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Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD for Verizon review: Unstoppable battery, premium design

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Instead of physical buttons, there are three virtual Android keys running along the bottom edge of the screen, with icons representing back, home, and recent applications. Above this are four shortcuts to launch the same functions found on the Droid Razr Maxx HD's lock screen, though you can replace them with others if you'd like.

Features and apps
Another capability 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 things I do with a new phone, and since the Razr Maxx HD has access to more than 700,000 apps via the Google Play store, organizing your home screens is always recommended.

Squarely in the Android smartphone wheelhouse, the Droid Razr Maxx HD taps into all the familiar Google services and software, including Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Navigation, and Google+, along with the Google Play stores for music, books, and movies. Just like the Droid Razr HD, the device comes with Google Chrome as the default browser, making it the second 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.

Sadly, the Droid Razr Maxx HD suffers from the same condition as the Razr M and Razr HD, meaning it's clogged with lots of Verizon bloatware. This includes Verizon's curated app store, NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator, Verizon Tones for ringtones, and Verizon Video, none of which can be uninstalled. This is a huge insult to customers, especially advanced Android users who like to tweak their handsets for maximum efficiency. That's because 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 confirm to CNET that Verizon is the ultimate pusher of this unwanted software. I say to folks behind this nonsense, do you really expect strong-arm tactics such as these to be effective? I seriously doubt they will be, and bloatware is the reason why many customers in the know root their handsets.

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. Frankly, it's a feature I'd rather do without since I should be the master of my device, not some clunky collection of algorithms.

On a positive note, the Droid Razr Maxx HD comes with a whopping 32GB of ROM, of which 26GB are user-accessible. That's a lot more than the Droid Razr HD's 16GB allotment.

Since it's equipped with an 8-megapixel sensor and LED flash combined with a modern Snapdragon S4 processor, I was hopeful the Droid Razr Maxx HD might address the primary weakness of Motorola smartphones: image quality. Unfortunately, while the device snaps pictures quickly, in under a second, and launches its camera app in 1.9 seconds, the images I captured were not inspiring. In fact, just like the Razr M and Razr HD, the Rar Maxx HD produced images with 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.

Colors and white balance were off in still-life shots. Brian Bennett/CNET
Indoor shots were grainy. Brian Bennett/CNET
Outdoors the HDR mode perked up details, but things were still dark. Brian Bennett/CNET
The camera has many settings and shooting modes. Brian Bennett/CNET

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

I think Motorola's decision to use Qualcomm's 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon processors in its 2012 Razrs was a smart move. They're much faster and more efficient than the chips in the old Razr line. Mirroring my experience with the Razr M and Razr HD, the Razr Maxx HD felt fast and responsive, whether opening applications or zooming through menus. This impression was confirmed by benchmark testing, with the Droid Razr Maxx HD notching a high Linpack (multithread) score of 207 MFLOPs. That narrowly beats the Droid Razr HD (198.4 MFLOPs) and squeaks by the Droid Razr M (182.2 MFLOPs) on the same test. Boot time, though, was consistently slower than the Razr HD's, with the Razr Maxx HD taking 40 seconds to power up, a full 7 seconds longer.

Performance: Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD
Average LTE download speeds 16.2 Mpbs
Average LTE upload speed 12.5 Mbps
App download 646KB in 2.8 seconds
CNET mobile site load 5.8 seconds
CNET desktop site load 6.4 seconds
Boot time 40 seconds
Camera boot time 1.9 seconds

On Verizon's CDMA network in New York, call quality was just as solid on the Droid Razr Maxx HD as it was on the Razr M and Razr HD. 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 was even better using the Droid Razr Maxx HD's speakerphone, which gets loud enough to fill a medium-size conference room.

Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD call quality sample Listen now:

Tested on Verizon's 4G LTE network in New York, the phone turned in a very swift average download speed of 16.2Mbps. Uploads were fast as well, with a measured average speed of 12.5Mbps.

4G LTE speeds were swift. Brian Bennett/CNET

The real reason to buy the Razr Maxx HD is its massive 3,300mAh battery, which is unfortunately not user-removable. Of course you'll likely not care since Motorola claims the Maxx HD will provide 32 hours of performance. Specifically, you'll be able to stream YouTube video for up to 13 hours, or enjoy GPS navigation for 8 hours. Indeed I can vouch for the Maxx HD's impressive stamina. On the CNET Labs Video playback battery drain test, the phone lasted for 893 minutes (14 hours and 53 minutes). That's much longer than the Samsung Galaxy S3 (530 minutes) and Maxx HD (577 minutes). That said, the first Droid Razr Maxx lasted for a longer 916 minutes (15 hours and 16 minutes) on the same test which is likely due to the Maxx HD's bigger screen and faster processor.

Paying $299.99 for a smartphone, no matter how good, is a serious undertaking. Motorola's pricey Droid Razr Maxx HD, however, provides a lot of handset for the money. Its fast processor pushes the phone's Android OS with speed and agility. Paired with a connection to Verizon's 4G LTE data, this phone really flies. The Maxx HD's 4.7-inch screen and construction are top-notch as well. The camera, which takes lackluster pictures, is no doubt a hard pill to swallow, especially for people who use their handset as their primary image capturer. If that's the case for you, then I suggest the $199 Samsung Galaxy S3 since it takes much better photos and costs less. Apple disciples can nab the 16GB iPhone 5 for $199 and call it a day. The $99.99 Motorola Droid Razr M, a pint-sized Android powerhouse, is the way to go for Verizon bargain hunters. For someone like me though who owns a real camera for when the photography urge strikes, I'd run, not walk, to the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD, since its combination of speed, longevity, and killer design is awe-inspiring.

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