I have been using smartphones of one description or another since about 2008. My first device was an HTC Touch Diamond running Windows Mobile 6.1. I then moved on to Android using an HTC Hero and later a Nexus One. I have also used a Samsung Nexus S, Samsung Galaxy Nexus, HTC One X and HTC One S. Over time I have dabbled with Windows Phone using an HTC HD7 and a Nokia Lumia 900 as regular devices.
I am not a big user of apps or games in general, though I have a few favourites, but I am a heavy user of the Google ecosystem, the web browser and camera on all the phones I have owned.
I have rooted and put custom ROMs on all the Android devices I have had and I still regret selling my Nexus One!
Motorola have had a difficult time as users have transitioned away from feature phones to smartphones. But they have attempted a valiant comeback by reintroducing their RAZR line to a whole new generation. Last years RAZR and RAZR Maxx were interesting devices with a unique industrial design and they did reasonably well in America. But now Motorola are hoping to make an impact globally through their partnership with Intel, the first fruit of which is the RAZR i.
For the American market, there is the RAZR M which packs a dual core Snapdragon S4 CPU as seen in many recent devices and which supports LTE radio bands. The RAZR i swaps out that excellent SoC for an Intel Atom Medfield CPU which does not support LTE as yet, explaining why these two almost identical devices exist. This is a similar strategy other manufacturers have taken such as HTC with the One X and Samsung with the Galaxy SIII whose quad core CPUs also don’t support LTE.
Motorola are pitching the RAZR i and the RAZR M firmly in the midrange of the market with the RAZR HD competing at the high end. Competing with the likes of the HTC One S, pricing will be critical but will the fact that Motorola is now owned by Google make for a heavenly match irresistible to Android fans? Can Intel challenge NVidia and Qualcomm with their Medfield chipset and can Motorola make the most of it to deliver a compelling device worthy of consideration in a crowded market?
The device is my own daily driver bought from Phones4U for £349. It is a standard retail unit that has been used for about a week every day.
In the box
The box is small and square but not the most efficient in terms of space usage. You get the warranty information, a small user guide, a basic headset, a charge/sync cable and a mains adapter which is commendably small though nowhere near as small as the latest HTC or Nokia offerings.
The initial unboxing is actually very slightly disappointing as the box feels slightly cheap but that impression fades as soon as you pick the device itself up.
The basic specs of the device are:
- 4.3" 16M-color Super AMOLED Advanced capacitive touchscreen of qHD resolution (960 x 540 pixels); Gorilla Glass
- 2 GHz Atom CPU, PowerVR SGX540 GPU, Intel Medfield chipset
- 1 GB of RAM and 8GB of storage (approx 5Mb available); microSD card slot
- 8 MP autofocus camera with LED flash; face detection and geotagging; 1080p video recording
- 0.3MP front-facing VGA camera
- 2000mAh battery - not user removeable
- Bluetooth 2.1 with A2DP, EDR
- 122.5 x 60.9 x 8.3 mm
- 126 grams
- Micro USB
The basic design of the device is pure Motorola and it is easy to see the family resemblance to other Motorola devices. It looks quite butch with various tough materials and a design language unique to Motorola. But the design has been refined from the RAZR and RAZR Maxx and is a little more rounded on the edges.
The highlight of the design is undoubtedly the “edge to edge” screen. The bezels around the screen are very small. Compared to any other device I have seen, the side bezels are amazingly small. It is hard to appreciate how different this feels until you see the device with the screen on. The top bezel is also very small, and again with the screen on, it feels almost magical! Underneath the screen though there is quite a large amount of space. There is a black strip that at first looks as if it should be part of the screen but is actually going to be used for carrier branding I assume. This is a real shame and does detract slightly from Motorola’s edge to edge claims.
The device feels very solid in the hand. When first holding it, the relatively diminutive dimensions strike you very quickly. It is a very comfortable device to hold feeling solid and light and manageable. Even compared to the HTC One S it feels much smaller, lighter and easier to hold. The plastic sides also offer a small amount of grip so I never feel like I would drop the device.
Lets have a look around the device.
The front is obviously dominated by the screen and it is easy to see how small the bezels are. The buttons are on screen, so there are no capacitive buttons. The screen is surrounded by what feels like a metal band with a nice texture to it. Only the Motorola logo breaks up the blackness of the front. You can see the front facing camera in the top right corner. The light sensor, proximity sensor and notification LED (yes, Motorola have included one!) are on the top left. Talking of the LED, it is very bright, easy to see and is 3 colour. At the bottom is a solid plastic strip which contains the mic.
The back of the device has Motorola’s now signature look. There is a kevlar back with a patterned imprint which feels solid, cool and almost smooth to the touch. The Motorola logo is nicely embossed there. It is quite strange seeing the Intel Inside logo on a phone! Above that is the camera housing. This is a bit of a let down as the shiny black plastic feels cheap. There is a slight curvature to the side at the back that really helps the device sit well in the hand.
There is nothing on the bottom of the device.
The left side has a standard microUSB port and a panel covered with a durable feeling plastic flap which opens to reveal the microSIM and microSD card slots.
The right hand side has the buttons in what I consider an optimum position, although I am right handed and I do wonder how well it works for left handed people. At the top is the power button which is nice and responsive with a soft touch feel and very little mushiness. It is easy to distinguish as it feels like metal and is textured. Then, working our way down, there is the volume rocker and at the bottom the camera button, more on that later.
The top of the device just has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
Overall I like the look here. It is simple and understated. It tapers slightly in thickness from top to bottom which seems to serve no functional purpose. I like the position of the buttons too. Some reviewers are uncertain about the exposed screw heads on the sides but I don’t even notice them now.
I consider the screen the most important part of what you look at on the hardware. The screen on this device might have the same specs as that on the RAZR but it is a different beast. It is a 4.3” qHD (540x960) Super AMOLED screen. Yes, it has a pentile layout and that does make some text look a bit blurred, but then again, this is a mid-range device. The screen is bright with very well judged auto-brightness levels and has good viewing angles. Colours seem to my eyes to be well saturated but not over-saturated. Overall I think the screen is on a par with the HTC One S and I am happy with it.
The Intel Atom Medfield System on Chip
This is where the RAZR i really starts to differentiate itself. Intel is touting that its low power single core 2GHz chip performs as well as modern dual core systems such as the Snapdragon S4. So, lets see what it does with the Quadrant benchmark:
Motorola have done a good job with the software. It is a largely clean installation of Android. It is a shame that it is only Android 4, Ice Cream Sandwich and not 4.1, Jelly Bean, but Intel have only very recently ported Jelly Bean to their Atom systems. Lets hope that Motorola get the update out quickly.
Most of the changes they have made to Android are positive ones. I am particularly a fan of the home screen arrangement. When you first start the device, you are presented with only one home screen. Swipe to the left and the quick settings screen appears. Swipe to the right and you are offered the ability to add a new home screen, either a blank one or based on a template. You can also manage your pages which allows you to delete and add pages and pinch zooming on the home screens also takes you to the manage pages screen.
Motorola have tweaked the apps menu only to add a favourite apps tab. This is quite useful and like the quick settings, a small but welcome addition.
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The other part of the system which Motorola have tweaked is the lock screen. Again, I think the changes are positive especially the ability to switch to vibrate mode very quickly. You can swipe from the lock icon to one of four locations, again a useful change. It will be interesting to see how Motorola integrate Google Now when it comes.
Most of the standard apps have been left alone. The phone dialer has had T9 search added but messaging and the gallery are left untouched as is the People app. Motorola have changed the camera UI quite a bit though. It works well except that the shutter sound cannot be disabled which is rather annoying.
The basic settings are on the left of the screen or the bottom in landscape. There are various effects and scenes including black and white and sepia as well as the ability to take a night portrait which can be useful.
The camera does feature some interesting special modes. Multi shot will take 10 pictures in 1 second. This is a great feature but I wish it was activated by holding the camera button like on the HTC One series rather than having to select an option. Still, it works well. There is an HDR mode which also works well and a timer.
There are some nice features which Motorola have included that show some real thought. The first is a dedicated camera button. I am delighted they chose to include this. The camera launches almost instantly when pressing the camera button even if the screen is off. If you have a lock mode then pressing the camera button when the screen is off will only give you access to the camera and not the rest of the phone. A good security feature. The only downside here is that the camera button is not a multi-stage button meaning you have to touch the screen to focus.
Motorola have included their SmartActions app. This very easily allows you to take advantage of the automation capabilities of Android. The interface is very easy to use and allows for triggers such as locations, times, headset plugged in and various others. The resultant actions from these triggers can be things such as changing to silent mode, changing wallpaper etc etc. This is a great addition to the software package on Motorola phones.
The final software addition worthy of note is the Guide Me app. This provides a user guide on the device itself with some basic tutorials and more extensive help. For a new user this is a nice starting point.
The first thing to get out of the way here is that this thing flies. It is as at least as fast as any other Android device I have ever used. Yes, the benchmarks are not great as we have already seen, but that only tells a small part of the story. Apps open quickly and smoothly, perhaps even more so than on my Nexus 7. Mostly, everything responds quickly and smoothly. I am yet to experience any lag in any apps I use regularly. The device has never crashed and no apps have crashed as yet.
But things are not entirely perfect. The launcher is the only place I have found lag and in one or two specific circumstances. When adding a new homescreen or pinch-zooming on the homescreen to go into the overview mode, there is significant jerkiness. This is the only part of the UI I have had problems with and I am hopeful Motorola can address these issues with a software update.
The initial experience with this device differs a little from other Android devices I have used. When you first start up the RAZR i, all you are asked to do is find a WiFi network - a step you can skip - and log in with a Google account which can also be skipped. There are no other screens, no tutorials, nothing. For someone familiar with Android this is fantastic and you can start using the device within a minute or so of switching it on. There is the Guide Me app for those less familiar with Android but this is a simple setup procedure.
Out of the box, the launcher is set up in a very simple way which I think is fantastic. You have just one home screen. Swipe to the left of this screen to get to the quick settings and swipe right to get to the manage home screens page from where new home screens can be added. Motorola even provide some templates for that.
The screen is pretty good for a mid-range device with plenty of brightness and it is very responsive to the touch. I have watched a couple of movies on the device which has worked very well and the screen is lovely for watching media.
Text input is fine when using the stock Android keyboard though Motorola have renamed it and the responsive touch screen definitely helps. As a bonus Motorola also includes the Swype keyboard which works as well as ever.
The external speaker is very loud and of an average quality. When listening to music on headphones, I found the quality to be above average with plenty of power. I am not an audiophile so will suffice by saying that I haven’t had any complaints. The EQ in the stock Google Music player works well enough although you have to choose a preset and cannot customise it.
I have found that games work really well. There are a few which don’t yet support the Intel system in this device, but almost everything works and works very well. The screen is excellent for gaming and it is a relatively immersive experience. The lightness and size of the device makes it great for gaming on the go too! The back can get warm when playing an intense game but I haven’t found it to get nearly as hot as say the HTC One X can.
One thing I am a big fan of is the auto rotation of this device. The sensitivity appears to be just right for me. I found the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in particular far too sensitive and the screen would be rotating around all the time! On the RAZR i this hasn’t happened for me but it rotates quickly when I do want it to.
I have used the device as a sat nav system on a few occassions. It performs very well getting a fast GPS lock and holding that lock for the duration of my journey - typically around 20 to 30 minutes.
The RAZR i supports DLNA but it is not a feature I have tried. It is baked into the software very discreetly though. For instance, when listening to music there is a small icon that will enable DLNA but there is no dedicated app for it.
NFC is supported and works as expected using Android Beam. There is no Google Wallet installed on the device.
The camera is a fairly basic 8 megapixel affair. I would describe the images it produces as generally adequate but not much better. It is certainly not at the level of the HTC One S but I find it superior to the Nokia Lumia 900. That is not to say it is a bad camera. As with many things with this device, I consider it to be solidly mid-range.
In a word, excellent! Motorola say you can achieve 20 hours talk time with this device. I would say that is probably true. In my typical usage, when I had an HTC One S, I would use around 70% of the battery in a day. With this phone it is closer to 40%. This is the first Android phone I have used that has realistic 2 day battery life for my fairly average use. The battery is a sealed unit but with this kind of life I wouldn’t see that being an issue for most. It also seems to charge very quickly.
Motorola are allowing the RAZR i to be bootloader unlocked via their online tools which work similarly to the HTC Dev tools. Root has been achieved and already a few small customisations are available. I would expect this to become more extensive over the next few months but so far there is no sign of custom ROMs.
At £349 off contract, I think the device is slightly overpriced. Obviously prices will fall over time, but when the HTC One S with Jelly Bean on the way is cheaper, the current price looks wrong.
As you can probably tell, I am smitten by this device. The screen is a decent performer and I strongly believe 4.3” is a perfect sweet spot. I also like the qHD resolution, it makes for a slightly narrower phone. The camera is good enough although as always something better would be appreciated and it is certainly not a great camera. The battery life and performance are nothing short of stunning. The price of the RAZR i is a little high for such an obviously mid-range device but that will fall in time.
If you are happy to live with a slightly larger footprint and especially if you are a fan of HTC Sense, the HTC One S is a better buy. It does not have anywhere near the same battery life, but its performance is excellent and on a par with the RAZR i in the main and its camera stellar. I also think it is better looking than the RAZR i though I prefer the feel of the RAZR i in the hand.
If you want the best screen and are happy with the size, the HTC One X can be had for very little additional cost and that is without doubt one of the best smartphones around at the moment.
An interesting alternative may be the Sony Xperia S. This is an HD screened device with a good camera but it is somewhat large and its CPU is a generation older.
Another fly in the ointment for the RAZR i is the Samsung Galaxy SII. It may be a generation older, but it is still a great phone with good performance and decent battery life and obviously a much lower price. At the time of writing it is possible to get one for around £275. The downsides are obviously the older tech and slower performance whilst also being slightly larger than the RAZR i.
If you want something that little bit smaller but packing every bit of modern tech you will need in a phone for the next few years, this is a very easy device to recommend. And if Motorola deliver timely software updates, they should be on to a winner with the new RAZR line-up.
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