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With Foldable Razr, Motorola Makes Bid for Old Glory

By John P. Mello Jr.
Jan 28, 2020 10:06 AM PT
motorola has entered the foldable smartphone market with new razr

Motorola on Monday began taking orders for its US$1,499 Razr foldable smartphone. Units are expected to start shipping on Feb. 6.

Motorola made its mark on the mobile handset business with the original Razr, introduced in 2004, which ushered in the era of flip phones.

The new Razr is a flip phone, too, but with a foldable display. The 6.2-inch OLED screen folds in half to create a compact package that comfortably fits in a shirt pocket.

That's a departure from the recent crop of foldable phones that expand from phones to tablets.

"A strong point of the Razr is that it's actually a folding phone," said Frank E. Gillett, principal analyst at Forrester Research, a market research company headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"It's a phone that shrinks in size when you fold it," he told TechNewsWorld. "Many of the competitors are really folding tablets that shrink to phone size when you fold them. "

Fragile Screen

In addition to its foldable screen, the new Razr, which comes with Android 9 Pie, has a second, 2.7-inch, glass-covered OLED screen on the outside of the phone. That display shows notifications and music controls, and has access to a selfie mode.

A concern about foldable phones has been fragility -- especially after Samsung had to halt shipments of its Galaxy Fold last spring, after reviewers reported issues with its display. Motorola expressed confidence about the Razr's screen, though, asserting it will last for the average lifespan of any smartphone.

Nevertheless, it has warned consumers not to get the phone too wet -- even though it has an internal nano-coating for splash resistance. If it does get wet, it should be dried immediately with a soft cloth.

"It's not clear why individual users or larger markets will really want the Razr, especially since it will require them to adopt new habits and concerns, mainly related to the foldable display," observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, a technology advisory firm in Hayward, California.

5G Razr Coming?

While the Razr's screen is flagship phone caliber, other components are less so. For example, it runs on a Snapdragon 710 processor, not the top of the line 855, and it has a 16-megapixel camera with neither a zoom or ultra-wide lens.

"The Razr is not about what's inside," said Jack E. Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, an IT advisory company in Northborough, Massachusetts.

"They're also not offering a 5G version, which will hurt them a bit," he told TechNewsWorld.

"If you're spending $1,500 for a phone, you want to keep it for a while," he continued. "Two years from now you want it to still be pertinent."

However, there are reports that Motorola plans to launch a 5G version later this year.

That's not all that's coming down the foldable pike. Samsung is expected to announce its own flip foldable, the Galaxy Z Flip, on Feb. 11. Samsung's offering is expected to be the first phone to use bendable glass, and to be priced below the Razr with higher-grade components.

In Search of Old Glory

The Razr is a unique mix of classic and current handset designs that utilizes thoroughly modern materials, Pund-IT's King told TechNewsWorld.

"It also demonstrates that Motorola isn't afraid to take risks and stand apart from the crowd," he added.

One of the challenges facing Motorola is that it's not a well-known brand in smartphones, Forrester's Gillett pointed out. "They aren't one of the big brands in phones as they were before the rise of smartphones."

Part of the new Razr's appeal is its connection to the old Razr.

"Motorola is trying to get to a place where the market is looking at the company as it did in the old days -- as an innovator, rather than part of a large Chinese commodity phone maker," Gold explained.

"In the last few years, Motorola has almost been invisible," he continued. "They haven't had anything that people would write home about. They became like BlackBerry -- irrelevant in the market place."

Playing to Elitists

The Razr is likely to appeal to a limited market.

"Given its premium price, Motorola is going after high-end users who want to be seen using something new and different -- young urban professionals and wannabees," King said.

"This isn't for Joe and Jane Smith on Main Street, USA," said Ramon T. Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC, a market research company, in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"It's for people with high disposable income who embrace technology, are Android users, and are willing to take a chance on being the first to own anything," he told TechNewsWorld.

The Razr is not meant to be a mass market device, added Gold.

"This is for the elites. This is for folks who want to take something out of their pocket or handbag and say, 'I have something that you don't,'" he said.

"That's a good strategy for Motorola to reestablish the brand," Gold maintained.

Market Impact

The new Razr will help advance the foldable phone market.

"It always helps to advance the market when you have more players entering with their own devices," IDC's Llamas noted.

However, "this is a new kind of usage paradigm. People have to wrap their brains around it. A change like this is going to take awhile to percolate and to get accepted," he added.

"This phone is just one of many folding phone experiments in the market right now," said Forrester's Gillett.

"It should help consumers understand that there are really two kinds of folding phones -- those that are phones and shrink in size when you fold them, and those that are really tablets that shrink to phone size," he added.

By joining the foldable fold, Motorola could catch the next big trend in smartphones.

"If the Razr succeeds, it could signal that larger groups of consumers are ready for something other than slab-of-glass smartphones," King suggested. "That's a high hill to climb, but Motorola deserves kudos for taking a shot."


John P. Mello Jr. has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, IT issues, privacy, e-commerce, social media, artificial intelligence, big data and consumer electronics. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including the Boston Business Journal, the Boston Phoenix, Megapixel.Net and Government Security News. Email John.


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