Motorola Droid RAZR display quality receives mixed reviews

Uh-oh: yet another mention of graininess. But--hold the phones!--PCMag awarded it Editor's Choice (4.5/5). See what I mean about "mixed" opinion?

Ouch! RAZR burn.
Ouch! RAZR burn.
Ouch! RAZR burn.
Ouch! RAZR burn.

Maybe seeing is believing. After I scoured the net last night for the latest on the Motorola Droid RAZR, I came away slightly confused. Was this a great Android smartphone, worthy of consideration to replace my two year old trusty Droid, or was the display holding it back from true champion status? Like a lot of you, the only solution may very well be to get a first hand look the RAZR hits Verizon stores in a few weeks.

For those that have not been playing along, my mission is quite simple: to replace my first-gen Motorola Droid (November 2009) with a killer Android smartphone that will take me another 2 years.

I primarily use the Droid for email, calendar, and also to update social networks. I’m can’t live without Google Nav. I use it every day here in Silicon Valley- up to Napa for a wine event, back down for theater in Berkeley and over to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View to cover a tech event. Droid gets me there, hassle free.

Upgrade dilemma

Motorola RAZR is (or was) on my short-list of candidates to replace Droid. I previously ranked them as follows:

Which phone will replace Moto Droid?

1. Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Advantage: ICS out of the gate! Softkeys. Samsung build quality.

2. Motorola Droid RAZR

Thin is in, Kevlar backing.

3. HTC Rezound

Nothing stands out for me- I don’t listen to tunes much so Beats Audio is nothing special, and I prefer stock Android over HTC Sense.

So I’ve been devouring all the Droid RAZR reviews. Should I jump in, or–like the Price is Right–pass on this showcase and hope for more?

Controversy is swirling around RAZR’s display quality. For me, this is a big deal. Any bit of fuzziness while drive me nuts, especially in a new device that’s supposed to last another 24  months.

The Verge had this to say:

 “The RAZRs screen is a major disappointment … the RAZR’s screen looks pretty bad … According to Motorola, choosing Super AMOLED helped make the RAZR thinner — AMOLED displays don’t need external backlights like traditional LCD displays. It’s just unfortunate Motorola had to sacrifice display quality as well.”

Included in the review are a few close-ups of the RAZR display that are quite damning–fringed colors and jaggy text.

But not every one agreed. CNET gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars (“Outstanding”) and called the display fantastic:

“While its slim profile is certainly stunning, the Droid Razr’s 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Advanced display is nothing to sneeze at, either. It’s simply gorgeous, with vibrant and rich colors plus tack-sharp details; it reminds us a lot of the AMOLED screens we’ve seen on Samsung handsets. The Droid Razr does use a Pentile matrix display, so images are not as smooth as on those same Samsung phones. Text in particular has a very slight graininess to it.”

Motorola Droid RAZR asks "Is being thin enough?"

Intomobile had this to say in their “is thin enough?” review:

We’re still fans of the Retina Display and the wonderful things Samsung is doing with the Super AMOLED Plus screens but the Droid Razr should be satisfying for most of you out there. It’s bright and as responsive as you would expect from a capacitive touchscreen of this quality but that dreaded graininess can pop up with some text.

Uh-oh: yet another mention of graininess. But–hold the phones!–PCMag awarded it Editor’s Choice (4.5/5). See what I mean about “mixed” opinion?

Yes, the re-booted RAZR is getting generally strong scores; however, I can’t get past these criticisms of the display quality. The reviews so far seem unanimous: that while the phone is better than the Bionic its likely to be trumped any day now with the impending releases of the Nexus and Rezound.

For now, unless you can straighten my thinking here, I’m striking the RAZR from my short-list and narrowing the decision:

Samsung Galaxy Nexus OR HTC Rezound ?

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  • Trecherus

    How important is your QWERTY keyboard on your original Droid?  Droid 4 could be right around the corner.  Experts are estimating a December/January launch.  I am also conflicted about replacing my Droid but, I might have to wait for that keyboard.

    • @4ce206a99feb384532deafe6036e525f:disqus I don’t use the QWERTY on Droid much, but when I do I’m glad it’s there- I can thumb decently compared to tapping on virtual keyboard. Interesting to hear about Droid 4. These hyper-fast Android release cycles is a good news/bad news story. On the one hand there’s lot of choice. But on the other, if you just wait *another* few weeks there’s always something better. Moore’s Law on its ear. Decisions, decisions…

  • Anonymous

    Finding a long-term (two year … lol) mobile solution is also my dilemma.  All I can do for now is use comparison charts and videos of the Galaxy Nexus to form somewhat of a preliminary decision vs. info that is available on the Rezound.  VZ hasn’t clarified when the recently announced increase of 2GB data limits to 4GB ends, as it is a limited time offer, so when the Galaxy Nexus is set to be released will also weigh in my decision.  I’m a huge fan of HTC products, and this one seems like the REAL DEAL with the improved camera optics, nevermind the megapixel count.  It’s only “impediment” is that it doesn’t have ICS out the box and that it’s not the HTC Edge, a rumored, ungodly quad-core device  no where near any US carrier’s radar (  Other than that, the Rezound looks like a better LTE solution than the bleeding edge Thunderbolt was.  The Galaxy Nexus, and the previous Nexus devices are concept devices, although, for sale.  HTC may make ICS an even more enjoyable experience on the Rezound.  With the Razr’s screen quality coming into question and the Galaxy Nexus appearing to only have static storage limits, the Rezound may be a more sufficient solution over a two year period, especially with a faster CPU, which may prove a critical advantage in utilizing ICS’s hardware-acceleration facility.  I’m using an iPhone 4 at the moment.  iOS 5 has slowed it down.  Apps that behaved smoothly on iOS 4 are jittery on iOS 5 in normal use.  I will not give Apple any more money.  No matter how slow OEMs may be to upgrade Android, it has almost never resulted in slowness.  Speed has always improved for each Android device I’ve had that’s gotten at least an update to the version of Android with which it was previously released.  I even purchased an iPhone 4S just to see if it was worth a full price buy.  After three days of use, I concluded in my little mind that it wasn’t even worth a buy one get one free promotion that Verizon used years ago to sell BlackBerry Curves, Storms, and Tours.  My opinion is that, if you like HTC edits to Android, and while Galaxy Nexus will be ahead at launch in version, its user experience will be surpassed when HTC moves to ICS.  HTC’s Android 2.3 efforts, to me, were awesome.  I believe HTC will accomplish even more with ICS in 2012.  For a two-year committment, the Rezound is getting my vote


  • Granpa

    I feel your pain. I actually am having the exact same dilemma.  Review after review, it really is a mixed bag when it comes to the display.  Take this video review from slash gear; here he raves about the display and actually looks noticeably nice in the video:

    Another thing I’ve only seen one reviewer mention how hot the phone gets, which is something I suspected would happen with a dual-core processor inside and such a thin form factor.  I keep my phone in my pocket at all times and had this problem with the Samsung moment and would rather avoid it.   However, the fact that only one reviewer mentions it makes me wonder if maybe that reviewer just simply received a bad phone.   

    All in all, like you, I will have to wait another week to get one in my hands to pass final judgement. 

    • Thanks for the vid and comment. I had high hopes for the Moto RAZR. Really like the thin design. But two issues: (1) display…  though some as you mention give it strong scores, and (2) the battery life doesn’t appear to be all that great. Also, if it gets hot like you mention that’s another strike against. I’m holding out for Nexus.

      • Duplago

        What people have to remember is that the Droid Razr is a 4G LTE phone.  The 4G LTE chips are battery killers no matter what phone they are in.  The HTC Rezound and Galaxy Nexus will no doubt have short battery lifes themselves.  It is just the nature of the game right now until they can figure out how to make energy efficient chipsets. 

        • Granpa

          Went to the Verizon store and spent a good 30 minutes “test-driving” the new phones on my radar.

          Motorola Razr:

          – Not as wide as some of the reviews I’ve read would make it out to be. I don’t have large hands and I had no problems utilizing the phone with one hand. 
          – A bit top heavy. Not what I would consider uncomfortable, but just a tad distracting. 
          – Felt a bit flimsy. The build was solid don’t get me wrong, but it was so light I felt as if I was holding a children’s toy. 
          – Display not as vibrant as some of the other phones. The pixels on the pentile display are noticeable, nothing that would hinder the phone from everyday use, but it is noticeable. 
          – Though fast, didn’t feel as snappy and responsive as the Rezound or iPhone 4S. 
          – Throughout my testing lost 4G LTE connection a few times.
          – There were two Razr phones on display. I tested web surfing, playing video, playing game on both and while one stayed cool throughout, one got noticeably warm. Nothing major but noticeable, which is par for the course from what I’ve been hearing from the phone. It seems the individual quality of the phone can be a dice roll in this respect. 

          iPhone 4S:

          – the display on this phone is simply GORGEOUS. I tried the Razr first and there was a definite “wow” factor going from the Razr display to the iPhone 4S. 
          – zippy and responsive throughout. 
          – as gorgeous as the display was, it did feel tiny compared to the Android phones all around it, which was a bit of a turn-off. 
          – no 4G LTE was disappointing to say the least. Web browsing was noticeably slower than the 4G android phones, on par with the 3G phone I have now, and my thoughts are that if I want to upgrade, I want to experience a noticeably better experience throughout. This was a deal-breaker for me. 4G LTE is amazing. 

          HTC Rezound:

          – Better display than the Razr, though not as crisp and vibrant as the iPhone 4S
          – Felt a lot smoother/zippier than the Razr, absolutely no lag doing anything. 
          – Phone did get noticeably warm after running the same series of tests. 
          – Phone feels very last-gen in physical design. Bulky, cheap rubber back a turn-off. 
          – Sound quality was noticeably superior than Razr and iPhone 4S

          Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed by all offerings for different reasons. I was absolutely enamored with the iPhone 4S display, but the lack of 4G LTE was a deal-breaker. 3G just blows by comparison. The two Android offerings felt like each was close to what I was looking for but fell just short. The Rezound with it’s last-gen feel (speaking strictly physical), and the Razr with it’s less-than-stellar display and constant loss of 4G connection (experienced this on both Razr phones, not on the Rezound). 

          At the moment, I’m going to wait for the Galaxy Nexus to roll out and give it a test-drive. Hopefully, it fits just right.

          • Anonymous

            Interesting.  My experience was the polar opposite for the most part.

            I find the RAZR to have an amazing screen.  But then I’ve been looking at HTC and Bionics for the last two years.  iPhone does have a very nice screen, but the problem is, everyone who owns an iPhone basically has the same device.  The beauty of Android is that no two people will have the same experience; different widgets, different designs, different everything, and that appeals to me. It makes my device stand out where others are just sheep.

            The Rezound DID have a nice screen.  But it wasn’t snappy.  Not any more so than the RAZR.  Also it is a very ugly device.  Not just the bulk, I can deal with bulk.  It’s that red that really irritates my eyes to see constantly.  Also I don’t want to have Beats forced upon me for a $100+ premium.  If it weren’t for that – if they would release a plain variant for, say, $400-$450, I’d seriously consider it.  I was fine with it otherwise.  Glare seemed to be a problem though.

            Side by side the RAZR’s screen destroys the Bionic.  Not even close.  Bionic looks washed out in comparison.  All of these shots showing microscopic analysis of the screens are pointless; all screens show pixels, that’s the nature of LCD.  Until cell phones go full on LED (which I doubt they ever will), that’s not a fair comparison to make.  Rather, how bad does it look under normal view.  The Thunderbolt has a superior screen to the Bionic, and the RAZR is as close to the Galaxy S AMOLED screens as it can be, blowing past the Thunderbolt.

            RAZR seemed to have better accuracy when typing too.  

            I just bought one for (hopeful) delivery tomorrow.  I will assess call quality at that time, call quality is a problem on the Bionic.  Outbound quality.  Sounds extremely muffled to the person on the other end, and I have no intention of wearing a Bluetooth headset sitting in my house.