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Tech Lab

Motorola’s Droid Razr is thin, fast, flawed

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Except for a bulge on the upper edge, the Droid Razr is just over a quarter-inch thick, much thinner than an iPhone.

We get a new smartphone from Apple Inc. every year or so. That’s way too slow for Motorola Mobility Inc., which has been cranking out new handsets at a relentless pace. Already this year, we’ve gotten the muscular Atrix 4G and the speedy Droid Bionic. And now comes the most elegant of the bunch. The new Droid Razr is as thin as a supermodel and quick as a Porsche. Alas, battery life is pitifully short. But for a few hours at least, you’ll feel like one of the 1 percent.

Last week, this elite phone was available at a remarkable price - Amazon.com sold it for 1 cent, with a two-year service contract with Verizon Wireless, the only carrier that offers the model. Of course, the stock was drained almost instantly. For now, Amazon is charging $199.99, and the phone is back-ordered with a nine-day wait for shipping. You can get it overnight from Verizon Wireless, but you’ll pay a premium price of $299.99.

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One thing about this phone is old-school - its name. The original Razr, a flip phone that rolled out in 2004, was Motorola’s most popular phone ever, with 130 million sold. The reincarnated Droid Razr is a sleek slab of aluminum, hardened glass, and Kevlar, the stuff they use in body armor. No, the phone won’t stop a slug, but it feels as if it could. Yet except for a bulge on the upper edge, where you’ll find front- and rear-facing cameras, the Razr is just over a quarter-inch thick, making it much thinner than an iPhone.

This sliver of a phone packs a dual-core processor running at 1.2 gigahertz, compared with the 1 gigahertz chip in the iPhone 4s. It’s not noticeably faster than the iPhone, but a lot zippier than my current Android handset, and any other I’ve tried. And thanks to the Razr’s use of Verizon’s 4G LTE network, its online performance is outstanding. I got the usual LTE performance - about 11 megabit-per-second downloads, quite good enough for high-quality video viewing, and uploads of about five megabits.

The Razr also contains 16 gigabytes of built-in flash memory for storing apps and files, as well as another 16 gigs on a swappable Micro SD card. Like the iPhone 4S, it is compatible with two satellite navigation networks - America’s GPS system and the Russian network GLONASS. That should improve the performance of navigation apps in areas where GPS signals are hard to pick up.

Google Inc., the developer of the Android operating system, gives phonemakers a free hand in customizing the software. Motorola and Verizon Wireless have made some smart moves. The Razr features MotoCast, a program that allows to users easily access data stored on their home and office computers. You install a little software on each machine, log on to the MotoCast network, and leave your computer running. Those steps make your documents, photos, and music files accessible through the phone. MotoCast isn’t a separate app; instead, it is integrated into the phone’s other software. Launch your music player, for instance, and there’s MotoCast, linking remotely to your favorite tunes.

I’m also impressed by Smart Actions, an app that lets users set up rules that automate the phone. For instance, you can have the Razr automatically display news headlines at 8 a.m., or have the phone behave differently depending on where you are. Tell it to turn off the ringer when you’re at church, then turn it on again once you drive away.

The Droid Razr has just one major flaw. Its fast processor and 4G system really hammer the battery. After a half-day of Web surfing, e-mailing, and the occasional video, the phone was nearly exhausted. And unlike most Androids, the Razr’s battery is built-in and can’t be swapped. A thicker high-capacity battery might save the day, but then the phone wouldn’t be a Razr, would it?

Motorola’s betting that style-conscious consumers will gladly sacrifice a few hours of talk time in exchange for the Droid Razr’s advanced technology and finely honed physique. I’m betting they’re right.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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