Motorola Droid Razr M (Verizon) review: Motorola Droid Razr M (Verizon)

Fast, compact, and stylish, the $99.99 Motorola Droid Razr M is an excellent Android deal on Verizon.

Brian Bennett

Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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Not counting the iPhone, smaller handsets are a shrinking breed. That's why it's so refreshing to see a smartphone like the $99 Motorola Droid Razr M. Not to be confused with Motorola's upcoming Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD, which will boast big batteries and massive screens, this compact Android device packs a punch despite its small stature. The phone -- available now for preorder and officially shipping September 13 -- has fast dual-core processing and Verizon 4G LTE access, plus a generous battery life. The Droid M is also handsomely crafted with an ultrathin chassis and a lovely 4.3-inch AMOLED screen encased in an edge-to-edge bezel. If you've been seeking a conveniently portable smartphone on Verizon with plenty of high-end power and features that also won't break the bank, the Motorola Droid Razr M is a great option. For a midrange price, it offers many of the advanced capabilities you'll find only in premium smartphones.

Motorola Droid Razr M - black (Verizon)

Motorola Droid Razr M (Verizon)

The Good

The affordable <b>Droid Razr M</b> features a fast processor, a lovely screen, 4G LTE, and long battery life. It's also compact and attractive.

The Bad

The Razr M's camera takes unimpressive images, and its battery isn't removable.

The Bottom Line

If you're not a shutterbug, the Motorola Droid Razr M's sleek style, fast CPU, and great battery life make it an excellent choice.

Motorola's Droid Razr M is lovely, compact yet powerful (pictures)

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Based on its slim and seductively stylish construction, you would never guess the Motorola Droid Razr M cost a mere $99. The first thing that struck me when I picked up the device is its sizable 4.3-inch screen. Thanks to a bezel that's practically nonexistent, the display extends almost to the phone's left and right edges. This helps fool the eye, giving the illusion that the screen is larger than it actually is. The display sits flush with the phone's front face, and there are no physical buttons here, either, which further heightens the sleekness of the handset's facade. It's all part of a design tactic that creates what Motorola refers to as the Droid Razr M's "edge-to-edge" display and certainly gives the device a sophistication not many handsets can match.

In fact the only tangible buttons, a power key and volume rocker, sit on the Razr M's left side. Other design elements include Motorola's signature Kevlar fiber coating that has graced its handsets since the first Droid Razr. It helps protect the phone's back from scratches and scrapes. Also on back is the phone's 8-megapixel camera with LED flash; the camera and flash are encased under a glossy plastic panel, which, unfortunately, is a fingerprint magnet.

Motorola Droid Razr M
A Kevlar fiber coating resists scratches and scuffs. Sarah Tew/CNET

Measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.3 inches and just 0.33 inch thick, this is one seriously minute mobile computing device. At a featherweight 4.4 ounces, you'll also barely notice the Razr M in your pocket. That's slightly smaller than Motorola's original Droid Razr (5.14 by 2.71 by 0.28 inches, 4.5 ounces) and more manageable than the beefy Droid Razr Maxx (5.14 inches by 2.75 inches by 0.35 inch, 5.1 ounces).

The Droid Razr M's 4.3-inch qHD (960x540-pixel) AMOLED screen packs plenty of visual impact. Despite its low resolution -- compared with the HD displays you'll see on competing devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 (4.8-inch screen, 1,280x720 pixels) and Motorola's own upcoming Droid Razr HD (4.7-inch, 1,280x720 pixels), the Droid Razr M's screen serves up eye-popping colors and deep blacks in high contrast. For example, watching the HQ YouTube movie trailer for "Resident Evil: Retribution" was more fun than I'd like to admit. Detail in 720p video files was also sharp, and as with many AMOLED screens, viewing angles were nice and wide, allowing me to see the display well from off-center angles.

Motorola Droid Razr M
The screen offers high contrast, wide viewing angles, and colors that pop. Sarah Tew/CNET

Software and UI
Running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the Motorola Droid Razr M comes infused with a modern version of Google's mobile operating system. While it may not be Android's freshest flavor, which would be Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the phone's software is current and very capable. The company said the handset will receive a Jelly Bean update by the end of the year. Motorola also has placed its own interface on top of Android, which offers its own enhancements. Like many Ice Cream Sandwich phones, the Droid Razr M has a lock screen that displays the time and date in a clean font on the upper left. A sliding button that toggles phone volume sits opposite on the right.

Motorola Droid Razr M
The lock screen lets you jump directly to many phone functions. Sarah Tew/CNET

In the center of the screen is a pulsating key icon that simply unlocks the handset when dragged to the right, launches the camera if pulled left, fires up the messaging app when flicked downward, and jumps to the phone function when pushed upward. You get two home screens to start with but can add up to seven to fill with widgets and application shortcuts. The primary home screen occupies the leftmost pane and scrolls from left to right. An interesting and handy twist is the Quick Settings screen that appears when you swipe left from the main home screen. It offers access to often-used functions such as ringtone, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and Airplane mode.

Motorola Droid Razr M
The Quick Settings screen gives fast access to often-used functions. Sarah Tew/CNET

If you've seen the Motorola Atrix HD or Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE, you'll recognize the Circles widget placed front and center. I think it's one of the slickest home-screen UI gadgets since HTC's legendary Sense weather clock. It features three interactive discs displaying analog and digital clocks, weather, and battery level.

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 M's lock screen, though you can swap them for others if you'd like.

Features and apps
One of the nice features of Android 4.0 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. I suggest doing this, too, since as an Android device, the Razr M has access to more than 600,000 apps and counting in the Google Play store.

Motorola Droid Razr M
Create folders to save space on the home screen. Sarah Tew/CNET

Onboard the Droid Razr M is the wide range of Google services and software including Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Navigation, and Google+, along with the Google Play store for music, books, and movies. Useful third-party applications preloaded include the Kindle app, Quickoffice for viewing common MS Office files, and Facebook.

Sadly there's a decent amount of bloatware on the phone, including Verizon's curated app store, NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator, and the Viewdini entertainment search app. There's Amazon's own Appstore, too, plus a smattering of questionable software including Color video for sharing and Zappos to shop for shoes.

Motorola adds its Smartactions application, too, 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, say, automatically connect to Wi-Fi when its GPS sensor realizes you've arrived home. It's a nice idea but honestly I'd rather control my smartphone settings myself, thank you very much.

Like the Atrix HD's, the Motorola Droid Razr M's 8-megapixel camera at first seems like a winner. It has plenty of scene settings, special filters, and shooting modes such as Panorama, Multishot, HDR, and Timer. You can even adjust the exposure manually. The phone takes more than a second, sometimes two, to cycle through shots, which makes nabbing fast-paced action tough.

Motorola Droid Razr M
The camera app features lots of scene options and shooting modes. Sarah Tew/CNET

Image quality was also an issue, with still-life images being dark with muted colors. Indoors shots under low light proved challenging for the Droid Razr M as well, and I noticed color noise and grainy details in my test shots inside. Outside camera performance picked up a bit, and colors were more vibrant in strong sunlight. That said, details could have been clearer and features more crisp.

Motorola Droid Razr M
Still-life shots were dark and colors bland. Brian Bennett/CNET
Motorola Droid Razr M
Shooting fast-moving subjects under low light was tricky. Brian Bennett/CNET
Motorola Droid Razr M
Colors outside improved, especially in bright sunlight. Brian Bennett/CNET
Motorola Droid Razr M
The HDR mode added more detail to shadows but created halo effects. Brian Bennett/CNET
Motorola Droid Razr M
Street scenes in bright sun were acceptable. Brian Bennett/CNET

Motorola chose wisely to equip the Droid Razr M with its robust 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor. Joined by 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, the phone turned in a high Linpack score of 182.2 MFLOPs (multithread). That's almost as fast as superphones such as the HTC One X, HTC Evo 4G LTE, and Samsung Galaxy S3 score.

Connecting to Verizon's swift 4G LTE network, the Razr M also notched impressively quick data speeds. I clocked download throughput at an average of 18Mbps, with uploads often exceeding a blistering 16Mbps. As I expected, call quality was rock-solid on Verizon's CDMA network. Callers described my voice as clear and easy to hear with no distortion. They did detect a slight background hiss, so they knew I was speaking to them from a mobile line. On my end, callers came through loud and clear through the earpiece, and the speakerphone has enough volume to fill a medium-size conference room.

Motorola Droid Razr M call quality sampleListen now:
Motorola Droid Razr M
The 4G LTE data speeds were very fast. Brian Bennett/CNET

When Motorola announced the Droid Razr M, Droid Razr HD, and Droid Razr Maxx HD at its New York press event, company reps were sure to emphasize that these new phones are built to provide ample battery life. Still, for such a small device, I was surprised by the Droid Razr M's stamina. It lasted 8 hours and 41 minutes during anecdotal tests, which consisted of playing a 720p video file continuously. While it's no match for the runtime of the Droid Razr Maxx (15 hours and 16 minutes), the Droid Razr M should make it through a standard workday without any issues. That's a good thing, since the 2,000mAh battery isn't removable. Motorola says the Droid Razr M will offer 20 hours of "mixed usage," whatever that means.

I haven't been this excited about a compact Android smartphone for quite some time. The $99 Motorola Droid Razr M is not only fast, thanks to its premium processor, but it has generous battery life to match. Throw in this phone's gorgeous 4.3-inch AMOLED display, sleek styling, and Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, and you're looking at one of the best deals to hit Verizon in ages. If you plan to take lots of photos on the go, though, this device isn't for you. Sadly, though the Droid Razr M's camera boasts lots of features and settings, it's a slow shooter with lackluster image quality. For shoppers looking for a phone that takes excellent pictures, I suggest springing for the more expensive $199.99 Samsung Galaxy S3. Motorola's upcoming Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD, due out by the end of the year, will offer bigger, sharper screens and larger batteries but at likely higher sticker prices. Still, the Droid Razr M's unique blend of high-class looks, premium features and performance, and low cost of entry are hard to pass up.

Motorola Droid Razr M - black (Verizon)

Motorola Droid Razr M (Verizon)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8
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