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In 2019 we are all about “out with the old and in with the new”, but not when it comes to smartphones. Buzz60’s Maria Mercedes Galuppo has more.
Buzz60

People of a certain age fondly remember Razr, the Motorola clamshell phone that became a status symbol among high-tech fashionistas circa the mid-2000s. I’m tempted to say these are the same people who still remember Motorola itself, given how far the once leading brand has fallen since its heyday. Its single-digit U.S. market share pales next to market champs Apple and Samsung. 

Harsh.

Motorola (these days owned by China’s Lenovo) is pinning its hopes on the Razr again, having showcased a fresh bendable-screen Android version of the flip phone at a media event in Los Angeles. Moto’s partner Verizon will start taking preorders after Christmas, and the new Razr is set to hit stores Jan. 9.

It won’t be an easy sell.

A look at the new Razr. (Photo: Motorola)

Younger buyers don’t have the same attachment to the Razr that, say, their parents have. Trips down memory lane haven’t exactly worked out for other once-dominant phone brands BlackBerry and Nokia.

Motorola has tried the back-to-the-future route before, without a lot of success. In 2011, it teamed with Verizon on a Droid Razr Android phone that shared little in common with the original Razr.

Putting nostalgia aside, the new Razr comes with another very modern challenge: a humongous price tag. It costs $1,499.99 outright, or $62.49 monthly over two years. Some of you may be willing to drop that much for an iPhone 11 Pro Max, but Motorola doesn’t have Apple’s Midas touch to get people to part with their money. 

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It wasn’t lost on my colleague Michelle Maltais who attended the loud L.A. launch party that most everyone snapping pictures of the new Razr did so with their iPhones and Galaxy devices.

A brief look back puts the price in perspective:

When I wrote my original Razr review in 2004, I noted that “Motorola wants to flaunt the device’s chief selling point: that this isn’t your typical plump phone. … Alas, there’s nothing slim about the price. Razr will set you back $500 under a current $100-off online promotion from Cingular Wireless.” 

Foldable screens: Intriguing but unproven

Looked at generously, you might even call the new Razr cheap, at least compared with the $2,000 Samsung asks for its Galaxy Fold phone.

Samsung, like Motorola, is trying to ignite the nascent market for bendable or foldable-screen phones, a category featuring intriguing if unproven designs. Samsung is trying to sell a single device that morphs between a large-screen phone and small-screen tablet. 

Motorola’s device comes off more like a large phone/smaller phone combo.

Speaking broadly, I like to see phonemakers take bold chances on fresh designs. I’m just not persuaded any have stuck the landing just yet.

It didn’t help that Samsung had to delay the launch of the Fold for months because of problems with the screen, raising questions about its long-term durability. Samsung cautioned buyers to treat the Fold with kid gloves when it finally did show up in September. Initial reviews have been less than stellar.

We’ll have to wait on review units before getting a good grip on the durability of the new Razr, much less what it will be like to live with on a daily basis.

Hands-on first impressions

Michelle did have a mostly favorable first impression at the LA event. She called the new Razr “sexy” and said it felt good in her hands, and when folded, it easily stashed in a pocket. In terms of weight, it felt comparable to her Galaxy S10+.

The main 6.2-inch internal display seamlessly bends completely in half, revealing a 2.7-inch touchscreen outer display on which you can view notifications, control music or snap high-quality selfies. It has a 16-megapixel camera and night vision mode for capturing images in dim light, an in-vogue feature among premium smartphones.

Michelle found the phone easy to flip open and close and was impressed that the hinge practically melts into the main display, without revealing the kind of crease that’s visible on the Galaxy Fold. That said, it wasn’t quite as easy to open as its flip-with-a-single-flick predecessor. 

There’s been a fair amount of interest and anticipation surrounding this modern throwback, suggesting the Razr name still carries some brand equity. In the end, though, retro goes only so far. 

What will ultimately make or break the Razr is how easy and fun it is to use. Oh, and dropping the price wouldn’t hurt either.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow @edbaig on Twitter

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