Razr Sharp: Motorola’s Retro-Futuristic Foldable Phone Praised

 

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When Motorola started teasing the idea of a retro foldable phone based on its iconic Razr, it seemed more like a tease than an actual product. Motorola hasn’t been a major competitor in the high-end phone market for years, but the company was going to ship a foldable display — a technology Samsung was clearly struggling to perfect?

The answer, from pretty much everyone who saw the device today is: Yes. Yes, they are. Sascha Segan of PCMag is extremely enthusiastic, writing: “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.” Techradar writes: “The Motorola Razr 2019 does an admirable job of reviving an iconic design in a new foldable form factor that defines what it means to stand out – yes, the phone everyone had 15 years ago is now something to make you stand out.”

Not everyone is quite as enthusiastic as these two publications. DigitalTrends writes that it was left “wanting more,” while CNN only qualified the handset as a “kinda want.” Since these reports are coming from people who spent some time hands-on with the product but don’t represent final reviews, I’m going to do a bit more synthesis on the opinions on the product rather than straight quoting.

Image by Sascha Segan, PCMag

First off, the Razr has everybody talking — even folks who aren’t necessarily wowed by the device as it exists today. The long, narrow design folds into a diminutive palm-sized device. There’s a 2.7-inch screen on the outside that works like a good flip phone display — you can use it for notifications, photos, and responding to calls. Opening the phone gets you a 21:9 aspect ratio and a tall, narrow device. The display doesn’t offer more screen real estate than you’d typically get from a non-folding phone, and the 21:9 aspect ratio is unusual in this kind of handset. If you read a lot of mobile content, you might love the layout, especially for long-form text. Techradar notes that a fair bit of video content leaves bars on either side of the display, however.

The display is a plastic-covered OLED and doesn’t have a visible crease, unlike Samsung. The OLED panel is a 2142×876 display (Techradar claims it’s much less sharp than an equivalent 21:9 Sony panel, but no other review I’ve seen complained). The specs on the phone are modest, on the whole — it’s based on the Snapdragon 710, Qualcomm’s midrange mobile chipset from 2018. The 710 is said to feature a pair of Cortex-A75 CPU cores and six Cortex-A55 cores, with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a tiny 2,510mAh battery. The front camera is 16MP and f/1.7, the front is 5MP and f/2.0.

The people who like the Razr like the way you can seamlessly switch between the smaller and larger displays, the 21:9 display ratio (in some cases), the fact that it fits in a pocket again, and in some cases, the visceral feel of opening and closing the handset. The folding screen is praised for not creasing, though the technology is new enough that everyone wants to see durability tests. The Verge declares that the hinge is the current high-water mark of design for foldable phones.

Image by Sascha Segan, PCMag

On the negative side, there’s the fact that it costs $1,500, packs midrange internals, has a weak camera, and fields a lot of new technology of uncertain durability. The battery is small. It’s qualified as a first-generation product in a lot of reviews, and it very much is.

Based on the excitement of some of the press, it’s clear that Motorola has built something genuinely interesting here. Whether that something is enough to get over the various barriers between foldable devices and the mainstream market is a different question. Motorola will need to demonstrate that it’s ready to field this product into market with the best of what Samsung and Apple can ship, and prove it can iterate and improve the design. Different publications come down on different sides of how appealing the first-generation device is at this point in time — and that, I think, is why you see differing opinions.

The phone will be a Verizon exclusive in the US, with pre-orders starting December 26 and deliveries sometime in January.

Feature image by Sascha Segan, PCMag

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