Replacing the RAZR2 V9m, the RAZR VE20, doesn't bring a whole lot of new features to the table. But we appreciate this $99 silver clamshell's 3.5mm headphone jack and easy access to over-the-air services like Sprint TV and its Sprint Music Store, plus support for turn-by-turn GPS directions and the new NFL Mobile Live application. Just be sure to keep a polishing cloth handy.
The VE20 looks like a rounded, more compact version of theRAZR2 V9m. At 3.6 ounces, it's also 0.6 ounces lighter and a hair smaller than the V9m, measuring 3.9 x 2.0 x 0.6 inches.
We like the exterior's matte silver finish and red metallic hinge accents. Like the V9m, the VE20 has a partial touchscreen, which offers haptic feedback when accessing your messages, music, and shortcuts (Bluetooth, My Pics & Videos, Recent History, and Voice Recognition). However, this external LCD is smaller (1.6 inches versus 2 inches), dimmer, and has lower resolution than the V9m (120 x 60 pixels versus 320 x 240 pixels). Our biggest beef with the lid is that it picks up fingerprints too easily.
The 2.2-inch internal display (320 x 240-pixel resolution) is big and bright. The keypad looks strikingly familiar: It's practically the same one as every RAZR phone we've ever seen. We like its brushed silver texture and white backlight, but it, too, picks up smudges in a hurry. We also don't like how spaced apart the numbers are, which makes one-handed dialing slow.
Sprint uses its own Sprint Ahead user interface on the VE20, which was easy to use. The home screen has seven colorful rotating icons for E-mail, Main Menu, Music, My Account, Navigation, On Demand, and TV. The left soft key defaults to Favorites, which quickly launches your favorite Web sites (MySpace and Facebook are already listed) and applications. The right soft key is a shortcut to your contacts.
Unlike the proprietary headphone jack on earlier RAZRs, the VE20 comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack, and audio sounded great through it. While Sprint bundles the VE20 with a 256MB microSD Card, its slot is annoyingly located behind the battery. When songs are playing, album art is displayed on the inside screen; with the clamshell closed, you can view the album art, current track, and time and navigate through songs on the external screen.
We downloaded Shwayze's "Corona and Lime" in 53 seconds from the Sprint Music Store. That's not bad--songs usually take about a minute on Verizon Wireless' network. The tracks cost 99 cents, and Sprint provides the option to buy six tracks for $5.94--which saves you nothing. When you download a song from the music store, you're able to download a copy to your PC. We downloaded our track after registering, but wished it was a DRM-free MP3 instead of a Windows Media file. On Verizon Wireless, you have to pay a sky-high $1.99 per song, but you get a DRM-free MP3 as well.
Sprint TV lets you access Sprint's TV channels (E!, Comedy Central, the Weather Channel, NFL network, CBS Mobile, MTV, and more) and Sprint Radio (10 stations). For $5.95 per month, you can subscribe to premium channels such as PIX, which lets you stream full length movies, but you have to watch whatever happens to be playing at the time. We watched The Karate Kid for a few minutes, but the picture was often pixelated or distorted and artifacts were visible. Voices were in sync for the most part, but we encountered small delays about every 5 minutes for a second or two. If you want to view the TV in full screen, you have to hold the phone open and in landscape mode.
Football Fans Rejoice
The RAZR VE20 will take advantage of Sprint's new NFL Mobile Live application, which will let customers listen to NFL season broadcasts for all recent games, and also watch live video of eight season games in November. You also get exclusive team content and video highlights. Any phone on Sprint's network with Sprint TV support will be able to take advantage of this new application.
Web Browsing on the RAZR VE20
You can use the VE20's Web browser to save favorites and send pages off to friends, too, but it's very basic overall. With a full 3G EV-DO Rev. 0 data connection, we were able to load the mobile version of CNN.com in 6 seconds, and m.ESPN.com in 9 seconds. We were able to load NYTimes.com in 11 seconds but received an error that said "Scheme Not Supported." After we closed the error, we could read the rest of the site, but this happened every time. By comparison, the Samsung M520, a $49.99 phone on Sprint with similar features, loaded CNN.com in 5 seconds and ESPN.com in a faster 6 seconds. The VE20 was faster than the LG Chocolate 3, which loaded CNN.com in 10 seconds and ESPN.com in 16 seconds. If you don't like the idea of entering multiple URLs, try the free On Demand applications, which delivers headlines and news snippets in multiple categories.
Messaging and E-mail
The VE20 supports AOL Mail, AIM Mail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and IMAP or POP accounts. The interface is very clean and easy to use; we were up and running with our work IMAP account in a matter of minutes. Our inbox was neatly displayed within seconds of logging in, and you can set the software to alert you when you get new mail (the option is in preferences). It's the best mobile e-mail solution we've seen on a budget handset yet.
Sprint PictureMail is handy; it let us fire off our pictures and videos as e-mail messages, but we were disappointed that it costs $5 per month.
Sprint Navigation is powered by TeleNav, which costs $2.99 for one-day use or $9.99 per month. The menu is clean and easy to use. Inside, you can choose to set directions by selecting Drive To, search by using a Directory option, view Maps and Traffic, or access Tools and Extras which lets you record your location, view a compass, or set your preferences.
We plotted a trip from our midtown office to the Lower East Side in less than 10 seconds. The GPS was accurate in placing us on the corner of 39th Street and Broadway and was able to distinguish between one-way and two-way streets. When we went off course, the app rerouted us within 10 seconds.
Pictures taken in our office were a bit blurry, but that's pretty standard for a 2-MP camera on a clamshell. Videos shot with the camera were pixelated, full of artifacts, and the audio was muffled. The recording was good enough for quickly showing off a skateboard wipeout to friends, but nothing we'd post on the Web. If you're sending video via PictureMail, it's limited to 20 seconds of recording time.
Call Quality and Battery Life
Sprint rates the VE20's talk time at 4 hours; with the phone fully charged, we made a few calls, surfed the Web, and then played music on a loop through headphones for 3 hours before the battery died on us. In general, we had no complaints but the quality wasn't anything to rave about. We didn't experience any dropped calls or miss any words during our tests, but calls generally sounded a little hazy, and the earpiece emitted some noticeable high-pitched vibrations when the caller on the other end spoke loudly.
The Motorola RAZR VE20 is a decent midrange clamshell, but if your main interest is multimedia, you'll find all of the same features on theSprint Samsung M520for $50 less (with the exception of its lower-resolution 1.3-MP camera). However, some may prefer the VE20's clamshell design and touch-sensitive external display, despite its tendency to pick up fingerprints. If you're contract is up, we recommendVerizon Wireless' LG Chocolate 3, which offers more intuitive external controls, an FM transmitter, and better call quality.