Thursday, November 29, 2012

Motorola RAZR MAXX mini-review

The RAZR MAXX has been my main phone for almost three months now, and it is a cracker of a device. Right, on paper the phone is decidetly mid-range now, if not because of the massive 12.54Whr battery - which is still untouched in the industry - at least in the UK. It is a rather old device in smartphone terms but is perfectly usable for most people. Motorola has even since released a successor called the Droid RAZR MAXX HD, though this is limited to the American market for the time being.

What I love about the MAXX is its build quality. I am currently also carrying the Samsung Galaxy S III, and in comparison, the MAXX feels like a Rolls Royce where as the Samsung Galaxy S III's cheap'ish construction is more like a Toyota Yaris, albeit a soup'ed up turbo version. There's nothing wrong with that by itself, it is just that the MAXX feels luxurious and capable of taking a beating. Three months as my daily driver, the RAZR MAXX still looks new.

Where Motorola could really improve the MAXX is the display. The AMOLED display is just not on, and I rather they switch to Super LCD2, as seen on HTC's wonderful but flawed One X, where colours are more natural. Furthermore, the MAXX's pixels are arranged in the PenTile variety which everyone just hates as being a blurry mess, so a move towards using a classical RGB stripe is a must. The display's sensitivity could also have been better.

The camera is decent, but nothing home to write about. I do not the exact focal length, but it is appears to be equavalent to 35mm (similar to the iPhone), which is okay, but I prefer the move by the industry to using wide angle lens as seen on the Samsung Galaxy S III's 3.7mm (25mm equavalent in 35mm full frame equivalent) or HTC One X incredible wide angle lens (22mm equivalent in 35mm). In my opinion, going wider is better as you get more shots in. In light of the very poor dynamic range of the sensor, I also found the lack of built-in HDR mode to be extremely limiting.
Nikon D7000 with 20mm lens (30mm crop)
Samsung Galaxy S III 25mm (in HDR)
Motorola RAZR MAXX 35mm
Notice how tight the shot is with the Motorola RAZR MAXX. You can barely fit the London Eye in there and as the picture was taken from Hungerford Bridge, you can physically move back as well, so you're stuck with a decidedly unepic landscape shot. The camera is also slow and often has trouble focusing. Colours appears washed out and it is almost useless for low light photography.

In a time when manufacturers are removing microSD card slots from their phones, it is nice to see Motorola sticking to it. It enables me to quickly share photographs taken with my dedicated camera, as well as sharing and expending the storage easily. On the other hand, the spring loaded mechanism can be quite frustrating. I almost lost a couple of microSD cards in the process. The RAZR MAXX also comes with 16GB of built-in storage, enough for most people.

When it comes to battery power, the RAZR MAXX and its successor (which isn't available here, so it does not count) can't be matched. I regularly go through an entire day without having to charge - that includes tweeting, foursquaring, Instagraming, web surfing and the occasional e-book reading. I once left home with 30% power remaining as I forgot to plug the charger in, and with careful management, I was able to see it through the end of the day. In comparison the Lumia 800, Xperia P and One X all requires at least for me to top up through the entire day, and even then none were capable of lasting through the night.

The Samsung Galaxy S III comes in at a distant second, but still requires careful tweaking in order to get the battery I needed to last a day. With the RAZR MAXX, I wouldn't normally even bother looking at the battery bar or power manage the device. Most of the times, the display's brightness is set at maximum and it would take it all, and then some.
The battery is completely sealed, but as the battery is large enough, this isn't an issue until the battery reaches its end of life (two years normally). In fact, for Motorola to be able to fit such a large battery inside a still slim phone is some engineering feat. Manufacturers with bigger budgets such as Samsung, HTC, Nokia and Sony are yet (or perhaps unwilling) to sacrifice a bit of thickness for a larger battery. It is a shame as many people I know would happily accept a thicker phone if the battery was a tad larger.

Phone call quality appears acceptable the few times I used it, alongside the various VoIP calls I made on Viber and Skype (seriously, who makes phone calls these days?). Most of the time I use loudspeaker. Normally the recipient on the other line can usually tell the difference between me using loudspeaker or otherwise, but in this case, the microphone quality was so good, nobody could tell.

Oddly enough for Motorola, the ICS update came in September and with it, a stock launcher. Gone is MOTOBLUR, the punching bag for everyone who dislikes proprietary OEM custom launchers. Sure it was a year later than when ICS actually launched, but at least it made the RAZR MAXX usable. Performance felt better and at least it was usable.

The RAZR MAXX has an aging 1.2GHz dual core OMAP 4430 processor and SGX540 GPU, but it still holds its own. This is similar, but not quite exactly the same, as the SoC that powered the Galaxy Nexus and the Blackberry Playbook. In simple terms, it is a great little platform, but just do not expect lightning speed. Alongside the usual gubbins, the RAZR MAXX also contains a GPS receiver, WiFi, HSDPA (not the DC-variety sadly) and Bluetooth.

Considering how old the RAZR MAXX is, it is difficult to recommend it to any techies reading this. In fact, with the release of the Droid RAZR MAXX HD, I would suggest waiting for the global version to be announced. However if  aging platform or camera's platform isn't a big deal, then go for it. The battery life is great, ICS is usable and the camera is okay for outdoor shots. With a base price of around £325, it isn't a budget friendly device. Then again you can't put a price on a phone that goes on, and on, and on, can you?

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