Motorola

Motorola debuts Razr smartphone with folding screen

Everything old is new again. Just as Disney+ and Netflix are sucking cash from our wallets each month in part by appealing to '90s kids nostalgia, Motorola is hoping that you still fondly remember flipping open the Razr back when phones still had physical keypads. The company officially revealed the long-rumored Razr reboot this week, though the phone comes with a modern twist: the same flip screen feeling of the original, but with a true folding screen. As fun as it may be to see the old design brought up to speed in the smartphone era, it's worth wondering, who is truly asking for this?

Off the bat, the reborn Razr appears to be a technical achievement. Flexible and folding screens are still in their early stages. Apple isn't rumored to get into the folding phenomenon until at least 2021, and Samsung suffered a whole embarrassing mess when it started showing off its Galaxy Fold smartphone earlier this year only to have it break almost immediately. The Razr manages to create what looks like a standard, seamless screen until it is folded up and put in your pocket. There also appears to have been lots of care put into the design, which evokes the original Razr at every turn. The phone's shape is almost certainly how you remember the Razr looking, and the little chin that protrudes from the bottom of the open device is still present — though it now houses a fingerprint scanner and a USB-C charging port. It really does look like the Razr is supposed to.

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And of course, given that it's been 15 years since the original Razr came out, there have been some significant technical upgrades to the device. When unfolded, it has a 6.2-inch OLED display that can shrink down to a simpler 2.7-inch screen for when you want to put it in your pocket. The phone runs on Android, features 6GB of RAM and a Snapdragon 710 processor — which is more than functional but isn't as powerful a chipset as you might expect to find in a high-end, flagship phone. The new Razr has a 5-megapixel internal "selfie" camera and 16-megapixel front-facing camera, which Motorola has smartly designed in a way that you can use the primary lens when the phone is folded.

In all, the specs on the Motorola Razr rebirth are about what you'd expect from a middle-of-the-road smartphone — more than capable of performing the functions that you require, but not necessarily the top of the line. Which, therein lies one of the problems for the new Razr: it is a phone that exists for the sake of novelty and nostalgia but is priced like the next big thing. The new Razr will cost $1,500, which is definitely not a price that invokes the good old days. The original Razr cost $300, which, even if you adjust for inflation 15 years later would only be $408.70 in 2019 dollars. The new Razr is more expensive than basically any other flagship smartphone on the market. It's $500 more than the most expensive version of Google's Pixel 4, $300 more than a Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ with a ludicrous 512GB of internal storage and still $50 more than a maxed out version of the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

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Even with the expensive price tag, Motorola can accurately make the claim that the Razr is the cheapest folding smartphone on the market. That counts for something, though it raises another question about the viability of the Razr: Who actually wants a folding smartphone? Granted, there aren't many options on the market so far — especially in the United States — and the ones that are available carry price tags close to $2,000 or more, but there doesn't seem to be much interest in the devices so far. Global research and advisory firm Gartner said earlier this year that it predicts folding phones will barely make a dent in the smartphone market. It projects that, over the next five years, there will be about 30 million folding smartphones sold — accounting for just five percent of the total market. When you ask people if they have interest in folding phones, the results amount to little more than a "meh." AndroidPit reported that a plurality of its readers, 41 percent, had zero interest in ever owning a folding phone with just 21 percent total expressing clear interest in such a device. Just 16 percent of Droid-Life readers said they wanted a folding phone while a whopping 48 percent said they had no interest. Note that those figures come from people who are interested enough in smartphones and the technology to read blogs dedicated to the topic. When you expand the poll to the general public, it's clear there is no appetite for folding phones. A CivicScience survey of 2,000 adults in the U.S. found that 76 percent of consumers are "not interested at all" in buying a smartphone with a foldable screen, compared to just four percent who reported to be "very interested."

This level of interest could change over time. New devices could pop up that pique people's curiosity. It's also worth noting that the new Razr is the first folding device that doesn't open into something that is effectively the size of a tablet — its dimensions are in line with an actual smartphone, which may appeal to people more than the alternatives that start smartphone-sized and just get bigger. But for now, the number of people genuinely interested in owning a folding smartphone is incredibly small. The percentage of those who have warm and fuzzy feelings for the original Razr is likely even smaller. And the share of those people who are ready and willing to spend $1,500 on what amounts to a mid-tier Android device with a novelty screen likely makes for such a thin slice of the smartphone market pie that it'd make you wonder if it even exists. The new Motorola Razr looks really impressive. If it works as well as the company claims, it'll be an achievement that will potentially open up the door for similar style devices in the future. But the odds of the Razr's success seem razor thin.