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Motorola revives Razr brand to take on iPhone 4S

The company resurrects its popular Razr franchise with the new ultrathin Droid Razr as it attempts to compete toe-to-toe with the Apple iPhone 4S.

NEW YORK--Motorola's ultrathin Droid Razr may be just the device to take on the Apple's latest iPhone 4S.

Motorola today took the wraps off the new Droid Razr, the thinnest smartphone ever made, in a move that revives what some would call an iconic brand, the Razr. Motorola's Razr, introduced in 2004, was the hottest-selling cell phone for years. It's super-thin design was the envy of industry and helped push Motorola to a top spot in the world cell phone market.

The company is hoping to strike gold once again with the brand and with the innovative thin design.

"Our mission was to create a true object of desire, incredibly thin, that delivers features without compromise," Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha said during the presentation here introducing the new Droid Razr.


Indeed, not only has Motorola built a thin and light smartphone with a width of only 7.1 millimeters and a weight of 4.48 ounces, but the company has also managed to pack in fast 4G LTE network technology and a larger high-resolution screen.

The sleek, thin design, larger screen, and faster network capability, make the Motorola Droid Razr a much bigger leap in terms of new product design than the newly released iPhone 4S from Apple. (The iPhone 4S uses the same design as the iPhone 4 introduced more than a year ago.) While there is no question that the iPhone 4S has already become a hit--selling more than 4 million devices in its first weekend--the Motorola Droid Razr could give the device a run for its money.

In terms of specifications and design, the Motorla Droid Razr has the iPhone 4S beat in some important areas. And it could be the device for wireless subscribers who were disappointed by Apple's lack of new hardware design and network functionality in the iPhone 4S.

"Getting LTE into a 7.1mm device is most impressive," said Ross Rubin, an analyst with NPD Group.

Indeed, Motorola has managed to pack in a lot of functionality in a thinner and lighter device, while also expanding the screen size. At its thinnest point, the iPhone 4S is 9.3mm wide. By comparison, the Droid Razr is 7.1mm thick. While the iPhone 4S sports a 3.5-in Retina display with 960x640-pixel resolution, the Droid Razr has a bigger 4.3-inch display with a 960x540-pixel resolution.

The Motorola Droid Razr also weighs less than the iPhone 4S. The Droid Razr weighs in at 4.48 ounces (127 grams) compared with the iPhone 4S' 4.9 ounces (140 grams).

Both smartphones also come with 8-megapixel front-facing cameras with 1080p video recording capability.

And of course this light and thin phone also supports Verizon's 4G LTE technology, something that Apple's CEO Tim Cook said would have "forced too many design compromises" to be included in the Apple iPhone just yet.

But clearly 4G is the next generation of wireless. And now that Verizon has more than half the country covered with its new network, the feature will soon become table stakes for any new device. Unfortunately for iPhone fans, they'll have to wait until at least the next release of the device. Even the 4G-enabled version of the iPhone 4S for AT&T is not truly 4G. It supports a version of HSPA+. That said, it doesn't even support the fastest version of the HSPA+ technology.

Meanwhile, Motorola was able to overcome those design challenges. Alain Mutricy, senior vice president of product and portfolio management at Motorola, said the company is using LTE technology that is similar to what has been included in other LTE-enabled Motorola phones. The difference between the Droid Razr and the Droid Bionic, another Motorola LTE-smartphone, is simply how the components are put together. The Droid Razr uses a stainless steal frame and Kevlar casing to build a thin and lightweight device that is still strong enough to sustain day-to-day use.

The Droid Razr's 4G LTE support is a big advantage over the iPhone 4S, because for people who can access Verizon's 4G network, the network speeds are much faster. But there is a chance that LTE functionality could degrade the battery life on the Droid Razr.

It's hard to say how the two phones will stack up against each other in terms of battery life in the real world, but in general, LTE devices tend to drain batteries quicker than devices, such as the iPhone 4S, which only supports 3G technology. But Motorola has said that the Droid Razr is not expected to eat through the battery any faster than other LTE devices. And there is reason to believe it might perform slightly better than previous LTE smartphones, because the components are integrated more tightly.

In terms of battery life specifications, Motorola claims its 1780mAh battery can sustain 12.5 hours of talk time, and 8.9 hours of video. By contrast, the iPhone 4S is expected to offer up to 8 hours of talk time on a 3G network, as well as up to 6 hours of Internet use and up to 10 hours of video playback, according to Apple.

The one thing that could hold back the Motorola Droid Razr from winning some customers is the fact that it's priced slightly higher than the iPhone and other smartphones. Motorola said the device will sell for $300 with a two-year contract from Verizon. The iPhone 4S 16GB model sells for $200.

But considering that the Droid Razr comes with 16GB of internal memory in addition to a pre-installed 16GB microSD memory card, the device is comparable in price to the 64GB version of the iPhone 4S, which also sells for $300.

Of course, there are some things still missing from the Droid Razr. The phone does not have an NFC or near field communications chip, which would allow the device to be used as digital wallet for payments. While the iPhone 4S also doesn't include this technology, other Google Android smartphones will be coming out with this capability.

In fact, Samsung is set to announce a new device at an event in Hong Kong tonight. The new Galaxy Nexus is expected to have NFC built into it as well as support for Google's latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich. Meanwhile, the Droid Razr supports the Gingerbread version of Android. Motorola's Mutricy said that Droid Razr users can expect the Ice Cream Sandwich Android update in the first half of 2012.

In addition to LTE, Motorola has added some of its own software capabilities to make the device more attractive. The new Droid Razr can connect to a Lapdock (sold separately) to allow users to view documents stored on the phone on a full screen. The Lapdock is already available for the Droid Bionic.

The Droid Razr also supports the Smart Actions app, which allows users to customize the phone to automate tasks and optimize battery life. For example, the app can turn Wi-Fi on and off at certain times or dim the screen brightness according to certain rules. And Motorola has also included the free MotoCast app that allows users to stream or download music, pictures and other files from a PC to the Droid Razr.

In the end, it will likely be the thin design of the device and its support for LTE that will make the Droid Razr attractive to potential iPhone 4S users, I predict.

"This is definitely the best phone you can buy today," Mutricy said during an interview. "It offers faster performance on a faster network. And it brings back that iconic Razr brand that still stands for thin and innovative packaging, without sacrificing performance of functionality."