Technology

The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Armand Emamdjomeh

CES 2012: Lumia 900, Nokia's first 4G LTE Windows Phone, debuts [Photos and Video]

Nokia and Microsoft's first flagship smartphone for the U.S., the Lumia 900, made its official debut at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The new Windows Phone handset was first unveiled Monday by Nokia, and later that night Microsoft brought the new phone on stage in what was the final CES keynote speech from the tech giant best known for the powerhouse Windows PC operating system.

Photo: The Nokia Lumia 900 in the foreground, with the Lumia 800 in the middle and an Apple iPhone 4S in the rear. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles TimesThe Lumia 900 so far has been confirmed as running only on AT&T's 4G LTE network and picks up stylistically where the Lumia 800 left off, with an attractive rounded polycarbonate body and a flat, sliced-off-looking top and bottom.

However, the Lumia 900 will have a larger screen than the Lumia 800 -- up to 4.3 inches from 3.7 inches. The resolution of the display will remain 480 by 800 pixels, as is standard for all Windows Phone handsets.

The new Nokia will be offered from AT&T in either cyan or matte black and feature a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor, 512 megabytes of RAM, 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera that can shoot up to 720p video and a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera for video chatting.

The Lumia 900 will be thinner than T-Mobile's Lumia 710, a 0.45-inches-thick 4G phone I reviewed last weekend.

Nokia officials also told me at CES that the Lumia 800 is finally going to get a U.S. launch as well, but it will be sold only as an unlocked phone. That means the Lumia 800 will sell without part of the cost of the phone being eaten up by a wireless carrier's subsidy, which may put it in the $500-range, though Nokia declined to specify.

Microsoft and Nokia also had no details to offer on pricing or a release date for the Lumia 900. As soon as we can, we'll get the phone in our hands for a full review. In the meantime, check out our hands-on video from CES with both the Nokia Lumia 900 above; and photos and of the Lumia 900 and Lumia 800 after the jump.

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CES 2012: Cadillac CUE, Chevrolet MyLink -- a nail in the CD's coffin? [Video]

General Motors is at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in a major way, showing of its new infotainment systems for Chevrolets and Cadillacs.

Both systems -- Chevy's MyLink and Cadillac's CUE -- will debut this year, and each brings touch screens and in-car apps like Pandora and Stitcher to GM's automobiles. For many cars, MyLink and CUE replace in the dashboard a big radio and CD player.

After getting some hands-on time with CUE and MyLink, I couldn't help but think that systems like these are yet another nail in the coffin of CDs and physical media in general.

VIDEOS: 2012 Consumer Electronics Show

And why not? It seems that for years CD sales and even DVD sales have been on the decline. With the rise of MP3 players and smartphones, many people are now plugging their digital devices into their dashboards to listen to music. Even GPS units have been replaced by navigation apps found in smartphones for many.

So what's GM doing about this change in consumer behavior? MyLink and CUE are aided by users who have smartphones. For example, both systems offer a Pandora app for listening to music streamed from the Web, but that app is unusable in the dashboard unless you have a smartphone with a Pandora app of its own.

When you're using Pandora with MyLink or CUE, you're consuming data on your smartphone's data plan as well. And MyLink and CUE can play music, video and even photos loaded on a smartphone, MP3 player or even a thumb drive.

Although the systems use the smartphone, they don't by any means replace the smartphone's role in a car. Instead, MyLink and CUE build off of this growing relationship between consumers and their phones.

Of course, MyLink and CUE are usable without the aid of a smartphone, for things like operating a car's air-conditioning system, tuning the ol' AM/FM radio or getting turn-by-turn navigation through OnStar (with an OnStar subscription of course).

Chevrolet MyLinkChevy's MyLink also comes in two flavors, so to speak. There is a lower-end version, built and supplied by LG, that will be found in the 2013 Sonic and Spark, Chevrolet's entry-level autos. In these models, MyLink will be devoid of a built-in CD player.

However, a different version of MyLink built by Panasonic for higher-end Chevrolets such as the Volt and the Equinox can be ordered with a CD player as an option. With Cadillac Cue, owners can get a CD player in their glove box as an option.

The two variations of MyLink perform the same actions but offer different user interfaces and perform tasks a bit differently. For example, although both can handle voice recognition for hands-free calling, LG's version uses voice recognition software found in a connected smartphone, and the Panasonic version has this feature built in.

GM has promised software upgrades and some more apps for MyLink and CUE after customers offer some feedback on what sort of apps they want.

To see CUE in action, check out our hands-on video above. For MyLink, check out the video from GM below.

ALSO:

CES 2012: Apple looms large over the Consumer Electronics Show

CES 2012: HP's Autonomy shows possibilities of augmented reality

CES 2012: Vizio introduces all-in-one desktop, laptop PC line (Photos)

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system. Credit: General Motors

Lumia 710, Nokia's first U.S. Windows Phone -- review

The Nokia Lumia 710 is a small, low-cost smartphone with some big, high-cost bets riding on its success.

The Lumia 710 is Nokia's first phone to hit the U.S. running Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system -- more specifically, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. It's also the first tangible product to hit store shelves, in this case T-Mobile stores, as a result of a deal between Nokia and Microsoft announced in February and signed in April that's reportedly worth billions of dollars.

So is the Lumia 710 a good smartphone or not? Simply put, it is. It's a simple, low-end phone, but it's a solid little phone worth your consideration if you're new to smartphones or looking for an affordable Windows Phone handset. The Lumia 710 runs $49.99 on a 2-year contract with T-Mobile starting Jan. 11.

The specifications match-up with most entry-level Windows Phone handsets -- namely the Samsung Focus Flash and the HTC Radar 4G.

Nokia Lumia 710The Lumia 710 isn't thin by today's smartphone standards, coming in at 0.49-inch thick, but it doesn't feel bloated by any means, weighing 4.4 ounces.

A 3.7-inch touch screen is featured on the new Nokia, which looks good but results, disappointingly, in a bit of color distortion at extreme angles. The resolution of the screen, which is responsive and very fingerprint prone in the black colorway I tested, is 800 x 480 pixels. Video playback, apps, photos and websites all looked great on the Lumia 710.

The phone is powered by a single-core 1.4-gigahertz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, and 512 megabytes of RAM and 8 gigabytes of built-in storage are included. There is no microSD card slot for storage expansion and there is no front-facing camera for video chatting -- which falls in line with the lower-end expectations the Lumia 710's price reflects. Though it should be noted that the HTC Radar 4G, which sells for the same price from T-Mobile, does include a front-facing camera.

On the back is a 5-megapixel camera with a single LED flash, which takes clear, detailed photos and can also shoot 720p video. The camera can't match the 8-megapixel shooters found on higher end smartphones, but again, the Lumia 710 isn't a high-end $200 or $300 smartphone.

The Lumia 710 was fast and performed well. I won't go too deep into Windows Phone Mango (for more on that, check out my October review of Mango), but while it isn't the most complicated or power-demanding operating system out there, the Lumia 710 handled everything I threw at it. In about two weeks of testing, I never had an app freeze or crash on me. Call quality was good with voices sounding clear and no dropped calls experienced. T-Mobile's 4G network offered up fast downloads and uploads on the Lumia 710. Battery life was also great: I consistently got a day's worth of charge, no problem.

Stylistically, the Lumia 710 is a bit plain, though not at all unattractive. The curved back plate on the phone is coated in a rubberized plastic that is grippy and comfortable to hold in the hand no matter what you're doing on the phone. The back plate is removable and Nokia is selling different colors -- cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white -- which thankfully can help add a bit of style.

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Galaxy Nexus, on Android Ice Cream Sandwich, review [Video]

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus is one of the best smartphones on the market and in my opinion, it's the best all-around Android phone out there.

But really, it should be. Afterall, the Galaxy Nexus is the new flagship smartphone of Google's Nexus line of devices, which are known for offering top specs with the latest version of the Android mobile operating system. In this case, the latest version of Android is known as Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus is the first gadget of any kind to run the new software.

Spec-wise, just about everything you could want from a smartphone, the Galaxy Nexus has -- and that's a really good thing considering that the phone is selling in the U.S. for $299 on a two-year 4G LTE data plan from Verizon.

Hardware

The phone, which Google and Samsung teamed up on to design, is just .37-inches thick, is about the same thickness as Apple's iPhone. Inside, the Galaxy Nexus is packed with a 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1-gigabyte of RAM, 32-gigabytes of built-in storage and near field communications technology.

On the outside, you'll find a gigantic 4.65-inch touchscreen, which may be a bit too large for some. But, in use, the screen doesn't feel as massive as it is thanks to a thin bezel around the display.

Samsung Galaxy NexusThe resolution of that screen is an impressive 1,280-by-720 pixels, which is high enough to be classified as high-definition. This provides a big, beautiful, bright canvas on which to watch videos, browse websites and read e-books.

The display is one of the best I've seen on just about any smartphone. It's a pentile display, which can lead to some pixelization from time to time, but the high resolution of the screen allows for smoother images than I've seen on low-resolution pentile screens.

Battery life on the Galaxy Nexus is pretty good for a 4G phone with such a large display. Over about a week and a half of testing, I regularly found that I could make it through an entire workday before I had to recharge the phone. Of course, the more you use the phone, the faster the battery life goes, and 3G phones still have better battery life. But as far as 4G phones go, the Galaxy Nexus is among the best I've used battery wise.

Phone calls were clear and reception on the Galaxy Nexus was also solid with Verizon's 4G service being fast and plentiful around Los Angeles during my testing.

Cameras

The Galaxy Nexus sports a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera above the display, which works well for video chatting in a Google+ Hangout or with other video calling services. On the back is a 5-megapixel camera that can shoot up to 1080p video, paired with an LED flash.

Video shot on the phone looks good, but in the rear camera's still photos is where I found one of my few complaints with the Galaxy Nexus. By no means is 5-megapixels a weak camera, but the sharpness and color reproduction of photos I shot on the Galaxy Nexus wasn't at the level of 8-megapixel shooters I've seen on other top handsets such as the iPhone, the Motorola Droid Bionic and Razr and the Samsung Galaxy S II.

One huge plus on the Galaxy Nexus for still photos is the ability to take photos with almost no shutter lag at all. Snapping a picture is nearly instantaneous and while this results in taking some blurry photos from time to time, it should also allow Galaxy Nexus owners to miss fewer moments with their phones than with many other handsets.

Design

The look of the Galaxy Nexus is clean and simple. If you've seen the Galaxy S II, then you won't be too surprised style-wise with the Galaxy Nexus. It's thin and even has a slight bump at the bottom, housing a speaker and microphone, just as the Galaxy S II does.

Samsung's Galaxy Nexus (left) and Galaxy S IIThe front of the phone is thankfully devoid of any Samsung, Google or Verizon logos, which is something I'd like to see from more smartphones. On the right side, toward the top is a power button that also wakes the phone or puts it to sleep. On the left is a volume rocker. A mini-USB port for charging the phone is on the bottom, as is a headphone jack.

The whole of the device, except for the screen, is covered in a dark gray plastic which offers an understated look. The back of the Galaxy Nexus has a removable plastic cover, which conceals the SIM-card slot and battery. Unfortunately, this panel has a thin, flimsy feel to it that is also reminiscent of the Galaxy S II.

You won't find any premium materials on the Galaxy Nexus as you may find on other rival high-end handsets. But while the phone doesn't feel luxurious, it's still durable and well-built.

Android Ice Cream Sandwich

Though the hardware offered is mighty by current standards, the best part of the Galaxy Nexus is undoubtedly its software -- Google's Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Continue reading »

LG Nitro HD, from AT&T, review [Video]

The LG Nitro HD reminds me a lot of the Samsung Galaxy S II, and if you've ever seen the two smartphones, I'm sure you'll agree.

The two phones could be mistaken for twins, sitting side-by-side with 4.5-inch touchscreens, and similarly designed plastic backs with 8-megapixel cameras sitting rear-center.

However, aside from the outside looks, the overall experience of using the two phones is quite different and it's on the software side where LG comes up short with the Nitro HD.

The Nitro HD is one of a new wave of smartphones (along with handsets like the HTC Rezound and upcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus) that is upping the ante for screen resolution into high-definition territory, with a 1,280 x 720 screen resolution.

The Nitro HD's display is one of the nicest I've seen on any smartphone so far. Streaming video, websites, apps all looked detailed and worthy of being called high definition. Colors came though balanced and accurate. Images looked smooth, with pixelation hard to find due to a density of 326-pixels-per-inch, which is the same pixel density as the iPhone 4 and 4S.

LG Nitro HD from AT&TThe display also features edges that are curved to roll into the sides of the phone's body, so running your finger across the device for any swiping motion on-screen is extra satisfying. It's such a small detail, but not having a hard edge to run into makes using the touchscreen a thoughtlessly pleasant experience. Nokia has taken a similar approach with its Lumia 800 and this is a design touch I wouldn't mind seeing on more phones.

The internals of the Nitro HD are top-notch as well, with a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM and 4 gigabytes of built-in storage pared with an included 16-gigabyte microSD storage card.

Photos from the rear camera looked good, but colors came out a bit oversaturated for my taste; 1080p video shot by the camera was impressive. 

But all this goodness felt a bit held back by LG's modifications to Google's Android operating system and a few other gripes.

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Kobo Vox tablet review [Video]

The Kobo Vox tablet feels like a missed opportunity.

Over the last year, the scrappy Canadian e-reading company has released the impressive Kobo Touch eInk eReader and polished its Kobo Reading Life apps into worthy rivals to Amazon's Kindle apps and Barnes & Noble's Nook apps on tablets and smart phones.

The company is in the process of being purchased by Japan's equivalent to Amazon, the massive online retailer Rakuten. Despite Kobo's largest U.S. retail partner, Borders, closing its doors, it seemed that Kobo was akin to a promising, aspiring prizefighter on the brink of being ready to challenge the heavyweight champs of e-reading, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

The Kobo Vox, on top of a Amazon Kindle Fire and a Barnes & Noble Nook TabletAnd then I used the Vox -- Kobo's answer to Amazon's Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's one-two punch of the Nook Color and Nook Tablet.

With the Vox, Kobo has taken a step back, delivering a product that doesn't come close to its rivals and one that doesn't match up to the quality I expected given how much I like the Kobo Touch and Kobo reading apps on Google's Android and Apple's iOS devices.

On paper, the Vox looked like a smart move, selling for $199.99 and featuring a seven-inch touch-screen with eight gigabytes of built-in storage -- that's the same included storage and price as the Fire and the same as the Nook Color (the Nook Tablet sells for $249). Just as the Nook Color and Nook Tablet do, the Vox features with a MicroSD card slot, which can accommodate a card of up to 32-gigabytes in size, if you don't mind buying one.

Like the Fire and the Nook, the Vox runs a modified version of the Android Gingerbread operating system, designed by Google with phones, not tablets in mind.

But unlike those two others, Kobo has only made minimal changes to Gingerbread, most noticeably pinning reading-related functions to the bottom of the Vox's Android home screens.

I was hopeful Kobo would deliver a competitive product, but instead I found myself disappointed at just about every turn in using the Vox.

The hardware, from the outside, isn't bad looking. The back of the Vox is great to hold on to, with Kobo's signature quilted pattern rendered in a soft and grippy plastic. On the review unit I tested, a light-blue rim of plastic sat between the back of the Kobo and its 1020 x 600 pixel resolution display.

It's nice to see a company take a bit of risk design-wise, especially when compared with the boring looks of the Kindle Fire. The Vox is also offered with lime-green, pink and black rims.

But once I turned on the device, it was mostly downhill.

The Vox starts up slow, and I failed to ever reach the seven-hour battery life Kobo claims for the Vox. I usually got about four or five hours of battery life, but there were about four times in my week of testing that the device would shut itself off when falling below an 80% charge (a couple of those delays struck when we were shooting the above video).

When the Vox was up and running, it did so sluggishly. Loading apps, menus, Web pages; checking email; opening e-books; turning pages in e-books -- everything took place slowly. It felt as though the Vox was always a step, or a second or two, behind my touch input. The display also fails to match the clarity, brightness, color range or viewing angles of the Fire and the Nook Tablet.

Snappy, speedy, responsive -- these are not words I would use to describe the Vox. Too often I found myself staring at a rotating gray circle waiting for something to load. This complaint can partly be attributed to lower-end internal specs, such as an 800-megahertz processor and 512-megabytes of RAM, but if tuned enough with the right software, such hardware shouldn't be so slow.

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Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet review [Video]

If you're looking for a low-priced tablet this year, Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet is one you'll want to consider.

At $249, the Nook Tablet is a bit more expensive than the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Nook Color and the Kobo Vox, each of which are selling at about $200. But, the Nook Tablet is a better piece of hardware than its $200 rivals and the extra dough wouldn't be spent in vain.

On the outside, the Nook Tablet looks identical to the Nook Color, except that the Tablet comes in a lighter color than the Color's dark charcoal gray.

Kindle Fire and Nook TabletThe 7-inch screen, with a 1024-by-600 resolution, on the Nook Tablet is also the exact same display as the touchscreen used in the Nook Color. And the Nook Tablet is also slightly lighter than the Nook Color, weighing in at 14.1 ounces instead of 15.8, though most may not even notice.

Where the difference between the Nook Tablet and its rivals can be found is on the inside and in using the device day to day. The Nook Tablet features a 1-gigahertz processor (same as the Kindle Fire), 1 gigabyte of RAM (as opposed to the Color and Fire's 512 megabytes of RAM) and 16 gigabytes of built-in storage (the Color and the Fire each have 8 gigabytes built in).

In use -- reading books, streaming movies, launching apps, sending and receiving email -- nearly everything I did on the Nook Tablet was quicker than when I did the same things on the $200 tablets. Simple functions such as rotating the screen from portrait to landscape orientation in an app was faster and turning pages in e-books felt less laggy too.

Screen Shot 2011-11-26 at 11.03.14 AMBoth the Barnes & Noble and Amazon devices run highly modified versions of Google's Android Honeycomb operating system and as such, both run Android apps. Barnes & Noble's Nook Store for apps offers fewer apps than the Kindle Fire's Amazon Appstore for Android, but I had a much harder time finding apps that felt like stretched out smartphone apps on the Nook -- that's a plus in my opinion. I'd rather have a smaller selection of apps that work well than a larger selection of apps that may or may not work as the developer intended them to.

There's also something to be said for the Nook Tablet and Nook Color's style. The two share the same external design, but both look noticeably different than what else is out there in lower and higher price points. The plastics used on the Barnes & Noble devices have a slight softness to them that make the device comfortable to hold for long periods of time when reading or watching a movie. The display is one of the nicest I've seen in 7-inch devices. Books, apps, video, websites all looked great on the Nook Tablet (just as they did on the Nook Color) and didn't kick back as much glare as I found on the Kindle Fire.

Screen Shot 2011-11-26 at 11.00.28 AMThe one weak point I can point to on the hardware of the Nook Tablet is that the 16 gigabytes of built-in storage reserves 15 gigabytes of that space for content purchased from Barnes & Noble and downloaded to the device. Only 1 gigabyte is made available for content you buy from outside of the bookstore chain and that just isn't enough.

The Nook Color takes the same approach, setting aside 7 gigabytes of the 8 gigabytes included for items purchased from Barnes & Noble.

Unlike the Kindle Fire, the Nooks include a microSD card slot, so you can expand storage if you'd like. But the problem here is that Barnes & Noble has no online storefront for music, movies or TV shows as Amazon does.

Continue reading »

Amazon Kindle Fire review [Video]

The Amazon Kindle Fire can't be judged on its hardware alone, and that works out in the Fire's favor, because the hardware is far from great and left me underwhelmed.

However, all the things you can do with the Fire, the cloud-based services that Amazon provides and the massive offering of e-books, music, movies, TV shows and apps that the Seattle online retail giant offers in its first tablet is currently matched only by Apple's iPad, iTunes and App Store.

This combination of lackluster hardware with top-notch content and cloud services put the Fire in the peculiar spot of changing the definition of what a low-price tablet can and should be, while still leaving me unfulfilled and waiting for the Kindle Fire 2.

If the Fire turns out to be the blockbuster seller that many are predicting it will be, it won't because of design or hardware features.

No, if the Fire is a hit, it will be because it sells for $199, wears the trusted Amazon Kindle brand and serves as a direct and easy-to-use pipeline into Amazon's online storefronts of digital content.

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Amazon Kindle Fire unboxed, first look [Video]

Amazon Kindle Fire tablet

As the Amazon Kindle Fire arrived on Monday, one day early for many who pre-ordered the tablet, a review unit from the Seattle company also arrived at the Los Angeles Times.

My review of the Kindle Fire won't be up on the Technology blog until Saturday, but given the anticipation around this device (many believe Amazon could sell 5 million tablets before year's end) I thought a quick hands-on video was in order. 

But before we could show you what the device looks like, we had to take it out of the box. And so, below you'll find our first unboxing video.

Unboxing is a bit of a peculiar phenomena online. Thousands of gadget unboxing videos can be found across the Web, but it's not typical for a news organization to present an unboxing video. So please feel free to sound off in the comments on whether or not you like the idea of us producing such a clip.

One note, in the video below, you'll see Amazon included a $30 "Kindle Fire Zip Sleeve" that doesn't come as a standard accessory with the $199 Fire itself. The sleeve is a really nice one, but it will cost you extra.

Here are a few first impressions ahead of our full review:

The Kindle Fire looks and feels a lot like Research In Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which was reportedly produced by many of the same suppliers and assembler in China. But the PlayBook is slightly smaller while maintaining the same 7-inch touch screen.

The Fire runs a "forked" version of Google's Android operating system -- Amazon took Android and modified it to the point of it being largely unrecognizable as Android. The software, so far, is a bit finicky and doesn't always respond as I'd expect to the touch.

If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber or if you buy music, movies, TV shows, books and/or Android apps from Amazon, then you'll probably feel right at home on the Kindle. It's easy to navigate and everything I've seen so far is focused on consuming content from Amazon and not nearly as much on creating content of your own. So far, this seems to me to be a tablet for play, not necessarily work.

Feel free to throw any questions at me about the Fire in the comments section below -- I'll try to answer them there or in our review here Saturday.

RELATED:

Amazon Kindle Fire tablets arrive a day early

Amazon Kindle Fire tablet: $199, 7-inch screen, ships Nov. 15

Amazon to produce 5 million Kindle Fire tablets this year, report says

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The Amazon Kindle Fire tablet, fresh out of the box. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Motorola Droid Razr, from Verizon, review [Video]

Motorola Droid Razr

Motorola's Droid Razr mightily impresses on paper and in the hand. 

The new Razr, which brings back last decade's famous flip-phone nameplate, is super thin and light, and that really is its big selling point.

At just 0.28-inches thick and weighing in at 127 grams, the Razr packs in a 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, 16 gigabytes of built-in storage and a microSD card slot with a 16-gigabyte card included. Inside there are the usual smartphone components: proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, electronic compass and accelerometer.

Those are top-end specs sandwiched into the thinnest form factor of any 4G phone on the market. Off the bat, the Razr feels like something special — like an achievement of smartphone engineering.

On the software side, the Smart Actions feature stands out, allowing users to easily program their phone to automatically launch applications or change settings after specified inputs. For example, I set the Droid Razr to launch the Pandora music app every time I plugged a set of headphones in. It worked seamlessly and it's a feature I wouldn't mind seeing on more phones. 

The Razr, which is exclusive to Verizon Wireless, runs Google's Android Gingerbread operating system, with Motorola's user interface changes. An upgrade to Android Ice Cream Sandwich is promised for early 2012.

Motorola's trademark camera bump shows up at the top of the Razr — a design cue I actually like. It houses the Razr's 8-megapixel rear camera — which can shoot 1080p video — plus an LED flash, mini-HDMI port, mini-USB port and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera.

The front of the Razr is covered in the extremely durable Corgina Gorilla Glass. I took a pen and later a fork and kitchen knife to the display and not a single scratch showed up, bringing a smile to my face.

The back of the phone is largely Kevlar, the strong, flexible material used in bullet-proof vests and NASCAR body panels — but, no, the Razr is not bullet-proof. As on Apple's iPhone but not many Androids, the battery on the Razr is not removable by the user; instead it's sealed under the Kevlar back. That helps make for a thin phone and is a trade-off I'm personally fine with.

The combination of Gorilla Glass on the front and Kevlar on the back add up to a phone that feels solidly built, with no visible gaps or cheap-feeling plastic surfaces anywhere to be found, save for a flip-out door on the left side of the Razr that hides the microSD card slot and the 4G LTE sim card. And yes, as always, Verizon's 4G LTE network is blazing fast for streaming video, loading Web pages and general Web data consumption.

But that small door feels like it will eventually break off and is a weak point of the otherwise luxurious design. Battery life isn't great, but I've yet to test a 4G smartphone from any manufacturer that delivers great battery life.

With heavy use, I would have to charge the Razr before a work day is done. Daily charging would be a part of life with the Razr and anyone considering buying this phone should have a charger at home, work and in the car.

However, the door and battery life are minor complaints compared to the Razr's 4.3-inch touch display. Beneath the wonderful Gorilla Glass is what Motorola calls its Super AMOLED Advanced qHD screen, with a 540 x 960 pixel resolution. Frankly put, the screen is a major disappointment. 

Colors look oversaturated, text on Web pages often appears jagged and rough, and overall the display looks pixelated, adding up to a screen that is more distracting than immersive. 

The Droid Bionic, while thicker and nearly as attractive style-wise, has a better-looking screen (and now sells for $250 on a two-year contract from Verizon after first launching at a price of $300). Even better looking is the Samsung Galaxy S II's display. Top of the smartphone heap, in my opinion, is the display on Apple's iPhone 4 and 4S.

Compared with these three top handsets, the Razr's screen looks dated and not worth the $300 asking price.

Every time you use a smartphone, you're looking at its screen. If you don't like what you're looking at, well, that's a deal breaker. It's about equal to hating the seats, steering wheel and dashboard of the car you drive each day. 

If the Razr's screen would have just matched the look of the Droid Bionic, the Razr could be challenging the Samsung Galaxy S II as my favorite Android on the market. Instead, the Razr leaves me wondering what could have been and hoping for an improved Razr 2 some day.

RELATED: 

First look: Sony's 3-D TV worn on your head [Video]

Samsung Galaxy S II, Android on Sprint review [Video]

Motorola Droid Bionic review: Top-notch phone isn't for everybody [Video]

— Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Photo: The Motorola Droid Razr. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

twitter.com/emamd

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