The most exciting phone announcement of 2019 was not the iPhone 11 Pro or Galaxy S10 or even the Galaxy Fold. It was the Motorola Razr. The internet went bonkers over this mid-2000s icon making a return as a foldable phone — $1,500 price be damned.
But then something bad happened.
The most exciting phone of 2019 got pushed to 2020 due to a monthlong delay. Motorola cited high demand, saying that it had "quickly outgrown supply predictions." The phone is now available for pre-order, and it hits shelves February 6.
Seems like a good problem to have, right? Normally it would be, but not when Samsung is expected to launch a new foldable clamshell phone of its own, allegedly called the Galaxy Z Flip, a few days after the Razr hits stores. The Razr will also be a Verizon exclusive, which could limit its appeal.
So can the Razr win over shoppers? This foldable phone has a chance, so long as it can overcome these three obstacles.
Motorola Razr: A different kind of foldable phone
While the Galaxy Fold targeted early adopters focused on productivity with its mammoth 7.3-inch display, the Motorola Razr is aiming for trendsetters and fashionistas with its more compact clamshell design.
The Razr has a small 2.7-inch screen on the outside, but it unfurls to reveal a 6.2-inch display that’s only slightly bigger than the display on the iPhone 11. And that's the whole point. Folded up, the Razr has a mere 3.7 x 2.8-inch footprint, compared with 6.7 x 2.8 inches when unfolded.
"A vertical folding phone solves a real problem that consumers have," said Avi Greengart, lead analyst at Techsponential. "If you can give me a phone with a lot of screen real estate that that can actually fit in an average woman's jeans pockets — that factor alone should help it find a market."
Motorola also placed a focus on durability with the Razr's zero-gap hinge, which uses two stainless-steel hinges connected to sliding support plates. There's no visible crease in the display and little to no chance that debris can get caught when the clamshell is closed.
The other benefit in opting for a clamshell design is the ease of use, which befits the target audience of those who like the idea of a flip phone.
"The learning curve from the user is less and you maintain the cool factor," said Carolina Milanesi, a principal analyst with Creative Strategies.
Verizon exclusive: Enticement or deal-breaker?
The Motorola Razr will be a Verizon exclusive, which means you won't be able to get it from any other U.S. carrier. (You can preorder the phone from Walmart or from Motorola itself.) That's great for Verizon, but not if you're on AT&T, Sprint or T-Mobile.
"We've seen Motorola do deals like this with Verizon before (see: Droid and Droid Razr smartphones)," said Ramon Llamas, research director with IDC. "Hopefully, this will be a testing ground for Motorola before rolling out to other carriers, but that's doubtful given its history."
To be fair, it's possible that Motorola wanted to go the exclusive route to test the market before going wider with distribution. But that the company had to delay the phone due to high demand opens the door to competing manufacturers who can produce a higher volume of devices.
Is it worth $1,500?
This is a hard question to answer. Flagship phones have already blown past the $1,000 mark, such as the $1,100 iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Galaxy Note 10 Plus. But the Galaxy Fold at close to $2,000 seemed too steep for most consumers.
At $1,500, Motorola hopes to find a middle ground.
"The Razr will either get a whole new group of people to buy into an even more expensive phone category, or it will keep these phones to a well-heeled niche audience," Greengart said.
When you break it down, the Razr costs $62.49 per month from Verizon for 24 months, compared with $45.83 for the iPhone 11 Pro Max, which is only $16 per month. But that's still more than the cost of Netflix. And the iPhone gives you more powerful specs and a more advanced camera for your money.
"With Verizon's pricing models and monthly installments, I think some of the pain will be removed," Llamas said. "Still, this is not the smartphone for everyone, and mostly it's going to cater to technophiles who understand and appreciate the technology built in."
If the Razr lives up to the hype, chances are that people will be willing to pay.
The Samsung factor: Here comes the Galaxy Z Flip
Even if Motorola manages to pull off a successful launch for the new Razr, Samsung is reportedly waiting in the wings with a foldable clamshell of its own. Dubbed the Galaxy Z Flip (based on rumors), Samsung's foldable would look a lot like the Razr, but with some marked differences.
The rumored specs for Samsung's phone point to a faster processor for the Galaxy Z Flip than the Razr (Snapdragon 855 vs. Snapdragon 715), a larger battery and more base storage. Plus, if you believe the leaks, it doesn't look like Samsung's foldable has a chin on the design like the Razr does, though that area does house a fingerprint sensor on Motorola's device.
It’s also worth noting that the new Razr is not 5G-enabled, which could turn off consumers who want a phone that’s future-proof.
None of these differences are a huge deal, as shoppers for this type of phone don't care as much about specs as they do about the look and feel. What is a big deal is Samsung's reach relative to Motorola and its parent company Lenovo.
Could Samsung steal the Razr's thunder? "It's certainly a possibility especially given the difference in marketing budget that these brands have," said Creative Strategy's Milanesi, who also argued that market availability should be broader for Samsung than Motorola just because Moto is focusing only on key markets — at least at first.
It's clear that Motorola has struck a nerve with the new Motorola Razr. But translating those nostalgic vibes into sales could prove challenging given the phone's limited availability, high price and the arrival of Samsung's inevitable clamshell foldable.
But you shouldn't count Motorola out, either, especially since the phone maker has a well-earned reputation for durability — at a time when Samsung is still trying to reassure early adopters that its first Fold will stand the test of time.
We also have no idea yet when the alleged Galaxy Z Flip will be released. Samsung could merely show it off at its Feb. 11 Unpacked event and launch it months later. Other manufacturers, such as OnePlus, are taking a wait-and-see approach to foldable phones. But that puts all the more pressure on Motorola to get its own launch right.
"This is where Motorola has to claim space ahead of Samsung," Llamas said.
We'll know how good the Razr is when it's released on Feb. 6 — exactly five days before Samsung's big unveiling.