Droid Razr Maxx with Android 4.0 hands-on: A good phone made great

The Droid Razr Maxx is one of the nice phones on the market today. It’s super thin and gets twice the battery life of almost any other smartphone (not a joke). Previously, those who bought it had to put up with an older version of Android (2.3 Gingerbread) and Motorola’s poor attempts at customizing the look and feel of Android, which it called the ‘Ninjablur’ user interface. (Read our Razr Maxx review if you’d like to learn more.) As promised, Motorola has finally issued an update to Android 4.0, which is now available to all Verizon Wireless users. The change, while subtle at first, has turned the Razr Maxx into one of the best phones on the market and a definite competitor to Samsung’s Galaxy S3 and HTC’s One X.

A cleaner interface

Many users won’t notice all of the changes at first, but the Unlock screen, apps tray, and just about everything else has gotten a makeover. Wisely, Motorola has mostly stuck to the default look of Android 4.0, which may not be as exciting as the water effects on the Galaxy S3, but sets the Razr Maxx up better for potential future upgrades to things like Android 4.1, which was just released.

The unlock screen is now more fluid and lets you choose whether to unlock the phone to the homescreen, camera app, texting app, or phone dialer. It took me a few days to warm to it, but it’s much faster and feature-rich than the previous screen, which had terribly slow animation.

Switching between homescreens and app screens seems faster, but it’s difficult to quantify. In either case, Android 4.0 makes customizing your homescreens a bit easier, allowing for icon folders and more apps on the permanent bottom tray (your four most-used apps). Motorola has kept its widgets in place, but given them a slight facelift, so they look a bit more in-line with the style of Android 4.0. No complaints from us, though the removal of the Google News widget is puzzling. 

The onscreen keyboard remains simple and good, but we wish the Razr would recognize and automatically add apostrophes to contractions. It doesnt doesn’t.

Though the Razr Maxx has no Recent Apps multitasking menu, if you hold down the Home button, it will pop up. Check it out. It works quite well for swapping between apps. The better organized Settings menu is also present. 

Better apps

The bump to Android 4.0 also means Razr Maxx owners now have access to apps made with Android 4.0 in mind.

Google’s Chrome browser is one such app and should be the first thing you download. It works far better than the default browser and syncs up with Chrome on other devices. Tab support (and Incognito mode) is included. I’m also a fan of the new Android Flipboard app and Spotify’s new app, both of which run best on Android 4.0. 

Oddly, I’ve begun using Motorola’s Smart Actions app more this time around, which suggests and lets you create tasks that auto perform when you choose to trigger them. For example, I have the Razr Maxx set to turn off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, data Syncing, and other non-essential functions when my battery reaches 30 percent. I’ve also set it to turn on Wi-Fi whenever I’m in my apartment (it can use GPS to trigger actions). Smart Actions probably won’t sell phones — it’s just too geeky of a feature — but for those who learn how to use it, the app rocks.

It’s all about the battery life

Using the Razr Maxx as my default phone for the last week has really reminded me what’s so great about the phone. This is the only phone I’ve used in years (first smartphone) that can survive two days of moderate use without a charge. Almost every phone — including top contenders like the One X, iPhone 4S, and Galaxy S3 — are nearly dead by the time evening rolls around. If you don’t charge them, you risk losing your alarm clock in the morning (assuming your phone wakes you up each morning) or dealing with a dead device by early the next day. Today alone, I’ve used the Razr Maxx consistently for 9 hours and am packing an 80 percent charge. With intelligent use, I could extend that further. Hopefully Motorola makes battery life like this a standard in its line. 

Still worthy of purchase

The Droid Razr Maxx has been out for several months and the competition on Verizon has increased since then, but it’s still one of the best picks. The upgrade to Android 4.0 is needed, though most users will find the changes quite subtle. We’re disheartened that Verizon is still charging $300 for the Razr Maxx, but hopefully the price will come down soon. Even at that price, it’s a good buy if you value your battery. And for the first time, you can get a great battery without an ugly interface.