Razr burn: Motorola needs to flip back after its flawed brand reboot

The modern incarnation of the seminal flip phone makes too many compromises in the name of nostalgia. But the Razr brand could become an asset even as its latest comeback folds.
Written by Ross Rubin, Contributor

Motorola's breakthroughs included the first cell phone, but the "DynaTAC" brand wasn't created for a style-conscious general public. Rather, the company was on top of the world with the original Razr: A slim clamshell device that was built for an age of voice-centric communication, including a satisfying closing snap to end the call.

In 2011, Motorola tried reviving the brand with the Droid Razr. Far more Droid than Razr, its only relevance to the original brand was having an especially thin profile. But the dream of reviving the Razr never died and now technology has (almost) caught up to the dream. Like the Droid Razr, the 2020 Razr seeks to combine the best of the original form factor with the modern expectations of a smartphone by combining a traditional folding form factor with a leading-edge mobile display.

Now a division of Lenovo, Motorola has erred on the side of faithfulness to the feature phone design at the expense of modern smartphone consumer expectations, particularly in the driving categories of the camera and battery life. The new Razr's camera can't hold a candle to those of leading devices and it includes a paltry 2,500mAh battery. Add this to concerns about the hinge turning the device into a disposable Razr and other experience imperfections common to this first generation of plastic folding displays. There's also the phone's lumpy "chin," an undesirable design trademark of the original Razr that other clamshells won't feel an obligation to honor.

It took competitors years to catch up to the original Razr, but that won't be the case this time. If rumors hold true, Samsung is set to reveal the Galaxy Flip Z at what is bound to be a Mobile World Congress event toned down by global health concerns. Samsung was also a dominant player in the flip phone era but lacked the signature subbrand that Motorola did. In retrospect, that provides it more freedom to veer from characteristics such as the Razr's chin. Particularly given that the device is rumored to undercut the Razr, the Flip Z will dwarf the Razr's sales due to Samsung's far superior distribution barring some fatal design flaw.

At $1,500, the value of the Razr simply doesn't hold up in the wake of far stronger conventional competition. Among folding devices, while the Galaxy Fold may cost hundreds more, it at least provides an expanded screenscape beyond what you can get in leading phones with a standard form factor. However, even if Motorola's return to folding phones with this Razr falls flatter than its unfolded profile, the Lenovo division has an incentive to burnish the brand. While it announced late last year that it has finally reached profitability -- no doubt on the strength of its midrange G line -- it needs to find a new approach to the premium segment. In that pursuit, the Razr brand could be used for what is sure to be many folding phones that will veer far from the original Razr design and be better for it.


Motorola Razr review: It's the most personal phone I've used, but I have concerns CNET
The foldable phone invites worries about its long-term durability and high price tag.

Does our Motorola Razr fold test mean this phone won't last a year? Not quite CNET
The FoldBot came back to put Moto's new foldable phone to the test, but after 27,000 cycles, we had to pull the plug.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and Motorola Razr make little sense for business
The foldable phone market is making a 90-degree turn as the first two devices of 2020 have a portrait clamshell design.

Editorial standards