A lot has changed in the smartphone world since Motorola released the Droid Razr and the Droid Razr Maxx, just about a year ago. What was once cutting edge is now standard: Just look at how many phones these days have dual-core processors and screens larger than 4.3 inches. While still quite respectable, those specs are starting to pop up on midlevel smartphones; and with this refresh, Motorola aims to compete with the likes of such superphones as the LG Optimus G and the Samsung Galaxy S III. The Razr HD ($200 with a new two-year contract) vastly improves on its predecessors, shipping with a sharper display, a souped-up processor, and a stronger battery, all of which make using this Razr an extremely enjoyable experience.
The Droid Razr HD's display is beautiful. Motorola packed an absurd number of pixels (1280 by 720, to be exact) into the phone's 4.7-inch Super AMOLED screen, and the high pixel count really shows. Another benefit of the large screen: I've never found typing on a virtual keyboard to be easier or more enjoyable. After using the Razr HD for a few hours, I found that my HTC Droid Incredible 2's 4-inch display looked downright archaic. If you've never used a large smartphone screen, I recommend giving it a try before you purchase your next device.
Despite its larger screen, the Razr HD is only marginally taller than the Razr it replaces, and it's actually slightly narrower than its predecessor. At 5.19 inches tall by 2.67 inches wide by 0.33 inch thick, the Razr HD is by no means a small phone; but the payoff for its additional thickness is a formidable 2530mAh battery. The Razr HD is definitely on the hefty side at 5.16 ounces—that's almost half an ounce heavier than the Samsung Galaxy S III. But even so, the Razr HD fit comfortably in my pocket and I didn't mind carrying it around with me.
For the Razr HD's back cover, Motorola wisely opted to retain the textured Kevlar fiber that it used for the Razr and Razr Maxx. The material is highly scratch- and smudge-resistant, so it should look the same after months of use as when you first take it out of the box. The back cover houses an 8-megapixel camera, an LED flash, and a speaker, but it doesn't detach from the phone, which means that there's no way of getting to the battery underneath. On the Razr HD's metallic silver spines, you'll find a textured power button and volume rocker (on the right spine), and MicroUSB and Mini HDMI ports (on the left spine). The SIM and MicroUSB cards are housed in a slot (also on the left spine) that requires a special tool provided with the phone to open. If you lose the tool, you'll have to use a push pin or a paper clip to gain access to the slots. A 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera and light sensor sit above the Razr HD's screen, and a light directly beneath the Motorola logo flashes green when you have a notification pending.
If you're familiar with previous Razr smartphones, you'll recognize the phone's wedged corners, which were also present on the Razr and the Razr Maxx. Though I'm not fond of this design feature, it does distinguish these Razrs from other, purely rectangular smartphones. Another noteworthy feature of the Razr HD is a water-repellant nano-coating, which Motorola says makes the phone splash-resistant.
The Razr HD's 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor and 1GB of RAM made navigating around the OS smooth and snappy. I didn't notice much delay when I launched the camera and other apps, such as Pulse and AP Mobile. Even when running multiple apps, I never noticed the phone slowing down or lagging.
Motorola seems to be tackling the popular complaint of short smartphone battery life head-on, by offering high-capacity batteries on a number of recent models. The Razr HD's sturdy 2530mAh battery delivers up to 24 hours of mixed usage, according to Motorola. After using the phone extensively during my hands-on testing, I don't consider that figure far-fetched, as the battery had drained by only about 15 percent after approximately 4 hours of browsing the Internet, streaming videos, and testing apps. In short, anyone looking for a 4G smartphone that will last more or less the whole day should feel confident that the Razr HD can deliver the goods.
Speaking of 4G, the Razr HD's data speeds did not disappoint either. Using Ookla's FCC-approved Speed Test app, I recorded an average download speed of 24.7 megabits per second and an upload speed of 18.77 mbps on Verizon's 4G LTE network in San Francisco.
The numerous people I called on the Razr HD reported that the calls were so clear that I sounded as though I were standing right next to them. As always, call quality can vary greatly depending on where you are, but my experience with the phone on Verizon's network in San Francisco was above average.
The Razr HD ships with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich, and Motorola says that the phone will be upgraded to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean by the end of the year. So, while nothing is certain, owners of the Razr HD should be able to take advantage of the new OS sooner rather than later.
The software on the Razr HD is fairly straightforward stock Android, featuring all of the expected Google apps, including Gmail, Google Maps, and Play Music. Unfortunately, you'll also find lots of Verizon software preloaded on the phone, none of which is uninstallable. Some of the apps—like Quickoffice, which lets you create Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and PDF files—are actually useful, but other apps such as NFL Mobile, Slacker Radio, and VZ Navigator are likely to end up gathering virtual dust.
You'll find just 12GB of usable internal storage tucked inside the Razr HD; so if you have a lot of music, you should plan on using the phone's MicroSD slot. Music streaming from Google Play sounded fine on headphones; and though I wouldn't recommend it to audiophiles, the phone's speaker managed to generate substantial volume.
The large display on the Razr HD brings out the entertainment potential of services like Netflix and YouTube. Factor in the speedy 4G LTE and the large battery, and you have a portable media machine that will last for hours.
The Razr HD's 8-megapixel camera captures decent-looking photos under the the right conditions. The photos I took outside looked relatively sharp, but the camera struggled in lower-light conditions indoors. The camera's HDR mode gave my outdoor photos added depth, and the panorama mode (popular on so many smartphones these days) produced some pretty cool shots of the San Francisco skyline, albeit at lower quality than photos taken in standard mode. You also get a multishot mode that captures images in quick succession, which is great for making sure that you don't miss the moment. In video mode, the Razr HD can capture 1080p HD video, which makes the Mini HDMI port all the more useful (if you have an HDTV to connect it to). Videos recorded on the the Razr HD had the same low-light problem that the still camera had, but footage looked okay overall.
By uniting a high-quality display with speedy 4G LTE and all-day battery life, Motorola has made a very impressive smartphone. And though it's shipping with Ice Cream Sandwich, the phone's imminent update to Jelly Bean should appeal to users looking to get their hands on the latest version of Android. Ultimately, everyone should be able to find something to like about the Razr HD: Pixel-peepers will appreciate the display; video streamers will enjoy the Razr HD's speedy LTE connection; and people who detest having to recharge their smartphones at 3 p.m. every day will be delighted at the opportunity to leave their chargers and extra batteries at home.