At 4.4 ounces, the RAZR M is only 0.04 ounces lighter than the DROID RAZR that shipped last year. But still, it feels light in the hand and is reasonably solid. It's marginally heavier than the iPhone 5, but you could argue that the RAZR M is also more durable. Motorola has done a commendable job splitting the difference between rugged and light. There's Gorilla Glass on the front, and Kevlar on the rear. With complaints pouring in regarding the iPhone 5's scratchability, perhaps you can appreciate the Kevlar backing that'll stand up to abuse for much longer.
Motorola has also done an impressive job carving out a design language of its own in a world where lawyers are increasingly sensitive to copying. The entire Motorola DROID line actually has a common theme, with sharper corners, unique materials (like Kevlar), silver/black branding and a reverse tapering down the rear. In other words, the phone is thicker up top and gets slimmer as it progresses to the bottom.
At a glance, the RAZR M's design is very familiar. But Motorola has become quite good at defining itself. The build quality here is really exceptional, with even the plastics being very rigid. The entire phone feels rock solid, with the edges feeling smooth in the hand and smooth to the touch. The Kevlar back exudes confidence, preventing unwanted flexing should you have the phone in your back pocket and then suddenly sit down on a hard surface. (Yes, we've witnessed similar motions crack the screens of phones like the Galaxy Nexus.)
Purists may be disappointed that the rear Kevlar back won't pop off, meaning that the 2,000mAh battery is sealed and not user-serviceable. To Motorola's credit, sealing the back does create a more uniform flow of the design, and the rear feels entirely more sturdy because of it. Above that, there's an 8MP camera (supporting 1080p video captures) with an LED flash, and the rear branding is about what you'd expect. There's a Motorola "M" logo, a 4G LTE logo and a Verizon logo. Unfortunately, Verizon also shoved a second logo of its own on the bottom of the front lip -- we could've done without that one.
Along the edges, Motorola has taken a design risk that we genuinely appreciate. It has decided to expose the minuscule screws that hold the top and bottom casings together, and it gives the phone a somewhat industrial look that we're big fans of. It's also useful for tinkerers who enjoy taking their electronics apart to inspect their internals.
Along the bottom, there are no ports, but there's a microphone hole there on the lower lip. On the right side, there's a very substantial volume rocker (take note, competitors!), and a polished silver power button. We actually like that the power button is of a different hue than the other buttons; on the Lumia 900 for example, it's easy to confuse which button is the camera shutter release and which is the on / off switch because they look identical. The top edge is home to a 3.5mm headphone jack, while the left edge has a pop-off cover that conceals a microSIM card slot and a microSD storage expansion slot. Beneath that, there's a standard microUSB port, which we think is poorly located. If you're charging your phone and attempting to type on it, this port really impedes your ability to access the keyboard in a natural way. Having this port on the bottom or the top of the phone would have been preferred.
There's a 4.3" qHD (940x540) display in the RAZR M, which is impressive in a few ways. First, Motorola managed to fit a 4.3" display onto a phone that's just 4.82" tall. Second, it's as close to an edge-to-edge display that we've seen on a mid-range phone. Yes, it uses a PenTile display, which is technically inferior to some other sub-pixel arrangements, but there's no denying that there's a lot of screen real estate on such a (relatively) compact device.
We personally aren't all that down on PenTile, but it's worth looking at this one in the store to see if your eyes pick up on some of the displays disadvantages. To our eyes, the screen is vibrant and sharp, and the viewing angles are excellent.
It's worth noting that perhaps the biggest signal that this is a mid-range phone is the built-in storage. Only 8GB is included, so more users will certainly want to invest in a microSD card to store more apps and media than the phone itself will hold out of the box. On the plus side, at least a microSD slot is included.
Interestingly, Motorola has seen fit to drop support of the LapDock external accessory with the RAZR M. That was a big selling point with the original RAZR reissue, but obviously too few people were interested in sinking $100+ in a docking peripheral for a phone. To be fair, it's a tough proposition; with tablets saturating the market, and Ultrabooks grabbing hold as well, convincing a phone owner to use it as a computer always seemed a stretch.
This is also one of the first "mid-level" phones to ship with NFC, so that Android Beam and other tap-able apps work just fine. NFC hasn't taken off like a rocket ship, but having it onboard is a plus. It's a way to future-proof the phone a bit, and it's much appreciated. The 0.3MP front-facing camera is rather paltry, but should suffice for LTE video chatting.