Motorola, now part of Lenovo after being briefly owned by Google, has a long history of innovation within the telecom industry. One of the better known achievements for consumers is the invention of the flip phone . A first step was made with the Motorola MicroTac, where a cover was folded over the keyboard, before the company released a phone with the StarTAC with an actual hinge in the middle. This flip phone concept had its heyday with the Motorola Razr, in the mid-2000s, which proved very popular, especially in the United States.
Since the introduction of touchscreen phones with increasingly larger screens, there was no need for hinges for a long time, but now that manufacturers are starting to work with foldable phones, the hinge is making a comeback. We saw this a year ago at CES with Royole’s FlexPai, and later in 2019 with Huawei’s Mate X and of course Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. Such a hinge is of great importance in a bendable telephone for the protection of the display and it will take a number of years before manufacturers arrive at the best effect through trial and error.
Where manufacturers are also still undecided is the best shape for a foldable phone. Royole and Huawei opt for a screen on the outside when the phone is folded, while Samsung opts for screens on the inside with the Fold. Motorola is making a contribution with an updated version of the Razr, the look of which is inspired by that old Razr from almost twenty years ago, but in a modern version with a continuous folding OLED screen over the entire length and a rather ingenious hinge . Motorola had brought the new Razr to CES, where we were able to test it extensively.
The aspect ratio of smartphones has stretched considerably in recent years, with them becoming increasingly longer in proportion. A few years ago, 16:9 was still the standard, now it is around 19:9, with the recent phones from Sony with a 21:9 screen being the highlights. Motorola goes one step 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 you notice is that it is quite narrow because of that proportion. The width of the phone is not particularly small at 72mm, but because there are quite thick edges around the screen, the final width of the screen is tight. This is something you immediately notice, especially when using the on-screen keyboard, and not in a positive sense. Those who have big thumbs and type a lot should stay away from the Razr.
Those are the ‘sacrifices’ you have to make to enjoy the great advantage of the Razr: its compactness when folded. And compact, it is. A small square of 72 by 94mm and 14mm high, quite thick compared to a ‘bare’, modern telephone, but not unpleasant in the hand or pocket. What’s particularly notable is that the Razr feels sturdy, and opening and closing are accompanied by a nice click, confirming each time you’re “done” with your phone at that moment. That is something that people who have had a flip phone in the past may recognize.
That fine folding and unfolding is primarily due to the hinge, the part of the phone in which Motorola clearly has the most energy. One employee proudly told us that the company has more than fifty patents on the design of the hinge. It’s 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 can’t see that at all on the outside in the closed position and it looks like the screen is tightly folded in half. If you look closely at the screen when you close the phone,
Because the screen is saved in this way, you hardly see where the bending edge runs in practice, as you see with the Galaxy Fold, for example; a horizontal strip is clearly visible there. The hinge also manages to get the screen almost completely flat when the phone is unfolded, so you hardly feel the fold when you move your finger vertically across the screen. The good elaboration of this whole 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 at the front, measuring 2.7″ with an aspect ratio of 4:3. You can quickly see the time, read a notification, operate a media player or use the camera on this. this one, where the screen is on the inside, as with the Galaxy Fold, such a screen is actually necessary, because for many people their smartphone is also their watch.
The Razr made more of an impression than we expected. This is mainly because the concept is well developed. The phone feels sturdy, the screen is nice with no visible crease, and the phone ‘clicks’ nicely. However, there is something to be said about the concept itself and the idea of the flip phone has not quite stood the test of time as far as we are concerned. 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 thin for a phone in this price range, because when the Razr comes out in the US soon, it can be paid $ 1500: less than what other foldables should cost, but still a lot of money.
As with all foldable phones we’ve seen so far, they are not highly recommended yet. The category is still too new for that, manufacturers are still too busy trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and there are still too many teething problems to be overcome. It is interesting to see on which parts the different manufacturers score points. At Motorola, this is mainly due to the hinge and the resulting image quality.
We doubt whether the folding phone will eventually become the form factor that will predominate among foldable phones. We see more in the potential of reducing a tablet screen to phone size than reducing a narrow phone 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 its execution.