Moto Razr: the first foldable smartphone

Desk Report

Published: 18 Nov 2019, 01:26 pm

Fifteen years after launching the iconic flip phone, Motorola is showing off its highly anticipated reboot: a $1499 smartphone with a flexible display that folds up when you're not using it.

I got an early look at the new Razr at a press event in Los Angeles on Tuesday, and I can safely say that it looks like it was worth the wait. 

Motorola's new Razr isn't the first smartphone with a foldable, flexible display, but it's the first such phone I've actually been really excited about — and not just because it stays true to its flip-phone roots. 

Razr, rebooted

The most striking thing about the Razr is how much it looks like the original. While other foldable phones use dual-screen displays that are awkwardly wide, the new Razr preserves the original clamshell design of its namesake. 

Yes, it's a bit wider and bigger than the original, but it will look very familiar to anyone who owned (or coveted) a Razr in the early aughts. When it's folded up, there's a 2.7-inch "Quick View" display, where you can preview your notifications, use a handful of apps, or snap a selfie. One nice touch: the camera on the front is the same 16 MP that's the rear-facing shooter when the phone is unfolded (there's also a 5MP front-facing camera for selfies when the phone is unfolded.)

When you unfold the phone, it opens up into a 6.2-inch "FlexView" OLED display. It's a bit narrower than other smartphones, which might look a bit odd, but makes it much easier to use one handed. I was able to get my right thumb into the top left corner of the display, which I'm not able to do easily with my iPhone X.

Another feature that's instantly recognizable from the original: the massive "chin" on the bottom edge of the phone. Motorola executives said during a press event Tuesday that this was both an intentional callback to the original flip phone, which had a similar ridge on the bottom, and a practical necessity. In addition to a fingerprint sensor, the chin also holds the phone's antennas and speakers. 

In my time with the phone, I didn't find the bulky bit awkward — it actually makes it a little easier to hold the curved glass in your hands — but I can easily see it being a controversial choice to some.

Folding is the new flipping

Okay, let's talk about that fold-up flippable display. 

Motorola designed a unique "zero-gap" hinge system to accommodate the display. There's no space in between the two halves of the phone when it's folded up. And when it's unfolded, the hinge is just visible at the edge of the phone. And, unlike Samsung's Galaxy Fold, there isn't a visible crease where the display folds. 

If you look closely over the hinge, there is a slight gap between the hinge and the display, which allows it to fold. It's not a crease, but you can definitely feel that there's some space there. I was even able to get my fingernail between the plastic display and hinge, much to the horror of a nearby Motorola executive. 

But it still felt quite sturdy, and the display seemed completely unaffected by my attempts to move it around. 

A Motorola executive told me it's designed to prevent debris from getting stuck in that gap, which was a big issue with the Galaxy Fold, though I'd have to spend more time with the phone to confirm. 

There's also something that's just really, really satisfying about having a flip-phone-like design again. I was a little bummed that the new Razr isn't quite as easy to flip open one-handed, and it doesn't have quite the same thwack when you close it, but it's pretty damn fun to be able to fold up a phone and use multiple displays again.

Whether all that is enough to make the new Razr a hit for Motorola, though, is unclear.

I've only spent about an hour with the phone, but it's already the only foldable phone I've actually been excited about, and not just because of my flip phone nostalgia. By taking cues from the original, Motorola seems to have come up with a dual-screen, foldable concept that actually makes sense: a big phone when you want it, a small one when you don't.

That said, the phone is nearly $1500 and there is reason for some caution. I do have some potential concerns about the hinge system and whether the display can stand up to everyday use and abuse. Motorola execs seems pretty confident that it will, but if Samsung's Galaxy Fold fiasco taught us anything it's that there's a whole lot more that can go wrong with flexible displays. 

But even so, it's the first smartphone to make me think that flexible displays might actually amount to something more than a gimmick.

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