good phone, and it allows customers to save $100 when compared to the RAZR Maxx HD, but frankly, you shouldn’t hesitate between those two: just get the Maxx HD and enjoy the much larger battery capacity every single day. There is really something that needs to be said about being able to enjoy LTE speeds and the phone in general, without worrying (too much) about the battery life.
Motorola has committed itself to speed and battery life. I think that “speed” refers to the LTE network. While the general user experience is very good (except for a weakness in gaming), Motorola will probably need to commit itself to using the best silicon available in the future. Finally, Motorola has promised that those handset would be upgraded to Jelly Bean (Android 4.1) “this year”, and has vowed to bring the “best of Android”, including fast updates, to its handsets in the future. The Jelly Bean update will be the first test of that resolve.
I hope that this review was useful and gave you a good sense of how it is to use the Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx HD and the Droid RAZR HD. If you have more questions, please drop a comment below. We’ll try to address it ASAP while we still have the phones