You don't have to feel like Mr. Fantastic to enjoy a larger screen on a smartphone. Thanks to some clever contortionism by Motorola, the RAZR HD ($199 with a two-year contract) manages to squeeze a 4.7-inch high-definition display into a design that's nearly identical in size to its 4.3-inch predecessor. Will the newest RAZR cut competing ultrathin phones to ribbons?
In terms of size, the 0.33-inch-thick Droid RAZR HD neatly straddles the line between the ultrasvelte Droid RAZR (0.28 inches thick) and the slightly thicker Droid RAZR Maxx (0.35 inches thick). The Samsung Galaxy S III is a hair thicker at 0.34 inches, while the Apple iPhone 5 measures 0.3 inches.
At 5.3 ounces, the RAZR HD weighs noticeably more than the featherweight iPhone 5 (4 ounces), original Droid RAZR (4.5 ounces) and Galaxy S III (4.7 ounces). Nevertheless, we appreciated the weight of the phone in our hands, which lent the RAZR HD a sturdy feeling.
Like the RAZR and RAZR Maxx, the RAZR HD can withstand a fair amount of abuse, courtesy of its Gorilla Glass display, Kevlar Fiber back and water-repellant coating. The phone retains the same angled corners and soft-touch finish on the back as its predecessors, but ditches the bulge at the top in favor of a uniformly flat backplate. A Motorola logo can be found above the display, along with an LED that pulses green when you have a new notification.
The right side of the phone houses a microUSB and microHDMI port, while the power button and volume rocker can be found on the left. A 3.5mm headphone jack is located on the top. The phone is available in both black and white.
One quibble we have with the design is that there's a small lip surrounding the display, which is a small but slightly annoying barrier. It's almost as if there's a case on this phone.
Another issue is that the microSD Card slot resides behind a slim plastic door that can only be opened via a special tool that Motorola includes in the box.
Display and Audio
Motorola's newest RAZR isn't called HD for nothing. The phone's 4.7-inch Super AMOLED HD display offers some of crispest, most vivid visuals we've seen on an Android phone. The RAZR HD boasts the same 1280 x 720 resolution as the Galaxy S III's Super AMOLED screen, but - thanks to its 0.1-inch smaller screen - a greater pixel density (331 pixels per inch to the S III's 306 ppi). The iPhone 5's 4-inch LCD display, by contrast, features a resolution of only 1136 x 640 but a pixel density almost as high as on the RAZR HD, at 326 ppi. The RAZR HD also proved much brighter than the Galaxy S III (448 lux versus 213 lux), although it couldn't match the iPhone 5's luminosity (525 lux).
Needless to say, streaming YouTube and Netflix videos on the RAZR HD is a feast for the eyes. Watching a high-definition trailer for the video game "Medal of Honor: Warfighter," billowing red and orange explosions popped off the screen as cars careened through crowded market streets, and we could tilt the phone 45 degrees in any direction without losing clarity.
Reading articles on sites such as NYTimes.com proved equally pleasant. The extra room allowed us to read text clearly without zooming in, though thanks to the phone's high-pixel density, words and letters appeared smooth even when expanded to their maximum size. The RAZR HD's bright and vivid display made reading in direct sunlight easy as well.
The tiny speaker located on the upper right corner of the RAZR HD delivered impressively loud audio, given its size. Adrian Smith's mournful riffs in Iron Maiden's "Stranger in a Strange Land" filled our room at maximum volume, and though some instruments like cymbals sounded slightly tinny, the audio didn't distort.
Software and Interface
The Droid RAZR HD runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (an update to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean is expected by the end of the year), with the addition of a few widgets and interface tweaks from Motorola. The first difference veteran Ice Cream Sandwich users will notice is the addition of lock screen shortcuts for Phone, Text and Camera. Above the shortcuts, the time is displayed on the right, and a widget on the left lets you toggle your ringtone from audible to vibrate.
By default, the RAZR HD features a single home screen, with the option of creating up to six additional pages. Motorola's Circles Widget, three coin-shaped icons displaying the time, weather and current battery life, sits prominently at the top of the screen. Swiping down on the coins flips them over to reveal further information, such as the weather in other cities of your choice or text notifications.
Swiping to the left on the home screen reveals a Quick Settings screen. From here, users can silence the phone's ringtone; change the lock screen security; and enable or disable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, Mobile Data and Airplane Mode. A shortcut at the bottom of the screen takes you to the main Settings screen. Having all these shortcuts is nice, but we prefer Samsung's approach because you can toggle all sorts of settings right from the notification drawer; you don't have to go back to the home screen first.
Swiping to the right allows you to create a new page, either blank or using a template. Templates include Media, which contains shortcuts to Play Music, Gallery, V Cast Tones and YouTube, as well as a current playlist widget; and Mobile Office, which contains a calendar widget and shortcuts to Mobile Hotspot, Downloads, Quickoffice, and Smart Actions (see below).
As on all Ice Cream Sandwich devices, swiping down from the top brings up a list of notifications. The bottom of the screen contains five "sticky" shortcuts that can be swapped out at your discretion, excluding the shortcut to the Apps menu.
The RAZR HD is also near-field communications-enabled. Using NFC, utilities such as Android Beam allow you to share information such as contacts and maps by tapping the phone against another NFC-enabled device.
A helpful feature called Smart Actions lets your phone automatically perform a number of tasks, such as send a text message or launch an app, when certain triggers are met. It could be a specific time of day, for instance, or when the phone is docked.
Motorola includes a number of sample action/trigger combinations (called rules), including Drive Smart, which puts the RAZR HD in vehicle mode when its paired with Bluetooth device; Nighttime Battery Saver, which turns off syncing when it's nighttime and your phone is motionless; and Sleep Rule, which sets the phone to silent but allows specified callers to reach you. Users can also create their own custom rules using any combination of triggers and actions.
The RAZR HD supports two software keyboards: The stock Ice Cream Sandwich keyboard (square gray keys on a black background) and Swype, which lets you type words by dragging your finger over each letter. We prefer using the stock keyboard, simply because typing words that have two of the same letter side-by-side can be tricky on Swype.
The Droid RAZR HD isn't all sleek contours and Kevlar fiber. Underneath its svelte chassis, the phone packs a 1.5-GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM - more than enough to make the RAZR HD fly on our synthetic benchmarks and in everyday use.
On the CPU portion of the Benchmark app, for instance, the phone racked a cool 4,685, almost double the average of 2,681. This exceeds the older RAZR and RAZR Maxx (both of which use a 1.2-GHz TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB of RAM), which achieved scores of 3,802 and 3,398, respectively. The Samsung Galaxy S III (1.5-GHz Snapdragon S4 processor with 2GB of RAM) came close to matching the RAZR HD with its score of 4,214.
When we ran the An3DBench app, which measures graphics performance, the RAZR HD notched a somewhat less impressive score of 7,220. While this beats the smartphone average and the Galaxy S III by a little more than 200 points, it falls behind the RAZR (7,412) and the RAZR Maxx (7,387).
On Geekbench, a benchmark that measures overall performance, the RAZR HD turned in a score of 1,450. While this exceeds the smartphone average by more than 500 points, it falls just behind the score of 1,590 achieved by the iPhone 5 (Apple A6 processor with 1GB of RAM).
Thanks to the RAZR HD's speedy components, using the phone for everyday tasks such as streaming shows on Netflix, browsing the Web and playing games proved a joy. Switching between apps usually took just over a second, and the display transitioned fluidly as we swiped from one screen to the next. We did notice a bit of lag when switching between menus in the more graphically intensive "Real Racing 2," but gameplay itself proved smooth and enjoyable.
Media mavens may be disappointed to discover that the RAZR HD only comes with 16GB of storage, but this can be supplemented up to 32GB via microSD.
4G LTE Speeds
Verizon's 4G LTE network continues to impress, especially on the Droid RAZR HD. Using Speedtest.net, the RAZR HD achieved an average download speed of 22.1 Mbps over Verizon's 4G LTE network. Upload speeds were nearly as fast, clocking in at 16.2 Mbps.
When surfing the Web, the RAZR HD loaded the full New York Times desktop site in 9 seconds, ESPN.com in 6 seconds and Laptopmag.com in 8 seconds.
While Motorola includes virtually none of its own applications on the RAZR HD other than Smart Actions, Verizon more than makes up the difference with a bundle of its own apps. Among the least useful is Verizon's app store, which mimics Google Play and includes classic Android apps such as Fruit Ninja and Advanced Task Killer. Unfortunately, given that many popular apps such as "Angry Birds" and Netflix are missing from the app store, we can't imagine why anyone would choose to use this application rather than Google Play.
More useful is My Verizon Mobile, which lets you track your minutes, SMS and data usage; pay and view your bill; change the features of your plan; and change your voicemail password.
If you're a football fan, the NFL Mobile app serves as a news feed for the latest NFL news, scores and tracking the status of your favorite team. More impressively, the app lets you stream the NFL Network live on your phone - although we would have appreciated HD-quality visuals.
From the Tones app, you can purchase new ringtones from artists like Nelly Furtado and KISS. Given that you can easily turn any MP3 on your phone into a ringtone, however, it's hard to see this app as little more than a cash-grab by Verizon.
Demos for the first-person shooter "Modern Combat 3: Fallen Nation" and "Real Racing 2" are also included, although to access the full content, you'll have to purchase the apps through Google Play ($6.99 and $4.99, respectively).
Ice Cream Sandwich-specific apps include Chrome for Android, YouTube, Google Talk and Google Maps.
Camera and Camcorder
Photos taken on the Droid RAZR HD's 8-megapixel rear-facing camera were vivid, although not as sharp as the competition. When we took a picture of a scooter parked on the city street, the bright pink finish popped off the screen compared with a photo taken on the Samsung Galaxy S III's 8-MP camera. Still, the RAZR HD's pics weren't quite as good as the iPhone 5's. Not only did the bike itself appear more colorful and sharp in photos taken by Apple's device, but the surrounding details looked clearer.
We also took an indoor shot using the RAZR HD and compared the results against the iPhone 5 and S III. The iPhone 5's image was brightest but showed more artifacts than the RAZR. The Motorola image was signficantly sharper than the S III, which had a lot more noise.
From the lock screen, the RAZR HD launched the camera app in just under two seconds, and captured stills in about 0.7 seconds according to our stopwatch. That's good, but not as fast as the S III or iPhone 5. The phone also features a multishot mode that captures six images in about two and a half seconds - although we wish we could more easily select our favorite shot, as on Samsung and HTC phones. The S III also has nifty a Share Shot mode for beaming photos to other folks over Wi-Fi.
Like the photos, 1080p video of Fifth Avenue boasted bright and vivid colors. Crispness of detail also impressed, as we found that we could easily read signs across the street even when viewing the footage on the phone's 4.7-inch screen. Aside from brief moments of lag when video playback transitioned into full-screen mode, video was smooth.
The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera captured footage that was a colorful as the rear-facing camera, although unsurprisingly grainier. Fine details, such as individual hairs in our beard, became lost in a blur.
Call Quality and Battery Life
When we called a friend over Verizon's network, she reported that our voice sounded clear and audible, although it became slightly muffled on occasion. On our end, we didn't notice any distortion or lack of clarity.
The RAZR HD offers remarkably lackluster battery life. When we ran the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous surfing on the Web over Verizon's 4G LTE network), the phone's 2,530-mAh battery expired in a mere 5 hours and 22 minutes. Not only does this fall almost 40 minutes short of the smartphone average, it's far behind the battery life provided by the smaller 2,100-mAh and 1,440-mAh batteries on the Galaxy S III (6:55) and iPhone 5 (7:13). The RAZR Maxx's 3.300-mAh battery, by contrast, lasted an epic 8 hours and 25 minutes.
Not only does the Droid RAZR HD from Motorola represent a step forward in the evolution of the RAZR series, it gives the Samsung Galaxy S III a run for its money in terms of performance, 4G speeds and certainly display quality. The Motorola also offers a sturdier design. However, the S III has more innovative sharing features and motion gestures, as well as a faster camera. We like the Droid RAZR HD, but if you're going to get a Motorola smartphone on Verizon, you might want to splurge on the $299 RAZR Maxx HD, which promises much longer battery life in a design that's almost as sleek.