Not counting the iPhone, smaller handsets are a shrinking breed. That's why it's so refreshing to see a smartphone like the $99 Motorola Droid Razr M. Not to be confused with Motorola's upcoming Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD, which will boast big batteries and massive screens, this compact Android device packs a punch despite its small stature. The phone -- available now for preorder and officially shipping September 13 -- has fast dual-core processing and Verizon 4G LTE access, plus a generous battery life. The Droid M is also handsomely crafted with an ultrathin chassis and a lovely 4.3-inch AMOLED screen encased in an edge-to-edge bezel. If you've been seeking a conveniently portable smartphone on Verizon with plenty of high-end power and features that also won't break the bank, the Motorola Droid Razr M is a great option. For a midrange price, it offers many of the advanced capabilities you'll find only in premium smartphones.
Based on its slim and seductively stylish construction, you would never guess the Motorola Droid Razr M cost a mere $99. The first thing that struck me when I picked up the device is its sizable 4.3-inch screen. Thanks to a bezel that's practically nonexistent, the display extends almost to the phone's left and right edges. This helps fool the eye, giving the illusion that the screen is larger than it actually is. The display sits flush with the phone's front face, and there are no physical buttons here, either, which further heightens the sleekness of the handset's facade. It's all part of a design tactic that creates what Motorola refers to as the Droid Razr M's "edge-to-edge" display and certainly gives the device a sophistication not many handsets can match.
In fact the only tangible buttons, a power key and volume rocker, sit on the Razr M's left side. Other design elements include Motorola's signature Kevlar fiber coating that has graced its handsets since the first Droid Razr. It helps protect the phone's back from scratches and scrapes. Also on back is the phone's 8-megapixel camera with LED flash; the camera and flash are encased under a glossy plastic panel, which, unfortunately, is a fingerprint magnet.
Measuring 4.8 inches tall by 2.3 inches and just 0.33 inch thick, this is one seriously minute mobile computing device. At a featherweight 4.4 ounces, you'll also barely notice the Razr M in your pocket. That's slightly smaller than Motorola's original Droid Razr (5.14 by 2.71 by 0.28 inches, 4.5 ounces) and more manageable than the beefy Droid Razr Maxx (5.14 inches by 2.75 inches by 0.35 inch, 5.1 ounces).
The Droid Razr M's 4.3-inch qHD (960x540-pixel) AMOLED screen packs plenty of visual impact. Despite its low resolution -- compared with the HD displays you'll see on competing devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 (4.8-inch screen, 1,280x720 pixels) and Motorola's own upcoming Droid Razr HD (4.7-inch, 1,280x720 pixels), the Droid Razr M's screen serves up eye-popping colors and deep blacks in high contrast. For example, watching the HQ YouTube movie trailer for "Resident Evil: Retribution" was more fun than I'd like to admit. Detail in 720p video files was also sharp, and as with many AMOLED screens, viewing angles were nice and wide, allowing me to see the display well from off-center angles.
Software and UI
Running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, the Motorola Droid Razr M comes infused with a modern version of Google's mobile operating system. While it may not be Android's freshest flavor, which would be Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the phone's software is current and very capable. The company said the handset will receive a Jelly Bean update by the end of the year. Motorola also has placed its own interface on top of Android, which offers its own enhancements. Like many Ice Cream Sandwich phones, the Droid Razr M has a lock screen that displays the time and date in a clean font on the upper left. A sliding button that toggles phone volume sits opposite on the right.
In the center of the screen is a pulsating key icon that simply unlocks the handset when dragged to the right, launches the camera if pulled left, fires up the messaging app when flicked downward, and jumps to the phone function when pushed upward. You get two home screens to start with but can add up to seven to fill with widgets and application shortcuts. The primary home screen occupies the leftmost pane and scrolls from left to right. An interesting and handy twist is the Quick Settings screen that appears when you swipe left from the main home screen. It offers access to often-used functions such as ringtone, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and Airplane mode.
If you've seen the Motorola Atrix HD or Motorola Photon Q 4G LTE, you'll recognize the Circles widget placed front and center. I think it's one of the slickest home-screen UI gadgets since HTC's legendary Sense weather clock. It features three interactive discs displaying analog and digital clocks, weather, and battery level.
Instead of physical buttons, there are three virtual Android keys running along the bottom edge of the screen, with icons representing back, home, and recent applications. Above this are four shortcuts to launch the same functions found on the Droid Razr M's lock screen, though you can swap them for others if you'd like.
Features and apps
One of the nice features of Android 4.0 is its native support for folders. Just drag app shortcuts on top of one another to create custom folders and help beat back home-screen clutter. I suggest doing this, too, since as an Android device, the Razr M has access to more than 600,000 apps and counting in the Google Play store.
Onboard the Droid Razr M is the wide range of Google services and software including Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Navigation, and Google+, along with the Google Play store for music, books, and movies. Useful third-party applications preloaded include the Kindle app, Quickoffice for viewing common MS Office files, and Facebook.
Sadly there's a decent amount of bloatware on the phone, including Verizon's curated app store, NFL Mobile, VZ Navigator, and the Viewdini entertainment search app. There's Amazon's own Appstore, too, plus a smattering of questionable software including Color video for sharing and Zappos to shop for shoes.