The Motorola RAZR i: Full of Win, or Epic Fail?

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It’s only been a few days since we reviewed the Motorola Droid RAZR M, but it’s already got a nearly identical twin on the way – identical in the looks department, anyway. Announced earlier today, the Motorola “RAZR i” offers almost no visual cues to set it apart from its slightly older sibling, apart from a hardware camera key. The real story is inside.

The RAZR i is the world’s first Motorola-built Android smartphone powered by an Intel CPU. We first caught a sniff of this back in February, when it was rumored to be Motorola’s first Ice Cream Sandwich-sporting device. That bit didn’t pan out, but the portions pertaining to the camera, appearance, and the processor certainly did. Specifically, we’re looking at a single-core Intel Atom system-on-a-chip with hyperthreading support, running at 2GHz. That makes the RAZR i the first smartphone to break the 2000-MHz barrier – the Chuck Yeager of smartphones, if you will.

How all that adds up -whether hyperthreading overcomes the limitations of a single-core architecture and what applications this phone will or won’t excel at- is beyond the scope of this article. I’m leaving that to my more chip-inclined colleagues like Joe Levi, who already penned a piece on the Intel Medfield family back in January and who outlines the differences between Intel’s single-core SoC and quad-core CPUs in a brand-spanking-new piece from this very morning. What interests me is why Motorola and Intel decided to launch such a momentous product (their first handset collaboration) on a relatively ho-hum smartphone. Don’t get me wrong; in my review period, I loved the RAZR M for what it was  – a “deluxe-edition” entry-level device. But is a midrange product the best debut platform for such a momentous collaboration?

Answering that question requires examining just how momentous Motorola considers the product to be. Taking a quick gander at the company’s promo video for the RAZR i is telling:

In case you missed it, here’s the specific product callouts featured in the video:

  • 4.3″ edge-to-edge display
  • Compact design
  • Made Kevlar strong
  • 8MP rear camera, 1080p video capture
  • Instant launch camera
  • The best of Google
  • YouTube
  • Google Play
  • Google Maps
  • Voice Actions
  • Motorola RAZR i with Intel Inside

In that list of eleven feature bumps, only one is unique to the RAZR i (two, if you consider the “instant launch camera” to be dependent on the shutter button). That’s the “Intel Inside” bit. The rest of the list is made up entirely of features found on the existing RAZR M. Again, those are features I like on a phone I enjoyed using, so I’m not dogging the device here — I’m just saying we’ve seen it before. Very recently, in fact.

“Okay … ‘hello.’ Again.”

Though we mostly knew what to expect from this launch, some of us here at Pocketnow were disappointed by today’s event. In an industry that moves so quickly, it’s easy to get lulled by constant product announcements into a persistent “wow me” state- an expectation that each new unveiling will bring something at least a little exciting. That’s part of the reason for the media backlash in the wake of most recent iPhone announcements, as Stephen Schenck points out in today’s piece on whether we’ll ever again really be satisfied by a Cupertino announcement.

It’s also easy to let that backlash take hold and claim a product is a “fail,” or “DOA,” or something to that effect. We’re not going to do that here. Far more interesting, to me, is determining what an underwhelming unveiling means for a product– or in this case, a partnership.

But since there’s such a wide spectrum of reaction to this (minor) milestone, let’s briefly look at these two opposing (and extreme) points of view related to the RAZR i launch.

They Blew It

From this perspective, Motorola and Intel completely shattered any chance of generating excitement around their new joint offering. The companies announced a partnership an eternity ago, and their leaked product image from January turned out to be the exact device announced today with almost no improvements over its RAZR M counterpart: the same not-quite-edge-to-edge display with ho-hum resolution and a PenTile sub-pixel arrangement; the same okay (for-Motorola) camera; the same lacking-in-pizazz exterior.

That pile of mediocrity on the spec sheet makes it totally impossible, this logic goes, for the RAZR i to make a name for itself based on its noteworthy internals. Internals that, if some of the buzz is believed, might actually deliver impressive performance in processing power and battery life compared to quad-core-based competitors. My colleague Jaime Rivera draws a comparison to the automotive industry:

If car companies would’ve launched leather seats on cheap cars years ago, leather wouldn’t be the standard for expensive cars [today]. In that same fashion, Intel just made a terrible choice in allowing Motorola to slap their new baby on a cheap device. Intel is desperate for attention, but sadly people judge a book by its cover. Whether this new Medfield processor is good or not is irrelevant, Intel just made it look bad with this launch.

In short: a collaboration of this magnitude should have been launched on a flagship-class device for maximum visibility. The fact that it wasn’t is a serious impediment to Motorola and Intel’s future success.

Or …

Slow And Steady Wins The Race

The trouble with launching a product with a lot of bombast and pomp is that it has to be good. If you’re going to attract visibility toward a high-stakes product launch in a notoriously cutthroat market like mobile technology, you’d better make damn sure you have all your pixels in a row, or you’ll be crucified. In arguing the “they blew it” angle, one of my colleagues made the point that this morning’s disappointing unveiling was akin to Palm choosing Sprint as a launch partner for its first webOS device. From the perspective of “caution wins,” though, I’d argue that the far more instructive – and ultimately fatal – lesson Palm learned from that experience was rushing unfinished hardware and software onto the market amid a cloud of hype.

Intel might not exactly be a stranger to the mobile world, but it definitely isn’t leading the pack in any sense. Like any chip-maker, it needs a solid hold in the mobile market to ensure its continued survival. Motorola might not be the biggest partner in the world, but it’s a very significant one, with hugely influential owners. With stakes like that, it’s easy to see why the company might choose a lower-end product as a kind of “soft-launch” platform. Something not embarrassing on the spec sheet, but something that’s not going to garner a lot of attention outside geek circles, either. Something to be sold and tested on a wide scale in a non-American market (something of a habit among some U.S. companies) to shake out the bugs before graduating to the big leagues.

As with any contest between extreme positions, the truth is probably somewhere in between. Maybe Motorola/Intel should have chosen a more visible device with which to launch their inaugural smartphone collaboration. Maybe the companies should have waited even longer, skipping the RAZR i entirely in favor of a more blockbuster-friendly unveiling early next year. Maybe they shouldn’t have partnered at all. It’s all up for debate.

Regardless of your personal feelings on the (un)impressive nature of today’s announcement, one thing is clear: Intel now has another foothold in the mobile world, and it’s placed firmly on the back of a product whose closest sibling isn’t a bad smartphone. It’s not mind-blowing, but it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. And by the same token, Intel’s announcement is nothing that’s going to wave too many flags around … but it’s not something we should ignore, either.

The world may not have flipped upside-down this morning, but it definitely trembled a little.

Update: This piece was updated to add “Motorola-built” to the “first Intel-powered Android smartphone” claim.

___

Pocketnow’s Jaime Rivera contributed to this editorial.

Turtle & Snail image source: Annie Ink

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About The Author
Michael Fisher
Michael Fisher has followed the world of mobile technology for over ten years as hobbyist, retailer, and reviewer. A lengthy stint as a Sprint Nextel employee and a long-time devotion to webOS have cemented his love for the underdog platforms of the world. In addition to serving as Pocketnow's Reviews Editor, Michael is a stage, screen, and voice actor, as well as co-founder of a profitable YouTube-based business. He lives in Boston, MA.Read more about Michael Fisher!