These past few weeks sure feel like foldable heaven. In the span of a few days, we have seen the Microsoft Surface Duo, the updated Samsung Galaxy Z Flip now with 5G, the Galaxy Z Fold2, the LG Velvet and now the new Motorola razr.
In an exclusive online event, Motorola introduced the new device, which stays true to its predecessor in form but adds some improvements to the foldable display technology, the processor (going from Snapdragon 725 to the 765G), the camera (from 16MP to 48MP for the primary camera and from 5MP to 20MP for the selfie one) and drops the price by $100 to $1399.
The event was nothing like a phone launch, similar to the launch of the first foldable razr about seven months ago when Motorola held a party in Los Angeles for the big unveil. In the era of COVID-19, this event was digital and focused around a short movie directed by Luke Gilford and starring Julia Garner. While, to be honest, the film itself felt more like a glorified commercial, the experience that was meant to be shared over a PC and a phone screen was quite intriguing. I would say the same about the choice of words to describe elements of the movie, which also reflected the razr positioning: “evoke confidence and spark excitement,” “sexy, nostalgic sleekness.”
In an interview with Bloomberg, Motorola’s President Sergio Buniac shared some interesting data points. Twenty percent of buyers of the first foldable razr was iPhone or iPad owners. Also, Motorola accounted for 50% of foldable sales in North America. While, of course, we are talking about a small number of sales as a whole and a minimal number of brands, the results must be encouraging for Motorola.
Part of Lenovo and under Buniac’s leadership, Motorola has been focused on profitability and creating a solid foundation in some key markets like China, the US, Brazil, Mexico, and India. Such a foundation was built, mostly on more affordable products like their Motorola G, Motorola E and Motorola One series. The razr was the product that opened the door for Motorola to re-enter the high-end segment. The razr brand, as well as the foldable design, created an aspirational product that will work as a halo on the rest of the portfolio. Given this intent, Motorola was smart in focusing on marketing and positioning around life-style rather than tech. The foldable design of the razr, similarly to the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, is certainly more about design and individuality than productivity. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just addresses a different market to the one the Galaxy Fold and the Surface Duo (yes, I know this is a dual-screen, not a foldable) are targeting.
This round two of foldables from both Motorola and Samsung has two things in common: first, it adds 5G and second, it strengthens the durability of the screen. The two brands take a different approach to it, but the goal is the same: limit damage from wear and tear, or in this case, fold and unfold, and limit damage from debris entering underneath the screen itself. Motorola reduced the moving parts within the hinge itself and added a metal plate underneath the screen to give it more support.
The Quick View Display is, for me, the biggest differentiator against the Galaxy Z Flip. From some of the video footage, there are a few new apps that are supported by the external display like Google Maps, which could come in handy for pedestrian navigation. I compare the Quick View screen to the screen of a smartwatch. A small screen that helps you view and take quick actions on notifications, control your music and even allow you to take a selfie using the more capable external camera system while using the display as a viewfinder. The familiarity of the main screen centered around a one-hand operation and the comparable experience to a smartwatch of the external screen considerably lower the learning curve on the razr. Considering Samsung moved to a larger external display for the Fold, I expect the next Galaxy Z Flip to also sport a larger external screen.
I know there has been a lot of talk about nostalgia with the razr brand and design, but I do believe it would be a disservice to the foldable razr to think of it as riding on nostalgia alone. The younger generations are likely to have never heard of the name or seen the form factor. And older consumers will remember that the original razr had this super cool design but delivered a terrible experience because of poor software. This is precisely where the foldable razr is very different. While the design is most likely the biggest purchase driver, users will not be disappointed by the razr’s performance and how it addressed essential needs like camera, fast charging and battery life. As far as durability, Motorola says that “the razr is designed to withstand up to 200,000 flips, which would take a power user more than five years to reach this level of use.” Of course, all foldables today should be considered as more delicate than the traditional smartphones we have been using and this is not a flaw of these devices, but a reality of the new foldable displays that are used and the hinge mechanism wrapped around them.
Looking at Motorola’s website, the first razr remains in the lineup, at least for now, at the reduced price of $999, which is not a bad price if you are interested in trying out for size the foldable experience.
There are more foldable products coming with less traditional form factors like the upcoming LG Wing that has two screens folding open like a T. Hard to know which one will win. Still, one thing is sure there is a limit to how much sexy alone will sell, especially with a price tag of a couple of thousand dollars. Brand experimenting with designs should always ask themselves what the benefit is and whether the unique design will never come to life because the lack of apps will limit what users can do. Ultimately a phone is our most precious device because we do so much with it and we cannot allow for it to let us down.