Motorola shows a new RAZR and you knew I had to blog about it

Credit: Chris Velazco, Engadget

I loved my old RAZR v3. It was among my favorite pre-smartphones, and it’s the only one I still have. So despite the fact that I was not invited to the launch event, I feel compelled to blog about Motorola’s new version.

Note that unless otherwise specified, all photos are courtesy of Engadget, who actually were invited to the launch.

A flip phone for the ’20s

We’ve spent most of the year wondering if foldable phones were ever going to work for us. They’ve been the most disappointing product of the year, as some didn’t ever really launch and some were just plain bad.  The big problem is that a folding screen isn’t really durable and that as a culture we treat our phones pretty badly. We keep them in dusty environments and drop them and let them get hot and cold.

It doesn’t look like Motorola has solved every problem but they seem to be closer than anyone else. Like Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, they use a double hinge, but they also leverage the RAZR’s signature “chin” to allow the screen to slide in. This lets the phone fold flat and eliminates the biggest problem that other foldables have had.

Is this the foldable that people want?

Everyone, myself included, assumed that the point of a foldable phone was to have a big phone that got even bigger. Like most people I was influenced by the foldable designs I saw on HBO’s Westworld. That may be the wrong way to go here. The 2019 RAZR is remarkably close in size to the original. It’s about the same thickness but quite a bit wider. When it opens it’s the size of a large phone like iPhone 11 Pro Max.

There’s something kind of smart about that. A 6″ screen is plenty big for a lot of tasks and when you fold it in half it’s very pocketable.

But the problem…

If you read the fine print of all these reviews, you’ll realize that this is a mediocre phone with pretty bad battery life and it costs $1,500. You can argue that the iPhone 11 Pro has exactly the same issue, I get that. Apple’s riding a wave of customer loyalty that’s been going on for 20 years. Motorola, on the other hand, has been absent from the market for a decade and they need to make a splash.

I will admit I want this phone for the same reason I loved the original RAZR. It just looks cool and the act of flipping it open makes me seem like I’m doing something important. Other than the folding screen, though, it seems to have more in common with a $200 budget phone than a high-end competitor. And, of course, it’s still not available.

In fact, it’s been announced as a Verizon exclusive so I, AT&T fan that I am, won’t be getting it any time soon anyway. If the phone does get the public’s attention it will probably be on other carriers eventually, though.

My favorite feature probably explains everything

According to The Verge, there is a way to turn the 2019 RAZR into a near-clone of its 2004 parent. Activate a specific setting and the phone’s screen looks like this: (photo courtesy of The Verge)

Apparently this is a completely usable interface that you can navigate through as if it were a dumbphone. It’s complete with a visual representation of the old RAZR’s hinge, believe it or not.

My excitement about this feature may well be what dooms it, though. If this is a phone that trades on nostalgia, it may be no appeal to the fashion-forward. For $1,500, it needs those upvotes from influencers if it’s going to succeed. The words of this old blogger, and the tight clutch he keeps on his wallet, may not be enough.