Motorola RAZR i Review – Part 2

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Motorola RAZR i feels like an expensive watch – finely crafted and wielding that pleasant heft you only get with expensive build materials. Protected by the durable DuPont Kevlar woven fibre on one end and Corning Gorilla Glass on the other, the RAZR i is built to fight off mediocrity like no other phone. But is it ready to take on the second and perhaps even the most important part of the challenge, where its actual performance as a smartphone is measured to the limits? There’s only one way to know for sure…

 

Battery and performance

If the unusual logo on the back of the phone wasn’t a clear give-away, the Motorola RAZR i comes with an Intel Atom Medfield processor. This is a notable event for several good reasons. For starters, it’s the first processor from Intel designed for smartphones. Secondly, the Intel Atom processor is clocked at 2GHz – also a first for smartphones – making it all the more interesting to see how the RAZR i performs in day-to-day tasks. With a speedy processor, the battery life usually takes a hit, pointing us to another potential problem area where it will be interesting to see how Intel and Motorola managed to balance things out.

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Despite being powered by a single-core processor, the RAZR i has managed to impress us. Now, it might sound like a complete travesty when quad-core phones rule the skies, but the weeks spent with the Motorola RAZR i showed no signs of it being underpowered, right until the point we tried to run the most graphically intense games (in this case, NOVA 3). Outside of that, however, the RAZR i handled all the tasks we threw at it with an exceptional grace – opening and switching between apps took little notice, all the while performance in the web browser was particularly smooth and seamless.

The trump card of this Intel Atom chip is hyper-threading, which basically means that it can handle two threads simultaneously, making it no less capable than a dual-core processor. And while the clock speed and ability to multi-task is amazing, the looming concern for modern smartphones – battery life – is what impressed us the most on the RAZR i. Snapping a few dozen pictures, browsing the web for around 30 minutes while also regularly checking social apps like Twitter and Instagram, the Motorola RAZR i managed to stay with us for 2 full days, and then some.

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That’s a clear record setter as normally we have to charge the phone every night to make sure it rings the alarm the following morning. Coupled with the high capacity battery of 2000 mAh, power efficiency is one of the key areas where the new Intel Atom processor and the RAZR i as a whole really shines amongst the competition. To capitalise on that, Motorola has also included an app called Smart Actions, which smartly extends the already stellar battery life on the RAZR i, but we’ll talk about it in more detail in the later section of this review.

 

Connectivity

Despite its slim and light body, the RAZR i packs all the modern connectivity features that you’d expect – quad-band 3G, HSDPA, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. There was even a spot for NFC (Near Field Communications) technology that lets you share various files with other NFC devices via the built-in Android Beam feature. The only notable omission we can mention is LTE. As the fourth generation of mobile networks slowly but steadily dwindle into reality for the consumers in UK, the addition of LTE connectivity would have made the complete package of Motorola RAZR i so much harder to resist.

MicroUSB is in service both for charging and wired data transfers on the RAZR i. Quite annoyingly, the phone uses MTP connection for media transfer instead of USB mass storage, and you’ll have to install Motorola Device Manager before transferring any files between the computer and RAZR i. Once you’ve connected the phone, a window asking to install the software will appear on your computer’s screen, and from there the whole setup process is quick and painless.

 

Software and services

At the time of the review, the Motorola RAZR i was running on Android 4.0.4 ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’. This isn’t the latest version of Google’s mobile OS, but Motorola has explicitly stated that the RAZR i is slated to receive Android 4.1 ‘Jelly Bean’ update sometime in the future. We honestly can’t wait, as the update will make the already well-polished user experience on the RAZR i even smoother thanks to the performance improvements found in ‘Project Butter’.

Aside from a few light but useful modifications, the interface of RAZR i looks and feels very similar to the stock Android experience. One of the first changes you’ll probably notice is the new lock screen. Touching the pulsating key symbol near the centre of the screen will bring up a ring of shortcuts. While swiping to the right will unlock the phone, you can also swipe in 3 other directions to directly access a specific feature on the RAZR i – text messaging, camera or the dialler. Strangely enough, we couldn’t locate a way to edit these shortcuts, though there are plenty of 3rd party lockscreen alternatives if this area is really important to you.

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The majority of changes, however, resolve in and around the homescreen. By default, you are only given two homescreens, but you’re free to bring 5 additional screens from the Manage pages screen. You can access this screen by doing the pinch gesture or by swiping to the end of active homescreens. It’s a neat little addition by Motorola that lets you choose from 3 templates with shortcuts and widgets that are geared towards a specific task (‘Media’, ‘Mobile office’ or ‘On the go’). Alternatively, you can start completely from scratch by selecting the blank page option.

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Swiping from the first homescreen to the left will bring you to the quick settings page that you can use to control various aspects of the phone like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or GPS. It’s an interesting choice to say the least, as normally you’d find these shortcuts crammed into the drop-down notification bar.

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Whether you’ll welcome this change is entirely up to how you use your phone. Moving the toggles onto the homescreen has allowed them to be decently sized and thus easier to use. On the other hand, the omnipresent notification bar provides a near instantaneous access to the said toggles from within almost any application. It would have been nice, however, if Motorola also provided a way to customise these shortcuts to accommodate different types of users.

It’s refreshing for a change to see a homescreen not cluttered to the brim with an insurmountable amount of shortcuts or battery life draining widgets. Aside from the stock widgets for Android, the RAZR i only comes with a single widget from Motorola, but it’s one of the most worthwhile efforts we’ve seen in a while. The widget consists of three interlinked circles that display time, weather and battery status information. Not only that, but the widget also handles SMS or missed call notifications that will show up in one of the circles.

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Obviously Motorola has put a lot of care to make the widget as attractive and useful as possible. The widget comes with slick animations as you flip each circle to access additional features. For example, flipping the time circle will let you choose between analogue and digital clock, or you can flip the weather circle to access weather information for a different location. And, of course, you can also use the circles to quickly travel to the respective stand-alone applications on Motorola RAZR i. All in all, it’s a neat and functional package from Motorola that circumvents the common problem of many widgets of overly polluting the homescreen with different bits of information.

As we noted in the first part of the review, instead of physical buttons, the usual Android control elements have been incorporated into the screen itself on the RAZR i. We don’t particularly mind this setup as it doesn’t seem to impact the usability of the handset, and the keys themselves will occasionally disappear to make full use of the screen when viewing something in landscape mode. The dock with 4 configurable item slots hovers just above, where you can also find the icon to access the app drawer.

You won’t find many surprises there as everything is very much in line with other Android handsets based on Ice Cream Sandwich. The two main sections – Apps and Widgets – are flanked by the Favourites tab and shortcut to Google Play store. The Favourites tab is quite handy as you can use it to separate 3rd party apps from the pre-installed content.

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Motorola has provided the RAZR i with 8GB of built-in storage memory that is shared between apps and other content. This obviously isn’t much if you’re planning on fully exploring the features on the RAZR i. Luckily that problem can be easily rectified with the help of affordable microSD cards, and chances are you still have one lying around from your previous phone.

There are a few notable built-in applications on the RAZR i besides the stock Google apps. The viewing and editing of office documents is handled by the fairly capable Quickoffice, and it does PDF documents too. If you look carefully enough, a built-in file manager is also part of the package.

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Guide Me is a comprehensive tutorial app that explains virtually every aspect of Motorola RAZR i. The app leads you through every feature step-by-step with detailed graphics, making it a great replacement for the traditional user manuals that people rarely bother to read.

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Among the pre-installed content you’ll also find a gem called SmartActions, which we briefly mentioned while discussing the battery life on the RAZR i. There’s a good reason for this. Developed by Motorola, SmartActions is an amazing tool that automatically comes up with different suggestions based on how you use the phone. For example, the app suggested dimming screen brightness and temporarily disabling auto-sync and GPS features when we were running low on battery.

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The features in SmartActions aren’t just limited to conserving battery life either. You can choose from different sample actions to set the phone to sleep mode on certain time, play your favourite playlist when headphones are connected, or change the ringtone and wallpaper when you arrive home.

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The ability to create your own custom actions is what really sets it apart from similar 3rd party solutions. The setup process is extremely straightforward: you choose from a list of actions, and then set what conditions should automatically trigger them. In no time at all, the RAZR i will be ready to handle most if not all of the mundane tasks for you thanks to this handy application.

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With SmartActions, it’s great to see Motorola taking the same quality over quantity approach that we saw earlier when discussing the Circles widget or the UI tweaks in Android. However small, these additions are there with a clear purpose of enhancing the usability of the handset in an unobtrusive and cohesive manner, and we only wish that more manufacturers would adapt a similar approach when customising their Android handsets.

Most reviewers have voiced their concerns regarding app compatibility on Motorola RAZR i due to the x86 architecture of its Intel processor. We have installed some of the most popular apps, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Chrome and Foursqure, without encountering any issues along the way. One notable omission was BBC iPlayer, but, given the high-profile nature of this app, there’s a good chance that Motorola and Intel are already working towards a solution. The bottom line is rather simple – unless you plan to run some lesser known or old apps, you really shouldn’t worry about app compatibility on the RAZR i.

 

Camera

Another key area where the Intel Atom processor on the RAZR i really shines is the camera. More specifically, this 8 Mpix snapper is astonishingly fast, and, since Motorola has also provided the RAZR i with a physical shutter button, you can launch the camera at a moment’s notice – even when the phone is on standby. The camera has a relatively fast and reliable continuous autofocus too, which means you’ll only have to worry about pressing the 1-stage shutter button to capture the image.

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The interface of the camera app is just the way we love it – simple and unobtrusive – while at the same time ensuring quick and easy access to all the available features. Provided, the built-in features aren’t as rich or robust as what we’ve seen on other smartphones, but all the essentials like effects, scenes or exposure settings are present.

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f you worry about missing just the right moment to hit that camera button, another highly touted feature of the RAZR i camera is its ability to take 10 consecutive full-resolution shots in under a second. After field-testing this feature with some fast-moving objects, we can safely say that it works reliably well except in low light conditions. Unsurprisingly, using the LED flash didn’t help improve the quality of photos. Low-light photography was never a strong suit for phone cameras (along with zoom), so it goes without saying that you should refrain from using the built-in flash as much as possible.

The produced image quality didn’t leave us as wide-eyed as when we were experiencing the blazing speed of the camera. In general, the 8 Mpix camera produces some great looking photos, and its ability to focus on very close objects is particularly impressive. However, on closer examination, the camera does lose some points for the amount of noise in certain areas that distort the edges of objects in focus. The colours also occasionally appear to be washed out and dull – an impression we didn’t get when reviewing the content on RAZR i’s vivid and bright AMOLED display.

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But there’s a neat trick that Motorola RAZR i has up its sleeve to drastically improve picture quality. When you face challenging lighting conditions, the camera will automatically suggest you to enable the HDR (High Dynamic Range) shooting mode. Previously made popular on standalone cameras, this mode takes several photos of different exposure values, and then merges them into one. In most cases, it results in a sharper looking image with light qualities that reveal detail that otherwise could not been obtainable. Sometimes, however, the HDR mode trades realistic colours in favour of oversaturated looking tones that ruin the impression. It’s hard not to admit there’s a certain artistic quality to HDR images. Below you can find an example of how this mode on the RAZR i has helped us turn Fulham Palace Gardens into a scene from some fantasy movie.

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Conclusion

Judging solely by the specs, the Motorola RAZR i is clearly not aiming for the top step of the podium. But, as we stated in the beginning of our review, the RAZR i is a completely different kind of beast. The main attraction of this mid-range smartphone comes from just how well everything has been put together and executed. From a medium sized display that doesn’t sacrifice ergonomics right down to the processing power that doesn’t severely limit battery life – everything is being approached and measured with the actual user experience in mind. There is not a single element or feature that feels out of place on the RAZR i, and the very few tweaks done to Android are placed with an almost surgical precision where you might actually want to use them.

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(This review, written by me, was originally posted  on Fonehouse)

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