Motorola’s RAZR i brings with it two new features of note. One is Intel’s new mobile processor, first seen on the somewhat obscure Orange San Diego, and now appearing in a mainstream device for the first time; the other a near edge-to-edge display. Both have a major impact on the device.
The processor first. It’s single-core, clocked at a hearty 2GHz, although Intel says that its design makes it as efficient at handling multiple tasks as a multi-core processor. It certainly is fast, and it helped deliver decent battery life as well, but there’s no practical benefit to choosing an Intel-powered Android phone.
In fact, branding on the rear and boot screen apart, the only time you’ll even know it’s there is when you download an app and find it isn’t compatible with the processor. At present the compatibility rate is around the three-quarter mark and will almost certainly never reach 100 per cent. It’s completely hit and miss what works and what doesn’t so you really will need to research your favourite apps before you buy.
The RAZR i’s other key feature is far more impressive.
Two things mark out progress in each generation of devices – a thinner body and a smaller bezel. The handset measures a very svelte 8.3mm and introduces an edge-to-edge display for the first time. Okay, it’s not properly edge to edge, there’s still a small amount of bezel down the sides of the screen. But it is less than we’ve seen before, and it looks stunning, helping reduce the overall footprint of the device without compromising on screen size.
The display is 540 x 960 pixels, or 256ppi, so is not class leading, but it was bright and crisp with vibrant colours. Display aficionados will find fault with it, but we enjoyed using it very much.
This screen is what makes the phone, which is a lot smaller than other 4.3-inch devices like the HTC One S. It’s surprisingly pretty, with the fiercely angular styling of some of its predecessors being smoothed out in favour of something altogether friendlier. The buttonless face complements the tiny bezel to create a very minimalist front-on view. The sides, by contrast, are very busy.
With no removable back cover the SIM and SD slots are accessed down one edge, while among the assorted other elements there is a most welcome camera shutter button. The appearance of a few screws give the device a tastefully industrial appearance, suiting a device that is slim and delicate, yet sturdy and well built.
There are more pleasant surprises when you turn the phone on. Motorola, for so long the biggest sinner when it comes to customising and bloating their Android software, has now limited its customisations to a few genuinely useful tweaks that are in perfect harmony with the Ice Cream Sandwich OS.
The home screen has been completely rethought. There’s just one main screen, with a quick settings screen permanently placed to the left. You can add more home screens for your widgets as and when you need them, but the main focus here is on keeping things simple, and it works really well.
Similarly Motorola has redesigned some superficial elements of the UI, such as the icons, but all the changes are totally consistent with the Holo theme in Android 4. It’s really well done. Extra software is kept to a minimum as well.
Best of the bunch is the Smart Actions app that enables you to program the phone to perform tasks at certain times or at certain locations.Want to switch data off at night, or connect to Wi-Fi when you get home? These are the kinds of things you’ll be doing with Smart Actions.
The Camera app has also been tweaked, and puts some key controls under your fingers when you most need them. The eight-megapixel camera shoots reasonable photos; good in the day, grainy at night.
There is a small amount of lag when shooting, not enough to really impact its performance, but it is noticeably slower than what we’ve seen in devices like HTC’s One range or the Galaxy S III. The front-facing camera has only a 0.3-megapixel sensor so is only barely useable for video chat and nothing more. Connectivity features include NFC and DLNA.
The RAZR i is in some ways one of the more impressive Android devices we’ve seen. It manages to innovate while avoiding the ludicrous spec wars that other manufacturers are obsessed with. It is stylish yet sturdy, the customisations are all intelligent and well thought through and it delivers on performance.
We do have a few concerns about the patchy app compatibility with the Intel processor, but for the most part this is a powerful, classy handset. Motorola’s best yet.