byChris Ziegler||September 23rd 2007 at 1:06pmSeptember 23rd 2007 1:06 pm
If you had to pick a runner-up for the title of Most Anticipated Phone of 2007, the RAZR 2 series might be it. Not because there's anything particularly revolutionary about it -- there's not -- but simply because it's the follow-on to the RAZR, the phone that singlehandedly challenged manufacturers to make handsets impossibly thin, vaulted mobiles from mere tools to status symbols, and brought Motorola out of a death spiral. Ironically, Moto finds itself right back in the same pickle today, having spent far too long riding the original RAZR's success into the ground. It needs a hit, and it needs one now. If the RAZR 2 doesn't deliver that hit, though, it won't be for lack of carrier interest -- all four US carriers have launched or will launch (T-Mobile, we're looking at you) one version or another of the device, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Here, we take a quick look at Sprint's version, the V9m. Is it the savior Motorola so desperately needs?
Let's cut right to the chase: the V9m is a fine handset. It's really (really) attractive, performs admirably, and has a host of features that put it in the upper echelon of dumbphones on the market today. Problem is, the same could be said for lots of phones -- far more than when the V3 launched. The V9m simply doesn't stand out the same way its predecessor did. That's not a problem for consumers, of course; we're always up for having another solid choice available when we walk into Carrier X's retail store. That might be a problem for Moto, though, since their odds of putting up RAZR-like numbers with the V9m are slim to none.
That being said, there are two key features in the RAZR 2's arsenal that give it a little breathing room from the pack: the gloriously large external QVGA display and haptics support. One's practical, one left us unimpressed, and both are underutilized. Any guesses?
Yeah, the haptics really weren't doing anything for us. Basically, the idea is this: hitting the touch-sensitive areas of the external display or any of the side keys causes the phone to emit a little "bzzt" sensation. It's hard to describe, and it's different from a normal phone vibrate function, but at any rate it's supposed to grab your attention and give you positive feedback that you've successfully triggered the key. It's cool, but we'd like far more control over how and when it's used. Since the V9m shares the same etched metal keypad as most modern, high-end Motos, tactile feedback is at a minimum -- but we couldn't figure out a way to set 'em up for haptics.
We also noticed that the haptics hardware seems to give the phone a weird, strangely disconcerting springy sensation. If you pick it up and tap it, you'll know what we mean -- it sorta gently vibrates for a couple seconds. Who knew the phone would double as a tuning fork?
Turning our attention to the displays, they're great. Much as the V3 set the standard for thickness, we hope the V8 and V9 set the standard for external display size; Motorola was obviously going for the shock-and-awe factor by dropping a 2-inch QVGA display on the outside of a clamshell, and by golly, it succeeded. The problem, though, is that it's not used for much. Besides the standby display you get a Sprint TV player, music player, and camera viewfinder, and that's it. As far as we're concerned, you should be able to do anything on this lovely display that you can on the primary display that doesn't require a keypad -- and that's a lot. Let's not forget you have up / down directional controls and a select button along the left side plus three touch zones on the display itself, plenty of input capability to ramp up functionality.
The internal display could've been a bit larger. The QVGA resolution is fine for a phone in this class, but there's a significant black border between the sides of the display and the sides of the phone itself. It looks a little strange, but it's certainly not a deal breaker.
As a phone and a music player -- arguably the V9m's two core modes -- it does well. We found that the earpiece and speakerphone were both loud enough for everyday use (though barely; we'd have liked a little more fudge factor) and Bluetooth worked like a champ. We paired the phone with Motorola's own S9, a sporty headset with A2DP capability. Our ears may have been deceiving us, but it seemed like the stereo audio quality through the V9m's music player was better than in any other S9 pairing we've ever tested. It was superb -- we'd say it rivaled consumer-grade wired headphones -- and had incredible range. A2DP devices typically suffer from terrible range, but we were able to move to an entirely different room, separated by a wall, and still rock out.
So yeah, we don't have many knocks for the phone. We'd have liked to see the microSD slot be accessible without removing the battery (tsk tsk, Motorola -- most manufacturers learned this lesson ages ago) and the phone uses the very new micro-USB standard, rendering all those mini-USB charges you have lying around obsolete. In a couple years it won't be a problem, but for now, a phone equipped with a micro-USB connector is no more convenient than a proprietary connector.
With any luck, Motorola will spend less time releasing the RAZR 2 in an endless variety of colors -- the fate the V3 suffered -- and more time learning from the RAZR 2's lessons and adopting improvements for future products. A steady stream of new products, Motorola. Please.