Just when you thought the Motorola Razr was dead, Moto has brought it back for another round with the Razr VE20 for Sprint. Before you start grumbling about Moto never having anything new--a sentiment we've no doubt shared--we advise you to give this Razr a chance. Sure, the design is old hat, but the VE20 is sparkly and slim with big, bright displays. The feature set doesn't offer anything new, either, but with a full slate of multimedia options, it should deliver everything you need. And attention sports fans; Sprint is positioning the Razr VE20 as a premier model for its NFL Mobile service. Call quality is generally good, but the VE20 excels as a streaming video and music device. You can get it for $99 with service.
As we mentioned already, the Razr VE20's design should be instantly familiar to just about anyone. Elements of Sprint's original Razr V3m are clearly visible, from the sleek profile (3.9 inches by 2 inches by 0.6 inch) to the design of its hinge. However, even with all that retro styling, Moto did incorporate few tweaks that give the VE20 its own identity. Graceful curved edges replace the V3's boxy, angular figure--the trademark "double hinge" in particular is more streamlined--and the brushed metal skin with red highlights is quite attractive. At 3.5 ounces the VE20 is just a hair lighter than the Razr V3m, but it feels sturdier in the hand.
Other major design changes include a revamped external display and the addition of a mirrored panel on the phone's front face. While the V3m's external display was small with a low resolution, the VE20's screen measures 1.6 inches and supports 65,000 colors. It's bright and beautiful and it incorporates the onscreen touch controls with Haptics feedback that we saw on Sprint's Motorola Razr2 V9m. Those buttons give you convenient access to the music player, a shortcuts menu, and your text message in-box--all without opening the phone. The screen also shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and photo caller ID. You can use it as a viewfinder to take self-portraits and you can adjust the screen saver, clock type, and backlighting time. Our only complaint with the display is that it's nearly impossible to see in direct light because of the Razr VE20's reflective skin.
The mirrored panel has other consequences as well. Though it lets you check your teeth before a job interview, it catches fingerprints and smudges by the ton. We were constantly swiping the VE20, but even then it never looked completely clean. You should also be careful when using the phone in bright sunlight. If it catches the light just so, which is it prone to do, the effect can be blinding.
The Razr VE20's camera lens sits just above the display. There is no flash, but self-portraits are a cinch with the display or the reflective skin. On the left spine are the volume rocker, the micro USB/charger port and the Moto "smart" key. A camera shutter sits on the right spine just about the convenient 3.5mm headset jack. What isn't convenient, however, is the microSD card slot behind the battery.
The internal display measures a generous 2.2 inches with support for 262,000 colors. The result is a rich, vibrant screen with sharp graphics and readable text; you can change the messaging font size and the backlight time. The text on the menu interface may be a little for small users, but the interface is otherwise attractive and intuitive. Sprint made a good decision when it ditched flash-heavy interfaces in favor of simple icon and list-based designs. The VE20 also offers six menu shortcuts on the standby screen that you can cycle through using the navigation toggle. The feature is easy to use, though its design looks a lot like the bubbles for T-Mobile's My Faves service.
The Razr VE20's navigation controls and keypad buttons take a lot of cues from the first Razr, but Moto redesigned them as well. Two soft keys, a camera shortcut, a Back button and the Talk and End/power buttons surround the circular toggle and central OK button. Though the controls are flush, their arrangement is spacious. The toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined functions and the left soft key opens a secondary user-programmable shortcuts menu. The keypad buttons are flush as well, but the raised numbers give some then tactile definition. We could text and dial quickly, but dialing by feel wasn't so easy. Though the backlit keys are clearly visible in the dark, in bright sunshine the white numbers blend in with the silver skin of the phone.
The Razr VE20 has a 600-contact phonebook with room in each entry for six phone numbers, an e-mail address, a Web address, a job title and company, a street address and notes. You can save callers to groups and you can pair them a photo or one of 27 polyphonic ringtones. Alternatively, you also can pair them with a video ringtones or a voice recording.
Though it's far from being a smartphone, the Razr VE20 offers a very decent feature set with a full range of low and high-end options. Essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, a calculator, a calendar, a notepad, a world clock, a voice memo recorder, unit and currency converters, a tip calculator, and a stop watch. Beyond the basics there's USB mass storage, instant messaging and chat, a file manager, a speakerphone, stereo Bluetooth, phone as modem capability, voice dialing, and remote backup for your contacts. E-mail is also onboard for POP3 accounts such as Yahoo, Hotmail, and AOL, and you even can get work e-mail if your company uses Outlook Web Access. The e-mail user experience is pretty clunky, and your work access is limited only to your inbox, but it's usable in a pinch of you need it.
As an EV-DO phone, the VE20 offers full support for Sprint's 3G services. You can connect to Sprint's Power Vision for Sprint TV, which include live and on-demand programming from a wide variety of sports, entertainment and new channels. You also can check out movie previews and stream more than 150 channels from Sprint Radio. For sports fans, Sprint's NFL Mobile application offers scores stats, and live audio and video streams of selected games beginning November 2008. We've said it before and we'll say it again: it's an exhaustive selection of programming with much of it exclusive to Sprint. And to top it off, the TV interface is intuitive.