Two-minute hands-on review
The Motorola Razr 2019 is a cutting-edge foldable phone that’s also a throwback to one of the most iconic phone designs of all time: the original Razr V3 that launched in 2004… it's the future wrapped in the past. But is this synthesis novel enough to make an impact on the market?
It makes sense that Motorola would drape its most ambitious experiment in its most historically popular design: the company’s mid-range and budget smartphones are lauded for their utility and value, but not their flash. The Moto Z4 looks largely unchanged from the original Moto Z, while the Moto G7 line is effectively a pared-down version of the Z line for the shallow-pocketed. Even the new Motorola One line barely strays from the rest of the company’s designs.
The Razr 2019 is a chance to break the mold, and at the same time challenge the industry’s assumptions about what the smartphone future could look like. We assumed that foldables would bridge the gap between phones and tablets by unfolding horizontally into a wider display; Motorola’s take has other ideas, and flips open to reveal an elongated touchscreen, one that’s just a bit longer than the iPhone 11 display.
So no, you don’t get much more screen real estate. The novelty lies in what you can do with it closed, as there’s a smaller display on the outside for checking texts, calls, music, emails, and such – much like the preview you’d get on a smartwatch. Below that quick-look screen is the rear camera, which when the Razr is closed becomes a selfie camera, while the small display shows what it’s looking at.
The Razr 2019 can be handled with one hand when flipped open (as much as any plus-sized smartphone can), but more importantly, when clamped shut it fits in your palm – and your pocket.
That small footprint is what makes the Razr special – you’re essentially pulling out an enlarged pager when you want to check notifications or glance at the time, which is much easier than tugging a smartphone out of your pocket or bag dozens of times a day. And there’s no denying that flipping a phone open and snapping it closed (say, to hang up on a call) is just as fun today as it was in the original Razr’s heyday.
The new Razr can, and will, turn heads, and it is, undeniably, enjoyable to use; but it’s also expensive, costing three times the launch price of the Moto Z4. That price tag reflects the technical challenges involved in making a flip phone work smoothly in 2019, and the inclusion of unconventional parts that you won’t find in conventional smartphones.
Boring is cheap. If you want to be on the edge of style but not specs, the Razr is worth checking out – and at least you won’t have to pay as much as you would for, say, the Samsung Galaxy Fold to experience this markedly different approach to foldables.
Moto Razr 2019 release date and price
- December 26 pre-orders; January 9 release date in the US
- Pre-orders begin in the UK in December, coming in 2020
- $1,500 price is low for a foldable phone, but still high
The Motorola Razr 2019 was announced on November 13 with pre-orders opening on December 26, 2019 before a release date sometime in January 2020 in the US. Motorola has confirmed a similar launch schedule for Europe, but it's currently unclear on the exact dates in the UK (although it will be available through EE).
It costs $1,500 / €1599 (around £1,350, AU$2,000) and will be available exclusively through Verizon, which offers a $62.49/month payment plan for 24 months. We don't currently have exact prices for the UK or Australia, and we expect to learn those in the coming weeks.
For comparison, Samsung's Galaxy Fold costs $1,980 / £1,800 / AU$2,999 while the equally high-tech Huawei Mate X is set to cost €2,299 (about $2,600, £2,000 or AU$4,770) when it's eventually released, although we don't yet know if that phone will come to the US, UK or Australia.
Motorola is well aware of the troubled releases of other foldable phones, and in a statement, the company noted:
"We have full confidence in the durability of the Flex View display, and based on our research, it will last for the average lifespan of a smartphone. We acknowledge this is a brand new technology and we are committed to continue improving as the industry evolves. Therefore, we’ve created a world class service package to make sure every Razr customer has an exceptional experience."
That includes 24/7 chat support or 14-hour-per-day direct access to customer service, and should the device or display fail, Motorola guarantees 24-hour turnaround to exchange it. Should defects occur during normal use, Motorola will repair or replace the device free of charge. For anything outside warranty – which lasts one year in the US – the device's display can be swapped out for $299.
Non-US service plans will be announced later.
Note the gap between hinge and screen
The Razr 2019 truly inherits the old-school Razr design, from the flip-flat hinge to the chunky bottom 'lip' that the top folds down to meet. While it doesn’t quite feel the same as flipping open the rugged-yet-light Razr of old (this phone is denser, wider, and harder to pry open one-handed), it’s a touching reflection of the old-school format.
That commitment to nostalgia redeems some of the phone’s less exciting specs, especially compared to other modern smartphones. The central display is no bigger than most phones, and its resolution isn’t quite as impressive, by specs or by sight.
Something that is impressive: the design miracles that enable the phone to fold ‘hamburger-style‘. Much like the Galaxy Fold’s much-belabored hinge, the Razr’s central mechanism is a masterwork of gears and cams that enable a balanced clasp action when you pop the phone open and closed, over and over.
Most folks open their phone an average of 47 times during the day, although that figure skyrockets up to 86 daily opens for users 18-24, according to various studies collected by the Journal of Accountancy. But the smaller front screen here allows for a shift in the way you use this folding phone, glancing more and opening less.
Flipping open the phone is fun, though the greater density and width means it’s tougher to flip open one-handed than the old Razr. That’s understandable - phones are bigger these days - but your expectations have been unfairly set by the past when the 95g Razr V3 could be popped open with the weakest resistance. Still, the new Razr opens well enough, with the hinge mechanism gliding seamlessly.
There’s a lot more to that hinge you won’t see, but what might be alarming: the display pops up a bit right above the centerline as part of the shift. Don’t worry. It’s tough to see the gap, and we understand that the device is still splash-proof with water resistant nanocoating despite this entry vector (supposedly, the open-and-close mechanism expels particles).
Folded up, the handset fits in your palm, with a textured metal back and glass cover on the front with a smaller “quick look” display. Under that is the rear camera; when closed, it becomes a front-facing shooter. The rear panel is metal, meaning the phone doesn’t support wireless charging.
The bottom lip - the iconic Razr chin - houses the antennas, speakers, bottom USB-C port and forward-facing fingerprint touch sensor. The phone doesn’t support facial unlocking, so this is perhaps the only biometric, and it’s a bit awkward to touch - sadly, we didn’t get a chance to test its effectiveness.
There’s no slot for expandable storage or SIM cards (the phone uses eSIM), nor a 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s a volume rocker and lock button on the right side, which are all honestly too slim and sharp to be terribly useful.
The Razr 2019’s interior display is an elongated 21:9 ratio pOLED HD (2,142 x 876) screen that’s as wide as Sony’s Xperia line (these phones also feature 21:9 displays) but far less sharp.
That might not be a great thing if you want to use it to watch media. We discovered that not all Netflix’s content would fill the screen on the elongated Sony Xperia 1, and while that may be improving with time it's unlikely to be everything you'll want to watch.
Indeed, when we sampled some YouTube videos, we had to search for specific 21:9 widescreen content for it to spread all the way across the screen, while other media had significant black bars on top/bottom and sides. We didn’t get a chance to run the phone through the paces with Netflix, HBO or the new Disney Plus, so it’s hard to tell what quality the display is capable of. What we saw didn’t hold up to the best on the market.
But for a foldable screen at this price, the Razr does well. Yes, you can feel the hinge beneath the screen as you run your finger over the middle, but it doesn’t obstruct. Better still, unlike the Galaxy Fold, the Razr’s screen doesn’t have a visible seam - though we’d love to see if that holds up over thousands of flipping open and closed over the device’s lifetime.
There is a front screen, much like the old-school Razr - though in place of the dated 96 x 80 digital color LCD, the new Razr has a 2.7-inch 800 x 600 display. It’s far sharper than expected, and makes selfies a joy. Just tap the screen, hit the volume button, or turn on “smile for shutter” and the phone takes a photo. Simple.
The Razr 2019 has a single 16MP rear camera, which functions fine. Given the Moto Z4 dropped down to one lens but supplemented it with much improved software, we assume the new Razr will take photos of the same quality.
So, sadly, no multi-camera like the quad-lens Motorola One Zoom, but this was likely another design demand to fit everything in the small frame. That said, photos we took seemed fine - and you’re not buying the Razr for photography, anyway.
The camera app is set up much like those on other Motorola phones: a simple menu with basic photography, video, and a collection of modes like panorama, night photography, and more.
There’s also a 5MP front-facing camera perched in the top of the unfolded screen. While it’s less sharp, there’s something neat about shooting a selfie or a video with the device closed and then flipping the phone open to (seamlessly) switch to the front-facing camera.
The Razr 2019 packs a Snapdragon 710 chipset - which doesn’t reach the performance of the advanced Snapdragon 855 in the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Why not the latest and greatest chipset?
Because the bigger, badder chip would’ve drained more battery and generated more heat than the Razr team desired for the phone’s final design - which, at 14mm thick folded closed, means each segment is under 7mm.
The Razr 2019 runs Android 9. While it misses out on the advantages of Android 10, it doesn’t need the foldable compatibility tweaks made for the latest version of the Android operating system.
The device also supports various signature Motorola gestures that work when the phone is closed and opened. This is handy for the iconic ‘chop to open flashlight’ gesture, but downright crucial for the ‘wiggle to open camera mode’ - which, as far as we can tell, is the only way to get the camera app open while the phone is shut (to enable the front quick look screen to display the main camera in selfie mode).
The phone’s biggest weakness might be its battery: the new Razr only comes with 2,510mAh capacity. This is yet another compromise for design - you can only fit so much battery within each 6.9mm thin side, and the battery is split between top and bottom halves (for balance).
While Motorola assures the battery will last all day, we aren’t sure that will hold up to more strenuous GPS and media-watching activity. On the other hand, if the front screen does lead users to preview more and open their phone less, that could lend weight to Motorola’s assertion - it will seriously depend on how user behavior changes with the new Razr’s form factor.
It’s something we’ll be paying close attention to when we properly test the phone. In any case, while it doesn’t support wireless charging, the device does come with a 15W TurboPower charger.
The Motorola Razr 2019 is a bold experiment - not for an advanced design, but in doubling down on an old look. Will folks really be charmed enough by a 15-year-old look to try out an expensive phone that’s not much larger than the one they already have?
In many ways, the new phone inherits the old Razr’s initial reputation as a pricey status symbol - though instead of a fashion flex, the new Razr is a design darling. Yes, it’s a big nostalgia play, but it’s also an innovative new direction that smartphones could follow to break out of the black rectangle convention.
And yet, convention drives down costs, and the unique design in the new Razr comes at a price. It’s hard to tell whether the novel form factor will convince folks to fork over more money for functionality they could largely have at a much lower pricetag.