Statistically speaking, there is a good chance you already have a Razr. If you don’t, it’s either because you resent their ubiquity, or you just wanted something a little more full-featured. So, whether you have the old Razr, or hate the old Razr, or simply want more out of a phone than just a phone, here’s why you should take a close look at the Motorola’s Razr2. And also why you shouldn’t.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll freely admit that receiving this phone made me giddy. Like it or hate it, the original Razr was an iconic piece of industrial design; it oozed coolness and sleekness and redefined how electronics can indeed be sexy. However, Motorola followed the Razr with a string of vowel-short failures like the ill-fated Rokr, the cool but impractical Pebl, and the tepidly-received Rizr. So when word came out that Moto was going to redo the Razr, technophiles everywhere saw it as the company’s big shot at redefining its mobile phone line and creating another benchmark product. So did they?
Yes, I actually think they did. Or, at least, they half-did.
The hardware half of the phone is truly terrific. There’s no plastic to be found; the screens are hardened glass, the interior is stainless steel, and the exterior is vacuum-formed metal (which I presume to be magnesium or aluminum). Whatever the chemical makeup, the phone has just enough weight to feel substantial and strong, and a thinness (11.9mm) that belies its toughness. The old Razr, while light and thin, set a new standard for the throw-away cell phone with its plastic everything and flimsy hinge. The new model has none of the frailties of the old — it is a downright pleasure to hold, open and operate.
That said, when you do open and operate, you’re greeted with a slightly cleaner, quicker version of the same old woeful Moto operating system. Oddly, Motorola took a somewhat backwards approach to revising the phone’s interface; while its underpinnings are the new JUIX Java Linux platform, its appearance and menu structure are all too familiar — not the usual visual rehab that most gadget companies opt for first. Hopefully in the future, Motorola will complement the platform’s respectable guts with a less unwieldy interface.
What do I mean by “unwieldy”? Let’s say you want to send a text message. On my ancient Nokia candy-bar, I click the left d-pad key and I’m immediately brought to a new message, where I can start typing. That’s one click and I’m messaging away. On the iPhone, I tap SMS, hit the “create” icon, add a recipient and start typing. That’s four clicks. On the RAZR2, you have to click an excruciating nine times before actually inputting any text. And once you’re there, you have to manually set the typing mode each time to iTap, Moto’s predictive text software, which adds another three clicks. Is this going to ruin my day? No. Is it going to make it more likely that I’ll walk into a lightpole as I attempt to text and walk? Yes. Definitely yes.
There’s also the issue of the touchscreen buttons on the face of the device. When you press a function key below the volume toggle, it reveals to you three buttons on the outer screen: one for the camera, one for the music player, and one for voice dialing. The problem with this system deserves its own paragraph.
Firstly, the buttons provide “haptic” feedback, which means that the phone vibrates lightly when you tap the touch-buttons. However, the feedback is a slow and inconsistent, so you really have to press and hold before the button activates (and the phone buzzes accordingly). This isn’t how buttons work in real life, and thus, is not how buttons should behave virtually. Another foil: while it’s cool to turn on the camera with the phone closed, you can’t get it out of camera mode unless you open the thing and click the “end” button. Which prompts the question: what good is the external camera button if you have to open the phone anyway? I can’t speak to the operation of the music button; Verizon seems to have disabled the music player capability on its Razr2. And the voice dialing, while surprisingly effective at comprehending the names of my loved ones, makes an absurdly loud beep every time its activated. As if using voice dialing in public isn’t embarrassing enough already.
If you’re wondering about the basics, here they are: the phone is quad-band GPRS/EDGE with 3G technology, and the HTML browser is fast. The 2MP camera actually takes beautifully sharp photos and includes zoom and video capture. Bluetooth, of course, 470 minutes of talk time, and 512MB of on-board memory (with a microSD slot for more). Motorola claims 330 hours of standby time, which seems a little optimistic in my experience. It charges and interfaces with the world via one proprietary USB 2 port. Sound quality was excellent, as was reception.
Yes, this phone requires a bit of cognitive load in even simple tasks. But the thing itself — the gleaming, buzzing, whirring physicality of it — more than makes up for its platform’s shortcomings. The Verizon version clearly won’t be great for media, as it has some of the all-too-familiar operation handicaps that make it impractical as a combination phone and Mp3 player. That said, it’s a phone, and a very good one when it comes to the basics: sound quality, volume, reception, and durability. In short, it might not be so surprising anymore to see a paper-thin mobile phone these days, but that doesn’t make the new Razr2 any less attention-worthy.