• Design
  • Display
  • Performance
  • Software
  • Battery Life

The Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX HD is a bit of an oddly-timed device. It was released well after both Samsung and HTC revealed their flagship devices, and didn’t make too many headlines simply because it doesn’t have any eye-catching hardware feature. However, the somewhat more subtle evolution of the original Droid RAZR MAXX takes what was a very good smartphone back at the beginning of this year, and further refines the hardware and build quality, and adds what is almost the latest version of the Android operating system.

So, can the incremental upgrade stand up against opponents with some slightly more formidable specifications, and can Motorola make up for a slightly less powerful smartphone with awesome battery life and great build quality? Read on to find out.

Quick Specs

As Motorola’s flagship smartphone, the RAZR MAXX HD  has a decent list of specifications, but nothing to make it really stand out. The phone comes packing a dual-core 1.5Ghz Snapdragon S4 processor, 1GB of RAM, a 3,300mAh battery, 8MP rear and 1.3MP front cameras, and a 1280 x 720 4.7-inch HD Super AMOLED display.

In terms of connectivity, the RAZR MAXX HD brings to the table WiFi a/b/g/n, Verizon LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, and the rarely included NFC. The RAZR MAXX HD also has the standard assortments of sensors, with an acceleration sensor, proximity sensor, compass, and barometer. While there’s nothing in the specification list that makes a good headline, overall the RAZR MAXX HD is packed with some fairly decent hardware.

Packaging

As usual, the packaging of the  RAZR MAXX HD is nothing special. Verizon seems to have come up with a basic design for Droid branded packaging and stuck with it, since all the Droid smartphones I’ve reviewed so far have come in the same kind of box as the one you see above. It has a matte black finish, and a sleeve with the “Droid Eye” over a basic black box. The details of the packaging and included accessories can be found in my unboxing, but if you’ve bought a Droid before, then you should have a fairly good idea of what you are going to get.

Hardware

Motorola has always been known for making solid hardware, and since the original Droid, its Android devices have continued that tradition. However, the RAZR MAXX HD is a bit more solid than previous Motorola devices, and actually feels a bit like a brick due to the thicker extended battery. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the RAZR MAXX HD is still quite handsome. In fact, this is actually one of the most solid  feeling Android devices I have used – it is well above the Samsung Galaxy S III in terms of feel, and at least on par with the HTC One X’s unibody casing.

The front of the RAZR MAXX HD is dominated by a smooth piece of black glass, interrupted only by the Motorola logo at the top (which also doubles as the speaker grille and notification light) and the Verizon logo at the bottom. In the same style as some other new devices, the glass isn’t actually perfectly flat, and seems to melt away ever so slightly towards the edges, giving the device a very smooth look.

This idea actually applies to the device as a whole, as the rectangular shape is smoothed out ever so slightly on the corners and in the back, allowing the phone to feel both industrial and usable in hand. I actually quite like what Motorola has done with this industrial design of the RAZR MAXX HD, from the metal band around the side to the Kevlar backing. If there is one flaw with the hardware, it is that the RAZR MAXX weighs a bit more than other smartphones, but this is the tradeoff that comes with a much more solid device.

There aren’t any buttons on the left side of the device, but toward the bottom there are two ports. On the furthest right is the microHDIM port, and next to it is the standard microUSB charging port. Left of that is the SIM card tray. The tray can be removed with a small pin or paperclip, and Motorola also includes a tool for that sole purpose. There’s nothing really wrong with the port placement, but it just results in the microUSB cable sticking out at an odd angle from the top of the phone if you want to charge it while also propping it up on the side.

Also under the SIM card tray is a welcome addition for many Android users: a microSD card slot. While many devices have been doing away with expandable storage, Motorola managed to squeeze in a microSD card slot with the SIM card. The included 32GB of storage should be enough for most, but just the peace of mind knowing that the storage can be increased if need be is at least worth something.

The right side of the smartphone houses the volume and power buttons, in the arrangement that has become more and more common. Both buttons are a little on the thin side, but the tactical feedback is good, and now that more manufacturers are putting the buttons on the right, I’m actually quite used to them being there.

At the top of the device is the single 3.5mm standard headphone jack, which is somewhat odd coming from a smartphone with the headphone jack on the bottom. There’s nothing wrong with this particular setup, and while I’ve come to prefer the bottom mounted headphone jack, the top placement is just something that takes some getting used to.

The back is probably the most distinctive part of the smarpthone, as it is wrapped in the Kevlar texture that is the ubiquitous mark of the RAZR line. As usual, the texture is quite good, and doesn’t feel as cheap as Samsung’s plastic designs. Towards the top of the back cover, the 8MP camera is centered, along with the LED flash, which give a symmetrical appearance that I much prefer to the camera on one side or the other approach.

Unfortunately, the solid build of the RAZR comes at a price, as the back cover cannot be removed, and as such the battery cannot be replaced. While the 3,300mAh battery has plenty of juice, just the idea that upgrading or switching out these components is not an option can be enough to turn away potential buyers.

As more manufacturers forego the notification LED, Motorola has decide to buck the trend and make its notification light both huge and bright. The glowing bar sits underneath the Motorola logo at the top of the screen, and is nearly bright enough to light a dark room. In fact, it was so bright that whenever I would get notifications in the middle of the night, I would wake up and have to place the phone face down to continue sleeping. However, this does mean that the LED is quite noticeable, even in daylight, which I suppose is the whole point of a notification light.

I’m actually quite impressed with how Motorola managed to improve the hardware of the original RAZR, while making sure that the device was still recognizable as a part of the family. The Kevlar backing still feels as great as it did on the RAZR and is just as distinctive, while the rounded out corners and metal band really give a premium feel to the smartphone.

It may be a bit on the heavy side, but as a whole, the RAZR MAXX HD is actually one of the best put together and most solid feeling Android handsets that I have used. Unlike the Galaxy S III, this thing feels like it could take a drop and survive just fine. So, while it does retain the hardened, industrial, and dense feel that Motorola devices sometimes have, it still looks and feels like a premium smartphone.

Screen

If there is one thing that does stand out about the RAZR MAXX HD, then it would have to be the display. On paper, the 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 Super AMOLED display shouldn’t really be much better than the one on something like a Galaxy Nexus, but I can assure you, that is not the case. I was surprised when I first turned on the display on the RAZR MAXX, as I was expecting an average mobile display like the others that I have found in Motorola products. Instead, I was greeted with a beautiful picture that reminds me of a cross between the displays of the Galaxy S III and One X.

The display, being of the same AMOLED variety as the S III, has the same vibrant and saturated colors that users have come to expect. The true blacks, too, are delightful, and look great with the dark interface of the customized Android 4.0 build that runs on the device. However, unlike the S III, the RAZR HD manages to avoid looking cartoonish, and actually has a more rich than vibrant feel.

In addition to the great colors, the RAZR MAXX HD’s display also reminds me of the One X because of the way that the images almost appear to be floating over the glass. The effect isn’t quite as strong as on the One X, but between the smooth glass and vibrant colors, images on the smartphone really “pop” and look quite good without looking overdone.

The display on the RAZR MAXX HD is one of the highlights of the device, and that’s a good thing since you can’t interact with the phone much without using it. While it doesn’t quite have the specific capabilities of either the S III’s AMOLED or the One X’s Super LCD, it does strike a nearly perfect balance (leaning toward the AMOLED side) that looks great nearly any situation.

Software

Update: Although I haven’t been able to test it, it is worth noting that Verizon and Motorola have now released an update that bumps the RAZR MAXX HD’s Android version up to 4.1. You can find out more about it here, but the majority of the software section should remain unaffected by the update.

It may not be the very latest version of Android, but the custom Android 4.0 OS running the RAZR MAXX HD still does a decent job of powering the smartphone, without leaving too many features out. As always, Motorola has included its own custom skin with the OS, but has managed to scale back its changes. In fact, overall the Android version on the RAZR MAXX HD is quite similar to the stock Android 4.0 experience that I covered back in my Galaxy Nexus review, with a surprisingly small number of changes that are mostly cosmetic.

For one, both the lockscreen and home screen have some custom artwork from Motorola, which gives them both the industrial “Droid” feel. Motorola’s unlock bubble actually was customized to include shortcuts to apps like the phone, something stock Android does not include. Other than that, and the added home screen widget, though, the rest of the changes appear to be cosmetic. One that I do like, however, is the slight transparency in both the notification bar and the navigation buttons.

Since it isn’t a Nexus device, the RAZR MAXX HD does come with some bloat from Verizon and Motorola. It isn’t always clear what comes from which company, although most of Verizon’s additions are quite well branded. There are, however, a few additions from Motorola, such as Smart Actions, Color, and the Modern Combat 3 demo.

In addition to artwork, Motorola’s custom Android 4.0 launcher does include a few extra features. On the left is a somewhat odd system that provides home screen templates for the user when adding new home screens to the device. Oddly enough, it only ships with one, and the user is left to add the rest. While they work fine, the templates really aren’t very helpful, and there aren’t very many either.

In the absence of a notification are quick settings menu, Motorola has included its own almost as an extra home screen if you swipe all the way to the left. The assortment of toggles is actually quite good, and all the settings can be flipped on and off from the screen. At first, this system seemed a bit odd, but now I like it at least as much as a separate notification toggle for settings.

As I mentioned in the last section, the notification area doesn’t include any settings toggles, and only the shortcut to the settings menu found in Android 4.0. Also, the current version does not yet support expandable notifications, although everything else works quite well.

After customizing one of the home screen templates, it was fairly useful, but it isn’t as if I would have been unable to setup the above home screen without it.

The only storage option for the MAXX HD is 32GB, which can be expanded if need be, but should be plenty for most users. As expected, some of the space is taken up by the operating system and default apps, but with this much storage, users are left with about 27.5GB for whatever kind of content they want.

Oddly enough, however, I found that a few of the games I was interested in trying on the RAZR MAXX HD weren’t compatible with the device, and I’m not sure if that is Motorola’s fault or the developers. Either way, it is worth noting that at least two common games weren’t compatible with the RAZR MAXX HD, and no, they weren’t Tegra 3 exclusives.

With Android 4.0, the RAZR MAXX HD includes Chrome as the default browser, which may please some and anger others. Personally, I quite like it, as it means that I no longer have to have two browsers installed, but many users seem to insist that the regular Android browser is far superior to Chrome. Either way, in my use I find Chrome to be perfectly sufficient, and it works as well as on any other Android 4.0+ device.

One of the few Motorola additions that may actually make the device better is its Smart Actions app. Essentially a Tasker clone, the app allows user to set up profiles with different triggers to perform certain limited actions. In short, the app does have some potentially useful applications.

While it would certainly be nice if the smartphone ran Android 4.2, the Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update should be coming any day now, and its current state isn’t bad. Apart from some slight cosmetic customizations and feature tweaks, the Android 4.0 build found on the RAZR MAXX HD is quite similar to stock Android. In fact, I would say that Motorola’s offering is closer to stock than either Samsung’s or HTC’s. For most users, this will be a good thing, and even for those who don’t know what stock Android looks like, Motorola’s software should work quite well.

Performance

Despite the relatively slow sounding dual-core 1.5GHz processor, the RAZR MAXX HD actually performed quite well in real life tests of performance. It never once lagged in app switching, the home screen was always ready when the home button was pressed, and swipes and taps were always registered on time.

Even with gaming, such as the included Modern Combat 3 demo, the device never lagged, and graphics looked great. In fact, if I hadn’t known that the RAZR MAXX HD had only a dual-core processor, I would have probably assumed that it packed a heftier quad-core unit, simply because the performance is always so smooth.

Whether gaming, heavy multitasking, or just scrolling and rendering pages and home screens, the RAZR MAXX HD powers through with what seems like processing power to spare. Everything is quite fast, and slowdowns and lag were practically nonexistent. Perhaps it is just the “fresh” phone feel, but the RAZR MAXX HD seems to perform surprisingly well.

Benchmarks

For those of you that prefer benchmark tests to ancedotal evidence, here are the results from a few common Android benchmark apps.

Quadrant

Vellamo

Linpack single and multi thread

Antutu

Connectivity

In addition to WiFi and Bluetooth, the RAZR MAXX HD is also equipped with the LTE radio that is becoming more common in today’s flagship smartphones. As usual, the data speeds and reliability were great, but oddly enough, the RAZR MAXX HD seems overall to be just a little bit slower than other Verizon LTE smartphones that I have used. It also tested slower than a friend’s iPhone 5 multiple times using the same server. Of course, the connection is still fast enough that “slightly slower” doesn’t make a difference, apps download nearly instantly, and web pages load quickly.

In terms of call quality, the smartphone was just slightly above average. Clarity in calls was good on both ends, but some callers noted that my voice sounded softer than usual through the RAZR MAXX HD. In true Motorola fashion, the phone does have an extremely loud speaker, which was almost too loud for use on the highest setting, and made sure that almost no environment was too loud to use speakerphone.

The RAZR MAXX HD also includes NFC connectivity, but I was unfortunately unable to use it. I couldn’t get the device to “beam” with my Nexus S, and Google Wallet isn’t compatible with the smartphone. So, while it is nice that Motorola included the feature, at this point there really isn’t much that you can do with it.

Camera

I’ve never been the best judge of cameras, so for this review I decided to just let the pictures do the talking. You can find a more detailed overview of the camera quality on the RAZR MAXX HD here, but I’ll go ahead and summarize it now. Basically, the RAZR MAXX HD’s 8MP camera is decent. It produces good looking pictures, it doesn’t have any major problems, and the camer software is simple enough. However, there isn’t really anything to stand out here. Like most cellphone cameras, it suffered in lower light situations, although bright images were fairly clear. The camera is good and will get the job done, but is nothing great or exciting.

Battery Life

After using the original Droid RAZR MAXX, I was expecting some good battery life from its updated sibling, and I wasn’t disappointed. With regular use, I frequently made it through a whole day with upwards of 60% charge left, and even on heavy days, the RAZR MAXX HD never really got close to dying. Even on the day when I tried to drain the battery, with nearly constant Tunein Radio use, at least two hours of Netflix over cellular data, GPS left on at will, and screen brightness on maximum, the smartphone still powered through nearly 13 hours. This is one of the few Android devices where I would really feel comfortable using the device as much as possible and not worrying that it will die, as it would take some special effort to drain the battery in one day. Perhaps extensive tethering or Netflix could do it, but for most situations the RAZR MAXX HD will have ample battery power.

Conclusion

I’m a bit torn on what to say about the RAZR MAXX HD. On the one hand, it is a very good smartphone, with a nice display, decent processor, Android 4.0, and a massive battery. On the other hand, it is just another Android device that might even be considered high-mid range instead of top of the line. While it is good, there really isn’t anything too special about the RAZR MAXX HD.

Ultimately, whether this is the right phone for you will depend on what you are looking for. If you need to use Verizon, then I would have to recommend the Galaxy S III before the RAZR MAXX HD, especially at Verizon’s retail price. However, if you need more substantial battery life than what is offered by the S III, then the RAZR MAXX will work quite well, provided you don’t mind carrying around what sometimes feels like a brick. Both physically and in terms of performance, the RAZR MAXX HD is a solid smartphone, and for users willing to make some trade offs in size, weight, and raw performance for better battery life and build quality, the RAZR MAXX HD is a good choice. I wouldn’t pay $299 for it, but at $149 from Amazon, the RAZR MAXX HD becomes a very decent deal.