New firmware typically translates into bug fixes, better optimization, higher efficiency and improved performance all around, but there's something problematic about basing our review of Motorola's UI on our experience with just one phone. Naturally, the skin's behavior may vary widely depending on the hardware, so keep in mind that our observations relate to the the RAZR Maxx, specifically. For all we know, you won't get the same results on the Atrix 2 or Photon 4G. That disclaimer aside, we had the opportunity to test two RAZR Maxx units: one running Gingerbread and the other, ICS. First we ran benchmarks on both devices to see if we could detect any noticeable changes. Check out the table below:
As you can see, there are a few places in which we saw improvement: Quadrant and Vellamo saw the biggest improvements. Meanwhile, GLBench recorded decent optimizations in overall graphics performance -- of the series of 28 tests, ICS bested Gingerbread in 25 and lost only once. On the flip side, AnTuTu and CF-Bench -- tests that stress multiple threads -- don't deliver any boosts, and in fact the Gingerbread handset scored better in CF-Bench. What does this all mean? It means that if you're looking closely enough you may notice a little uptick in speed and overall performance, and we'd like to think that much of the improvement we saw is due to Motorola's decision to dress ICS with a lighter skin. But even then, these changes are incredibly subtle. While testing Moto's updated skin, we found one major bug that gave us pause. Again, your experience may vary here -- and for the better, we hope. The main issue we had with our review unit involved the camera. Even though it worked well initially, it refused to launch after we plugged the phone into a computer to transfer files. Thinking that somehow an errant file managed to make its way into the Maxx and corrupted the camera app, we performed a factory reset on the device, only to find that the program still wouldn't budge. Ever the troubleshooters, we downloaded a third-party camera app as a possible workaround; upon launching it, we received an error message: "Could not connect to the camera." Fortunately, the story ends on a happy note: two days later, the camera began working on its own after one of several reboots -- we're still not sure how the problem remedied itself. To be fair, we were unable to replicate the problem with other devices, so it may be a one-off.
Webtop. Yes, it's still around, and in a very different way. With version 3.0, Motorola has made some serious changes, though admittedly it's likely a little too late to repair the product's reputation. Essentially, Motorola has shunned the old-school Webtop interface and replaced it with -- drumroll, please -- the Android 4.0 tablet experience. Your Android apps, the status bar, ICS email UI and even widgets are all here. It's a larger-sized representation of the firmware already present in the phone itself, rather than a completely unique UI with limited software availability and choppy performance.
True, Webtop was bleeding-edge when the product first launched, but the need for expensive accessories and the limits of a proprietary ecosystem caused it to sputter. Perhaps Webtop would have been more widely used if Motorola had waited until Ice Cream Sandwich was available: Android 4.0 offers functionality that makes it possible to use your phone as a desktop replacement through the use of HDMI cables, and Motorola cleverly integrates that capability directly into Webtop 3.0. As a result, the minimal hardware requirement is a standard mini-HDMI cable to hook into your HDTV or high-def computer monitor. That's all. You can still use a LapDock if your heart desires, of course, but now virtually everyone can give Webtop a fair chance without forking over $350 to do so.
Since the company is opting for a more familiar Android interface, it seems like Motorola is abandoning idea of establishing its old Webtop ecosystem, which never really gained any traction. Instead, it appears to be focusing on affordable alternatives to costly tablets (although the Nexus 7 will challenge this point going forward). We suspect customers will find a lot more practical use out of the new Webtop... if they bother even giving it a shot.
Music: It's easy enough to download third-party apps on your phone, and you may already hold one close to the heart, so it's possible you'll never even get around to using Moto's default application at all. If you're interested, however, you can choose one of two apps: Google Play Music, which comes standard with most ICS devices, and a program called "My Music" Open the latter and you'll find Motocast. You can use the service to sync and share music between your phone and your computer using DLNA, as well as listen to streaming internet radio stations (you can get Shoutcast, LastFM and others). It's a similar story with photos and videos in other apps as well. As a sidenote, not all devices will have Motocast installed. Verizon seems to be the only carrier on board with the service so far, which means you can currently find it on the Droid RAZR, RAZR Maxx and Droid 4.