I’m extremely jaded. I’ve reviewed more than 1,000 phones and other devices over the past 15 years, but I’m writing this with genuine enthusiasm for a smartphone that doesn’t look like everyone else’s device or feel like a weird experiment.
More than any other phone I’ve seen this year, the new Moto Razr will start conversations. In that way, it’s worthy of its namesake.
The Razr puts the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X a bit to shame. Those thick, clunky phones feel like technology demos for folding-screen technology—a material in search of a gadget in which to put itself. The Razr, on the other hand, feels like an idea that was waiting for, and finally found, its material.
Flip phones make sense. They fit in your pocket. They fit in your hand. Closed, they protect their delicate internal screens. They’re visceral and tactile: you flip ’em open, you flip ’em closed. But nobody, in the US at least, has been able to square the flip-phone form with big-screen smartphone operating systems until now.
Motorola went through 26 different prototypes to get to this form factor, it said at a launch event. They tried to make the phone narrower and then wider. They ended up with a phone that’s about the thickness of the original Razr—and which slides into a pocket very easily—but is wide enough to comfortably type on. The front is glass, and the back is textured grippy resin. It feels fully thought through.
That said, this thing is $1,499 and a Verizon exclusive. It’s going to test the question of who is actually willing to pay $1,500 to make a unique design statement. I’m a tech guy; I have no idea what the answer to that question is, but I hope it’s more than a few people. This design is just too good to let die.
A Long Legacy of Razrs
If you’re under 30, it’s hard to understand what a big deal the Razr was. When the Razr V3 came out in 2004, it was the first affordable luxury mobile phone—the first phone that actually sent a signal about being cool, as opposed to about being a business dork. It was also, at $400, a rare exception to the then-usual pricing where phones couldn’t cost more than $199 with a two-year contract.
The Razr sold more than 130 million units, according to the Wall Street Journal, and helped the original US mobile phone company maintain a No. 2 global position behind Nokia. In 2004, the Journal notes, Motorola had a 27.3 percent market share in the US. Now it has a 5.9 percent share, and it doesn’t sell any top-tier flagship phones. Its sales rely primarily on its affordable, workhorse G-series phones.
Motorola milked the basic Razr line for three years straight. The basic Razr was followed in 2005 by a Verizon Razr, which I was still enthused about. In mid-2006, when the Windows Media Player-compatible V3m came out, I still said there was a “cachet to whipping out a Razr.”
But Motorola beat that horse until it was undead. The Razr was popular, so rather than moving on, the company proliferated more versions of the Razr and crashed prices until its cachet was gone. In October 2006, the V3i had a weird, crippled pre-iPhone version of iTunes that didn’t work very well.
The Razr era was capped by peripatetic then-CEO Ed Zander bicycling onto a stage at CES 2007 to proclaim, “What follows the Razr? More Razrs!” But the world was already moving on: Apple had announced the iPhone the very same week.
Tech doesn’t die easily or quickly. Through 2007-2008, Motorola rolled out a range of Razr2 phones, which added 3G and some multimedia features but still fell short of being a smartphone. Motorola’s clout at that point was such that it could get the Razr2 onto four major carriers at once, at a time when most phones were single-carrier exclusives. But that was the beginning of the modern smartphone era, and flip phones were starting to go out of style.
The Razr name cropped up again on a quintet of decent Android phones in 2011-2012, mostly signifying how they were “shockingly thin” but it never again achieved the glory it had between 2004 to 2006.
I should probably also note that the Motorola that created the original Razr isn’t the one building the new one. Motorola’s consumer phone division was sold first to Google in 2011 and then to Lenovo in 2014.
Feeling the Buzz
I spent an hour or so with a new Razr, and I still feel the buzz.
After about an hour, I was holding it in one hand and opening and closing it reflexively, as one does with a flip phone. The hinge is a little soft; it doesn’t snap open or closed violently, because this is a 7.3-ounce, $1,500 piece of metal you don’t want to flip out of your hand. But it still has that satisfying physical click.
At 2.83 inches wide, it’s just at the maximum width for one-handed use. I have relatively small hands, for a man. I would have liked the phone to be a little narrower, but that would have made the touch keyboard inside narrower, and the touch keyboard is just wide enough to type on.
At 7.3 ounces, it feels solid and a little heavy when it’s closed. Once again, like with the width, it’s just under the limit where “luxuriously solid” would become “leaden.” When it’s open, though, it’s perfectly balanced. It’s long, but it never felt like it was going to slip out of my hands, even when I was typing on the keyboard at the bottom. The chin, grounding it, really helped.
I made some calls, because the original Razr was famous for excellent call quality. The phone has some side-tone, a reflection of your own voice in your ear, which I like because it makes you speak more quietly. Call quality sounded fine; I’m happy to see the phone supports EVS, the latest codec for the best possible call quality.
Moto has always thought through its Android experiences. The Razr runs Android 9 (Android 10 is coming, Moto insists) with customizations that are mostly around using the front screen. The front screen works like the front screen of a good flip phone. You can answer calls or messages entirely on the front screen; I called myself, hit OK on the front screen, and went right into speakerphone mode like on any good flip phone. You can also run the selfie camera entirely on the front screen, twisting your wrist to activate it and then tapping on the screen to take your photo.
So how about that tall, narrow screen? Other 21:9 phones exist, but they aren’t exactly mainstream. They’re from Sony, and nobody in the US buys Sony phones. But at least 21:9 is a standard aspect ratio in the content world. Motorola wouldn’t tell me who it’s getting its flexible screen from, spinning a line that it’s proprietary Motorola/Lenovo technology. Lenovo does not make folding screens. The screen is probably from either LG or BOE, the Chinese firm that makes the screen on Huawei’s Mate X.
For web browsing and email, the phone was fine. You see a lot of information on mobile-formatted web sites on the long screen, that’s for sure. Google Maps was kind of funny; I’m not used to such a long slice of map.
Watching a YouTube video in super-widescreen was fun. There isn’t a huge amount of 21:9 content out there, so if you don’t want to crop and zoom you’ll see most things with some side bars; when you do encounter 21:9 content, it’s very immersive. The bottom mounted speaker was fine, but it didn’t blare.
The folding plastic OLED screen feels stronger, safer, and more secure than the folding screens on either the Samsung Galaxy Fold or the Huawei Mate X. It’s sealed into the case around the sides; it feels like a traditional phone screen, not some fragile new technology that’s about to tear into scraps. Motorola says the phone is “splashproof” and that the screen is at least somewhat scratch-resistant, although I didn’t test that.
When you close the phone, the screen slides slightly down into the base, and it doesn’t seem to open up an air gap around the hinge. The gap is hidden in the hinge mechanism, Motorola’s head of product operations Doug Michau told me, and if any dust gets in there it gets ejected by the motion of the hinge. That’s big if true, and something we’ll have to see with continued use.
The phone has a one-year warranty, and after that screen replacements will cost $299. And, of course, it’s a flip! The fragile part, as fragile as it is or isn’t, is inside the flip!
There’s even a special box. The premium, triangular box contains the phone, Denon-branded USB-C earbuds, a USB-C-to-headphone dongle, a cable, and a 15-watt charger. But get this—take all that stuff out of the box, put the phone back in the box, and the box acts as a sound amplifier for the phone’s speaker.
Yes, It Has Specs
The phone isn’t about specs. It has a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor; 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a relatively tiny 2,510mAh battery in two parts, one on each half of the flip. The two screens are a 6.2-inch main screen at 2,142 by 876 and a 2.7-inch external screen at 800 by 600. The main camera is 16 megapixel and f/1.7; the front camera is 5MP and f/2.0. The phone supports Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5.0. The battery fast-charges (but it doesn’t charge wirelessly) at 15 watts.
I’m a little fascinated with the Snapdragon 710 because it’s in a ton of Chinese phones, but none that have come to the US. Looking at this list of 710-based phones, it generally appears in phones in the $200-$300 range in China and India. Looking at sample Geekbench 5 results from an Oppo Reno phone, it scored 316 single-core and 1,489 multi-core. A Snapdragon-based Android phone like the OnePlus 7 Pro or Galaxy Note 10 generally scores around 750/2700 according to our own tests, while the Snapdragon 675-based Moto Z4 scores 251/1190, according to Geekbench’s site.
So … what does that mean for performance? The Z4 isn’t hurting for performance, according to our review; the difference between Snapdragon 600 and 800 series devices often comes in extra camera features.
Motorola said it didn’t want to use the Snapdragon 855 because that would have required a bigger battery and more heat dissipation. Everything serves the design.
LTE-wise, the Razr has Category 12 LTE with 3x carrier aggregation. Like with the processor, this is pretty midrange. You’re not going to get 100Mbps+ data speeds here, but you’re probably not going to use this phone as a hotspot all the time anyway.