Just when you think Motorola has milked everything it can out of the Razr line, here comes yet another version of the now-iconic phone. But instead of just a simple refresh, the Motorola Razr2 series is a complete redesign of the handsets. Believe us when we say we're as tired of the Razr as the next person, but Motorola has managed to pique our interest with this second-generation model. It's attractive, packed with features and, save for poor video quality, it's a good performer as well. While the original Razr was a Cingular exclusive for the first six months of its life, Moto spread the carrier love this time around. The CDMA Razr2 V9m lands at Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, and Alltel, while the GSM Razr V9 comes to AT&T. In this review we'll examine the Sprint model, priced at $249 with service. On the whole, we favor it over Verizon's V9m, which costs $50 more.
Though thin phones have become ubiquitous, you can't talk about the trend without mentioning the phone that started it all: the Motorola Razr. Its slim shadow continues to loom over the cell phone world, and Moto continues to capitalize on the design with countless updated models. But it's only the Razr2 that brings a total makeover to the design. Though it can't qualify as the world's thinnest phone (not like it would hold that record long anyway) the V9m is slimmer (4.05x2.08x0.46 inches) than the original Razr V3. Yet more importantly, it just looks a whole lot sexier and more streamlined. The hinge is somewhat more prominent, but the "double chin" bottom that holds the antenna is hammered almost flat. The dark pearl-gray color scheme is a tad boring; we prefer the mahogany hue on AT&T's Razr2 V9. Yet we liked the V9m's steel casing and the plate of hardened glass on the front face. Yes, they mean that the V9m weighs more (4.1 ounces) than its predecessor, but the extra heft gives the phone a sturdy feel while simultaneously making it comfortable to hold in the hand.
One of the most notable features of the V9m is its external display. Measuring a generous 2 inches, it's one of the biggest external displays we've seen on a cell phone. Its 65,000 color resolution gives it a bright and vivid look that's easy on the eyes. As expected it shows the date, the time, the battery life, the signal strength, and photo caller ID. You can also use it as a self-portrait viewfinder for the camera lens, which sits just above. Yet that's not all that's interesting about the display. It also features three touch controls along the bottom. Each control features vibrating tactile feedback, which is something we've been hoping to see on more cell phones for a long time. The feedback makes the buttons easier to use though it's worth noting that you need to touch the control just right to make it work. Also, you'll need to be able to see past the fingerprints that the display attracts so easily.
Moto gave each carrier a lot of flexibility as to which buttons they wanted to feature on the external display. In Sprint's case it chose to highlight a camera shutter and shortcuts to the Sprint Music Store and Sprint's Power Vision. That means you can activate and fully use all features without opening the flip. What's more, you can switch back and forth between the external and internal displays without interruption. Sure, that's noting new for the camera function, or even for the Music Store, but it is rare to be able to watch videos on a cell phone's external display. The quality is better than we expected, and we had no trouble navigating through the Power Vision menus. Its worth noting, however, that only the onscreen controls, and not the entire display, are touch sensitive. When the backlight is off, the controls are inactive. You can activate them again using the volume rocker, or you can change the backlight time to keep the display active longer.
Completing the exterior of the phone are the aforementioned camera lens (there's no flash), a volume rocker, and the Motorola smart key on the left spine, plus a camera shutter button on the right spine. What's really cool is that each of these controls offers tactile feedback as well. As a result, the thin volume rocker is easy to find when you're on a call. The Micro USB/charger port sits on the left spine while the microSD card slot rests behind the battery. That's not a favored location in our opinion but we're glad to see you don't have to remove the battery as well.
Open the phone and you'll find the internal display. At 2.2 inches, it's only marginally bigger than the external screen but it's adequate for the phone's size. Yet it's disappointing that Moto opted for a 65,000 display, particularly when the V9 gets a 262,000 screen. This isn't the first time there's been a disparity between GSM and CDMA versions of the same Moto phone. We just don't get it. Despite our misgivings, the display is acceptable for most uses. It shows colors and graphics well, and animations were fluid. We also like Sprint's menu interface. Available in three styles, it's superior to Moto's generic menu design and 10 times better than Verizon's interface. On the downside, you can't adjust any display settings beyond the backlight time.
The navigation array is large and well-designed, though there's little tactile separation between the individual controls. There's a four-way toggle with a central OK button, a back button, a dedicated speakerphone key, and the Talk and End/power buttons. For shortcuts you can program the toggle to give one-touch access to four user-defined features. Alternatively, one of the soft keys serves as a Favorites menu when the phone is in standby mode. Sprint also had the freedom to choose the layout of the navigation controls.
The keypad shows some changes from previous Razrs. Though the buttons are flush with the surface of the phone, they have a bit more of a tactile "push" feeling when pressed. Also, as they extend toward the surface of the phone they're large enough for users with big digits. Raised ridges between the rows and the large numbers on the keys provide some definition. We just wish the backlight was brighter.
The Razr2 V9m is packed with multimedia features, but we'll start with the basics first. The phone book holds 1,000 contacts with room in each entry for five phone numbers, e-mail and Web addresses, a job title and company, a street address, and a memo. You can save callers to groups, assign them a photo for caller ID, and pair them with one of 20 polyphonic ringtones. If you want to get really creative you can assign a video ringtone as well. Other essentials include a vibrate mode, text and multimedia messaging, an alarm clock, a calculator, currency and unit converters, a notepad, a tip calculator, a stopwatch, and a voice recorder. It's quite a decent selection overall. You get a world clock as well, and it's one of the best we've ever seen on a cell phone.