Sunday, 10 February 2013

A review, kinda, for a phone, sorta.

Talking with someone the other day (Anjella - this is you :-) made me realise that a) other people do still read this blog and b) that I'd made a fuss about getting a phone replacement and then 'walked off' from the conversation. I'm a starter, rather than finisher, but sometimes it's good to put things to bed.

The Motorola Razr i 

Size comparison with an iPhone 4S

First off, let me say that this is my first ever mobile computing device.

"But wait" you cry (well, you could cry it, just to help me) "didn't you have an HTC desire smartphone?"

And you'd be right, but the desire is a 3 year old design running Android 2.2 with the HTC sense overlay, and a very different beast. By comparison it was slow and glitchy, and the sense overlay made everything relatively easy to use as well as providing a bunch of built in tools and players (most of which worked, ho hum). This device is running Android 4.04 ICS (4.1 update is rolled out already, phones being updated according to when registered) in a state close to the naked android experience, and was very different indeed. Several times it's caught me out when trying to do tasks that were either obvious or automated on the Desire.

That's not to say it's bad, but it IS enormously more complicated than the desire ever was, requiring customisation and apps added to do all the things that the Desire would do. Thus I've had to download a 'torch' app to use the built in LED for a light source, a voice recorder app for recording myself when I speak, a media player for music and video. There were apps for these last functions, but they seemed to want to connect with the google play store in order to sell me content, and I'm not interested in that, so downloaded Doubletwist instead.

What else?

Well, many of the visual cues for functions are different, either in physical placement, name or colour, from what I've had before, and that has required more learning. Thus the backup software I used to transfer SMS data to the new phone couldn't find the backup file because it wasn't in the default place. There was an option to browse for the file, but because I didn't recognise it it  took a few goes before I twigged what to do.

But there are some great features Motorola have added, like Smart Actions. These allow you to alter certain settings for the phone according to various conditions. Thus I might have a location-based smart action that turns off wireless when I'm in the office because there are no open wireless networks, or (as the device itself suggested) one for night time that dims the screen, turns off sound and data syncronisation to save battery power and not disturb the user. I've set up 2 for power, one at 25% battery and one at 10% battery to reduce power consumption and stretch battery life even longer.

My impression of the operating system is that this is very much like PCs were between 8 and 12 years ago, with each new iteration of windows bringing greater complexity, more tools and flexibility and also the odd hiccup. I'd say smartphones were very much a place for the computer hobbyist right now.

Since we were talking about battery life, I have slightly mixed feelings. As a phone, on standby, this device is really good. over 12 hours from a fresh charge it dropped to 96% capacity, i.e. a 4% usage. That gives me a week on standby if I turn off all the stuff except phone. However intensive screen use depletes things much more quickly, and a couple of hours solid use could well use 50% on auto-brightness. The battery isn't fully conditioned yet, but even with considerable 'playing' I've been getting >2 days use from a charge.

The screen itself is excellent in terms of sharpness, and colours are very rich and vivid. However it could be a little brighter for daylight use. Generally the interface is extremely quick and fluid, scrolling through streams of text messages or contact lists being rapid and painless, however a couple of times it's obviously been 'busy' and screen actions have jumped instead of scrolling smoothly. I've watched an avi movie clip: image quality and playback really was extremely good, and the image was so crisp that I'd probably prefer this screen to those used in aeroplanes for longer journeys. Last night audio playback was fine through the built in speaker, but tonight I can't get any audio out and have no idea why!

Data connectivity is really very good. In London with HSPA working, web pages appeared to load just as quickly as over my broadband connection, and even on 3G it seemed very usable. Generally all forms of wireless connection worked well, and the phone seems to have better reception that the desire as well. Maybe it's this excellent connectivity that makes me view the Razr i as a mobile computing device, rather than a phone with clever bits, but for the first time, this is something that can be used without stress for emails, facebook etc. The 4.3" screen does no harm either, being so clear & crisp.

One further aspect  so often apparently overlooked by smartphone makers, but very pleasing with this model, is the small physical size. This is just a few mm longer than my old Desire, yet actually thinner and lighter - compare the iPhone 4S with the Razr i in that pic above. It sits in the pocket easily, but has a larger, crisper screen and (probably) better battery life. For sheer power and functionality I'd have loved a Nexus 4 or HTC One X, but this is so much more convenient.

So overall I'd say it's a hit. Not perfect, but certainly very good. I'm currently using a Giff Gaff £10/month SIM package, and it seems quite adequate, while being (eventually) considerably less expensive than the previous contract. Hopefully things will keep going well.

Images borrowed from (top) and (bottom)

The google play apps are perfectly adequate for playing back your own files, but are set to default to the play store. There are tabs at the top just below the menu bar for switching content source, but I'd not expected them to be there, so didn't see them. Several times I've looked in 'settings' to make changes, only to find the controls in another menu or tab. This may be a reflection of my eyes being poor these days, and I have to concentrate so much harder to see tiny menu items. I'd say that, with ICS at least, Android has become too much like a desk top computer to a good as a phone OS, although that might be much less of an issue if using a tablet.


  1. Google Play store has a huge amount of free software, much from Google themselves. It is the mechanism Google use to update the internal apps too. That means Gmail Chrome, Maps, Navigation, Voice, Drive, Google search / Now etc. can all be updated without needing an OS update. It is easy to side load apps too of course and the Amazon App store is worth a download as they have a daily free app (normally paid) which isn't always a game!

  2. Thanks Eddy - the play store is where I normally get apps, and individual apps also update themselves every so often without actually needing to venture into the store. I'll have a look at the Amazon side of things, since I don't mind using low/no cost apps (somewhat the opposite in fact!).

    Many phone reviewers seem to mention how amazingly good the HTC sense overlay is, but having previously had an HTC phone I'd taken for granted that Android would always be at least as good, never reckoning I'd need to install a bunch of things straight off apart from my known-favourite apps. It's not a problem, but it just takes a little while to find out what's good and what is a bit freaky/nagware laden. I'm glad Endomondo installed and worked right from the off though.

  3. 4.2 has a number of good updates, but in general the Samsung and HTC additions are worthwhile in terms of base usability. I quite like the more clean Android builds as they enable me to add the extra bits I want and I get quicker OS updates. I will say that the Nexus 4 has not been prefect. The screen eats battery compared to the s3 and it is a very fussy charger - I found that several USB leads I had lying about only trickle charged the phone.


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