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Motorola Electrify M review: Compact, capable Android with poor camera

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MSRP: $599.99

The Good The affordable Motorola Electrify M features a colorful screen, 4G LTE, and long battery life. Thin, attractive, and compact, it also runs Android Jelly Bean.

The Bad The Electrify M's camera takes unimpressive images and has a slow processor. The battery isn't removable.

The Bottom Line The Motorola Electrify M is a well-priced and compact option on U. S. Cellular, but the larger Samsung Galaxy S3 is the better deal if size doesn't matter.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

These days it's hard to find a smartphone that balances size, power, and cutting-edge features. Like the Droid Razr M, the exceedingly compact $99.99 Motorola Electrify M does its best to hit the sweet spot among all three. While it comes close to pulling off this impressive feat, the older device can't quite stand up to even last year's competition from Samsung, namely the brawny Galaxy S3. Yes, the GS3 is more than a year old, but it offers a better camera, a sharper screen, and features galore for the same price. Of course, if a highly portable handset with modern Android Jelly Bean is what you want, and you find the Galaxy S3 too much of a handful or all its capabilities overkill, it's hard to beat the Electrify M.

If you've seen the Motorola Droid Razr M, you'll do a double take when you lay your eyes on the Motorola Electrify M. If it weren't for its faux-silver metallic skin and gray hue, the handset would be the spitting image of its Verizon sibling.

Measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide and 0.34 inch thick, the Electrify M has a chassis of almost identical proportions to the Razor M's. That's a good thing since both phones are extremely pocket-friendly and compact enough to slide into tight pockets easily.

The Motorola Electrify M is compact enough to grip easily. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Electrify M sports a similarly sculpted body with an attractive rectangular shape, smooth lines, and a gently beveled bottom edge. The Electrify's button and port layout mirrors the Razr's, too, with a thin volume bar and power key resting on the left side. A Micro-USB port for charging and transferring files to PC occupies the left edge. There's a flap here, which covers slots for microSD and SIM cards.

On the left side sit slots for microSD and micro-SIM cards (under flap). Sarah Tew/CNET

There are no physical keys on the Electrify's front face, either, just virtual Android buttons running along the bottom of the screen. Above the display is a 0.3-megapixel-resolution camera for video chat and self portraits. On the Electrify M's back you'll find its main 8MP camera and LED flash.

To squeeze a relatively large 4.3-inch display into a compact chassis, Motorola opted to use an AMOLED panel with a low qHD resolution in the Electrify M. As a result, images and text lack the crispness and overall impact I've become accustomed to on other handsets with full-HD screens.

For instance, viewing the full desktop version of was a bit of a strain on the eyes compared with when I looked at the same site on the Samsung Galaxy S4 (5-inch screen, 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution) or even the Samsung Galaxy S3 (4.8-inch screen, 1,280x720-pixel resolution).

The Electrify M's screen does paint images and video with a richly saturated color palette and deep, dark blacks, though. Viewing angles were also very wide, though that may not seem like an important factor, especially if you're usually the only person gazing at display. Even so,being able to see the screen well from a variety of angles improves my overall impression of a screen's viewing experience.

Software and interface
When the Motorola Electrify M first hit U.S. Cellular's roster in November 2012, it shipped running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Recently, however, the phone's software has been updated to the more modern Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean operating system.

Jelly Bean brings significant performance and handling improvements, what Google calls Project Butter, designed to speed up the responsiveness and increase the smoothness of Android. I can say that after using the Electrify M both before and after the update, it does feel livelier moving from screen to screen and menu to menu.

The Circles widget is fun and useful. Brian Bennett/CNET

Also included with the fresh software are Google's improved voice commands and search capabilities, rolled up into the Google Now app. Google Now performs fancy new tricks, such as automatically displaying the weather forecast or places of interest nearby, and it will even calculate the duration of your commute (to work or home) based on local traffic or transit data.

Google Now offers fancy location-based searches and other information. Brian Bennett/CNET

To be clear, though, the Electrify M doesn't feature pure Android but rather Motorola's custom skin gently overlaid on top of Jelly Bean. Even so, I didn't find it to be overbearing; it actually provides some useful additions. One of them is a handy Quick Settings screen, called up by swiping left of the main home screen. It offers fast toggles for the phone ringer, Bluetooth, GPS, and Airplane mode, just to mention a few.

I also like the Circles widget, placed on the primary home screen, which shows readouts for time (digital or analog), weather, and current battery level. It's both compact and attractive and consists of three circles with faces that flip with slick animation -- each side showcases different information.

By default the phone provides two home screens, but you can have a total of seven to populate with app shortcuts and widgets of your choosing.

As an Android Jelly Bean device, the Electrify M can tackle all your standard smartphone needs. Whether for e-mailing, text messaging, Web surfing, or running mobile apps, the handset is well-appointed. It also ties intimately into Google's wide range of services, such as Gmail, Google Maps, Google Drive, and Talk, along with the Play stores for purchasing books, movies, and music.

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