Even as of this writing, we're still torn on the RAZR M's fit and finish. Does it offend with extravagant styling? Nope. Does it entice with a striking design? That's another no. On the whole, the device is best categorized as inoffensive -- it's imbued with a blandness that's neither edgy, nor soft and curvy. Motorola's achieved a design that could very well wind up in your Grandma's hands, or even your hipster younger brother's. It's just not that divisive and, well, therein lies the RAZR M's obvious marketing charm.
Seen from the front, the RAZR M presents an expanse of Gorilla Glass ringed by an aluminum frame. Flanking the screen are Motorola's logo up top and Verizon's branding on the bottom. Save for a tapered chin, it's an altogether simple face, uncluttered and nondescript. Only in its white iteration does the phone convey a sense of personality. In black, it's anonymous and indistinct; a no-frills phone for the non-fussy.
Ports and hardware keys are placed about the M's four edges with a clear rhyme and reason. Along the right side, you'll find a very solid-feeling power button and volume rocker, both of which have just enough texture so as to make them easy to find by feel. On the opposite edge is the micro-USB port -- along with micro-SIM and microSD slots, both covered by a flimsy strip of protective plastic. Flip the phone around and you'll find the most striking evidence of the phone's RAZR lineage: a smooth, Kevlar-coated back. As you'd expect, it's similar to the backing on the new RAZR HD and RAZR Maxx HD. This time, though, the Kevlar doesn't take up the whole back side; presiding over that patterned mesh is an 8-megapixel shooter capable of 1080p video capture.
Power on the display and you'll immediately be greeted by the deep blacks, high contrast and rich saturation common with Super AMOLED Advanced panels. But don't get too close to the screen otherwise the RAZR M's glaring flaw will come to light. And, if you're anything like us, it won't be easy to un-see. Yes, just like with the original Droid RAZR, this mini-me version incorporates a PenTile display that renders all onscreen objects with jagged edges. While its inclusion likely kept production costs down, it's the one area that really holds the M back from being truly great. If you can live with that slight pixelation, then feel free to gloss over this section. This is a $99 phone, after all, and unlike similarly priced handsets with 800 x 480 resolutions, the M at least steps up to qHD. Further distracting us from that minor display misstep are some surprisingly excellent viewing angles, which help make the screen immune to glare. We tested the M outside in broad daylight and had no problem making out the screen.
Performance and battery life
Nowadays, most LTE handsets in the US pack a Snapdragon S4 chip. To give you a fair idea of how the RAZR M stacks up, we pitted it against rivals with that exact dual-core CPU inside. But to keep this benchmark fight fair, we also made sure to select devices with a similar 4.3-inch screen size and qHD resolution: Motorola's Photon Q and HTC's Droid Incredible 4G LTE. Of the two, only Sprint's Photon Q is clocked on par with the M, which might explain its near-identical Quadrant score. The only other area where Moto's mini RAZR fell short was SunSpider, where its native Chrome browser ranked last in performance. Still, that doesn't mean it's sluggish: after all, the M otherwise made a clean sweep of its rivals, with a very slight victory in the graphics department.
||Motorola Droid RAZR M
||HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE
||Motorola Photon Q
|SunSpider 0.9.1 (ms)
|GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)
|SunSpider: lower scores are better
Need a daily driver that's going to get you through the day and then some? Well, please to meet the Droid RAZR M. And what a delight it is to finally test a compact phone that doesn't skimp on specs, but still manages to last through more than 24 hours of real-world use -- and that's with some heavy use of the browser, Gmail app and Twitter, mind you. It's a truly impressive feat made possible by the handset's non-removable 2,000mAh battery. Put through the rigors of our standard rundown test, which entails looping a video, the M notched exactly eight hours of life -- and that's with WiFi and GPS enabled, Twitter set to sync every 15 minutes and one push email account active. If you're sick of carrying around a spare battery and accompanying charger cable to keep your smartphone alive, you should consider this relatively petite offering to be your new daily driver.
We know smartphones don't equate much with voice service anymore, but enough of you use these devices to reach out and touch someone. And for that reason alone, we'll touch upon the RAZR M's call quality merits. In truth, that feature does seem an afterthought as nearly every caller we engaged came across with a tinny, compressed voice. It's serviceable and call volume is adequate, but by no means does the handset excel in this area.
As for the LTE waves the M's surfing along, well not much has changed there. Verizon's 4G service is pretty well-entrenched at this point in time and speeds have stabilized for the most part despite growing network congestion. Overall, we averaged 25 Mbps down / 16 Mbps up with uplink maxing out at 26 Mbps while downlink performance topped out at 17 Mbps.
Social media types prone to photo oversharing will find much to love about the Droid RAZR M's rear 8-megapixel module. Truly, compared to most of the cameraphones we've tested, the M's sensor and native imaging software do a remarkably fine job together -- so fine, in fact, that you'll be hard-pressed to stop taking shots. Autofocus is handled exceptionally well and only occasionally did we find ourselves tapping onscreen to adjust it. What's more, the camera UI will actually prompt you to switch to HDR mode in low-light settings. Sure, this lends itself to some oversaturated, slightly unnatural images, but there is something to be said for capturing stills you wouldn't otherwise be able to attain. As you'll see in the gallery below, we collected a wide array of photos using plain Auto mode, Panorama, Portrait and even Burst Shot, and the results overwhelmingly please. Colors are vibrant, detail is crisp and the depth of field is impressive whether you're taking macro or landscape shots. Even when fully zoomed in, the resulting images were mostly clear, showcasing a tolerable level of noise.