Backstage: A Few Words on the Black RAZR | iLounge Backstage

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Backstage: A Few Words on the Black RAZR

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Wednesday, August 10, 2005
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A few weeks back, we posted some pictures and thoughts on Motorola’s upcoming RAZR V3x phone, which we think is going to be a really big deal when it releases late this year. Then we had the opportunity to play a bit more with the black current-generation RAZR V3, which has basically confirmed our earlier feelings: if Apple wants to win over phone customers, iTunes support for the RAZRs would be the way to do it.

Why? The reason’s obvious. Current-generation RAZRs are solid cellular phones, first and foremost. This simple fact is something that so many companies ignore when designing high-profile phones - all the time is spent on industrial design and “features,” but then you actually call someone and can’t have a conversation. Users in Europe don’t need to worry about this because of their cellular networks, but in the United States, the problem remains acute.

We’d call the RAZR V3 about an 8 of 10 on our reception scale, which isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. Our testing in an area on the fine edge of reception showed performance comparable to one of our reception champs, Danger’s Sidekick II, and superior reception and “tough call” behavior to Motorola’s very recent V635. The V635 we tested abruptly dropped calls, and callers on the other end said that we didn’t sound too good. But on the V3, they said we sounded great, and even when we were in bad reception areas, they typically could hear us even when we couldn’t hear them.

And then there’s the styling, and those other features. We’ll mention some of them in Read More, below.

The big draw about the RAZR line is implicit in its name: it’s amazingly thin, either closed or open. Seeing the silver and black units in photos doesn’t do them justice - holding either of them open in person and looking at the side profile is a guaranteed “marvels of technology” moment for virtually anyone, regardless of the V3’s modest added width. Seeing the metallic, blue-backlit keypad leads you to wonder how a light panel could even fit inside.

RAZR’s screen is abnormally large for a standard cell phone - at 2.2”, it’s larger, in fact, than the screen of a color iPod, with the same resolution - only arranged vertically rather than horizontally. Seeing how large it is when you open the phone is another one of the big surprises of the design; thicker phones routinely have much smaller and less impressive screens. This one’s well backlit, and quite beautiful.

There’s a camera built-in - only 640x480, the weak point of the V3 from a “should I buy this one or wait for the next one” perspective. Motorola’s V635 includes a superior 1.2 Megapixel camera (four times the resolution of this one), and the V3x will trump both with a 2 Megapixel camera.

But the V3’s camera does a couple of good things. It takes acceptable pictures, and it can resize and display your “desktop” image on its second color external screen. At 96x80 pixels, the screen isn’t going to be your next home television, but for a cell phone, it’s a lot nicer than the black and white caller ID-class screens of years ago. It also gives you status updates.

As is the norm with Motorola’s recent phones, the V3 supports Java applets and games, and does a more than respectable job playing back 2D titles. Games such as Gameloft/Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia titles are much better than one would expect from a cell phone, and there’s also apparently support for 3D gaming of some sort as well - I haven’t had a chance to try that out, yet.

Interface? I’d give it a 6 out of 10, which is on an absolute scale - not relative to other cell phones, which range from good (Sidekick II) to decent (Sony Ericsson) to awful (Nokia N-Gage) on interface. Aesthetics aside, the biggest problem I imagine to be likely with any iTunes phone is that Apple probably won’t have had anything to do with its software, save for the iTunes Client. If I had my way, Apple would have a team of engineers working on a complete overhaul of the phone interface, because it would be great to have a phone that’s been thoroughly rethought on usability from the ground up. Probably won’t happen, though.

On the back, you see vents for the unit’s integrated speakerphone, which is great by almost any standard both from my own experiences and reports from people on the other side of the phone. But I personally prefer to take advantage of a phone’s Bluetooth pairing capabilities if it has them. The V3 does. A shot near the top of this piece shows the unit paired with a Motorola HS820 headset, which remains one of the company’s best ones, according to most accounts I’ve read. I’ve really liked my HS820, and found it superior to earlier Bluetooth headsets I’d purchased, but haven’t given it much of a workout against newer models. An oddity of the V3’s design is that there’s no port for a wired headset; it’s either wireless or none.

That means Bluetooth support will be one of the interesting things to look out for on next-generation RAZRs. They’ll definitely support at least Bluetooth 1.2, but will they go further and supporting BT2.0+EDR, the newer, better standard for Bluetooth that Apple’s building into its notebook computers these days? Hard to say. V3x is on record as supporting a Bluetooth stereo headset, but it looks like Motorola’s new-ish HT820 (not to be confused) unit isn’t a 2.0 device. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but we’re hoping for smaller Bluetooth headsets, and 2.0’s a way to make that happen.

What about music support? Early shots of the iTunes Client for Motorola phones suggest that it could run (from a software/processor standpoint) on many of the photos Motorola’s released over the past year or so. But most of these phones don’t have the storage capacity to hold many, if any songs, so they’d be good for low-fidelity ringtones only. V3 lacks a TransFlash/MicroSD slot, but V3x has one - a nice way to hold an iPod shuffle worth of songs.

After playing with the black RAZR V3, we really hope that Motorola puts its best style guns behind Apple - or vice-versa - on future iTunes-related products. We’ve said it before, but these two companies both have personnel who are capable of turning out absolutely stunning industrial designs, and when those people are hot - as they clearly were with the V3 - they’re world-beating. But the Motorola ROKR music phones we’ve seen so far have left us completely nonplussed, and we’re continuing to hope that the first iTunes phone isn’t cut from the same cloth.

Regardless, if the V3x has iTunes support, we know which phone we’re buying. And if it doesn’t, we do, too. It’s Motorola’s Q, which would be a spectacular, complete replacement for our currently trusted Danger Sidekicks, albeit a win for Microsoft, which provides the Q’s software. In either case, Motorola wins our cell phone dollars. But the big question is: will Apple?

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Comments

1

What about EDGE support on Cingular’s network?  That’s the biggest drawback to the current RAZRs, IMHO.

Posted by Roland Dobbins on August 10, 2005 at 9:39 PM (PDT)

2

Hi! The RAZR V3 is delivered by T-Mobile in Germany including a wired headset made by Motorola that connects to the USB port. So it’s not “wireless or none” regarding the handsfree operation.

Cheers, Marc

Posted by Marc Domachowski on August 10, 2005 at 10:14 PM (PDT)

3

What about the battery life? It’s awesome to have a thin and light phone full of features, but if the batteries last just 12 hours, then it becomes useless.

Posted by Shaman on August 11, 2005 at 5:21 AM (PDT)

4

the battery life on this phone seems spot on. In all honesty, i havent had the actual specs for the battery life, but i’ve had it for a month, and it hasnt run out on me once (obviously, i’ve charged it raspberry).
Dan x

Posted by Dan/Spooky2k on August 11, 2005 at 6:38 AM (PDT)

5

What about iSync support?

Posted by No Name on August 11, 2005 at 8:24 AM (PDT)

6

I have the silver V3 with cingular service.

The volume at the highest level is low. Just basic support for iCal and Address Book. Camera sucks, would have been better to not even included it.

The pros for me is that it works with iSync. The Screen is bright and the controls seem more intuitive than my Blackberry and its thin and light. Its and easy phone to carry.

my advice is pass up on the V3 and wait for the Pebl or Razr V8 which is suppose to be smaller.

Posted by BEELZEBUB on August 11, 2005 at 5:17 PM (PDT)

7

if the volume and cam quality is relaly an issue for you, and as been as you’ve already spent money on the phone, you may aswell do some firmware upgrading/SEEM editing. YOu can get the cam quality slightly better, but the volume you can turn up so darn much through seem editing. On my V3, the volume level in the seem edit is set at 1 out of 1 - 8 (1 being lowest, 8 being loudest), and obvioulsy, inside this SEEM setting you get the whole turn volume up n down thing on your phone.
I only upped the volume to 5 in the SEEM edit.Any louder and it’d be way too loud.
give it a try (google V3 SEEM editing).
Dan x

Posted by Dan/Spooky2k on August 12, 2005 at 1:01 PM (PDT)

8

But what I find about the razr V3, that because it is so small it is unbelievably flimsy, with the feeling that its going to snap at any point.

Posted by Just Sayin on August 13, 2005 at 2:34 AM (PDT)

9

i got this phone free with a plan. swapped it immediately with a nokia 3230 (which i do not like also…probably going back to a sony ericsson k700i).

1 major gripe of mine with this phone is that it can just handle 1 number per name! which is pretty lame considering that old phones have been doing this way back.

syncing it with isync and a mac is a good thing. although the 1 name 1 number only capability of the phone ruins the syncing ability entirely.

yes its sleek and sexy. but same with 1 review of it that i read somewhere on the net…it is a supermodel (sexy but dumb).

build quality is also great, though the software and the camera are mediocre.

hope this helps for anyone planning to buy this. but if you wanna go for looks alone…go for it :p

Posted by Johann Fojas on August 14, 2005 at 10:47 PM (PDT)

10

if you take a look at the reviews on cnet, they say all the same thing, but actual users have found cingulars dirty secret - they will not offer isnurance on this phone because guess what? they do snap in half. easily. that scares me. if you do any googling on this phone you’ll find this hidden defect to be an epidemic

Posted by Brooke Wesson on August 17, 2005 at 2:55 PM (PDT)

11

You may be looking at my next toy.

Posted by Clint Curtis on August 21, 2005 at 10:56 AM (PDT)

12

I little note about the phone book. It is far capable of storing multiple numbers with an email and web contact for each listing. The problem is, with US cellular carriers, is they disable the features on the phones and make them seem crappy.

I have a Silver V3 that is unlocked and I have several different numbers listed for each of my contacts without any isues.

Unlocked is the way to go with this phone (t-mobile will give you the unlock code for free after a month of service) and then reflex the phone with the latest software. Also SEEM editing, as mentioned, is perfect for fixing one or two of those annoying things abouut the phone.

Posted by Jeff Durling on August 25, 2005 at 4:47 PM (PDT)

13

I just got a RAZR as a gift from a friend (who oddly enough hated the phone) and am in the process of getting it unlocked so I can use my old AT&T SIM card on it.  I guess unlocking has additional benefits as well.

I found a great guide to modifying the V3 here:
http://motox.us/index.htm

Lots of info on SEEM editing, reflashing, reflexing.  Worth a look.

Posted by Sterling Zumbrunn on August 27, 2005 at 11:23 AM (PDT)

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