Though its feature set didn't live up to expectations, the Motorola Razr V3xx cell phone improves on many of the traditional Razr pitfalls that have plagued the product line since its inception. As such, it's the most satisfying Razr to date.
The carrier that brought you the very first Razr cell phone is now bringing yet another one (yes, another one) to the market. The Motorola Razr V3xx for Cingular Wireless (soon to be AT&T) doesn't bring anything particularly revolutionary to the Razr family but it does include a handful of noteworthy offerings that deserve a closer look. Believe us, we're as over the Razr as the next person, but with stereo Bluetooth, an Opera Web browser, and improved call quality, the Razr V3xx is a solid step above its predecessor. What's more, the support for Cingular's 3.5G HSDPA network makes it the fastest GSM Razr yet. You can get it for a very reasonable $79 with service.
Except for a color change, the Motorola Razr V3xx is no different from the original Razr V3. You get the same iconic profile that sparked the thin phone tsunami, but it still looks just as boxy when viewed straight on. At 4.05 inches long by 2.08 inches thick by 0.6 inch thick, and weighing 3.8 ounces, it's slightly bigger and heavier than its predecessor, but the change is hardly noticeable in the phone's ergonomics. It feels just the same when held in the hand and its slips just as easily into a pocket or bag. And of course, it's just as difficult to feel the phone vibrate when it's in your pocket. Like most of its siblings, the Razr V3xx is available in multiple color schemes. We reviewed the dark gray version but you can also find it in a flashy gold hue reminiscent of T-Mobile's gaudy Razr V3i Dolce & Gabbana. As the carrier is in the midst of a name change, the Razr V3xx has a Cingular logo on its rear face, while the AT&T globe shows up on the external display.
Speaking of which, the external display is the same as on the Razr V3. We'll say again that's it's a tad small for the phone's size (96 x 80 pixels) but the 64,000-color resolution is more than adequate for most uses. And in any case, it's a big improvement over the V3's 4,000-color screen. The display also works as a viewfinder for the camera but it's annoying that there's no dedicated button for activating the camera. Instead, you must open the phone, start the camera, and then close it again to snap vanity shots using the Motorola "smart" key. The camera lens sits just above the display, and once again there's no flash.
A volume rocker sits on the left spine of the front flap just above the mini-USB slot and the aforementioned smart key. The latter control also locks the external buttons with you hold it down for a couple seconds. A voice recorder button sits on the right spine but it can be used only when the phone is open. The single speaker is located on the rear face of the phone just below the battery cover. While we've dinged previous Razrs because they put the microSD card slot behind the battery cover, we're more willing to let it slide this time around. Though you have to remove the battery cover to change the card, you don't have to remove the battery itself as well.
We're glad to see a 262,000-color internal display on the V3xx. Motorola has been inconsistent with its Razr displays--some models get 65,000-color screens while others get 262,000-color resolutions--and we'd expect nothing less from an HSDPA phone. At 2.25 inches (320x240 pixels), it's large, bright, and vibrant, and it displays everything from text to graphics well. Though it shows a few design tweaks, Moto's dull menu system is the only distraction. We hope the company redesigns the interface soon, as it's been looking long in the tooth for a couple years now.
The navigation array just below the display is standard Razr. Like the later models in the series, the Razr V3xx has tiny raised ridges between the individual controls. Dialing by feel still takes some getting used to, but it's an improvement over the completely flat controls on the Razr V3. Shortcut options abound. The navigation toggle doubles as a shortcut to four user-defined applications, and you can set the smart key as a shortcut to another chosen feature when the phone is open. In standby mode the left soft key opens a further shortcuts menu while the right soft key and the central OK button activate the main menu. While some users have complained that you can't change the settings on the soft keys, we don't really mind. Below the toggle are dedicated buttons for the Web browser and the Cingular Video application, a Clear button, and the Talk and End/power controls. On the whole it's a spacious easy-to-use arrangement despite the lack of a dedicated speakerphone button.
The keypad also shows no difference from other Razrs. The keys are flat with the surface of the phone but the numbers are rather large and lit by a bright backlighting. Tiny raised ridges separate the individual rows, but new Razr users should still give the phone a test drive first.
Worker bees who aren't quite ready for a smart phone should get some use out of the Razr V3xx. Inside you'll find full Bluetooth with a stereo profile (yay!), PC syncing, USB storage support, PC modem capability, a speakerphone (minus a dedicated button), and e-mail and instant messaging for AOL, Windows, and Yahoo clients. Connecting to the instant messenger is relatively zippy, thanks to the HSDPA connection, but we still can't imagine having full conversations on an alphanumeric keypad. Voice dialing is onboard as well but we found it harder to use than many other phones. More often than not, it couldn't register the contact we were naming.
As a 3.5G HSDPA phone, the Razr V3xx supports the full range of Cingular broadband multimedia applications. Cingular Video brings a satisfying range of streaming video clips from such channels as NBC, Comedy Central, ESPN, The Weather Channel, VH1, and CNN. There's a special channel for kids as well, with programming from The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, and The Cartoon Network. We have to admit, though, that we spent plenty of time on Muppets Mobile. Premium entertainment is offered from HBO Mobile and Music Choice for an extra charge. For a full analysis of the offerings see our Cingular Video review. MobiTV applications are integrated as well.
If you're more interested in listening to tunes, the Razr V3xx also supports the Cingular Music application (the phone identifies it as "AT&T Music," however). When it went live late last year, Cingular Music filled a hole in the carrier's multimedia offerings by offering a central application for downloading tunes to the music player and accessing related music content. We like that Cingular uses partners rather than operating its stores, but at present you can't download music wirelessly. There's also a Music ID application, support for streaming radio, and a community section. The music player interface is strictly utilitarian but it offers Shuffle and Repeat modes, spatial audio, and bass boost.
The Opera Web browser is easy to use and offers a more pleasant interface than on other Cingular phones. And since it operates over the carrier's HSDPA network, data speeds can fall in the 1.8Mbps with bursts at higher speeds possible. As we'll cover in the Performance section below, browsing was fast and efficient but the phone's default security settings severely limit the usability of third-party applications. For instance, when using the mobile version of Google Maps, the browser asked us whether we wanted to proceed every time we requested data. It's quite frustrating, particularly since you can't change the settings.
Though the Razr V3xx's 1.3-megaixel camera is an improvement over the Razr V3, we were hoping for a 2-megapixel shooter on such a media-centric handset. In all seriousness, as high-resolution camera phones proliferate, 1.3-megapixel models are becoming the new VGA. We're also disappointed that unlike the Razr V3x, Moto's V3xx didn't include a second interior camera for future use with video calling. You can take pictures in four resolutions and choose from a variety of editing options, including three quality settings, an 8x zoom, six lighting conditions, a self timer, seven color effects, and three shutter sounds plus a silent option. The video recorder shoots clips with sound in three quality settings and a choice of similar editing options. Clips meant for multimedia messages are limited to 16 seconds; otherwise you can shoot for as long as the available memory permits. And while we're on the subject, you get a healthy 60MB of shared internal memory but you can always use a microSD card slot (up to 2GB) for more space. Picture and video quality are improved over the Razr V3's, with distinct edges and colors. At times, however, the images are washed out, and since there's no flash, darker conditions aren't ideal. Video quality is about average for a 1.3-megapixel camera phone.
You can personalize the Razr V3xx with a variety of wallpaper, screensavers, color themes, and alert sounds. You can always get more choices from the carrier's MediaNet application and the wireless Web browser. You can buy more ringtones as well, but sadly, you won't be able to use downloaded MP3 files for your calls. As for gaming, the Razr v3xx comes with demo versions of four Java (J2ME) tiles: EA Air Hockey, Midnight Pool, Platinum Sudoku, and Tetris. You'll have to buy the full versions for extended play.
We tested the triband (GSM 850/1800/1900; HSDPA) Motorola Razr V3xx in San Francisco using Cingular service. It's disappointing that the phone is not fully quadband like the Razr V3. As such, it won't have as much coverage outside of the United States. It's a baffling change to say the least, and one that makes the phone significantly less consumer-friendly.
Call quality was very decent with strong audio clarity and signal reception. Voices sounded natural and there was little static or interference. Even better, the volume level was much improved over previous Razr models. Low volume had been a recurring problem since the original V3. Callers said we sounded fine and didn't report any significant problems. Also, voice recognition systems (like when calling an airline) could understand us. Our only complaint was that voices sounded tinny from time to time. It wasn't a bother, but it was noticeable just the same. Sound quality also can diminish in noisy environments but it wasn't a deal breaker either. Speakerphone quality was loud enough, but not unexpectedly, voices sounded more muffled. On their end, callers had trouble hearing us over the speakerphone unless we spoke close to the phone. Lastly, Bluetooth calls were decent.
Streaming video quality was quite sharp on the whole. There was very little pixelation, and videos suffered from almost no choppiness or color distortion. We did have to rebuffer a few times (mostly when inside interior rooms of a building), but it wasn't too bothersome. Sound quality was good as well and voices matched the speakers' mouths. Music quality was serviceable but nothing special. There was a tinny quality at times, and we'd prefer stereo speakers.
Due to the strong HSDPA connection, we had a strong wireless Internet connection without any major hiccups. Individual Web pages loaded in an instant, while moving backward to cached pages was even faster. In all, it's a satisfying experience that involves none of the usual waiting that comes with mobile Web browsing. Downloads were also painless--we were able to download a game in just 8 seconds. Just be warned that the strength of the HSDPA connection will waver outside of urban areas.
The Razr V3xx has a rated battery life of three hours talk time and 12 days standby time. Three hours is quite low for a GSM phone, but 12 days is about average. We eked out a talk time of 3 hours, 30 minutes in our tests. According to FCC radiation tests, the Razr V3xx has a digital SAR rating of 1.21 watts per kilogram.