Despite being one of the first with an Android phone when it released the Droid and Milestone about two years ago, Motorola has not had a top-end phone that stood toe to toe with offerings from rivals such as Samsung, HTC and even Sony Ericsson of late.
That changes now with the new Razr, which brings the Android pioneer up to the speed with not just the latest hardware but also a surprisingly nifty software experience.
First off, for those not in the know, the Razr is named after the original clamshell design from 2004, which brought Motorola so much success (it was number two phone maker, after Nokia, at one point) and which ultimately led to the company breaking up and almost being lost as a has-been phone maker.
The new Razr, besides the sleek branding and ultra-thin design, has little resemblance to the old. Okay, the premium design is still there, with Kevlar fibre in the back of the phone for rigidity and texture and the 7.1-mm frame making this one of the slimmest phones around.
But the designers have also taken pains to make sure the beauty is more than skin deep, reporters were told at a Singapore launch event on Friday. The Corning Gorilla glass, for example, is able to prevent your keys scratching the screen, and interestingly, the components under the hood are sprayed with a nano material to keep water out, in case you spill water or wine on the Razr.
The hardware, as I said before at the unveiling of the phone, brings it on par with the rest of the competition. The 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen is big and bright enough for surfing the Web comfortably, the 1.2GHz processor and 1GB RAM keep things humming along smoothly, and the 8-meg HD camera shoots HD videos on holidays.
If the specs look good on paper, I wasn’t disappointed either when I got a quick hands on at the launch. First off, the Kevlar fibre does remind one of the iconic textured design of the original Razr, which had etched button keys. The screen on the new Razr is also one of the brighter ones I have seen (other than Samsung’s Super AMOLED plus on its Galaxy S II phone).
What’s more impressive is the software that Motorola seems to have thrown in. The MotoCast software that comes with the phone easily lets you connect to documents on your home PC, which you can also use to stream movies and songs from while you are on the go.
I know this is not new – even Windows Mobile of old had similar, though less easy to use apps – but MotoCast being included in the box makes it fuss-free for non-techies to get things done. All you have to do is install the software, connect your phone and set a password. Once you are out and about, you can simply log in to see the files you have shared on your PC.
The good news is, the interface is pretty as well. Similar to the album flow that Apple’s MP3 players are known for, the Motorola music player lets you browse albums intuitively by flipping virtual album covers. You can browse both the songs stored on your phone and those you have set to stream over the Internet to your PC.
What’s not so cool, of course, is that the 3G cellular network is not always super fast. So, such cloud computing services on mobile devices are still something to be improved on when the network is more ready. You’d probably also need to have fast uploads from home – likely on a fibre broadband service – if you want to stream HD movies from your home PC to your phone while on holiday.
Like with its previous phones, Motorola has thrown in a number of other customisations to sell the idea that the Razr is not another cookie cutter Android gizmo.
Some are useful, like a feature that lets you turn certain settings on and off automatically to extend battery life. For example, you can set your Bluetooth or GPS off when you reach home – the phone gauges your pre-set home location – because you may not need them.
This, according to Motorola, can save up to 30 per cent of battery life, which is handy at a time when phones like the Apple iPhone 4 S and Samsung Galaxy S II are often running out of juice because of all the features onboard.
Not everything that Motorola has thrown in is useful, of course. For example, there is a neat, little animation that lights up your screen when you slide through several main screen menus. Such touches are nice but users should approach with a word of warning – they can slow down the phone if you have loads of widgets running at the same time.
Fortunately, when I tried one of the “clean” out-of-box Razrs, the performance was hard to complain about. I could swipe through the screens and launch apps without any perceivable lag.
All the enhancements which Motorola is so proud of also means it needs time – possibly more than its rivals – to update the Android operating system on the Razr. It is running the “Gingerbread” 2.3.5 version, and Motorola executives did not give a time line for an update to the newly-announced Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” OS for Asian markets.
Still, that does not make the Razr a bad phone. The only device slated to ship with Android 4.0 and its long list of enhancements is the Galaxy Nexus (no dates for Singapore yet), so the Razr is still pretty up to date with most rivals, as far as features are concerned.
Should you buy the Razr? I’d say it’s definitely in my list of top phones for the moment, along with the HTC Sensation XL and Samsung Galaxy S II. And the Razr’s asking price of S$888 in Singapore, when it ships in Singapore on November 11, is a competitive one, considering that top-end phones these days are closer to S$1,000 here.
Photos courtesy of our technology content partners at Yahoo! News Singapore.