Quick thoughts on the new Motorola Razr folding-phone

Yesterday, Motorola unveiled the new Razr phone, which brings back the classic foldable design from the original Razr, but this time with a foldable screen. I shared my thoughts on Twitter this morning, but I wanted to develop more.

This thing looks damn cool.

They nailed the wow factor. The folding mechanism appears to be sturdier than Samsung’s, and the engineers looked very confident about its durability. The expertise of Lenovo in foldable devices shows, and the infamous crease of folding screens we could see in the Galaxy Fold is very discreet here.

Motorola managed to make people desire one of its product, and I cannot tell you when was the last time it happened.

The thing is with foldable phones: we don’t know anything about how we will end up using them. It is obviously the very early days, and each brand has or will have a different vision about how to implement this technology.

Samsung’s way is interesting, if clearly not ready yet: They sell a phone that unfold into a small tablet. When folded, you can use the phone, as you would use any other smartphone: sending messages, take phone calls (if you’re still into that), browsing the web and apps, take pictures, look at maps, share photos, &c. And if you want to do more, you can unfold it to have more screen real estate, and use the Galaxy Fold as a sort of small Android tablet. Or vice-versa.

With the Razr, you have to unfold the device to properly use it. Beside a quick look at notifications and minimal interactions, there is not much you can do with the new Razr when it is folded. Sure, it is small, fits comfortably in pockets, but when it comes to using it, unfolding it is necessary.

Which brings me to my main gripe with this form factor.

If you thought first generations of Face ID and under-the-screen fingerprint sensors were slow, think about having to physically unfold a device every time you want to take a quick photo, reply to a message, or maybe just glance at your list of groceries. Not even taking into account the durability of the folding mechanism, or the cost of the device.

I think I prefer Samsung’s vision for foldable devices, where you effectively have two devices in one, let’s say for the price of three phones: a cramped, awkward but functional phone that transforms into a tablet, or a tablet that folds into a phone.

With Motorola, you get one device for the price of two: a phone that folds into a sort of compact beeper (they play nostalgia, I play nostalgia), and a beeper that unfolds into a full-featured phone.

On average, we unlock our phones more than a hundred times a day. I checked my Screen Time app: this week I average on 150 or so. A smart watch may help you keep that number lower, but having to go through this gesture every time you need to use your phone seems a bit much. Heck, picking mine up from the desk seems like enough of an effort already.

Folding devices like the original Razr worked twenty years ago: the phones hardware was very different, and we used them very, very differently too. A few phone calls, a fair amount of texts, and that was it.

If a foldable device will succeed in the coming years or not, only time will tell. The new Motorola Razr is nonetheless a very nice looking device. It is refreshing and very promising to see a foldable screen that seems a bit more durable, better looking, with an almost seamless mechanism, and not an ugly crease.

Motorola showed the world that a foldable screen could appear more normal, in a good way. And they showed the world that they are still in the game. Even if they sell only a few thousands of these, the Razr may already be a success for Motorola.

MKBHD summarised this idea very well:

It is clearly not going to be the best buy for most people, but if you could give me one piece of tech from 2019 to bring back to show someone in 2003, I think it would have to be this guy.

Maybe good to think of these foldable phones as supercars: terribly unpractical for everyday driving, quite expensive, unreliable, fragile, but they sure make heads turn, and the kids who see them passing by dream of owning one.