Motorola Electrify M review

The Motorola Electrify M for U.S. Cellular packs lots of smartphone power into a size that feels just right.
Photo of Motorola Electrify M
599.99

For some U.S. Cellular customers, the 4.8-inch Samsung Galaxy S III is just too big. If that sounds like you, the $99.99 Motorola Electrify M is probably just right. Motorola has managed to pack a 4.3-inch, edge-to-edge display into a smartphone that will feel at home in most any hand. And while it lags behind the GSIII in a few key areas, it should be speedy and powerful enough to please anyone that can’t quite get a grip on a larger phone.

Design and Call Quality
On the inside, the Electrify M is pretty much the same phone as the Verizon Wireless Droid Razr M. On the outside, it’s a little bit different. The luxurious combination of Kevlar and aluminum is nowhere to be found here, replaced by a somewhat flimsy-feeling gray plastic. On the plus side, the phone is protected by an invisible water-repellent splash guard, which makes it a little more durable than it feels.

The Electrify M measures 4.85 by 2.42 by 0.34 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.92 ounces. Compare that with the Galaxy S III, which is still light at 4.65 ounces, but measures in at a hand-stretching 5.38 by 2.78 by 0.34 inches (HWD). When I hold the Electrify M, I can use my thumb to drag down the notifications bar at the top of the screen, which is something I can’t do one-handed with the GSIII. And while this is a little vague, there’s just something about the size and shape of the Electrify M that feels right when you hold it.

The 4.3-inch, 960-by-540-pixel Super AMOLED Advanced display is bright and very saturated. I don’t care for the PenTile pixel layout, which causes text and images to look a bit fuzzy, but most people won’t likely mind (the GSIII uses a PenTile screen as well). There’s a row of three onscreen buttons and I had no trouble typing on the software keyboard.

U.S. Cellular is the seventh-largest carrier in the U.S. It runs its own 3G and 4G LTE networks in parts of 26 states. Prices are good, but not significantly better than any of the big four carriers. Instead, U.S. Cellular sells itself on a higher level of customer service and network quality. Our readers agreed, giving the carrier our Readers’ Choice award last year, for reasonable prices and a reliable network. 

The Electrify M supports U.S. Cellular’s relatively new 4G LTE network, which, at the moment, is still limited to four major clusters throughout the U.S. We test U.S. Cellular phones in New York City, where they roam on Sprint’s network, which can be frustratingly slow. If you’re planning to buy a phone on U.S. Cellular, you may want to take a look at the coverage map, in case you plan to spend a lot of time outside of the carrier’s native coverage area. You can also stay connected via 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi (on both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands).

Call quality was good in my tests. Voices sounded very clear in the phone’s earpiece, if a little robotic. Transmissions were also clear, with excellent noise cancellation. Calls sounded fine through a Jawbone Era Bluetooth headset and Motorola’s voice command system worked well over Bluetooth. The speakerphone also sounded fine, and is definitely loud enough to use in your car, as well as outside, if it isn’t too noisy. The nonremovable 2000mAh battery was good for a solid 12 hours and 2 minutes of talk time.

Processor, Android, and Apps
Motorola won’t say who manufactures the 1.5GHz dual-core processor that powers the Electrify M, but I suspect it’s a Qualcomm S4. It performed almost identically to the Galaxy S III, which is powered by the same chip. Gaming frame rates are actually higher on the Electrify M, but that’s because the lower-resolution display means it’s pushing less pixels. Either way, this phone is very fast. It’s packing enough power to handle any game you throw at it, or any of the 600,000+ apps in the Google Play store, which is on board.

(Next page: Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions)

The Electrify M runs Android 4.0.4 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Considering Google owns Motorola, and even Samsung’s GSIII was updated to Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) more than a month ago, it’s disappointing to see that it isn’t yet available on the Electrify M. But ICS is still a very solid operating system, and Motorola has made some helpful improvements to the stock UI.

You can have up to seven home screens, and when you flick all the way to the left, you get an eighth screen with a list of quick settings. The primary home screen comes loaded with a few icons and Motorola’s awesome Circle widget, which tells you the time, weather, your phone’s battery life, and even lets you set an alarm. Unfortunately, the Electrify M is also saddled with plenty of bloatware. Some of it is good, like Motorola’s SmartActions app (see below for more on this), but most of it is wasted space. You can disable these apps from showing up, but there’s no way to delete them, which is a bummer.

Motorola’s SmartActions app is great. It lets you follow (or create) a set of rules that make it easier to accomplish a particular task. For instance, the Low Battery Saver rule prolongs battery life by turning down your screen brightness and shutting down power-draining features like GPS and background syncing. And the Drive Smart rule switches the phone to vehicle mode and reads incoming messages aloud when you’re driving.

Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
You get 4.28GB of free internal storage, and there’s a microSD card slot on the left side of the phone. My 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards worked fine. I was able to play all of our music test files aside from FLAC, and music sounded good over both wired and Altec Lansing Backbeat Bluetooth headphones. The phone was able to play back all of our video test files in resolutions up to 1080p, though audio was out of sync over Bluetooth.

The rear-facing 8-megapixel autofocus camera offers an LED flash and lots of onscreen controls, but it only takes average pictures. Autofocus locks in quickly, and once it does, the camera takes photos in 0.6 seconds. Images show a good amount of detail, but most of the shots I snapped looked a little dark and noisy, regardless of lighting. Video capture is better: Indoor and outdoor footage played back at a smooth 30 frames per second in sharp 1080p. There’s also a VGA front-facing camera for video chat.

The best smartphone on U.S. Cellular remains the $150 Samsung Galaxy S III, which has a sharper display, a better camera, even-better call quality, and offers more customizability than the Electrify M. But it’s so darn big. If you find the GSIII uncomfortable, get the Electrify M. You’re getting practically the same performance in a size that’s much more manageable.

U.S. Cellular’s 4G LTE support is limited, but if you’re looking for a high-end phone, you’re better off getting something with 4G LTE than not. That limits you to the positively gargantuan Samsung Galaxy Note II phablet, which is certainly out of the question if you find the GSIII too big. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy Axiom, which we haven’t tested yet. It too comes in a manageable size like the Electrify M, though it isn’t as powerful.

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Specifications
Service Provider US Cellular
Screen Details 960-by-540-pixel Super AMOLED Advanced
Bands 850, 1900, 1700, 700
Physical Keyboard No
Operating System Android OS
Network CDMA
High-Speed Data EVDO Rev A, LTE, CDMA 1X
Form Factor Candy Bar
Megapixels 8 MP
Bluetooth Yes
Camera Yes
Battery Life (As Tested) 12 hours 02 minutes
Camera Flash Yes
microSD Slot Yes
802.11x 802.11 a/b/g
Processor Speed 1.5 GHz
Screen Size 4.3 inches
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 4.28 GB
GPS Yes

Verdict
The Motorola Electrify M for U.S. Cellular packs lots of smartphone power into a size that feels just right.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc