We take a full look at Motorola’s most powerful phone for AT&T. Is the RAZR2 revolutionary, evolutionary, or just another RAZR rehash? Read more for the full breakdown.
Buy a V9 RAZR2 from AT&T ($299.99 with New Service/Upgrade)
First Impressions, Basic Functionality
The first thing that you notice when you hold a RAZR2, is that it has truly been redesigned from the original RAZR. The build quality difference between the original V3 and the V9 is immediately aparrent, and that’s a good thing. The V3, while being extremely thin, had many problems that took many revisions to fix. In fact, Motorola is about to launch its “RAZR07” revision to the original RAZR (people are, after all, still buying the original RAZR).
The glass-like finish that covers much of the device is a welcomed carry-over from the RAZR maxx line that previously took the top-spot in the RAZR family. The RAZR2 is not much changed from the RAZR maxx, which was limited to a Verizon exclusive unless you purchased an unlocked version abroad. The RAZR2’s GSM variant trades LED “power bars” and touch-sensitive keys for a massive 2-inch external LCD with touch controls. And, of course, it adds American UMTS frequencies.
The RAZR was originally intended to be a high end phone that became cheap. The RAZR2 appears to be a high-end phone that will stay high-end. The integrated haptics that respond to side key presses (you feel the phone vibrate to the tone), to the addition of CrystalTalk, to the expensive external display say clearly that the RAZR2 is a high-end phone.
And about CrystalTalk… Motorola’s new voice enhancement technology. Basically CrystalTalk uses DSP technology to refine voice calls above and beyond the typical AMR vocoders that are present in a GSM/UMTS phone. In addition, it automatically increases and decreases the volume of the earpiece, based on the background noise present in the room. As the phone filters out this background noise, it adjusts the volume to be more appropriate. To put it bluntly, it works well… audio quality excelled. We are only disappointed that the RAZR2’s CDMA counterparts lack this enhancement.
Bluetooth works well, and unlike the CDMA versions, Bluetooth 2.0 is well in-place. Audio quality is great, and features VoiceSignal for voice command. This is rather new for the GSM Motorola family, while the CDMA side of Moto has been using it for years, the V3i/V3xx were the first phones to feature it on the GSM side of their product line.
The first thing that is apparent on RAZR2 in terms of advanced functionality, is the touch screen on the front of the device. However, it’s not as advanced as you might think from external appearances. The touch-portion of the screen is limited to three buttons on the bottom. This is similar to Chinese knock-off devices which claim to have touch screens, but really only have a few touch sensitive keys on the bottom.
However, Motorola does a much better job of implementing it, no useless painted-on keys… the keys certainly act like a typical touch screen. Also, like iPhone, RAZR2’s touch sensitive keys only respond to human touch, preventing pocket pushes. While that means you can’t use the keys with a glove, it also gets rid of the need for pesky keyguards.
Our one complaint about the V9’s touch sensitive controls, is that, unlike the Sprint version, they can only be used to control music. Sprint’s V9m RAZR2 lets you control TV channels, music, and even the launch the camera using the touch sensitive keypad. With the V9, it’s just music. If there was one reason for a feature-add to a firmware update, Motorola should be listening to this.
However, one AT&T hindrance really brings the RAZR2’s overall quality down. Specifically, AT&T refuses to allow unsigned Java applications to be set to Always Allow using the network’s resources.
What does that mean for you? Well, if you’re a fan of Opera Mini or Google Maps for Mobile… you will constantly be pressing Ok to allow the use of network resources. While AT&T has pulled this on lesser-known devices, this is something that makes enjoying the benefits of Java, downright useless. Hopefully AT&T will realize this and allow Motorola to fix this in a software update (thankfully, the V9 includes firmware over-the-air, so it can be updated wirelessly).
And, on the advanced firmware front, the V9 RAZR2 lacks MOTOMAGX (formerly JUIX, Motorola’s Linux platform). The V8, expected soon on T-Mobile however, will run on the newer-generation platform. Why the letdown? Despite having worked on it for years, Motorola claims it still has not been able to add UMTS support to MOTOMAGX. So, no Linux for the V9. Instead, the V9 RAZR2 runs on the latest version of Motorola’s older Synergy platform.
This has some further ramifications in terms of overall experience. While the Motorola web browser is now tapping Opera code, it is much more limited than other Opera Mobile variants, and is largely unchanged from the V3xx. Unfortunately, thanks to that nice little Java block AT&T added to their V9, you can’t really use Opera Mini, so enjoy a sub-par web experience.
Music however, is certainly not sub-par. We didn’t bother with the AT&T Music menu, which is just a bunch of reorganization and sales links (Napster, et al). The good news is, this is where the touch sensitive controls on the V9 shine. Thanks to A2DP Stereo Bluetooth, the V9 RAZR2 handily beats both iPod and iPhone at music playback. You can listen to music without wires, and control the music with a touch screen, and no need to ever open the flip. Plus, you get haptics response, eliminating common problems with touch screen control (the lack feedback that you actually pressed the button… the RAZR2 lets you know you made the connection).
As usual, we drop every phone we receive… while we hesitated initally on dropping a phone with a two-inch touch screen display on the outside… we still decided to go for it. After all, it isn’t a smartphone, and RAZR2s will be dropped, people should know if such a drop will kill their brand new phone. All drops are done at pant-pocket level onto sidewalk. While the battery door fell off the back of the phone, we found no identifiable damage after the drop.
Conclusions, Final Thoughts
The V9 RAZR2 is a great phone. However, it also found a way to get hindered by AT&T. The Java block is probably the single thing that prevents us from giving the V9 a perfect score. While MOTOMAGX would have been nice, it isn’t necessary to make a great phone.
Hopefully AT&T will issue a firmware update over-the-air to the V9 that gets rid of the block, they did not respond to our questions about it as of the publishing of this review. Other than that, if you want a suitable upgrade to the RAZR, you can’t go very wrong with the RAZR2.
Pros: Well-rounded high-end offering, touch screen, Motorola CrystalTalk
Cons: Third-party Java applications hindered, lacks MOTOMAGX
Final Score: 4/5