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Motorola Razr i review: Motorola Razr i

The speedy Motorola Razr i brings us the first 2GHz chip on a phone, and the screen is near-edge to edge, but the camera's mediocre.

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Richard Trenholm
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Richard Trenholm Movie and TV Senior Editor

Richard Trenholm is CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture over the past 15 years from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.

Expertise Films, TV, Movies, Television, Technology
9 min read

They don't come much sharper than the Motorola Razr i. Not only does it have a nearly edge-to-edge screen, it also packs the first 2GHz processor in a mobile phone -- which means it's fast. Very fast. But do the impressive specs live up to their promise?

orig-motorola-razr-i-main.jpg
7.5

Motorola Razr i

The Good

Speedy Intel processor;. Very slim bezel;. Clever Smart Actions.

The Bad

Intel chip puts the kibosh on quick Android updates;. Average camera.

The Bottom Line

The Motorola Razr i is faster than a greased whippet, thanks to its 2GHz Intel processor, and the edge-hugging screen is novel. Only an average camera, fussy styling and a lack of the latest version of Android let it down.

The Razr i is available from the beginning of October on Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Media, Tesco and Phones4u.

You can get hold of the Razr i on a two-year contract from around £21 per month. If you want to secure the handset on pre-order, it's available from Expansys for £345.

Intel processor performance

The pulsing brain inside the Razr i is an Intel Atom Medfield processor. Only the Orange San Diego and ZTE Grand X IN have Intel chips, so Medfield is new technology, with both strengths and weaknesses.

The big strength is that it's the first processor clocked at 2GHz. As a result, the Razr i moves like a greased salmon. Scrolling is super-quick, browsing around web pages is ultra-smooth and the camera is very fast too. I really noticed the speed in apps such as Google+ when scrolling through the video app

Motorola Razr i landscape
Packing a 2GHz chip, the Motorola Razr i will chomp through web pages without a pause for breath.

On the Quadrant benchmark, which probes CPU, I/O and 3D graphics performance, the Razr i managed a decent 3,979 score. This beats the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the LG Optimus 2X from 2011, but it's not as fast as the quad-core HTC One X.

Running Geekbench 2, the Razr i scored an excellent 974 -- an extremely high score for a single-core chip, putting it up there with the dual-core likes of the Samsung Galaxy S2.

On the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark, which evaluates a browser's speed, the phone recorded a very impressive 1,097.8ms -- beating the Samsung Galaxy S3 and iPhone 4S, and only a few milliseconds slower than the new iPhone 5.

The downside of any new technology is that it may not yet be 100 per cent optimised. In this case, the Intel chip holds the Razr i back to Android's latest-but-one operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. We're promised a Jelly Bean update will happen, but Motorola isn't that quick at rolling these out, even before you factor in the unusual processor. Bad news for update junkies but not an issue for most people.

When I tested the phone, Chrome wasn't supported. Chrome is Google's own web browser and allows you to save all your bookmarks, searches and all the sites you've visited across your computers and laptops at home, at work, on your phone and on your tablet.

Since then, Google has made the browser available for the Razr i and other Intel-based devices -- an admirably quick turnaround, but the fact it wasn't ready for review units highlights that this is a slightly different version of Android you're using, and that might affect further updates.

Battery

A much bigger concern is whether this fast and powerful chip munches through lots of battery power. We're conducting battery tests, so check back to this review to see how the Razr i does against dual-core or quad-core rivals.

Motorola Razr i front
Smart Actions automatically reduces battery use during your downtime.

Fortunately, the Razr i includes a clever Motorola app called Smart Actions. I'll come back to this nifty app in the software section, but it's worth noting that Smart Actions trains your phone to automatically save battery juice. You can set it to shut down power-sucking functions like Wi-Fi during the night, or even when it recognises you're in a particular place -- useful stuff.

Design and build

The first thing you notice about the Razr i is the Super AMOLED Advanced 4.3-inch screen, which stretches almost from one edge to the other, thanks to the slim bezel. The phone measures 61mm wide and 122mm tall, which for the size of the screen is pretty compact.

Motorola Razr i side
Despite an ample 4.3-inch display, it's a pretty compact handset because there's little space wasted around the edges of the screen.

The phone is crisp and bright, although at 540x960 pixels, it's not high definition, and at 256.15 pixels per inch, it has a lower pixel density than rivals such as the iPhone's 326ppi.

The screen is swathed in scratch-defying Gorilla Glass and the frame's edged in aircraft-grade aluminum. The back is made from DuPont Kevlar, which has a soft, rubbery feel under your fingertips yet is tough enough to withstand scratches and scuffs. The phone also has a 'splash-guard coating' but don't rely on that to save your phone should it make an unscheduled diversion into your cocktail or toilet bowl.

Motorola Razr i side
It's slim without feeling like it will snap like a wafer.

At 8.3mm thick, it's slim enough to glide into your pocket but doesn't feel flexy and fragile like similarly slender phones made of plastic.

The Razr i comes in black, with a white version coming to some countries at a later date. I like the exposed screws, which give it a tough industrial feel, but I find the overall styling to be fussy.

Motorola Razr i side
The clunky design is epitomised by the buttons down the side, which have three different colour and texture combinations.

The patterned back is too busy for my taste, while on one side alone you have three different styles of button -- the camera button is glossy silver, the volume buttons are black, and the standby button is ridged silver. The ridged and smooth buttons might make it marginally easier to tell which is which in your pocket, but it doesn't half look messy.

Motorola Razr i back
A fussy, patterned backplate isn't the kind of sleek finish I look for.

On the other side from the buttons is a rubber flap covering the slot for the SIM card and memory card. You get 8GB of storage for your music and movies, with space for a microSD card to add extra room.

The micro-SIM is easily accessible without needing to find a paper clip -- as required by the iPhone -- or needing to remove the battery, as with many phones.

Software

Press the standby button to wake the phone and a key icon appears on the screen. Touch the screen and a ring appears showing different options. Swipe to the right to unlock the phone, or swipe in another direction to go straight to a specific feature -- left to fire up the camera, straight up to make a call or straight down to see your texts.

For extra security you can also set the phone to unlock with a password or PIN or by drawing a preset pattern -- or by recognising your face.

A similar ring of options appears when someone phones you. Answer or ignore a call by dragging your finger right or left when the phone rings, or ignore the call but send a text to the caller -- either your own words or a 'Can't talk now' message chosen from a list of pre-written texts.

At the bottom of every screen is a dock with a back button, a home button to return to the home screen and an app launcher that shows everything currently in use. Unlike many Android phones, the dock isn't a separate set of buttons under the screen -- it's a part of the large screen, so when you turn the phone sideways, it flicks to the right-hand side. It doesn't flip upside down when you turn the phone on its head though.

Motorola Razr i controls
The controls are part of the screen rather than separate to it, so they rotate if you hold the handset in landscape.

While the handset is built by Motorola, the software is provided by Google. The Razr i is loaded with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It's not the very latest version of Android but it's still packed with features.

One of my favourites is Smart Actions, which allows you to set your phone to automatically do something in a set situation. For example, when your calendar says it's time for a meeting, your phone can switch itself to silent. Or when you plug in your headphones, it can start playing music.

Choose from a list of triggers then pick an action that you want to automatically happen when that trigger occurs, and the phone will perform it in future. Triggers include connecting to Wi-Fi, arriving at a particular location or your battery running low. Actions could be set to send a text, show you a reminder or launch a specific app.

Smart Actions are handy for changing a lot of settings in one go -- switching to silent and only ringing for your VIP contacts while you're in a meeting, say. They're fantastic for conserving battery life. You can set the phone to turn off all the battery-hogging features like Wi-Fi and GPS when it detects you're sat at your desk or in your flat, or you can specify a time like during the night, to cut down on power use without the rigmarole of going through your settings.

The phone is based around home screens that you fill with shortcuts to your apps, and with widgets. Widgets show you basic information without having to open the app, such as the weather, or what song is playing on your MP3 player or Spotify.

You can add more home screens to stock up with apps and then swipe through them with a flick of the finger.

The Razr i comes with a cool Circles Widget, which shows you notifications of new messages, the weather, the time and your battery status. Flick your finger across each circle and it flips over with a nifty animation, like flipping a coin. Flip the weather circle to cycle through the locations you've bookmarked in the weather app, and a nifty animation shows the sun and clouds arcing across the circle. Go into the app itself and you get an animated background reflecting the weather, including animated rainfall.

The features on the phone are just the start. You can download more apps, movies, music, ebooks and games from Google Play, the Android online store. Many apps are free, or you can pay automatically through your Google account. Each item in the Google Play store downloads straight to your phone over 3G or Wi-Fi, so there's no need to plug into your computer. Android remembers what you've bought, so you can get all your stuff again even if your phone breaks or you get a new one.

Your address book and calendar are also backed up online and can be linked with your email accounts on your computer. You can have different email accounts pulled together into the email app on your phone, or keep them separate if you want.

Other Android apps include Google Maps, complete with turn-by-turn directions to guide you to your destination. Google Maps is an absolute godsend for finding your way around -- as long as you have a good data signal -- but it does have a habit of jumping to a confusing 3D view at the drop of a hat.

If you like to tinker with your phone -- and who doesn't? -- the Razr i has an unlockable bootloader.

Camera

The camera is an 8-megapixel job. The Intel chip makes it super-fast to start up, even if you're unlocking the phone by opening the camera. And it's capable of blasting 10 pictures in less than a second to capture fast-moving action.

Motorola Razr i burst mode comparison
Blast through 10 snaps in a second with the camera's nifty burst mode (click image to enlarge).

It may be fast when it gets going, but the burst mode takes a second before it starts. Get used to the gap between pressing the button and the 10 shots firing, or you'll miss the action.

Motorola Razr i burst mode outdoors
Taken outdoors with decent levels of illumination, burst mode shots are sharp... (click image to enlarge).

As you can see from our snaps of our subject frolicking inside (below) and outside (above) the office, in decent lighting, you end up with 10 sharp snaps, freezing each stage of the action. But indoors, the shots are less clear. Pictures get sharper if you adjust the exposure slider, but they get darker too, and there aren't enough manual controls to tweak it to your satisfaction. Burst mode is fast and fun but only really for daytime.

Motorola Razr i burst mode indoors
...but under dim lighting, the Razr i has a tough time freezing the action (click image to enlarge).

Regular pictures are pretty crisp, although like all camera phones, it struggles in lower light. There's a built-in flash -- just remember not to stand too close to your subject or the picture will be bleached out.

Unfortunately, colour isn't very vibrant and there's no option to punch up the saturation to make your snaps pop. The only colour options are novelty sepia, negative or black and white settings.

Motorola Razr i camera colour test
Colour performance is a little lacklustre and you can't reach for that rainbow in the limited camera settings (click image to enlarge).

I am impressed with the High Dynamic Range (HDR) option though. The camera recognises when it's pointing at a scene that will lose some detail because there's too much contrast between light and dark areas, and suggests switching to HDR mode. When you switch to HDR, the picture has a much better balance between light areas -- such as the sky -- and darker parts.

Motorola Razr i camera HDR off test
Motorola Razr i camera HDR on test

With the impressive HDR function switched on (bottom), detail in contrasting sections, as with the sky, is recovered (click images to enlarge).

Video is high definition and looks reasonable, although sound is average. There's also a 0.3-megapixel camera on the front for video calling.

Conclusion

The Motorola Razr i has two stand-out features -- the screen and the processor. The display is the closest I've seen to an edge-to-edge screen, making the most of the whole surface of the phone. And the Intel processor shows off the feature-packed Android software at its best, with fast-scrolling, speedy browsing and a quick camera.

Unfortunately, the camera's images are not as good as they could be and the absence of the latest version of Android is disappointing. So it's worth sizing up the similarly-priced competition, such as the highly-rated HTC One S or the still-impressive Samsung Galaxy S2.

Update 27 September: Amended section on the Chrome browser after it became available for Intel-powered devices.

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