29/11/2020

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For unforgettable computer

Motorola Razr review: It’s the most personal phone I’ve used, but I have concerns

When I picked up the Motorola Razr foldable phone for the first time I was taken aback by how heavy it was. Unlike the original lovable and seemingly indestructible plastic version from 2004, this new Razr is dense. It’s made from glass, stainless steel and plastic and weighs nearly the same as the 6.55-inch OnePlus 7 Pro. The first time I flicked it open with my wrist in one motion, that satisfying Razr feeling was back. The action feels tighter than the OG Razr, but you can still slam it shut after a phone call.

Like

  • Impressively small
  • Groundbreaking design
  • Peek Screen/Quick View display
  • Flipping it open and closed

Don’t Like

  • $1,499 price
  • Midtier specs
  • Concerns over durability

The Motorola Razr is one of a handful of foldable phones you can actually buy, which include the Samsung Galaxy Fold, Royole FlexPai and Huawei Mate X. But it’s the first to bridge a modern Android phone and the familiar clamshell design of the past. Before the current dynasty of glass slab smartphones, Motorola defined what a mobile phone was. And this new Razr could help redefine how we use our phones.

After a week of using the Razr as my daily driver, I have strong feelings for it and a few questions. At $1,499, it doesn’t have the fastest processor, the biggest battery or the best cameras. If this phone didn’t fold in half, it would be a solid midtier Android phone. But the Razr has something most phones lack: personality. And as Jules says in Pulp Fiction, “Personality goes a long way.” The Razr feels more personal than any phone I’ve used.

Every time I flip it open or closed, I see its value rise. That said, most people shouldn’t buy the Razr, myself included. The true test of its design will take place over the coming months inside the pockets of those who do buy it. This doesn’t mean Motorola is on the wrong track: The Razr is an enormous accomplishment that sets the stage for an improved second version.

There’s so much to go over, but let me start by answering a few common questions.

Does the Razr squeak or creak?

Yes. My review unit squeaks when I fold it. Not like a rubbery sound, more of a muffled crunching sound. It’s disheartening.

In November, a few of us at CNET spent the better part of a day with three different preproduction Razrs. We were told those units were six months old. But I don’t remember any of those phones making the slightest creak. If there was a noise, it was quiet enough not to draw my attention. Should you be concerned? Of course. At first I thought maybe it was the screen and, like a nice pair of leather boots, it just needs time to “break in.”

The unique hinge system that helps prevent a crease in the screen is apparently the source of a creak on my review unit.


Angela Lang/CNET

But here’s what Motorola told me about the Razr and its sound. “Its dynamic clamshell folding system is comprised of several moving parts including: a flexible OLED display module, metal support plates and a state-of-the-art hinge system. When folding and unfolding Razr, you may hear a sound, which is natural from the mechanical movement of the phone. Razr has undergone rigorous durability testing, and the reported sounds in no way affect the quality of the product.”

How bad is this sound? It’s not “record skip” loud, but it’s not great either. If I bought this phone, I’d think something was wrong and want to swap it.

Does the screen have a crease?

Not like the Galaxy Fold, no. In fact, Motorola designed a special hinge that allows the display to stay curled when closed and therefore prevent a permanent crease.

When I watch a video, I can make out the edges of the steel plates used to reinforce the back of the screen and keep it taut in the open position. The middle of the screen doesn’t have this backing. Imagine covering the seat cushions of a couch with a taut bed sheet and being able to make out the space in between the cushions. When I’m scrolling up and down, I can feel the void behind the middle of the screen. This doesn’t sour my experience. But it is a reminder of just how delicate the display is. 

Is the Razr durable?

This one’s tricky. Motorola released a video on how to care for the Razr that claims the “screen is made to bend; bumps and lumps are normal.” I haven’t encountered any bumps or lumps on the screen, but bumps and lumps are not normal. If you have a bump or lump on your body you should see a doctor.

In the week I had the Razr, it survived snow, two airplane trips, half a dozen cabs, a hotel, various pockets, a backpack and a house with a cat. It also held up while being photographed and filmed in a variety of locations. One of the Razr’s features is its Zero Gap hinge, which has a gap about as thick as a playing card thick. Several times, I opened the phone to discover the interior screen covered in lint and dust. 

Its impossible for me to determine in a week whether the Razr will be durable in the long term. The only way to know is to use it for months on end. The Razr needs to build my trust in the same way the first smartphones and their glass screens had to.

Didn’t the Razr break in CNET’s fold test?

Yes and no. A colleague of mine tested how many times he could fold a Razr he had purchased. He stopped the test after the folding machine had trouble folding the phone. The Razr still worked and opened and closed, but there was something off behind the screen. I can’t speak to his results, but what I can say is that the review unit I used didn’t have any damage whatsoever after a heavy week of use.

In response to the fold test, Motorola said, “[The] Razr is a unique smartphone, featuring a dynamic clamshell folding system unlike any device on the market. SquareTrade’s FoldBot [the folding machine we used] is simply not designed to test our device. Therefore, any tests run utilizing this machine will put undue stress on the hinge and not allow the phone to open and close as intended, making the test inaccurate. The important thing to remember is that Razr underwent extensive cycle endurance testing during product development, and CNET’s test is not indicative of what consumers will experience when using Razr in the real world. We have every confidence in the durability of Razr.”

I should note that Motorola offers a decent warranty on the Razr. If your display has defects incurred during normal use, Motorola will repair or replace your devices for free. Otherwise, you can have displays replaced for $299.

The joy of the Razr’s flip

The Razr changed my relationship with my phone. When I’m bored on an ordinary slab-shaped phone, I find myself mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Instagram. But on the Razr, I became more purposeful about what I did. The slight moment it takes to flip the phone open prevents me from constantly checking social media or “bored using” my phone.

The Razr begs to be used one-handed. After a day or so, I was able to open it with a whip-like flip and close it one-handed. But Motorola can go further optimizing the user interface. On the 6.2-inch tall screen, I often needed a second hand to change a setting or tap a button at the top of the screen. There’s a shortcut you can enable to shrink the display to make one-handed use easier, but that just adds another step to the process. You have to swipe on an angle to shrink the display, tap the button you couldn’t before and then tap again to enlarge the display.

motorola-razr-final-5

The Razr’s tall 6.2-inch screen can be a challenge to use one-handed, especially if you’re trying to reach for the top of the screen.


Angela Lang/CNET

I’m a big fan of Samsung’s One UI and One UI 2, which changes the way we interact with Android on a bigger screen. It’s especially aimed at making one-handed use easier. Motorola should re-envision Android’s UI for the Razr if it’s serious about allowing people to use the Razr with one hand.

When you hold it vertically, the Razr’s onscreen keyboard is more narrow than a typical phone. And yet, I found myself able to type faster two-handed. Swipe-style keyboards work fantastic one-handed on the Razr as well. Flip the phone horizontally and you now have a much wider keyboard.

Quick View is an outstanding way to interact with notifications

The outside display, called the Quick View display, is perhaps one of the biggest innovations on the phone. I found myself using it quite a bit to cycle through notifications, use Google Pay, trigger the camera and even dismiss emails. It was another way my normal phone behavior changed.

The 2.7-inch display sits under a piece of Gorilla Glass 3. When it’s not covered in fingerprint smudges, it looks absolutely premium. It works in two ways. When the phone is locked, it becomes a Peek Display and lets you view notifications. When you unlock the screen, you get additional access to a mini control panel (brightness, flashlight, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and selfies) and you can interact with notifications. Tap and hold an icon for a quick peek at messages and notifications. It’s wonderfully discreet.

motorola-razr-final-9

The Quick View display on the front gives you instant access to notifications. Just press and hold the icon to take a peek at the notification.


Angela Lang/CNET

If you tap, hold and swipe up on a notification or icon, you get more functionality. For example, if I get a new email message, I can tap the Gmail icon and slide it up to reveal the entire message as well as have the option to Archive or Reply.

Motorola should have gone further. I’m not looking for what Samsung did with the Galaxy Fold by making the entire phone usable via the external display. That’s too much. But there is more usefulness Motorola can mine out of the Quick View screen.

Also, some features could be more helpful. When I cooked dinner, I set a timer for seven minutes on the Razr. And when I checked the hourglass icon on the Quick View display, instead of showing me how much time was left, it just showed the word “timer.”

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The Razr’s folding screen: Lumps, bumps and all

The tall 21:9 aspect ratio of the interior screen is fantastic for watching films shot in a wide aspect ratio. It reminds of the slender displays on the Sony Xperia 1 and Xperia 5. The Razr’s display quality is good. Colors pop nicely and the contrast is crisp without looking overly sharp. The display has a notch which houses an earpiece speaker and camera for video chats. The actual notch is shaped a bit like Motorola’s batwing logo.

I watched Blade Runner and The Dark Knight at their original widescreen aspect ratio filled the Razr’s screen end-to-end. The majority of videos you’re going to watch, however, will likely be in a 16:9 ratio and leave big black bars on the left and right side of the screen. You can zoom in, but that will cut off a lot of the video.

motorola-razr-final-18

The entire screen slides ever so slightly behind the raised chin when you open the phone.


Angela Lang/CNET

The bottom of the screen is curved like the original Razr. Sadly, most apps don’t take advantage of the full screen and instead there’s frequently a gray void at the bottom. This area seems to be crying out to be used.

When you open and close the phone, the display slides up and down (millimeters) behind the raised chin. The chin looks a little dated at first: It’s one of the design features that makes it “feel” like an old Razr. But it has a purpose beyond mere nostalgia. It houses the phone’s antennas and makes for a great grip when you watch videos horizontally.

I tried using two apps in split-screen mode on the tall display, but again usability means you need to use both hands to reach the top app.

The Razr’s small and mighty battery… so far

There are two batteries, one on either half of the Razr, which offer a combined 2,510 mAh of power. While I still have more battery tests to run, I was able to run a looped video test done in airplane mode at 50% brightness. The Razr lasted a respectable 13 hours, 3 minutes. For comparison, the Moto G7 and its 3,000-mAh battery lasted 12 hours, 51 minutes in the same test.

In daily use, the Razr got through most of a day, but I found myself having to plug in around dinner time to top it off. I’m interested to see how it fares in a more normal week of use instead of during a review week.

The Razr has a Snapdragon 710 processor and 6GB of RAM. I ran it through several performance tests where it fared as well as the Google Pixel 3A, Samsung Galaxy A50 (

$295 at Amazon

) and 2018 Huawei Honor 10. See the results below.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multicore

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

In everyday use, sometimes an app would hesitate to open like the camera. It’s just not as peppy as you’d hope. I was able to play a few games on the Razr, including Alto’s Odyssey and PUBG Mobile. The phone got warm instantly during PUBG, and occasionally stuttered during game play. The Razr handled editing photos and videos well.

All said, Motorola found a good power-to-performance ratio with the Razr. Of course it would be great if it had a stronger processor and even more battery life, but it’s all about striking a balance.

1 camera that’s just OK

There are two cameras, but in reality you’ll mainly use the 16-megapixel camera with an f1.7 aperture that doubles for selfies and the rear camera. It’s decent, but isn’t at the level of the Pixel 4, iPhone 11 (

$699 at Apple

) or Galaxy Note 10. Photos taken in good light are sharp with impressive contrast. But as soon as you’re in medium-to-low light things start to fall apart. Without optical image stabilization, the Razr compensates with a longer shutter speed, which leads to motion blur. Video is there. It’s fine. No one will be making a film for Netflix with the Razr.

img-20200207-042720181-hdr

This was taken in O’Hare airport in Chicago. The lighting was mixed. Overall details are soft, but the Razr’s HDR did a good job handling the scene.


Patrick Holland/CNET

Like other Motorola phones, the camera has AI scene detections that optimize the camera for different subjects such as food, moon and night scenes. Night Vision offers an improvement over regular photos taken in low light, but it’s still not on par with night mode on a phone like the iPhone 11, which costs half the price.

The camera doubles as a rear camera when the phone is open and a selfie camera when the phone is closed. I honestly don’t mind the fact that there’s a single main camera. I just wished it was better, especially knowing what Motorola’s One line of phones and cameras are capable of.

The second camera has a 5-megapixel sensor that’s located above the interior display. But it’s mainly meant for video chats. You can take selfies with it, but the quality isn’t as good as the main camera. That said, the second camera has a wider field of view, which makes it easier to frame selfies.

Buttons are important

There’s a fingerprint reader located on the raised chin below the main screen. When the phone is folded shut, it sits flush with the Quick View display. Above the fingerprint reader is an onscreen home button that you can use with Moto Actions. It would be great to be able to use One Button Nav directly on the fingerprint button like you could on the Moto G5 Plus. It seems odd reaching over the fingerprint reader to tap and swipe the home button.

motorola-razr-final-15

The buttons are well-placed considering they have to suit both the open and closed positions of the Razr.


Angela Lang/CNET

Motorola faced a challenge finding a position for the volume rocker and sleep-wake button that works both when the phone is open and closed. They seem to be in a good location, but the buttons are tiny and sometimes hard to distinguish despite the wake button’s texture.

When the phone is closed, the buttons are difficult to find without looking for them. I wish they had more travel or felt more clicky.

Random Razr ruminations roundup

  • It’s exclusive to Verizon in the US and EE in the UK (at least for now). It’s AU$2,699 in Australia.
  • There’s no SIM card, just an eSIM.
  • The Razr comes with 128GB of storage and there isn’t an option for more.
  • It lacks a slot for expandable storage.
  • It has Verizon bloatware. It’s 2020, why is bloatware still a thing?
  • It launches with Android 9.0 Pie and is expected to receive at least one Android OS upgrade.
  • The bottom speaker array is loud, but quality is average. It points down instead of at you.
  • There is no official IP rating for water and dust resistance, but it does have a nanocoating for splashes.
  • Be on the lookout for the Retro Razr keyboard. Make sure your volume is up when you launch it.
  • When you take a picture of a person, the Razr has a cartoon face on the Quick View display.

Motorola Razr vs. Samsung Galaxy Fold

Both the Galaxy Fold and Razr have folding displays, but they couldn’t be more different. The Razr is a fun two-seat convertible while the Galaxy Fold is a giant SVU packed with everything you could want and more.

The Razr turns a 6.2-inch phone into something pocketable. The Fold takes a small tablet and folds it into a thick but tall phone. You need two hands to use the Fold and one for the Razr. The Fold has premium specs and six excellent cameras. The Razr has two cameras, but really it’s just the one on the outside that you’re going to use.

timberwolf-2019-2741

The Razr is on the left and the Galaxy Fold is on the right. Two very different takes on a phone with a foldable screen.


Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung took a Galaxy S10 and turned it into a folding phone. Motorola took a midtier phone and turned it into a clamshell filled with nostalgia. The outer screen on the Razr is small but is more thoughtfully implemented. It doesn’t try to do too much and instead provides a minimal way to interact with notifications, controls and responses without having to open your phone.

The Galaxy Fold’s exterior display is awkwardly proportioned for its size and tries to do too much. The screen actually has the same 21:9 ratio of the Razr’s interior screen, but it’s almost too small to be useful. On the Fold, you can open nearly all Android apps on the outside and use them.

The Galaxy Fold costs $1,980 and the Motorola Razr is $1,499. 

Motorola Razr vs. the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

On Sunday during the Oscars, Samsung debuted an ad for its own clamshell phone with a foldable display likely to be called the Galaxy Z Flip. (Technically, the name is never mentioned.) On Tuesday Feb. 11, Samsung is set to officially announce the new flip phone. There are a ton of rumors about it, but it could be a similar size as the Razr and have a similar tall interior folding screen. The video shows off a square body that when closed that is oddly reminiscent of a Nintendo Gameboy Advance SP. Also, in the last shot, there’s a side view of the wedge-shaped gap that looks similar to the one the Galaxy Fold had.

Motorola Razr specs vs. Samsung Galaxy Fold, Huawei Mate X, Moto G7

Motorola Razr Samsung Galaxy Fold Huawei Mate X Motorola Moto G7
Display size, resolution Internal: 6.2-inch, foldable pOLED; 2,142x876p pixels (21:9) / External: 2.7-inch glass OLED, 800×600-pixels (4:3) Internal: 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED; 2,152×1,536-pixels (plastic) / External: 4.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED; 1,680×720-pixels (Gorilla Glass 6) Fully extended: 8-inch OLED (2,480×2,200) / Folded up, front: 6.6-inch (2,480×1,148 pixels) / Folded up, back: 6.38-inch (2,480×892); 6.2-inch LCD; 2,270×1,080 pixels
Pixel density 373 ppi (internal screen) 362 ppi (internal screen) 414 ppi (expanded screen) 403 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) Unfolded: 6.8×2.8×0.28 in / Folded: 3.7×2.8×0.55 in Folded: 6.3×2.5×0.6 in / Unfolded: 6.3×4.6×0.3 in TBA 6.18×2.96×0.31 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) Unfolded: 172×7 2×6.9mm / Folded: 94x72x14mm Folded: 62.8x161x15.7mm ~ 17.1mm / Unfolded: 117.9x161x6.9mm ~ 7.6mm TBA 157×75.3×8 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.2 oz; 205g 9.7 oz; 276g TBA 6.07 oz.; 172 g
Mobile software Android 9 Pie Android 9.0 with Samsung One UI TBA Android 9.0
Camera 16-megapixel external (f/1.7, dual pixel AF), 5-megapixel internal 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 4 rear cameras 12-megapixel, 5-megapixel
Front-facing camera Same as main 16-megapixel external Two 10-megapixel, 8-megapixel 3D depth At least one 8-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K (HDR 10 Plus) TBA 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Kirin 980 processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 632
Storage 128GB 512GB 512GB 64GB
RAM 6GB 12GB 8GB 4GB
Expandable storage None No No Up to 512GB
Battery 2,510-mAh 4,380-mAh 4,500-mAh 3,000-mAh
Fingerprint sensor Below screen Power button Power button Back
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack None No TBA Yes
Special features Foldable display, eSIM, Motorola gestures, splashproof Foldable display, wireless charging, fast charging Foldable display, fast charging Water repellent with P2i nano-coating; TurboPower charging
Price off-contract (USD) $1,499 $1,980 Converts to $2,600 (2,299 euros) $299