Having a bigger screen involves a couple of tradeoffs (view photo gallery). The RAZR2 V9m is noticeably heavier than the original RAZR V3m (4.2 ounces versus 3.5). It's also 0.2 inches taller, although some may prefer that extra length when making calls. One thing is for sure: This clamshell feels practically indestructible compared with designs from LG and Samsung, thanks to the V9m's stainless-steel internal frame and hinge. And at 0.47 inches, this RAZR is slightly thinner than its predecessor. The large dialpad was easy to use and has improved tactile feedback compared with previous RAZRs, but people with smaller thumbs may find themselves straining a bit to reach across the wide layout. Navigating menus with the oversized D-pad was a breeze.
So what's the point of putting a big display on the outside of a clamshell--other than providing additional eye candy? In the case of the V9m for Sprint, you get one-touch access to Sprint TV, the Sprint Music Player, and the camera, using three touch controls with their own icons. Pressing and holding each button, complete with haptic feedback, launched TV in 15 seconds, music in 10 seconds, and the camera in 3 seconds. Once in the TV menu, you can navigate the program guide and select a video to watch. The music player simply starts playing the songs you've downloaded or sideloaded, and you see large album art along with touch controls for Play and Rewind/Fast-Forward. Firing up the camera lets you use the external display for taking self-portraits.
The external display, which sports 320 x 240-pixel resolution and 65,000 colors, looked very crisp on our tests but picked up fingerprints quickly. The internal screen offers the same resolution and number of colors but a larger 2.2-inch viewing area. We found Sprint's menu system the most dynamic and modern-looking, thanks in part to an animated Sprint logo in the background. The main screen includes shortcuts to SMS, Sprint Music, Sprint TV, and My Content (including games, IM & E-mail, and Applications). Once you enter the main menu, you can toggle from a tabbed view to a grid view. You can also use a list view, but it's just too long and confusing. The left side of the phone houses the volume controls and Voice Command button, and on the right side there's a launch key for the Pictures menu.
The RAZR2 offers all of the features you would expect from a multimedia phone, including stereo Bluetooth, a two-megapixel camera, and up to 2GB of memory using a microSD Card slot. (Annoyingly, it's behind the battery.) Those looking for turn-by-turn directions can spring for Sprint Navigation powered by TeleNav, whose technology also powers the navigation application for the AT&T RAZR2 V9. Sprint Navigation was not yet available for the RAZR2 V9m during our testing.
True Sprint-specific features start with Sprint TV. On our tests, the picture quality was decent. Navigating the program guide, even on the external display, was simple. However, there were several occasions where an image remained on the screen for a few moments as the stream continued. Also, we wish that you could view videos on the internal display in full-screen mode.
Another cool application unique to Sprint is NFL Mobile. Using an interface similar to that of ESPN MVP from Verizon, a left navigation area littered with icons makes checking the latest stats and scores easy. You can personalize that menu by adding your favorite team, so we could easily access the latest news on the NY Giants, for example. Clicking on Fantasy brought up a Coming Soon screen that promised exclusive analysis and team-management features. You can also check the latest video highlights and set team and player alerts. Our only complaints with this: The text size was too small (due to the RAZR2's high-res screen), and on one occasion the app wouldn't open until we rebooted the phone.
As a music player, Sprint's RAZR2 V9m offers faster and cheaper downloads than the Verizon Wireless version. Our 99-cent tracks from The Bravery, Fall Out Boy, and The Killers downloaded in just 10 to 15 seconds, compared with 40 seconds to a minute for Verizon. Sound quality through both the RAZR2's speaker and through Motorola stereo Bluetooth headphones was excellent with plenty of volume. Just don't expect to multitask; Unlike the LG Muziq, you can't send or receive text messages or do anything else while you're rocking out--except shop for more tracks. Being able to control the music from the external display is convenient, but there's no way to manually lock the touch-sensitive buttons to prevent accidental presses while your tunes are playing. (They automatically lock after 15 seconds). The music player refused to launch on one occasion, forcing us to reset the device once more.
Surfing the Web was quite fast on this V9m's Obigo browser, at least when using sites optimized for mobile viewing. Loading the WAP version of CNN.com took only four seconds. The browser can handle HTML pages, but loading the full version of CNN.com took more than 30 seconds, and even then scrolling was sluggish. For when you need a quick info hit, use the bundled Handmark On Demand service, which features a simple tiled interface; it loaded top news stories, weather, and more in just three seconds.
The two-megapixel camera was poor in low light but produced decent images indoors with a fair amount of ambient light. Outdoor shots had good detail, and shutter speed in general was good. We found the 320 x 240-pixel videos captured by the camcorder function to be above average, with not nearly as much warping or artifacts present when we panned with the V9m.
In general, call quality on the V9m was very good compared with other print phones. Other callers said we sounded clear, and we noticed little fuzziness on our end of the line. However, Sprint's V9m performed the worst in our background-noise test compared with the AT&T and Verizon RAZR2, where we left voice messages on a landline from all three handsets while standing behind an ice cream truck in midtown Manhattan. Several words were clipped, and the background noise was more apparent than with the other phones. The rated talk time is about 3.3 hours, and with regular use we found ourselves having to charge every day.
Assuming Sprint works out some of the software bugs, we highly recommend the RAZR2 V9m. It makes premium Sprint phones like the $129 Sanyo Katana DLX look downright dowdy, and its zippy processor helps the V9m run circles around previous RAZRs. The RAZR2 V9m from Verizon offers better coverage but a weaker user interface and more expensive music downloads. AT&T's V9 offers CrystalTalk and a more robust browser but no over-the-air music downloads, and it’s not yet compatible with the carrier’s Video Share service. Sprint's edition isn’t perfect, but the carrier makes the most of the RAZR2's big external display, and it does so at a more affordable price.
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