Droid Razr Maxx Android smartphone

Thanks to the proliferation — and relative similarity — of Android smartphones on the market, finding the right model to suit your needs is no easy task. But for those looking to bulk up on battery life, enter Motorola Mobility’s Droid Razr Maxx.

Released over the weekend, the Droid Razr Maxx is a beefier Droid Razr. Twenty-five percent thicker (0.35 inches vs. 0.28 inches) and 13 percent heavier (4.5 oz. vs. 5.1 oz.), Droid Razr Maxx nearly doubles the battery capacity of the Droid Razr, offering 3300mAh versus the 1780mAh of its slimmer cousin.

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Despite this relative bulk, the Droid Razr Maxx is just 0.2 oz. heavier and slightly thinner (by 0.02 inches) than Apple’s iPhone 4S. The case’s large size (2.71 by 5.15 inches), necessary to accommodate its 4.3-inch AMOLED screen, makes the Droid Razr Maxx look heavier than it actually is, thanks to its lightweight Kevlar backing.

In the end, the Droid Razr Maxx offers a big battery boost — and business-ready features — without stretching the stitching in your shirt pocket that much more than other mainstream smartphones do. In fact, despite its large screen, it can actually find a home in most shirt pockets, unlike the gargantuan Samsung Galaxy Nexus. All in a form factor that is comfortable to hold.

Droid Razr Maxx specs and network

Most of the rest of the Droid Razr Maxx’s specs are the same as the Droid Razr and are comparable to most current Android devices: 1.2GHz dual-core ARM-based CPU, 8-megapixel camera (with LED flash and 1080p video capture), MiniHDMI port, MicroUSB port, and 32GB of nonremovable flash memory.

A nice addition is the included two-USB-port power block, which allows you to charge the smartphone and your Bluetooth headset or iPod at the same time. Moreover, the block is small enough not to interfere with adjacent plugs, as some charging blocks do.

The Droid Razr Maxx is available for the Verizon Wireless network and costs $300 under a two-year contract, or $649 if you’re not eligible for a new or renewal contract. It supports Verizon Wireless’s LTE 4G network in addition to Verzion’s 3G network, a current trend among the latest devices.

Hands-on with the Droid Razr Maxx

That 4G support is a good reason to consider the Razr Maxx. 4G radios take more power than 3G-only ones, at least with current-generation chips, so the Droid Razr Maxx’s extra battery capacity will come in handy. Many users of the original Droid Razr, which remains available, have complained about its battery charge not lasting a full day on 4G. In my tests, the Razr Maxx easily lasted a full day with moderately heavy use.

The Droid Razr Maxx does come with some usability concerns. First is the set of four standard Android buttons near the bottom of the case. They light up occasionally, but mostly remain dark, making it difficult to know which button you are pressing. This becomes second-nature with use, but given how much Android depends on these buttons, their obscured display seems an oversight.

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Also, I found the touchscreen occasionally unresponsive or noticeably delayed. I could detect no pattern to these slowdowns and pauses; it occurred even after a reboot with no apps other than Settings running. Fortunately, it was just occasional.

The Razr Maxx comes with Android 2.35 “Gingerbread,” not the new Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich,” but Motorola says Android 4 will be available as a downloadable upgrade later this year. It sports the MotoBlur interface, which I find a bit more work to use than the stock Android UI, though it boasts the Android 4-like capability to add selected widgets to the home screens. And the Droid Razr Maxx has that creepy angry-electronic-eye background image (which you can change) and that annoying robotic “Droid” alert (which you can change but not turn off without disabling the ringer) that Motorola somehow thinks are attractive branding.

Droid Razr Maxx in business settings

What distinguishes Motorola Mobility’s Android devices from most competitors is its set of “business-ready” features. The company’s Droid Razr Maxx and Photon 4G smartphones, and its Xyboard tablet, each offer support for on-device encryption, a feature that many Android devices lack, which causes most corporate mail servers to block their access to the network. Plus, the devices support a larger set of EAS (Exchange ActiveSync) policies, such as for complex passwords — on par with Android 3 “Honeycomb”tablets and nearly on par with the iPhone’s iOS. This too increases the Droid Raxr Maxx’s likelihood for support in a managed corporate environment. (Samsung has several Android models that support encryption and additional EAS policies as well.)

These advantages of Motorola Mobility devices will be short-lived, however, as Android 4 brings encryption to all Android devices with the appropriate horsepower, as well as the expanded EAS support. Still, Motorola’s Android tweaks let you postpone encryption to a later time — a good thing considering that it takes about 45 minutes to encrypt the device’s storage. Android 4 devices and Android 3 tablets, which also support encryption, don’t offer that convenience, giving Motorola a slight advantage.

The Droid Razr Maxx does support VPNs, but like other Android devices, it doesn’t support Cisco IPSec VPNs. And like other Android devices that support VPNs, the setup for an advanced (IPSec) VPN is mind-numbingly arcane, as bad as the setup on a BlackBerry. You’ll need your IT guy to do it for you (unlike in iOS). And like other Android devices, the Razr Maxx can’t connect to certificate-based Wi-Fi networks. Both are ultimately flaws in the Android OS that Google has left unfixed for several versions and that Motorola has not addressed in its own “business-ready” customizations.

Another “business-ready” capability offered by Motorola’s devices, including the Droid Razr Maxx, is support for network printing, unlike most Android devices — and without needing special printers or a special printer server, as the iPhone does. To enable printing from most apps, just set up your printer using the MotoPrint app, which auto-detects printers once you find the hidden setup option (hint: tap the Menu button to see it). Motorola’s devices come with a full version of Quickoffice HD for working with Microsoft Office files.

More than just a smartphone

The MiniHDMI port and Webtop app let you connect the Droid Razr to a Motorola Lapdock, which essentially expands the smartphone into a laptop, or to a Motorola HD Station, which you can use to connect a TV or other HDMI monitor, mouse, and keyboard to convert the Razr Maxx into a computer. These docks run a Linux version of Firefox for access to cloud-based apps, as well as the smartphone screen. You can also use Bluetooth keyboards and mice directly from the smartphone. Although still in early days, Motorola’s vision of a smartphone as portable computer that connects to peripherals as needed is both prescient and useful.

Another nice capability — whether or not you are a business user — is the ability to turn on an in-pocket detection, so when the camera no longer senses light it assumes the Droid Maxx is in a pocket or other container, locks the device, and turns off the screen. I don’t know about you, but half the time my shirt pocket is glowing dorkily because my smartphone screen is still on.

Otherwise, you get the same capabilities, advantages, and flaws of any Android smartphone.

The Droid Razr Maxx is a solid Android smartphone, one that should fit nicely in most corporate environments. Its big screen is appealing, as are its relatively thin case and light weight, such as when compared to the larger-screen Samsung Galaxy Nexus. But the higher-capacity battery is the Droid Razr Maxx’s biggest draw, especially if you talk and surf a lot on your smartphone.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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