The Droid RAZR Maxx ($299) is the marathon runner of 4G phones. Thanks to a class-leading 3,300 mAh battery, this Android handset outlasts all of its competitors and yet isn't much thicker or heavier than its predecessor. Otherwise, the Droid RAZR Maxx and original Droid RAZR are pretty much identical, from their Super AMOLED displays to their dual-core processors and 8-MP cameras. So how high has Motorola raised the bar through endurance, and is that enough?
Kudos to Motorola for cramming such a big battery inside a handset that measures .35 inches thick. Yes, the Droid RAZR was deliciously thin at just .28 inches, but the RAZR Maxx is still slimmer than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the iPhone 4S (both .37 inches). At 5.1 ounces, the Maxx weighs the same as the Galaxy Nexus, but the latter is taller and slightly narrower. What we miss from the original Droid RAZR on the Maxx is the way the back tapers to a small hump at the top, which made the device slightly easier to grip when making calls.
While the RAZR Maxx isn't as svelte as its predecessor, it's built just as tough. The backplate is made of Kevlar with a slick checkered pattern, and the display uses Gorilla Glass to resist scratches. A narrow but easy-to-hit power button and volume buttons line the right side, while the left side of the Maxx houses a flip-down door for the SIM and microSD Card slot. The headphone, microUSB and HDMI ports are on the top of the phone.
Like the RAZR, the RAZR Maxx features a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Advanced display. On the plus side, colors in games like "Let's Golf 2" looked very rich, and we enjoyed extra-wide viewing angles when viewing content. However, the qHD resolution (960 x 540) on the Maxx trails the Galaxy Nexus, which has a larger 4.7-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen that offers a full HD picture (1280 x 720 pixels). To read text on the latter phone, we didn't have to zoom in as far.
In terms of picture quality, a close-up of Robert Downey Jr. in "The Avengers" trailer produced a brighter image on the Galaxy Nexus.
The image on the RAZR Maxx's screen was a little murkier. However, during a scene with an explosion, the RAZR Maxx offered eye-popping oranges and reds, and we could make out a building's reflection in the roof of a cab that was flipping over.
When we put the RAZR Maxx, Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4S side by side, it was easy to see that Apple's display was brightest both when viewing webpages and the same YouTube trailers. Our light meter confirmed these results, with the RAZR Maxx registering 353 lux to 340 on the Nexus and a whopping 575 on the iPhone. We especially noticed this disparity outdoors in sunlight.
The back-mounted speaker on the Maxx delivered plenty of volume without sounding harsh. We could hear Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" from the other side of a large living room. In addition, we could easily make out every crunch, cheer and "boom" when playing the trial version of "Madden NFL 12." We didn't have to strain to make out other callers during hands-free conversations in the car, either.
The RAZR Maxx features two keyboards that use white text on a black background: a standard multi-touch keyboard and Swype. The default multi-touch keyboard offered light haptic feedback without slowing us down, but we made more errors on this layout than on the Galaxy Nexus. Swype comes in handy for entering text with one finger, because you can trace a line from one letter to the next to create words. However, the phone is so large than only those with big mitts will be able to type comfortably with one hand while in landscape mode.
Software and Interface
Like the Droid RAZR, the Maxx runs Android 2.3.5 instead of the latest Android 4.0 software. An upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich is coming, but there's no firm timetable. Like its thinner cousin, the Maxx uses a fair number of black backgrounds with white text in its interface, such as in the email app. That's because black uses much less power than white on a Super AMOLED display. However, the Settings menu has a white background, which is inconsistent.
From the lock screen you can toggle the sound on and off or swipe right into the camera. On the main menu you'll see five home screens that you can populate with widgets. We like the Favorites widget, which fans out to reveal your favorite contacts when you swipe down on it. The app menu is pretty straightforward: You just swipe sideways to access more apps, and you can pull them up by group (All, Downloaded, Recent,Verizon Wireless).
While some will appreciate the ability to create groups of apps just by long-pressing on their icons, this approach adds an extra step to placing shortcuts on your home screens. With Android 4.0 you can just drag apps on top of each other to create folders. Motorola doesn't let you do anything from the notification shade other than read and dismiss alerts; on other Android phones you can access multiple settings like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles from this menu.
For the most part, Motorola has been doing a better job of staying out of your way with its Android skins, but the Galaxy Nexus offers a better user experience because it runs the latest OS.
Specs and Performance
The Droid RAZR Maxx packs the same components as the older RAZR, a 1.2-GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB of RAM. In everyday use, the Maxx offered fairly swift performance, whether we were flicking through home screens or opening apps. Pinch to zoom was also seamless on websites. Heading back to the home screen from an app was practically instantaneous; however, we noticed a bit of lag when opening the app menu.
The RAZR Maxx delivered fairly good results in synthetic benchmarks. For example, the device notched a CPU score of 3,398 in the Benchmark app, slightly higher than what the Galaxy Nexus turned in (3,218) and much better than the LG Spectrum (1,905). In An3DBench, which measures graphics performance, the RAZR Maxx scored 7,387, which is below the Galaxy Nexus (7,635) but higher than the LG Spectrum (7,045). We enjoyed smooth gameplay on the Mario Kart-like Tiki Kart 3D, even with multiple weapons firing on the screen at once.
We then ran Quadrant, which measures CPU, I/O and 3D graphics performance. The Maxx registered 2,567, which is higher than both the Galaxy Nexus (1,368) and Spectrum (1,874).
So far our biggest complaint about 4G LTE phones is their relative lack of endurance. Many handsets barely break the four-hour mark, while the average smartphone lasts 1.5 hours longer. Thanks to its 3,300 mAh battery, the Droid RAZR Maxx blows away the rest of the field.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over 4G on 40 percent brightness, the Maxx lasted an epic 8 hours and 25 minutes. The Galaxy Nexus, by comparison, lasted only 3:40, and the original Droid RAZR ran out of juice after 4:45. In fact, the RAZR Maxx is the longest-lasting 4G phone that we've tested on any network.
With this kind of staying power, you can expect to use your phone well into the evening without having to recharge. After unplugging the Maxx at 7 a.m. on a Saturday and using it intermittently, it still had 20 percent of a charge left by Sunday at 8 p.m. Unfortunately, the battery is non-removable, so forget about buying a third-party extended battery or carrying a spare.
4G Data and Web
The RAZR Maxx delivered 4G data performance on a par with the Droid RAZR, with an average download speed in one location of 12.9 Mbps and an upload average of 8.8 Mbps. Both of these scores are quite good, but we've seen higher throughput from other Verizon LTE phones such as the HTC Rezound (31.9 Mbps down, 6.1 Mbps up) and Galaxy Nexus (23.8 Mbps down, 9.2 Mbps up).
Nevertheless, Web surfing was speedy on the Maxx. It loaded the mobile versions of CNN, NYTimes and ESPN.com in five to six seconds, and the full Laptopmag.com site took only nine seconds. You can share your 4G connection with up to eight devices if you sign up for the $50 monthly 4G data bundle plan with Mobile Hotspot.
Motocast and Apps
Motorola's MotoCast lets you stream or download files from a PC over the Web to the smartphone. For example, we could stream iTunes tracks from our computer right to the handset just by firing up the Music app and tapping My Library. If your PC is powered on and connected to the Web, you can listen to your tunes remotely. We also loved that we could pull up any one of thousands of photos from our computer from within the Gallery app, neatly organized by date in a carousel interface. Downloading each photo took a few seconds, however, even over a Wi-Fi connection.
Another highlight app is Smart Actions, which lets you create rules to automatically adjust the Droid RAZR's settings. For instance, you can have the phone turn off the ringer when you go to bed (based on your location and time of day), or you can turn on the Workout Smart Action to automatically play music when you plug in headphones.
Business users will appreciate QuickOffice for viewing and editing Office documents, Motoprint for printing documents, and GoToMeeting for remote conferencing. You'll also find Motoactv for syncing with Motorola's new fitness device, a crude but comprehensive News app, and a Social Networking app that aggregates Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
The Droid RAZR Maxx has plenty of entertainment options on board, too, such as Amazon Kindle, Blockbuster, Netflix and Slacker, plus trials of both "Let's Golf 2" and "Madden NFL 12." Verizon keeps its own app load fairly light, bundling V CAST Tones, Verizon Video, and the awesome NFL Mobile.
Camera and Camcorder
The 8-MP camera inside the Droid RAZR Maxx delivered detailed images outdoors, including a pot with ornamental flowers. Indoors the Maxx struggled, capturing fuzzier images than the iPhone 4S. You'll simply need to use the flash more often on this phone than on Apple's device. The Galaxy Nexus was only slightly better indoors, but it captured shots more quickly in any lighting conditions.
Our other issue with the Maxx's camera is that it puts you too close to your subject. We had to back up when taking a photo of our dog, and off a motorcycle to fit our subjects in the frame.
The My Gallery app ties in nicely with social networks, so you can see pictures your Facebook friends have recently posted in a carousel-like interface. You can back up your photos using Backup Assistant Plus (free for 500 MB but $2.99 and up starting at 25GB) or stream photos from your PC using MotoCast.
The Maxx's 720p camcorder performed similarly to the Droid RAZR's. The footage we shot of New York City traffic looked sharp overall, but the camera took a second to focus. In addition, the Maxx took a few seconds to adjust from light to dark areas, such as when we panned up to the sky and back down to the street.
The RAZR Maxx offered clear and loud calls in both directions, with a fairly large sweet spot for the earpiece. The caller on the other end reported hearing us just fine when we engaged the speakerphone. Plus, with the Maxx's large capacity battery, the rated talk time is a whopping 21.5 hours.
Like other recent Motorola Android phones, the Droid RAZR Maxx can plug into the Laptopdock 100, a 10-inch netbook-like device that turns this smartphone into a mini-laptop. The bundled webtop software lets you surf the full Web via the Firefox browser, and you can access the phone's contents on a larger screen.
To use the Lapdock, you just plug the cable that extends from the back of the dock into the top of the phone (making sure the microHDMI and microUSB ports line up). From there, it takes about 25 seconds for the webtop environment to load. The desktop displays multiple shortcuts along the bottom, including Phone, Contacts, Messaging, Music, Gallery, File Manager and Firefox.
The Lapdock 100's keyboard is cramped, but it has a better feel than Motorola's first dock. Unfortunately, the touchpad is tiny, requiring more swipes than we'd like to navigate the desktop. Webtop held up pretty well when we performed single tasks, but we noticed lag when typing in Google Docs with Pandora streaming in the background.
Motorola sells other accessories that run webtop, such as the HD Station (which has three USB ports), plus a simple adapter that can attach to any HDMI monitor. Other accessories include a VGA Travel Adapter for connecting to projectors and older monitors.
The $299 Droid RAZR Maxx represents an impressive feat of engineering. Motorola managed to cram a high-capacity battery inside a design that's thinner than most 4G LTE phones, enabling it to last more than twice as long on a charge as competing devices like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (with its standard battery) and LG Spectrum. And although the Maxx is a little large, we appreciate its durability. The MotoCast app is a nice bonus but you need to have your PC on to stream your content.
Because of its extra-long endurance, we prefer the RAZR Maxx to the Droid RAZR, even though the latter phone is thinner and lighter. We much prefer the software and more polished user experience offered by the Galaxy Nexus, but Ice Cream Sandwich loses some of its sweetness by the middle of the day, when you're hunting for an outlet. While the iPhone 4S for Verizon has a much brighter screen than both of the above phones and is the easiest to use, you're stuck with 3G speeds.
Although we definitely want to see Android 4.0 hit the Maxx sooner than later, overall it's among our favorite Verizon phones because you can enjoy those 4G LTE speeds for much longer than any other device.