REVIEW: Motorola RAZR i
Name: Motorola RAZR i
Type: Android Smartphone with Intel processor
Specifications: Click here for full specs
Price as reviewed: £349.99 SIM-free
Motorola test the Intel-powered water with the release of the RAZR i, their first handset to pack a processor from the desktop computing veterans. Rather than play safe with a mid-range device however, they’ve jumped straight in the deep end with a high-end build with which to woo the Android faithful. Is their faith in Intel’s chipset well placed? Read on to find out!
Motorola’s RAZR i sure knows how to catch your attention. Not only is it Moto’s first roll of the Intel-powered dice, but the design houses a host of headline-bothering features that would make even the most jaded of smartphone fans cock their ears.
The rest of the phone’s design isn’t quite as jaw dropping, but that’s not to call it unattractive by any means. A rubberised DuPont Kevlar back gives it a little added grip and protection, as does the Gorilla Glass used in the manufacturing of the screen. It’s not what you’d call a “rugged” handset, but should be a little more sturdy than your average smartphone when it comes to bumps and scrapes. Volume controls, a camera button and a power button sit on the right hand side of the phone, with a headphone jack on the top edge. The left hand side has a microUSB charging port as well as a slightly fiddly panel that houses a microSD slot and a SIM card slot. The phone sits comfortably in one hand, but feels chunkier than the 8.3mm quoted thickness, which actually refers to its thinnest point, a tapered lip at the bottom end. The rough-and-ready look is furthered by visible screws on the sides of the handset; they don’t quite float our boat, but have spoken to many other tech journalists who love them. It’s a matter of personal preference then.
The RAZR i packs NFC connectivity (though you could argue it’s not all that important at the moment while retailers dally in putting their payment systems in place), as well as the usual connectivity features including Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS and Bluetooth. There’s also the ability to use the phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. Rear-facing 8MP and front-facing 0.3MP cameras feature, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. A mere 8GB of storage space is included, though the afore-mentioned microSD slot, supporting cards up to 32GB in size, goes some way towards alleviating this problem. Navigating the phone is done by pressing three software touch buttons on the lower edge of the screen; the Android-standard Back, Home and Multi-tasking buttons.
In terms of battery life, the RAZR i houses an impressive 2000mAh battery. That’s a real winner in terms of smartphone performance, letting you happily use the phone for a good day and a half under moderately intensive usage (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth constantly on, regular web and Google Maps browsing and audio playback).
Interface and Apps
The Motorola RAZR i, despite being a brand new, top-tier smartphone, lands with Android 4.1 Ice Cream Sandwich as its operating system, rather than the newer Jelly Bean build. Ice Cream Sandwich is an excellent OS, offering a fully customisable mobile experience, full of live widgets, multiple homescreens and including smart features like a drop down notifications menu and a facial recognition unlock system. However, it does imply that Intel mobile chipsets aren’t quite optimised with the newest Android features yet. This is furthered by the fact that Google’s Chrome browser wasn’t initially ready for the RAZR i, landing a week or two after its launch. Using Chrome as the example, that’s a fast turn around for a new app build, but prospective owners should be aware that Intel-based Android smartphones, for the time being at least, may be prone to longer update waits than handsets with other processors.
Rather than running with a vanilla build of Android, Motorola have popped some of their own interface features into the RAZR i. Sometimes this is to good effect, sometimes not so. On the one hand, we like the unlock screen, which puts a key in the centre of four circular points which can unlock specific apps without having first to jump to the homescreens. Also, the Motorola-built widgets are quite pretty, especially the Circles clock/weather/connectivity one that loads as default on the main homescreen, letting you flip through reams of info and settings at a glance. On the other hand, we’re less happy with the homescreen design (or “Pages” as Motorola call them); while most of the maximum seven homscreens is fully customisable, there’s a row of app icons along the bottom that remain static no matter which homescreen you scroll to. If, like me, you jump back to the “front” homescreen of Android devices for key functions like calling and messaging, you’ll find this a waste of potential customising space. Likewise, what’s the point of dedicating a whole homescreen (accessed by scrolling “left” from the “front” homescreen) to a “Quick Settings” page when this can so easily be accessed by dragging the notifications bar downwards from anywhere in the phone?
There’s only one notable Motorola-built pre-installed app on the phone, and that’s Smart Action. It’s pretty good, learning your device usage behaviour and adapting settings around it, as well as letting you create your own custom Smart Action rules. For instance, you can tell your phone to switch to silent mode once it’s in range of your workplace between set hours so as not to disturb your while you’re working, and flip on the Wi-Fi connection and ringtone once you get back within range of your home network. Triggers and actions are stackable, meaning you can create pretty complicated routines for your phone to learn, making it less of a chore to sort through regularly changed settings.Once you’re through with Motorola’s built-in software features, you can easily head over to the Google Play app store to browse hundreds of thousands of free and paid-for apps available to Android devices. In a wise move, Motorola have refrained from clogging the phone up with reams of unnecessary apps; you get the usual solid suite of Google apps (Gmail, Google+, Maps, YouTube, Talk), Play Books, Play Movies and Play Music for media content and QuickOffice for looking at Office documents, as well as a basic movie editor. It’s refreshing to see this bloat-free approach.
Contacts, Calling and Messaging
Contacts integration is stock Android Ice Cream Sandiwch, which is no bad thing. That means you get a clearly presented blue-on-black list, highlighting key acquaintances with larger thumbnails, all of which can be pooled from an existing Google account online if you keep a well-maintained address book in Google+ or Gmail. Contacts can be put into groups or favourites lists, and there’s also a recent calls tab for jumping back historically through numbers. Sadly, there’s no built-in social network contacts integration, as is found with HTC phones. You’re going to have to add those details manually, and download an appropriate app if you’re looking to contact Twitter or Facebook chums.
Calling is well delivered too. A Smart Dialler lets you search for a contact through both names and numbers, and overall call quality was uniformly excellent, being clear and loud with consistent signal levels.
The messages app, likewise, is stock Ice Cream Sandwich, and follows the same Tron-style design. It’s a clean and simple SMS messaging system, using predictive text to quickly let you piece together messages, and offering a conversation-style view of older messages, letting you easily review older chats with pals.
Moving onto email, there’s the aforementioned Gmail app pre-installed, which is a fantastic mobile build of the desktop variant. Gmail users will be totally at home labelling and starring emails and scrolling through long chains of messages from the same recipient. There’s also great search functionality built in, meaning you can easily dive into an inbox brimming with thousands of messages and pull out the one you’re after.
If you’re looking to attach a POP3, IMAP or Exchange address to the smartphone, that’s handled by Motorola’s own email client. It shares similar functionally to that of the stock Android and Gmail apps, adding nifty features like swipe actions to mark or delete messages.
The RAZR i has a lovely (if not class-leading) screen paired with a very loud loudspeaker that makes it a good choice for those looking to watch films or play plenty of music on the go. Playback is mostly excellent, though we did experience the odd stutter when viewing full HD content scaled down to match the screen’s resolution. This didn’t happen often enough to dampen our enthusiasm for this handset as a media playback device though.
You’ll be able to drag-and-drop your own media from a PC over a USB connection, or use a cloud storage service such as Dropbox which can easily be downloaded from the Google Play store for free. Otherwise, you can download streaming apps like Netflix or BBC iPlayer, or purchase media from Google’s Books, Music and Movies Play stores.
All videos are housed in Google’s own Play Store video player, whether you’ve downloaded them or grabbed them from your computer’s personal collection, separated by tabs. It’s a solid player that makes it easy to browse your videos, though third-party apps offer more extensive features like web-sourced video data and clever bookmarking options. It’s a similar story for MP3 playback; Google’s stock offering is fine, easily navigated and managed with large artwork displayed, but third-party apps offer more extensive ways to manage your music, and better information to accompany your tunes. Shop around; there are plenty of excellent alternatives, though the stock options here will serve most users just fine regardless.
DLNA functionality is also included with the RAZR i. If you’ve got a TV, games console or compatible HTPC or PC, you can beam videos, pictures and music from the phone wirelessly to another DLNA-compliant device in your proximity. It works like a treat on the RAZR i, and takes away the hassle of finding a USB stick or TV cable; handy considering there’s no HDMI port available on the handset.
Still Camera and Video
The 8MP camera on the RAZR i offers detailed, colourful snaps that accurately reproduce a subject, though like many smartphone snappers it struggles in low-light scenarios unless you turn on its flash. That’s fine if you’re snapping a silly late night party shot, but not great if you’re trying to capture the ambience of a night time scene.
This is most keenly felt when using the RAZR i’s 10-shot burst mode. In bright conditions, you’ll capture 10 back-to-back images clear as day, full of movement without blur, making for a great flip-book effect or a nifty way of catching fast moving action. In low light, this tool is pretty much useless, as all shots will come out poorly. Adjusting the exposure setting helps the matter slightly but you lose even more definition in contrast and brightness as a result. Speaking specifically about the burst mode, there’s also a slight lag that occurs just before the images are captured, which needs to be factored in before hitting the shutter button.The HDR mode offers excellent results though, assessing a scene and adjusting the contrast between light and dark areas, leading to a vibrant picture at the expense of a marginally longer processing time. It’s a pleasure to use.
Those looking to add filters to their image will likely feel the need to download the Instagram app or similar photo editing suites, as there are just three (sepia, negative and black and white) pre-installed ones.
Video is captured in full 1080p HD quality at 30fps, with options to adjust the quality to as low as QVGA resolution. While sound quality isn’t all that great, its a match for its competitors, and managed to adjust really quickly when going rapidly from dark to bright ambient lighting. You’ll capture some really good video with the RAZR i.
Those wondering whether or not an Intel-powered smartphone can deliver the goods will have their questions answered by the RAZR i. It’s a powerful, fast phone with a beautiful screen that, despite some interface quirks, is a solid performer. It doesn’t quite hit the highs of the Samsung Galaxy S3 or iPhone 5, but as Motorola’s first attempt at an Intel-powered handset, it’s a very promising start indeed.