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Moto Razr review—RIP to our Moto Razr (March 30, 2020 – March 31, 2020)

The new Moto Razr. After the touchscreen died, I ended up controlling it with this mouse. Ron Amadeo..

By admin , in Tech , at April 8, 2020

  • The new Moto Razr. After the touchscreen died, I ended up controlling it with this mouse. Ron Amadeo
  • Here it is, half folded up. Ron Amadeo
  • When all folded up, the Razr makes for an attractive little phone. Ron Amadeo
  • All opened up. The display isn't fully secured to the phone and is just stretched over the body with tension, like a drum head. Ron Amadeo
  • The bottom chin of the phone, featuring the capacitive fingerprint reader. Ron Amadeo
  • The chin is very tall. Ron Amadeo
  • The earpiece and speaker live in this notch, which actually looks pretty nice. Ron Amadeo
  • The back is, get this, plastic! It won't shatter when you drop it. Ron Amadeo
  • The top edge is oddly smooth and flat. Ron Amadeo
  • On the side you can see the volume and power buttons. Ron Amadeo
  • This is the "Retro Razr" mode, which brings up this fun old-school Razr UI. Ron Amadeo
  • There are only two screens to this UI, the previous shot and this dial screen. Everything else just kicks you out to the regular Android UI. Ron Amadeo
  • You can see the new Razr is a lot wider than the old Razr. Ron Amadeo
  • Ars' own Kate Cox was nice enough to dig up an old Razr for comparison shots. Thanks Kate! Ron Amadeo

After being on backorder for months, my Moto Razr arrived on March 30, 2020. It was beautiful. Motorola had perfectly captured the essence of old-school Moto Razr design and updated it with futuristic folding display technology. While it was still an impractical flip phone, it was fun and cool and different. The Moto Razr was something I was excited to write about.

But my Razr was not long for this world. Straight out of the box, every fold was accompanied by a groan or creek from the hinge system. I would later learn that these noises were cries of agony—every actuation brought the smartphone closer to death, as if little bits of lifeforce were leaving the phone with every flip. First, the phantom touch inputs started. While the phone was opening and closing, apps would mysteriously startup. Buttons would press themselves. Things were not good.

"This is fine," I thought. "Opening and closing the phone only happens for a very short amount of time. Once it opens and everything settles down, things are fine." Things were not fine for very long, though. These phantom touch inputs were the death throes of the flexible OLED panel, and soon they started even when the phone was open and stationary. Sometimes I could open a multitouch test app and watch as touchpoints danced across the screen. Opening and closing the phone one or two more times would usually clear up these errant touch inputs, and things would be fine again.

Sadly, evaluating a phone requires opening and closing it regularly. And with more openings and closings, the phone continued to deteriorate. Eventually, the touchscreen stopped working above the halfway point. Now the phone has two modes when you open and close it: you either get a completely dead touchscreen or the phone turns into a possessed demon that randomly pushes buttons at about 10 actions per second. This all happened within the first 24 hours of using it. So as pictured above, I spent most of this review limping along by controlling the phone with a USB mouse.

The inner display and hinge

Every decision Motorola made with the display of the Razr is pretty novel. The phone is designed to close with no gaps and to not put a hard crease in the display, which means a wildly complicated hinge system. The mechanical structure of the hinge isn't behind the display—on the left and right side of the display, the phone bezel is interrupted by tiny gears, which handle the opening and closing. Around the hinge area, support plates under the display swing out of the way as the phone closes, leaving a pretty large void behind the display. This allows the screen to fold up into a loose loop instead of a hard crease.

The lack of a hard crease doesn't mean there aren't any weird light reflections in the middle of the screen. You can see where the moving support plates are under the display since they don't create a smooth surface. While the top and bottom are as smooth and flat as you would hope, the entire middle third of the display sinks into the collapsible support structure. You can feel all sorts of bumps and potholes in the display as you glide your finger across it.

  • Can smartphones feel pain? This touch test should not have a blue circle if no one is touching the phone. Ron Amadeo
  • The Razr's hinge system. The display folds up into a loose loop, and collapsible support plates swing into place when it opens. Motorola
  • Since the display isn't totally connected to the phone, it can lift up during folding like this. Ron Amadeo
  • The display doesn't have a hard crease in the middle, but that doesn't mean it's flat and free of weird light reflections. You can see where the support plates start and stop, and the whole middle of the phone is bumpy. Ron Amadeo
  • BOE's display isn't very good and gives off this strange cloudy reflection in direct light. Ron Amadeo
  • The display moves as you open and close it. You can see it clearly with the tape here. Ron Amadeo
  • This shot gives you a good idea of the screen shape. It's totally crazy, with arched top and bottom edges and the display notch. Ron Amadeo
  • This set of gears is how the phone folds. These extend all the way through the body of the phone. Ron Amadeo

The bottom half of the display is not attached to anything and just kind of floats around. The whole bottom half of the display actually moves when the phone opens and closes—it slides in and out of the bottom chin, and when the phone is open, the display is pulled tight over the backplate to keep it in place. This doesn't work very well compared to bonded glass, and the bottom half of the display likes to float above the backplate slightly—you'll press down on the display, and then the display will lower a bit and hit the backplate, like you're pressing down on a big bubble. The sides of the display are exposed, and you could easily get something under the display and ruin it. Some of my camera angles even picked up components on the inside of the phone, which you can sometimes see through the display panel gap.

INSIDE SCREEN 6.2-inch, 2142×876 OLED display

(373ppi, 21:9 aspect ratio)

OUTSIDE SCREEN 2.7-inch, 800×600 OLED display

(370ppi, 4:3 aspect ratio)

OS Android 9.0 Pie
CPU Eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 710

Two Cortex A75-based cores at 2.2Ghz, and six Cortex A55-based cores at 1.7GHz

GPU Adreno 616
NETWORKING 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, NFC
PORTS USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C, 3.5mm headphone jack
SIZE Unfolded: 172×72×6.9 mm
Folded: 94×72×14 mm
STARTING PRICE $1,499.99 at Verizon
OTHER PERKS front fingerprint sensor

This hinge is clearly what has been destroying my Razr from within. From what I can tell, the Moto Razr arrives in a virgin state, having never been folded, and it's up to you to break it in. Presumably, this also means individual units don't undergo any testing to see if they are actually built correctly or if they can survive everyday life. My unit really seems like something that could have been caught in the factory if someone just tried closing it a few times and made sure the touchscreen was OK. Again, it started showing problems after just a few folds.

Usually, the driving force behind foldable OLED displays is Samsung, the world's leading display manufacturer, but Motorola's supplier for the Razr is BoE, an up-and-coming display rival from China. Samsung made a huge improvement in flexible display technology with the debut of flexible glass in the Galaxy Z Flip, but the Razr still uses a regular, squishy, plastic display. BoE's display isn't very good. It's not that bright, and the strangest thing about it is a cloudy reflection whenever the light hits it.

The janky "Quick View" front display

Opening these flip phones is a much bigger barrier to entry compared to just turning on a ready-to-go slab smartphone, so it's important that they have some kind of front screen for quick tasks like checking the time or your notifications. The Razr is equipped with a 2.7-inch, 800×600 front display, which should be big enough to get some simple tasks done. Unfortunately, you're limited in what you can do by a weird custom UI that Motorola built.

Motorola calls the front display "Quick View," and it's about as limited as a smartphone lock screen. You'll see the normal status bar icons at the top, then the time, then a list of notification icons at the bottom.

You can't swipe down from the top of the screen to see the notification text. Instead, you can either long-press on each individual notification icon to see the text, or swipe up on a notification icon to open a custom version of the notification panel. Rather than the normal single-pane vertically scrolling notification list, Motorola changed everything with a horizontally scrolling, paginated notification view that shows one notification per swipe. Paginated UIs are slower to navigate than flickable vertically scrolling panes, so this isn't a great change.

  • The front display is totally custom and very limited. You get the status bar, time, and notification icons. Ron Amadeo
  • Here's what a notification looks like. This is built with the smartwatch "notification access" API. Ron Amadeo
  • This looks just like the quick settings but isn't the quick settings. You can't customize it and there are only six icons. Ron Amadeo
  • Why is there a flashlight icon here? It just blinds the user. Ron Amadeo
  • The selfie camera uses the main camera. Ron Amadeo
  • The Google Assistant only ever looks like this, there are no visual responses. Ron Amadeo

The notification UI for the front display was built using the notification access API, which is normally used for smartwatches, so you're limited to the usual smartwatch features. That means notification text and action buttons make the jump to the front screen, music controls automatically work, and you can do things like reply-by-voice to text messages. Motorola's decision to reinvent the notification panel also means you'll be losing some features, like the ability to launch apps, snooze notifications, and block notifications.

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