The RAZR i is a mid-range Android Smartphone with a lot of high end features. It is the first Motorola phone to feature Intel’s latest mobile Atom chip and we were interested to see just how that measures up against todays leading ARM based chips. Intel have missed the boat somewhat in the mobile arena, but they are trying to catch up quickly and with their scale and speed of development it surely won’t be long until they are a main contender.
Straight out of the box I found myself having to double check the specs to see what size screen this phone has! The 4.3″ Super AMOLED
screen is squeezed into a very small frame and it makes the phone seem much smaller that you’d expect. It’s impressive.
There is a nice mix of materials used here. The screen has Corning’s Gorilla glass protecting it. The screen itself is surrounded by an Aluminium frame and the back cover, while plastic framed, has the now standard Motorola Kevlar insert. It’s hard to know what to make of the Kevlar. It certainly is attention grabbing and while it is scratch resistant and will probably offer better flex if the phone is dropped compared to glass for example, I’m not sure it adds to the phone’s aesthetics at all. In fact I’d probably argue it makes the phone feel less premium.
The phone is wedge shaped. It slims down from around 10mm at it’s widest point to 8mm at the bottom of the screen and then the last few mm’s slims down further to about 4mm. The phone also has a splash guard coating which is supposed to protect it from spills or showers of rain, but we didn’t put that to the test!
As we take a look around the phone, on the right hand side there is a steel power button which has a nice action to it, followed by a plastic volume rocker below that a dedicated camera shutter button. On the bottom there is nothing as this is where the taper of the wedge is most pronounced but the micro phone whole is just below the screen on the front edge of the taper. On the left side there is a standard micro USB port and below a plastic cover that needs to be flicked out with you nail, is a Micro SD card slot and a slot for the SIM. The 3.5mm headset jack is located on the top edge.
Around the back it is dominated by the Kevlar backing with the camera, flash and speaker grill at the top.
There is a front facing camera to the top right of the screen and the usual light and proximity sensors to the left.
Motorola has gone with a Super AMOLED, 540 x 960 resolution, qHD display in the RAZR i. Being a mid range phone and taking into account that there is not a good supply of higher resolution screens at it’s 4.3″ size, it’s a pretty good screen. You do get spoiled though looking at 720p res screens so the drop in resolution is noticeable. As it’s Super AMOLED you get very high contrast ratios and colour saturation and the colour is turned up to the max here. It won’t be to everyone’s taste and Motorla could have done with including settings to tone it down, such as what we see in Samsung phones of late.
That said, it is a very bright screen and offers a better resolution than most mid range phones priced similarly.
Under the hood is the above mentioned, 2Ghz single core Intel Atom chip accompanied by 1GB of RAM. Graphics are taken care of by a PowerVR SGX540 chip running at 400 MHz.
As this is the first time we have reviewed a phone with an Intel chip we were eager to put it through it’s paces and see how it stood up to intensive use. During normal day to day use, switching between many open Apps and generally trying to push the phone as hard as we could there was very little slow down and for the most part we have been left pretty impressed with the Intel chip. As it is a single core chip maybe our expectations of how it would perform were slightly lowered and thoughts of single core phones from some years ago came to mind, but for the most part Intel has done a pretty good job.
Running it through our usual suite of benchmarks, the fast day to day experience also carries over and is confirmed in the results.
In Quadrant the RAZR i scored 4740. That puts it on par with quad core Tegra 3 devices and was the most impressive of the results.
Linpack came in at an average of 115 mflops, well off the pace of high end smartphones, with the new Antutu test returning a score of 13460.
So mixed in amoung some average results are some pretty impressive ones and it’s hard to find fault when you consider the price point.
The battery is sadly non user replacable as has become the norm with Motorola phones since the introduction of the Kevlar backing. Thankfully Motorola has fitted a 2000mAh battery here which is above average for a phone of this size. One of Intel’s claims is that the single core processer uses less power than other multi-core competitors and after using this phone for a while I can’t disagree with that at all. The battery life for an Android phone with a standard battery is nothing short of amazing! With average use you can expect to get at least two full days before you will need to charge it again. To put it into perspective it is the longest lasting battery in an Android phone that I have ever tested at any price point.
Having a dedicated camera button is a useful feature as it also allows you to unlock the phone in less than a second so you won’t miss those important pictures.
Motorola have done a good job of making the camera app itself easy to use and the available settings are near to hand (or finger as the case may be!)
The rear sensor is an 8MP back illuminated sensor with the front facing being VGA quality. Autofocus, 10 shots/ second burst mode and HDR imaging is all on offer and do an ok job but nothing stellar. Burst mode crops the images and is a little clunky to use as you don’t control how it takes the photos. You just put it into burst mode, hit the shutter button on screen and then there is a terrible second or two lag and the phone takes ten shots all at once, rather than you holding the shutter button and controlling when and how many shots are taken.
Pictures look a little washed out and don’t stand up to being zoomed. They are fine at the traditional 4″ x 6″ size but at anything bigger they become pixilated.
While the phone is capable of 1080p capture, it is a fairly choppy affair. 720p fairs a lot better and doesn’t put as much strain on the phone or on the memory that is being consumed at the higher bit rate.
Keep in mind that we are comparing the quality of the camera to high end phones here and that most phones at this price point would have a 5MP camera as standard, so while the 8MP sensor here may not be the best we’ve seen it is a big improvement over the usual 5MP ones we see.
The RAZR i ships with Ice Cream Sandwich. Jellybean is being promised as an update in 2013. As is the case with all Android manufacturers, Motorola has installed their own launcher on top of stock Android. I’m not a fan of any of these overlays as I am yet to come across one that offers more than it takes away in consuming system resources. Unfortunately it is no different here.
Out of the box the phone stuttered through all animations. I quickly checked for a system update and found that there was a small “bug fix” one available. Once applied the phone improved greatly. Still though there is no getting away from the fact that Motorola’s Blur overlay drops a lot of frames during transitions and it makes for a somewhat clunky experience.
It also lays things out in a very restrictive way. If you scroll to the far left you get a screen of settings shortcuts. This takes up a whole screen for something that you can usually take care of with a small one line widget or from the notification tray on other ROMs. If you scroll to the far right it gives you option to add another home screen. Realistically after you set your phone up for the first time, how many time will you need to add another home screen? Not many I’d say but yet you are stuck with that far right screen for good.
Resource wise you are looking at 50% more RAM being used than what stock Android would use before you even launch an App.
I’m all for differentiating between manufacturers, but differentiate by offering unique features, not by taking a functioning part and reducing it’s effectiveness.
Installing a third party launcher such as Apex or Nova easily overcomes these issues and the Jellybean update will no doubt improves things with it’s “Project Butter” enhancements.
Something that concerned me before I reviewed the phone was the reports of Apps being incompatible with the Intel chip due to the different architecture. While testing we found that 99% of apps worked without issue and the only notable one to experience difficulties was Dolphin Browser. That is a shame as Dolphin is one of the best third party browsers available at present.
Motorola have skinned most of the standard apps to bring them in line with the look of the rest of the phone and have also added some of their own widgets such as the excellent clock/ weather/ battery combo. Also included is Motorola’s Smart Actions app which is basically a way of setting up macros to perform common tasks based on your location, situation or other triggers such as plugging the phone in or connecting headphones. There are a selection of presets available to choose from already and you can also create your own. If you spend some time setting this up it could be of real benefit as we all find we do the same things with our phones in certain locations so instead of you adjusting settings manually you can just setup the phone to do it automatically.
Music is taken care of via the standard Google Music app and there is no dedicated video app so films are just played via the Gallery. With that said though we did struggle to play HD movies using this method. To overcome this we used MX Player from the Play Store and movies played without issue. The loud speaker is exceptionally loud and retains clarity even when turned up to the max.
Call quality and Signal:
Again, another very strong point of this phone. My office sits in the heart of a building surrounded by steel so most smartphones just can’t get signal. The RAZR i is able to achieve 3 bars of edge signal in my office and while that is only good for making calls, it is still a massive improvement over every other phone I’ve test running on any platform. If maintaining enough signal for calls in poor coversge areas is important to you it will be hard to find a phone that does a better job.
The phone is HSPA+ compatible up to 21Mbps. Tested on the O2 network against a Galaxy SIII it regularly achieved greater speeds that the Galaxy by about 1Mbps.
On a WiFi network, the RAZR i didn’t perform as well as the Galaxy but it was still perfectly acceptable.
Call quality was excellent and the ear piece is loud and clear.
The phone comes with 8GB’s of internal memory as standard. While once upon a time that was a decent amount, these days it leaves youwith precious little to play with after the OS takes it’s chunk. With Android and the preinstalled Apps that are included, you are left with about 5.5GB’s of user memory. Thankfully the phone has expandable memory via Micro SD and officially supports up to 32GB cards, but if you format a 64GB card to FAT32 it will also work.
Keeping in mind that this is a mid range phone, it somewhat forgives the low amount of storage included as standard. 64GB cards can be picked up for around fifty Euro these days which is not that bad for adding that amount of storage.
It’s hard not to like this phone. It is well built and uses some premium materials all packaged into a very svelte frame. Motorola have got a lot of things right with this phone.
On the software end though the phone is crying out for Jellybean which should solve some of the issues with dropped frames and make things run smoother.
If you are looking for a mid range phone this is probably one of the best you can buy at present. The HTC One S is probably it’s main competition but when you factor in that the RAZR i is selling for €100 less on prepay prices, it makes for a compelling choice.
Update: Jellybean has started rolling out across Europe this week (31Jan13) so you should see it appear soon if you have an unbranded device.