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Motorola RAZR hands-on: Back to the future

Motorola RAZR
Motorola RAZR (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I'd imagine many of the Motorola RAZR previews you're going to read this week will start something like this: "The original Motorola RAZR, which came out more than 15 years ago, was the first cellphone that worked well and looked good. I have a lingering nostalgic love of the form factor, and the audible snap brings me back to a particular time and place."

Motorola RAZR

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

I have none of that. My first cellphone was a Sanyo something-or-other, and by the time I replaced it, the iconic RAZR V3 was long discontinued. I did briefly own a Motorola KRZR before falling for the sliding seduction of the LG Shine, but my appreciation for the RAZR, unlike many people's, was tangential.

Which is why I'm so surprised that I had so many warm feelings for the new Motorola RAZR, a $1500 Verizon exclusive that, aside from its vertical fold, says little about the future of the smartphone industry.

The return of the flip phone

If you've ever used a flip phone, you know what to expect here. Motorola has reimagined the original RAZR V3, chin and all, for a 2019 — actually, 2020 — audience. It's a lot wider than that phone, though still objectively and sometimes frustratingly narrow compared to "normal" devices on the market. Flipped open, there's a 6.2-inch pOLED display likely dual-sourced by TCL, an up-and-coming manufacturer of foldable OLED panels (but a veteran at the fixed flat versions), and BOE.

The most impressive part about the RAZR is that when flipped open you can't tell that the screen folds

While the 2142x876 panel isn't that sharp, it looks quite good and gets bright enough for most applications. But most impressively, and something I couldn't really believe until I spent a few hours with the phone, is that after hundreds of folds there's no discernible crease in the plastic panel. Contrast this with the Galaxy Fold, where the inner crease is obvious to the point of distraction, that's a laudable achievement. Motorola's also done some interesting things to prevent debris ingress from affecting the long-term performance of the RAZR. The hinge is capped, just like the re-released Galaxy Fold, but there's an extra flexible plastic layer on top of the primary one that's meant to prevent dings, scratches and, ultimately, premature damage.

Motorola RAZR

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

Also interesting is the bravado with which Motorola is approaching the actual day-to-day usability of its first flexible phone; use it, they say. Don't worry about getting it wet — while there's no IP rating, the RAZR is splash-proof thanks to a nano-coating that all of the company's phones receive. The stainless steel frame is also incredibly hardy and should hold up far better to wear and tear than the Galaxy Fold, low bar as that is. Motorola's also offering free screen replacements for the duration of the one-year warranty, after which it'll be $300.

Motorola RAZR opening and closing

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

But this is a far more compact object to protect than the Galaxy Fold, and Motorola's trying to achieve something very different: making a regular-sized phone out of something small. Folded, the RAZR measures just 72 x 94 x 14 mm, making it petite enough to fit in all but the most diminutive of pockets. It's a truly impressive demo, especially since opening and closing the phone feels just as satisfying as you'd hope — more so when you figure out how to do it with one hand, just like with the original. One of my favorite moments from the demo was making a call and hanging up by slamming the phone shut with a visceral thud.

Motorola RAZR

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

When closed, the RAZR has a small 2.7-inch OLED panel for notifications and video calls, which Motorola is calling Quick View. It doesn't do much — unlike the Galaxy Fold's outer display, there's no Android interface you can browse — but it does allow you to read and reply to incoming messages, ask Google Assistant the weather, toggle Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, control music, and make NFC payments.

Lost in time and space

Motorola RAZR and StarTAC

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Motorola admits that it's been working on this phone for a long time — with parent company Lenovo, the company began researching applications for flexible displays back in 2015. The components were finalized in early 2018 to make sure that, once put together, the RAZR could withstand everyday wear and tear.

But that protracted development process comes at a cost: the phone's internals are decidedly mid-range, highlighted by a Snapdragon 710 processor that debuted in mid-2018 and lacks the power we've come to expect from devices at this price range. It's still a capable chip for sure, with two high-performance cores based on ARM's Cortex-A75 architecture and six low-power cores based on the Cortex-A55. The problem is that the 710 has been replaced by the Snapdragon 730, which is both more powerful and power-efficient, and that chip too is likely to be superseded by a newer Snapdragon 700-series chip in the coming months.

Motorola RAZR specs: Everything that powers Moto's new foldable

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

To ensure the phone runs well, there's 6GB of RAM on-board, along with 128GB of non-expandable storage. In fact, you're not going to need any SIM card doohickey for this phone, as it's the first phone released in the U.S. to use an eSIM as its primary way of connecting to the network.

Of course, being a Verizon exclusive, that network will necessarily be Verizon, but Motorola says that once the phone is unlocked it can be easily transferred to another carrier as long as it supports eSIM technology, which means AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S. and all four major carriers in Canada, along with a bunch of others around the world. As a network nerd, this makes me extremely happy — I've been looking forward to getting rid of physical SIM cards for years now — since, in theory, it means switching carriers is as simple as obtaining a QR code. We'll see, though, how that works in practice.

Motorola RAZR hinge

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

If you're scrutinizing the rest of the parts that make up the whole, the rest of the spec sheet is a cause for concern. The battery inside the RAZR is small, even for a phone of this size. While Motorola says the 2510mAh cell will last for over a day thanks to the battery-sipping processor and all the software optimizations on board, it's still concerning to see such a small number on the page.

There's also a small fingerprint sensor on the front of the phone, another vestige of a design that appears to have been finalized before the proliferation of the in-display variety (though I'm actually grateful for the reliability of a capacitive sensor in this case).

Motorola RAZR

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

A single 16MP camera sits on the phone's front, which turns into the phone's rear when the screen is extended. Motorola says that the sensor does everything a phone needs, but there are a few issues with that statement: the sensor itself is relatively old, an IMX519 that showed up in devices like the OnePlus 6 and 6T, along with the Moto G7 Plus earlier this year, and early samples show little promise that it performs better than other much cheaper Motorola devices.

The camera does some interesting things, though, thanks to the interplay with the small front display: it'll show a little animated disembodied cartoon face to remind kids to smile, and it'll also show a preview to the subject after the photo is taken. And because the outer camera is also a selfie shooter when the RAZR is folded, it can be used to frame and take a selfie. Small additions, sure, but Motorola plans to add to the experience over time.

Unfortunately, time isn't on Motorola's side.

The software waiting game

Motorola RAZR

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

The Motorola RAZR launches in January 2020 with Android 9 Pie. Why launch with a version of Android that was announced in mid-2018 and not the newer, better, faster, more foldable-compatible software that launched this year? Because, as with the hardware, the software has been in development for a very long time.

That means a couple things: it's really stable right now and feels polished, but it also means that users are stuck waiting for the real foldable experience until well after the phone is released. And releasing a phone in early 2020 with Android 9 is borderline insulting.

Motorola says that it's working with Google to expedite the release of Android 10 for shortly after the phone's January debut, but who knows how long it will actually take. Motorola hasn't filled us with confidence with its update cadence on its other phones.

OK, now what?

Motorola RAZR

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

While it's launching today, the RAZR doesn't actually come out until early January. You won't even be able to pre-order it until December 26, which is baffling. That it's a Verizon exclusive also means the potential audience for this product is limited at best, and while it's no surprise — Motorola has been close with Verizon since the days of the original Droid, and Big Red passed on the Fold's re-release recently — it's still difficult to countenance Motorola's ultimate goal with the RAZR. Who is it for? Who's going to spend $1500, or $63 per month, for a glorified flip phone?

Motorola's spent the last three years building a small phone that flips out to become a bigger one. It's awesome that such a thing is possible, and there's just something truly exhilarating and a bit cheeky about being able to show it off.

Motorola RAZR opening and closing

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

But I wonder if that's just what it is: a showpiece, a design object, something to show off. As practical as the phone itself is, the circumstances around its price and availability make it the very opposite of practical. Whether that's ultimately to Verizon's and Motorola's benefit remains to be seen, but the RAZR, unlike its 2004 predecessor which sold in the millions, is unlikely to reach the pockets of more than a few thousand people.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

32 Comments
  • I could be interested in the gen 2 version when they update the processor and manage to throw in a larger battery.. It looks cool but it would be a huge downgrade just in the name of having a cool trinket for a little while.
  • The nostalgia is strong.
  • A Verizon exclusive is limiting and it will fail just like the fold because of price.
  • If it "fails" like the Fold, it'll sell out in seconds everywhere it's sold.
  • At least it’s properly executed unlike that Samsung lemon.
  • And you know this... how?
  • I read this with a huge smile. But like my original razor phone its not water proof (it fell into a pool and died). Wait till then price comes down.
  • Very interesting
    I would love to play with it and see.
  • Super excited until I saw the mid tier processor. I love the concept, but Moto missed the mark here. Flagship prices demand flagship specs. Whose your target market here? Sweet concept, just needed more firepower under the hood. I love that Moto takes creative risks, but it really seems like their niche is to dominate the budget and mid tier smartphone market.
  • It's upper mid tier of that matter. It's not the latest processor as the hardware had already been finalized over a year ago. It plays Call of Duty mobile just fine if you are curious. If you need the latest and greatest then you're going to have to spend more to get the Fold which is way more bulky. With the RAZR you are not paying for the processor, you are paying for the folding factor and thinnest of this phone like how people did back in 2005 including myself.
  • Love it, would love to play around with it, can't see myself buying one just yet at that price, but glad moto still taking risks, and making good solid devices
  • I freaking hate Verizon. WHY is this exclusive!!!!
  • Yeah, that bugs me too. I'd buy this phone in a heartbeat if I could get it on T-Mobile.
  • I'm buying it for the Nostalgia and compact form factor. Moto Hardware has also always been my second favorite behind google for the pure android experience. I hope Android 10 comes quick for Dark Mode.
  • So it hasn't been released yet and its already obsolete. Next.
  • I liked flip phones. The original RAZR was my favorite phone. I hate how uncomfortable current smartphones are in my pocket.
    I was really looking forward to this. Even despite the low-ish specs and high-ish price.
    But then... VERIZON EXCLUSIVE
    Well... F you too, Motorola.
  • Happens. Sure it's Verizon exclusive right in the us right now but wait for the unlocked varient. Then enjoy to ur heart's content or buy from Verizon first day and have it unlocked and use carrier of ur choice.
  • I like it, and they did the hinge right. Price point means it will be a novelty item though, especially with that SOC and camera. I understand the lower SOC for the sake of battery, but that camera would have me carrying my Nikon or a flagship phone (iPhone 11 or U12 Plus) for photos.
  • A phone brings him "back to a particular time and place"?? Ha ha ha! That's a laugh! I've never heard of a phone triggering feelings of nostalgia before. Lol!
  • i was interested on this phone but 1500 make me not interested on this phone
  • I would buy this because of the form factor and motorola's add-ons. But $1,500 is just too much.
  • It's a very cool design but I fail to see it succeed at $1500. I has very little to do with being compact, I can fit Pixel 4 and Note 10 in my pocket just as easy as this Moto and yet all other phones are light years ahead in hardware.
    This should be $500 at most
  • I want this form factor but it's just off the mark. For $1500 a better setup would be the newest 700 series processor (yes, I'm ok with that because of the obvious limited battery space). Instead of that front display, put the camera system from the new Zoom phone. And for the sake of all that is good in the world..... don't lock it to Verizon. Wish list... 5g. But dang, I have to admit, if $1500 meant nothing to me, I'd buy it.
  • There are 1,500 reasons not to want this phone.... but it's just so damn appealing. So much thought has gone into it. #moist
  • 1600 for a phone that will never go past android 10... no thanks
    until android phone makers can support devices like Apple, 5+ years of OS updates, stuff like this is pointless. there is no need for a new phone every year anymore. updates are minor from year to year now. they'll sell a few thousand of these. waste of time.
    if this was $599. i'd likey grab one just for fun
  • Is there a picture of a side by side comparison with the V3? Since that is what is being compared to in the article. The StarTA C pick is nice but not really helpful.
  • Is there a picture of a side by side comparison with the V3? Since that is what is being compared to in the article. The StarTA C pick is nice but not really helpful.
  • Hmmm... carefully-crafted home screen wallpaper that is noticeably darker across the fold area... :') Still, this will sell like hotcakes and that will support the vastly better 2nd version. :-)
  • First spare $1500 I get this is mine. Love it.
  • One question for Flexible Displays, how do they work with games like Pokemon Go, where you are tapping on the screen, and swirling your finger around many, many, many times.
  • This phone is much overpriced like all the smartphones. Double overpriced !!!
  • Yeah liked it till 1500