While the long battery life of the RAZR Maxx HD was enough for the brand to earn a second-place finish for that category, poor cameras held Motorola back from a better showing in the overall rankings. The fact that the now-Google-owned Motorola didn’t release a compelling device in the last nine months didn’t help matters, nor did its lack of carrier support. We hope the upcoming Moto X Phone will turn things around.
Although Motorola has been mostly quiet since the fall of 2012, most of the phones it launched during the past year fared well. Of the six devices we reviewed, two — the Droid RAZR Maxx HD and the Droid RAZR M — received Editors’ Choice awards, owing to their excellent battery life and bright displays. However, the Defy XT on Republic Wireless received just 2.5 stars for its poor performance, ancient Android OS and short battery life. To be fair, the rating had a lot to do with Republic Wireless choosing such an old phone to launch its service, but Motorola didn’t have to say yes.
User interface (9/15)
Motorola ditched its busy MotoBlur skin in favor of a more stocklike version of Android augmented by some subtle tweaks and widgets. Swiping to the left from the home screen, for example, brings up a slick quick settings menu that lets you toggle your handset’s various settings. Some Motorola phones also include circle widgets that you can flip through to look at things such as the weather in various cities. Overall, though, Motorola's UI is fairly plain and not as feature-rich as what Samsung and LG offer.
Battery life (12/15)
The five Motorola phones we reviewed averaged a modest 5 hours and 55 minutes on our test as a group, but the company places second because of its excellent RAZR Maxx HD. At just 0.37 inches thick and 5.6 ounces, the 4.7-inch the RAZR Maxx HD is significantly thinner and lighter than Samsung’s Galaxy Note II, but still manages to pack in a 3,300 mAH battery that allows it to last a whopping 8:13 on a charge. We wish other phone vendors would take notice and provide similar high-capacity batteries in their flagship phones.
Special features (8/15)
At least for now, Motorola’s phones are known more for their long battery life than special features. We do like Smart Actions, though, which enables your handset to perform a number of tasks automatically based on certain triggers. For example, Sleep Rule sets the phone to silent and allows only specified callers to reach you. You can also create your own rules.
Right off the bat, Motorola takes a hit for not yet offering a smartphone with a 1080p display, though that is expected to change with the company’s Moto X Phone. At the top of the current heap is the company’s Droid RAZR Maxx HD and its 4.7-inch, 1280 x 720-pixel Super AMOLED screen. This display produced intensely sharp, vivid visuals along with a very high brightness rating. The 720p RAZR M also offered great colors and wide viewing angles.
Like Google, Motorola’s selection of smartphones lacks the innovative camera features you’ll find on devices from Samsung, LG or HTC. The image quality is nothing to get excited about, either — the Motorola Droid RAZR HD placed last in our 2013 Smartphone Camera Shootout. In most instances, the Droid RAZR HD’s exposure was consistently too dark and its color tone wasn’t as accurate as its competitors. Older and cheaper models such as the Droid RAZR M captured dull or hazy shots.
Rectangular slab with a textured Kevlar back, anyone? These are the calling cards of a company caught in a design rut. Other than a few rounded edges, handsets such as the Motorola Droid RAZR M and the Droid RAZR Maxx HD look more utilitarian than beautiful. Having Corning Gorilla Glass up front helps for preventing scratches, and we like the water-repellent nanocoating, but overall, there’s no sizzle.
MORE: Best Smartphones 2013
Call quality on Motorola phones regularly proved acceptable, though not outstanding, which kept them in the middle third of the audio field. We often experienced slight fuzziness in our connections. When we listened to Adele and Snoop Dogg via headphones with the volume all the way up, the Droid RAZR Maxx HD sounded slightly softer than its competition. And through the speaker, we experienced a fair amount of fuzzy static, interrupting our enjoyment of “Gin and Juice.”
Though Motorola sells phones on other carriers, it saves all of its best devices for Verizon, preferring to throw a few budget-minded scraps at AT&T and Sprint users. That Verizon-exclusivity strategy will change with the upcoming X Phone, but for now, the only good Motorola phones live on big red.
Best and Worst Smartphone Brands 2013
Stay in the know with Laptop Mag
Get our in-depth reviews, helpful tips, great deals, and the biggest news stories delivered to your inbox.