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Motorola Droid Razr Maxx Review

The good: Despite a beefed-up battery, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx has a slim, attractive, and durable design with the same gorgeous display, 1.2GHz dual-core processor, and fast Verizon 4G/LTE data speeds as its predecessor. It retains powerful multimedia chops and tight security features.

The bad: For such an advanced smartphone, the vague promise of a future Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is disappointing. Also, while a stronger battery is great, it’s still not user-removable. People with small hands will find it hard to wrap around the phone’s wide frame, and the 8-megapixel camera is unimpressive.

The bottom line: The Motorola Droid Razr Maxx proves that a powerful Android superphone can remain thin yet still promise marathon-worthy battery life. If you can live without Ice Cream Sandwich and have big hands, the Maxx is extremely compelling.

Editors’ note: Since the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is almost identical to the original Motorola Droid Razr save for its enhanced battery, portions of this review are based on our experience with its predecessor.

Motorola ups the Android ante with its new creation, the Droid Razr Maxx. Not only does this superslim handset come equipped with all the outstanding features that graced the first Droid Razr, Motorola has thrown in an energy-dense 3,300mAh battery, too. Promised to run for days on end, the Maxx could be the longest-lasting, most powerful smartphone we’ve ever seen. Read on to find out if it’s worth its $300 entry price.

Design
Motorola made a splash with the first Droid Razr with the bold testament that it was the thinnest Android smartphone the world has ever seen. For the company that started the thin phone craze with the original Razr V3, it was a fitting move, even if the Razr to have the trimmest chassis is always changing.

Interestingly, the company can’t make the same boast with the Droid Razr Maxx. Measuring 5.14 inches long by 2.75 inches wide by 0.35 inch thick and weighing 5.1 ounces, the Maxx is slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor (0.28 inch; 4.5 ounces). Even so, it still feels very svelte and lightweight, despite its larger footprint. I also found that it fit well into my pants pocket, though with an embarrassing bulge. Of course, people with small hands (because of the wide bezel housing the display) will have trouble grasping the big-screened device. Gone, though, is the hump in the back of the phone that held the camera lens and made the first Droid Razr top heavy.

In fact, the way Motorola managed to squeeze in the Razr Maxx’s more powerful battery was to fill in that hump. It was a smart design call since without the hump the Maxx feels more balanced even as it sports a thicker profile.

 

Virtually the same in overall thickness, the Droid Razr Maxx (left) is just as pocket-friendly as the first Droid Razr.

Not to worry, though: other Motorola innovations have remained, such as the chassis built from diamond-cut aluminum, and the thin sheet of glass in front sculpted to fit flush against the phone’s edges. Just like the original Razr, Motorola coated the Maxx’s back in Kevlar, which, while smooth and soft, means the battery is not removable. Thankfully the Razr Maxx features a souped-up 3,300mAh battery, compared with the Droid Razr’s smaller 1,780mAh battery pack.

I do like the Kevlar backing. It won’t stop bullets, but it does resist scratches and scuffs admirably. Another durability feature is the Maxx’s “nanotechnology coating,” also found on the Droid Razr, which shields the handset’s innards from light moisture and klutzy spills. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not water-resistant so don’t take it to the beach. Making the Maxx even tougher is a Corning Gorilla Glass display with a chemically treated scratch-resistant surface.

User interface
Like the Droid Razr before it, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx runs Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread with a more subtle version of Motoblur placed over it. For instance, you don’t have to annoyingly create a Motorola account before using the phone like older handsets forced you to do. It’s the same implementation already seen on other Motorola handsets like the Atrix 2 and the Droid Bionic. There are five customizable home screens to choose from, with more shortcuts to the phone dialer, messaging, camera, and the main menu running along the bottom. Hitting the Home button in standby mode pulls up a view of all the home screens at once, similar to HTC’s Sense UI.

The lock screen displays the typical digital clock, date and battery info. To unlock, just swipe the lock icon from left to right. You can toggle the vibrate/ringer function here, too, and jump straight to the camera app. Those who liked the Droid Razr’s virtual keyboard will find the same well-spaced keys, light haptic feedback, and responsiveness here. You also have the choice of using the default keyboard or Swype for fast one-handed writing.

 

The Droid Razr Maxx uses a lock screen that lets you toggle the ringer or jump straight to the camera.

 

Dedicated Droid Razr owners will appreciate the same great virtual keyboard on the Maxx. It has large buttons with lots of spacing, plus the buzz of light haptic feedback.

Features
Offering a mother lode of Android abilities, the Droid Razr Maxx has all the staples, including a few surprises, such as GPS, Bluetooth 4.0 (which supports a new generation of low-power accessories), Wi-Fi, and a mobile hot-spot capability that lets the phone act as a modem for up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Keep in mind that the mobile hot-spot feature costs about $20 extra per month on top of your voice and data plans.

The Razr Maxx also offers the usual selection of Google’s apps and services, most already loaded: Gmail, Google Talk, Google Search with Voice, Google Maps with Navigation, Google Books, Places, Latitude, and YouTube. Phone and organizer functions include a calendar, alarm clock, calculator, a file manager, task list, voice command support, and speakerphone.

Other apps preinstalled include a healthy helping of free and paid software and services such as Amazon’s Kindle app, Blockbuster, Let’s Golf 2, Madden NFL 12, Netflix, Slacker Radio, MotoPrint, and VideoSurf. Of course Verizon added some bloatware of its own, like Device Setup, Verizon Instant Messenger, My Verizon Mobile, NFL Mobile, V Cast Tones, Verizon Video, VZ Navigator, and Visual Voicemail, which costs around $2.99 a month. Honestly the most helpful of the lot in my opinion is the My Verizon Data widget, which lives by default on the home screen and estimates your data usage to avoid being throttled or slammed with extra fees.

Corporate and government friendly
Who says you need a BlackBerry for private or public sector mobile security? Motorola doesn’t think so. Also folded into the Droid Razr Maxx is support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, not to mention government-grade FIPS 140-2 encryption for e-mail, calendar, and contacts. For even more peace of mind, more-severe methods such as remote wipe, PIN lock, SD card and device encryption, and remote enable/disable of camera and Wi-Fi are possible, too.

Multimedia
A jack of all trades, the Motorola Droid Maxx serves up a wealth of multimedia skills to pass the time. Besides third-party apps like Slacker Radio, the Maxx has the same robust Music app that is much more capable than the stock Android software. Similar to the Droid Bionic, the app has Internet radio functions, a Music Store courtesy of Verizon Wireless, and my personal favorite, support for podcast subscription and playback. Don’t forget, you can also use the app to stream music from your home server via MotoCast. Thankfully, the Droid Razr Maxx has 16GB of internal memory, plus a preloaded 16GB microSD card, and can support cards up to 32GB. Files it can handle are AAC, AAC+ AAC+ enhanced, AMR NB, AMR WB, MIDI, MP3, WAV, WMA v10, and WMA v9 formats.

Netflix pairs nicely with the Maxx’s stunning HD AMOLED screen. Watching “Tron Legacy,” even over an LTE connection, was mind blowing and I quickly forgot that the movie has no logical plot. Colors were rich and deep, and blacks were endless. Another treat is the phone’s Micro-HDMI port, which you can hook up to a large-screen HDTV to make your experience even more enjoyable. This is possible via DLNA as well. Video formats supported are H.263, H.264, MPEG4, or WMV v9; load your own or download them directly from the Android Market.

 

Watching the HQ YouTube trailer for “The Avengers” and movies like “Tron Legacy” over Netflix was a blast on the Droid Razr Maxx’s big AMOLED screen.

Just like the Droid Razr, the Droid Razr Maxx offers a nimble 8-megapixel camera that loads up in a swift 1.1 seconds from the lock screen. There’s virtually no shutter lag in between shots to speak of, either. You can adjust the resolution, the shutter tone, the color effects, shot modes, and the exposure. Other settings include geotagging, a self-timer, several scenes modes like Macro and Night Portrait, panorama mode, and flash.

For all the Droid Razr Maxx’s speed, picture quality was solid, with clear images and detail. Color accuracy is the phone’s weakness, though. Still-life shots looked washed out and muted. In low light, most photos contained image noise, too. The LED flash didn’t help this problem, but it didn’t blow out subjects in the foreground, either. Able to capture full 1080p HD video with many extra audio functions like Stereo, Wind Reduction, Concert, Balanced, and Front Facing to choose from, capturing movies is the Maxx’s forte. My video clips were clear and well exposed even in low light, and the auto stabilization tamed any hand shake.

 

While the Droid Razr snaps pictures with speed and in clear detail, colors looked muted.

Performance
I tested the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx on Verizon’s CDMA/LTE network in New York. Confirming that there’s a reason Verizon is proud of its cellular infrastructure, in my tests the Razr Maxx demonstrated excellent call quality. The phone’s earpiece had plenty of volume and I heard no static, buzz, or other digital artifacts during the voice calls I placed. Callers on the other end also said the line was clean and free of any distortion and had difficulty telling I was speaking to them from a mobile phone. Similarly, callers couldn’t tell I had switched to the Razr Maxx’s speaker phone. I on the other hand noticed that the handset’s speaker was soft and lacked serious oomph. That said, the speaker didn’t distort at high volumes.

During the short evaluation period, data speeds, even within the CNET offices, were impressive, with fast download speeds averaging just shy of 9Mbps. Uploads, however, in the same location hovered around 0.6Mbps. This performance is lower than the typical speeds we see from Verizon LTE handsets. I plan to update this review with additional test results soon.

Of course the Droid Razr Maxx’s claim to fame is its high-performance 3,300mAh battery. The phone is rated by Motorola to offer 21.5 hours of talk time and close to 16 days in standby mode. With numbers like these, it’ll take time to run our battery tests on the Maxx, but in anecdotal use during my brief initial test period, the phone never dropped below 80 percent charge–quite remarkable. Later, while testing in the CNET Labs, the Razr Maxx played “The Godfather,” with the screen brightness at 50 percent and audio at half volume, on a continuous loop for 19 hours and 47 minutes straight. That’s enough juice for more than three back to back, coast to coast flights. In subsequent tests, we squeezed 20 hours of continuous call time. Though it’s less than the promised 21.5 hours of talk time, it’s still stellar.

Motorola Droid Razr Maxx call quality sample Listen now:

Conclusion
In many ways, the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is the smartphone the Droid Razr should have been. Adding a powerful battery yet keeping a slim and trim size makes this excellent Android handset extremely tempting. I really wish the phone came running Android’s latest and greatest Ice Cream Sandwich instead of the mere promise of future upgrades. Additionally, its sky-high $299.99 price tag will give all but the most addicted gadget hounds reason to think twice. Still, with fast 4G LTE data speeds, an amazing HD AMOLED screen, and a battery built to make the Energizer Bunny green with envy, the Maxx may be more than enough mobile tech for your needs.

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