Motorola, nowadays part of Lenovo after being briefly in the hands of Google, has a long history of innovation within the telecom industry. One of the more famous achievements for consumers is the invention of the flip phone . A first move was made with the Motorola MicroTac, where a flap was folded over the keyboard before the company with the StarTAC released a telephone with a hinge in the middle. This flip phone concept had its heyday with the Motorola Razr, mid-2000s, which proved to be very popular in the United States in particular.
Since the introduction of touch screen telephones with increasingly large screens, hinges were no longer needed for a long time, but now that manufacturers are working with foldable telephones, the hinge is making its comeback. We saw that a year ago at the CES at the FlexPai from Royole, and later in 2019 with the Mate X from Huawei and of course the Galaxy Fold from Samsung. Such a hinge is of great importance with a bendable telephone for the protection of the display and it will take a few years before manufacturers with trial and error come to the best effect.
The best shape for a foldable phone is also something manufacturers are not sure about. Royole and Huawei opt for a screen on the outside when the phone is folded, while Samsung with the Fold goes for screens on the inside. Motorola is making a contribution with a renewed version of the Razr, the appearance of which was inspired by the old Razr of almost twenty years ago, but then in a modern version with a continuous foldable oled screen over the entire length and a pretty ingenious hinge . Motorola had taken the new Razr to CES, where we could try it extensively.
The aspect ratio of smartphones has been stretched considerably in recent years, whereby they have become proportionally longer. A few years ago 16: 9 was still the standard, now it is around 19: 9 with the recent phones of Sony with a 21: 9 screen as the highlights. Motorola goes a little further with the Razr. The 6.2 “-oled panel has an aspect ratio of no less than 22: 9 and that is the first thing you notice when you open the phone.
The second thing that strikes me is that it is pretty narrow because of that ratio. The width of the phone is not particularly small at 72 mm, but because there are quite thick edges around the screen, the final width of the screen is tight. Especially when using the on-screen keyboard, this is something you immediately notice, and not in a positive sense. If you have big thumbs and type a lot, you better stay away from the Razr.
These are the ‘sacrifices’ that you have to make in order to enjoy the great advantage of the Razr: its compactness when it is closed. And compact, that is it. A small square of 72 by 94 mm and 14 mm high, quite thick compared to a ‘bare’, modern telephone, but not unpleasant in the hand or pocket. What is particularly striking is that the Razr feels sturdy and that the opening and closing are accompanied by a nice click, which confirms every time that you are ‘ready’ with your phone at that time. That is something that people who have had a folding telephone in the past may recognize.
Motorola razr hinge
Click for an animation of the hinge
That fine folding in and out is primarily due to the hinge, the part of the phone in which Motorola clearly has the most energy. An employee told us with a proud look that the company has more than fifty patents on the design of the hinge. It is about preventing the OLED screen from being flattened when you close the phone. That is why a combination of moving elements in the hinge ensures that there is always a considerable radius at the ‘back’ of the screen, so that there is not too much pressure on the screen. You don’t see anything of that on the outside in the closed position and it looks like the screen has been folded tightly. Look closely at the screen when you close the phone,
Because the screen is spared this way, in practice you hardly see where the bending edge runs, as you see with the Galaxy Fold; a horizontal strip is clearly visible there. The hinge also manages to make the screen almost completely flat when the phone is folded out, so you hardly feel the fold when you move your finger vertically across the screen. The good effect of this entire system means that you are soon no longer aware that this is technically quite a special phone; it all feels and looks very natural.
Just like the Fold, the Razr has a second screen in front of 2.7 “with an aspect ratio of 4: 3. Here you can quickly see the time, read a notification, operate a media player or use the camera. For phones like this one, where the screen is on the inside, like with the Galaxy Fold, such a screen is actually necessary because for many people their smartphone is also their watch.
The Razr has made more impression than we expected. This is mainly because the concept is well developed. The phone feels sturdy, the screen is nice and without visible fold, and the phone ‘clicks nicely’. However, there is something to criticize about the concept itself and the idea of the folding telephone has not stood the test of time in our opinion. The 22: 9 aspect ratio is nice for long pieces of text, but not always practical and the narrow screen makes typing not pleasant. In addition, the Snapdragon 710 is a bit meager for a phone in this price range, because if the Razr comes out soon in the US, it can pay 1500 dollars for it: less than what other foldable have to cost, but still a hefty amount of money.
As is true for all folding telephones that we have seen so far: they are not yet highly recommended. The category is still too new for that, manufacturers are still too much looking for what works and what doesn’t, and too many teething problems still have to be overcome. However, it is interesting to see on which parts the different manufacturers manage to score points. At Motorola that is mainly in the hinge and the resulting image quality.
We doubt whether the folding telephone will ultimately become the form factor that will prevail with foldable telephones. We see more in the potential of reducing a tablet screen to telephone format than reducing a narrow telephone screen to a small square. We, therefore, hope that Motorola will venture into such a model because the Razr shows that it is good in the elaboration.