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First look: Motorola Droid Razr is razr-sharp

The super-svelte Android smartphone runs on Verizon's 4G LTE

By Dan Rosenbaum
October 19, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Motorola Mobility, once king of the cellphone business, is apparently tired of being treated as an also-ran. First impressions of the new Droid Razr smartphone, introduced Tuesday and available next month from Verizon in the U.S., are pretty sweet.

Motorola Droid Razr

I got a little hands-on time with the new Razr. The first thing that grabs you, and the first thing that Moto execs talk about, is its physical profile. It's thin: 7.1mm, or precisely half the thickness of an HTC ThunderBolt. It's light, too, at 127 grams. By comparison, an iPhone 4S is 9.3mm thick and weighs 140 grams. The svelteness is all the more remarkable because the screen is the 4.3-in. diagonal that we've come to expect from most high-end Android phones. (The iPhone's screen is 3.5 in.)

I always go back and forth about screen size. Although I like the ability to fully operate a phone with only one hand, the larger real estate of the bigger screen is not without its appeal. If you're used to an iPhone, the Razr will feel like a big slab of glass; if you're an Android customer, you'll absolutely notice the thinness.

Three other particularly important things about the Droid Razr: It uses Verizon's way-fast 4G LTE network, claims a talk time of 12.5 hours and does not have a replaceable battery. For any Android phone, let alone a 4G Android phone, a non-replaceable battery is placing a big bet on power management.

One way Motorola expects to save power is by using a Super AMOLED display, which is something that has previously been seen only on Samsung phones. These beautiful screens are thin, light and power-stingy -- three things that were clearly design goals of the Razr.

Another way to save power is with an interesting app called Smart Actions, which can trim power usage depending on a user's location and usage profile. For instance, the app can be programmed to turn off Wi-Fi when it senses a 4G data connection (or vice versa) or to turn off Bluetooth when a wired headphone is inserted.

Motorola, with good reason, makes a big deal out of the phone's stainless steel chassis and Kevlar fiber back. The Razr's got a top-shelf feel to it, harkening back to the build quality of the old-time MicroTACs and StarTACs, not to mention the original Razr flip phone, of which Motorola sold millions.

The Droid Razr runs Android 2.3.5 "Gingerbread," not Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" -- which was due to be released Tuesday night -- as some industry watchers had speculated it might. Inside is a 1.2GHz dual-core processor from TI, with 1GB onboard RAM and a side slot for MicroSD. (It comes with a 16GB card.) There's also an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera that can capture 1080p video; a front-facing camera for video chat; and an HDMI output port.

Lest anyone forget that Apple has iCloud, Motorola also introduced a "personal cloud" product called MotoCast, which allows the transfer of music, photos and documents between a base computer -- Windows or Mac -- and a Razr. It looked interesting and survived a live demo by Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha.

It's a sign of the importance that Motorola places on the Droid Razr that one of the front-row guests on Tuesday was Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and current executive chairman of Google, which is in the process of buying Motorola Mobility. He wasn't introduced from the stage, he didn't speak, and there was no fuss made around him. But CEOs don't show up at random product introductions. Plainly, the Razr is a source of high expectations, and there's every sign that those expectations are not unreasonable.

Preorders will be taken starting October 27, with shipping "in November." Pricing is $299 with a two-year contract.

The ACTV lifestyle

Motorola MOTOACTV In case someone missed the message at Tuesday's Droid Razr event that Motorola Mobility has set its sights on Apple, take a look at the MOTOACTV, which also debuted there. It's an Android device that plays music, can be mounted on a watchstrap, is 46mm square and weighs 35 grams.

A fat iPod Nano, however, wouldn't quicken anyone's pulse -- and that's exactly what the MOTOACTV is meant to do. It's a touchscreen fitness device, which tracks your workouts and can upload that data wirelessly to a website, where you can share them with others via Facebook or Twitter, if that's what you're into. The MOTOACTV, when it ships Nov. 6, will include GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios.

The MOTOACTV's designers have apparently thought very carefully about fitness devices. Two stereo headsets are available -- one of them wireless -- and both include heart monitors that sense your pulse rate through your ears and transmit it to the device on your wrist.

Recognizing that a fair number of runners exhibit Type A behavior, the MOTOACTV can sync with your Android phone, displaying texts and incoming calls. Furthermore, the MOTOACTV can hand off the incoming call to your headset -- a particularly neat Bluetooth trick. It wasn't clear whether the MOTOACTV lets you actually place calls using Android's voice recognition.

An 8GB version will cost $249; the 16GB version will cost $299. The wired heart monitor will cost $99; the wireless version will sell for $149.

Dan Rosenbaum, by day a search strategist and content maven, has been reviewing mobile technology since the 1990s. His MicroTAC and StarTAC phones are still in a box somewhere.

Read more about Smartphones in Computerworld's Smartphones Topic Center.



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