Motorola Razr returns as a foldable Android smartphone

The original folding phone – Motorola's iconic, impressive and much-lusted-after Razr – is back as a folding smartphone.

By Mark Gurman, November 18 2019
Motorola Razr returns as a foldable Android smartphone

Motorola is rebooting the iconic Razr flip phone as a 6.2-inch smartphone with a foldable display that gives the Lenovo-owned brand a unique selling point against the finest from Apple and Samsung.

The new device reprises the Motorola Razr name and looks like a modernized version of the original. It costs US$1,499 and will be available for pre-order in December in Europe and as a Verizon exclusive in the U.S., ahead of its retail arrival in January. For Lenovo, which has a tiny fraction of the global smartphone market, it's an effort to build brand awareness in the U.S. via a halo device.

Motorola says the new Razr will be the first device of its kind on the market.
Motorola says the new Razr will be the first device of its kind on the market.

Launched in late 2004, the first Razr became a cultural icon, selling in the hundreds of millions to become the face of the modern mobile phone industry years before Apple launched the iPhone in 2007.

Motorola’s new model has a shot at some fame as well, as it’s set to become the first true foldable phone on the market – every other device so far could more properly be described as a foldable tablet – and company executives have told Bloomberg they are confident that their design won’t succumb to the durability issues that pushed back Samsung’s Galaxy Fold launch.

Like the original model (right), the new Razr shows a handy display even when it's closed.
Like the original model (right), the new Razr shows a handy display even when it's closed.

The 2019 Razr is no bargain, but compared to the US$1,980 Galaxy Fold or Huawei's US$2,600 Mate X, it’s the most affordable member of the most expensive modern phone category.

The compromise that users will have to accept with the Razr is in some of its specifications: it has a small battery at 2,510mAh and runs the older Android 9 Pie operating system on Qualcomm’s sub-flagship Snapdragon 710 chip. It lacks the 5G option and bountiful memory of its rivals. Aside from the U.S. and Europe, it’ll also be on sale in Latin America, Asia and Australia.

Same folding phone idea, but with new foldable-screen technology.
Same folding phone idea, but with new foldable-screen technology.

Motorola President Sergio Buniac admits he doesn’t see the launch as a “silver bullet” for rocketing Motorola’s sales up to Apple and Samsung numbers.

Over the past several quarters, Motorola has turned its mobile business from a flailing unit of China’s Lenovo to profitability in many markets, he said. The new Razr is intended to continue that even without strong sales.

Buniac said he’s hoping for “a little bit more” demand than supply, while Lenovo Chief Operating Officer Gianfranco Lanci said “it will bring greater awareness to the brand, especially in key markets like North America.”

There's no mistaking that familiar Razr 'chin'.
There's no mistaking that familiar Razr 'chin'.

Motorola’s take on foldable phone design is markedly different to the first batch of foldable devices.

Instead of a vertical hinge that makes it open like a book, the new Razr opens and closes like a classic flip phone. Closed shut, the phone is a square that’s about half the size of an iPhone 11 Pro Max, and Motorola has used the foldable technology to make one of the most portable phones on the market.

The Motorola Razr compared to an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max.
The Motorola Razr compared to an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max.

In the process, it’s brought back the action of flipping the phone shut to hang up calls, which is something most premium smartphone consumers haven’t done in at least a decade.

Motorola promises its zero-gap design will endure.
Motorola promises its zero-gap design will endure.

Samsung is planning to introduce its own square-shaped foldable phone as its second Galaxy Fold device early next year. Until that time, Motorola looks set to be all alone in offering a regular smartphone capable of collapsing into a pocket-friendly clamshell.

“We wouldn’t be bringing the product to market if we didn’t think it was ready,” said Buniac, underlining Motorola’s belief in the reliability of its particular hinge and fold design. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold had issues with air bubbles popping up beneath the display and tiny particles getting trapped under the screen. Touting a so-called zero-gap design, Buniac said “Our expectation is that we will have a reliable product, and as we launch you will see, but we are confident in what we achieved.”

The Razr's surprisingly tall inner screen.
The Razr's surprisingly tall inner screen.

In a brief hands-on test with the Razr, the handset felt and looked impressive. Its screen felt fragile, but the device’s design chief Ruben Castano said “We feel like we’ve really developed a robust solution,” pointing to stainless steel structural plates between the bottom of the inner screen and the device’s internals.

He says that layer will help prevent particles like sand from going into the device’s electronics and breaking the display. There’s also a 2.7-inch exterior touchscreen for quick access to commonly used functions and checking notifications.

Similar to Samsung, Motorola will offer 24-hour turnaround replacements under a standard warranty for display failures, and it will charge US$299 if the issue falls out of warranty in the U.S. The phone will be sold via Verizon Wireless as the exclusive launch carrier in the U.S. and will be available at Verizon and Walmart stores from January.

The Razr’s inner display appeared impressive with a high-resolution panel whose crease was more subtle than the one on the Galaxy Fold.

When unfolded, the Razr operates like most other Android phones, running a full touchscreen version of Google’s operating system. The external screen is designed for light interactions like answering calls and texts, but like the front screen on the Galaxy Fold, it’s not something most consumers are likely to use much. The new Razr is a flip phone at heart and that’s how most people will want to use it.

When open, the Razr functions just like any other Android smartphone.
When open, the Razr functions just like any other Android smartphone.

Castano said that Motorola started working on a foldable design around 2015 and that its biggest challenge was being able to match the first Razr’s ability for the phone to be fully shut with no gap.

Like the original Razr, the 2019 model has a chin at the bottom that houses electronics such as the LTE antenna. it also has a notch at the top of the main display, lacks a headphone jack, and will be available only in black and with 128GB of storage without further upgrade options. Its camera and battery specs are underwhelming, though Motorola promises “all-day battery life” without quoting an exact number of hours.

Motorola’s other big task will be to prove itself at the super premium end of the market that’s long been dominated by Samsung and Apple. Since the first Razr, the Motorola brand has worn many hats, having served as a middling iPhone counter with the Verizon Droid, gone through a US$12.5 billion Google acquisition and eventually ended up in the hands of Lenovo. It now needs to rebuild its own brand identity.

But the Razr’s shortcomings may very well not matter. This device is designed to appeal to those nostalgic for the flip phone era, for whom specs may not be a priority, as well as the early adopters of new technology, who are more tolerant of first-generation imperfections.

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here

Mark Gurman

Mark Gurman covers consumer technology for Bloomberg

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 144

This is a lovely throw back to the Razor and a great use of fordable screen tech.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1201

I loved my RAZR back in the mid-2000's. It will be interesting to see how this develops as it attempts to address the biggest issue with current smartphones which is their size meaning they are impractical for people, particularly men, to carry in pockets. Should it be successful, you can be sure Apple etc will be incorporating something like this in the future models.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 160

Excellent point about smartphone size! With the basic Nokia and foldables in the early to mid 2000s, carrying a phone (in your pockets) was not an issue for most men. I love the functionality of current generation smartphones, but the size and bulk means it's no longer a fit for my trouser pockets and the extra weight means its also too heavy for my jacket pockets. I know some will think these are trifling reasons. But comfort and convenience mean a lot to me, so I'm looking very closely at Razr for a future upgrade!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 May 2015

Total posts 30

This is great news and I would consider buying one when it's available here. The original Razr was very practical until the "wall-tiles" began dominating the market. I can't see why Motorola is downplaying their new Razr, I recall simply hanging up by flipping the lid and no pocket calls or broken screens. The combination of compactness and a full-size screen makes it a serious contender to the new phablets being developed.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 98

This is fantastic, I had one of the original Razr phones in 2005 and it was THE phone to have, looked very sophisticated and worked really well despite the typically poor Motorola user interface. I am still not sold on this 'foldable screen' technology, mainly concerns over longevity and if annoying faults and visible fold lines' along the fold will start to appear maybe six months in. But the Razr form factor is brilliant for this type of design.

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