Motorola Droid Razr HD (Verizon) review: Motorola's sharpest Razr yet

Features and apps
Another skill Android 4.0 brings to the table is its native support for folders. Just drag app shortcuts on top of one another to create custom folders and help beat back home-screen clutter. It’s one of the first steps I do with a new phone, and since the Razr HD has access to more than 700,000 apps via the Google Play store, organizing your home screens is always recommended.

A truly capable smartphone, the Droid Razr HD provides all the Google services and software you know and love, including Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Navigation, and Google+, along with the Google Play store for music, books, and movies. Also noteworthy is that the device comes with Google Chrome as the default browser, the first mobile phone I've seen which does. The handset is loaded with useful third-party applications, too, such as the Kindle app, Quickoffice for viewing common MS Office files, and Facebook.

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Create custom folders to clean up your home screens. Brian Bennett/CNET

Just like the Droid Razr M, one big drawback to this device is the amount of bloatware installed. This includes Verizon's curated app store, NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator, Verizon Tones for ringtones, and Verizon Video, all of which cannot be uninstalled. This is a serious slap in the face for customers since many of these apps aren’t lightweight and take up valuable storage space. Verizon Video, for example, is a whopping 8.24MB in size and its $10-per-month, $3-per-day pricing (on top of your standard bill) is outrageous.

Motorola did explain to CNET that Verizon is the decider in terms of foisting this unwanted software on its subscribers instead of clean, unadulterated Android. Whoever is behind this junk, this is the reason many of us root our phones.

Also onboard is Motorola’s Smartactions application, which is designed to automate phone functions to improve usability and performance. With it you can have the phone shut down its data connection at night to conserve battery life or automatically connect to Wi-Fi when its GPS sensor decides you've arrived home. It may sound good on paper, but I'd rather control my smartphone with my own brain, thank you.

Boasting an 8-megapixel sensor and LED flash combined with a beefed-up processor, I was excited that the Droid Razr HD might actually overcome the biggest flaw on Motorola smartphones: image quality. Sadly, while the device snaps pictures quickly, in under a second, and launches its camera app in under 2 seconds, the images I captured were not inspiring. In fact, just like with the Droid Razr M, I noticed inaccurate white balance and lots of color noise in low-light shots. For instance, my still-life images were dark and had an unnatural yellowish tinge. Moving outdoors things improved, with hues becoming more normal if oversaturated.

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Still-life shots were dark and full of color noise. Brian Bennett/CNET

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Indoor shots in low light were grainy. Brian Bennett/CNET

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Under enough light, indoor shots were acceptable. Kent German/CNET

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Outdoors, color improved, but not by much. Kent German/CNET

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HDR mode pulled details out of shadows. Brian Bennett/CNET

The Razr HD’s camera app offers plenty of settings and shooting modes such as HDR, multishot, panorama, and timer. You can also use five filter effects ranging from black-and-white to aqua.

I'm glad Motorola has made the move to Qualcomm’s 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processors in this latest batch of Razrs because they're much faster and more efficient than the chips in the old Razr line. Just like the Razr M, the Razr HD felt fast and responsive whether opening applications or zooming through menus. This anecdotal speed was backed up by synthetic benchmark testing, with the Droid Razr HD notching a high Linpack (multithread) score of 198.4 MFLOPs. That edges out the Droid Razr M, which scored 182.2 MFLOPs on the same test. I didn’t have to wait long to power up the phone, either; it took 33 seconds flat.

Performance: Motorola Droid Razr HD
Average LTE download speeds 13.9 Mpbs
Average LTE upload speed 9.96 Mbps
App download 646KB in 4.17 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5.4 seconds
CNET desktop site load 9.7 seconds
Boot time 33 seconds
Camera boot time 2 seconds

Call quality was also rock-solid on Verizon’s CDMA network in New York. Callers reported that my voice came through loud and clear with no background static or obvious distortion. They couldn’t immediately tell I was calling from a mobile phone, either. On my end, voices were crisp and rich through the earpiece and volume was high. Audio improved further using the Droid HD’s speakerphone, which was loud enough to fill a medium-size conference room and to cause people on the other end to notice a distinct increase in volume.

Motorola Droid Razr HD call quality sample Listen now:

Testing the Droid Razr HD on Verizon’s 4G LTE network in San Francisco, the phone turned in fast average download speeds of 13.9 Mbps. Upload throughput was also impressive, with an average speed of 9.96 Mbps.

Equipped with a 2,530mAh battery, which is unfortunately not user-removable, Motorola claims the Droid Razr HD will provide 7 hours of continuous YouTube video streaming and 6 hours of Web surfing over LTE. Indeed the Razr HD proved its staying power on the CNET Labs Video playback battery drain test. The phone hang on for 577 minutes (9 hours and 37 minutes) before calling it quits. That out lasted the Samsung Galaxy S3 (530 minutes) but not the new Droid Razr Maxx HD (893 minutes) or first Droid Razr Maxx (916 minutes).

On the surface, the $199.99 Motorola Droid Razr HD is a worthy upgrade of its popular Droid Razr. The phone features a bigger 4.7-inch display that boasts a sharper 720 pixel resolution. It also runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich powered by a modern and powerful dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor. Unfortunately, the Razr HD is essentially the middle child of the Motorola smartphone family. It's shoehorned between the cheaper Droid Razr M that is also speedy and has a sizable 4.3-inch (960x540 pixel) display, and the $299 Droid Razr Maxx HD that boasts everything the Razr HD offers plus an ultra-high-capacity battery. If money were no option, it's the ultimate Android in Verizon's lineup. Apple fans can also scoop up the iPhone 5 (16GB) for $199, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 has an excellent camera and premium Android features, though clad in cheap plastic. Of course it’s hard to beat the Droid Razr HD’s premium metallic looks and stylishly thin design. Just be aware that its camera delivers lackluster image quality.

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