Late last night, Motorola announced the new Razr phone, which is a much-leaked folding device that looks exactly like a wider version of the classic Razr. It has a folding OLED screen and Chaim Gartenberg headed out to LA to check it out.
Read Chaim’s impressions and definitely watch the hands-on video. I have done so multiple times and have Zaprudered portions of it to try to suss out exactly how Motorola pulled this hinge off. There doesn’t seem to be any visible (or even feel-able!) crease on the screen, Motorola says it’s plenty durable, and the phone folds literally flat. It’s all the things the Samsung Galaxy Fold isn’t.
I’ve also got something to say about the way Motorola announced this phone: at 8:15PM Pacific time at a party in LA instead of at 10AM on a tech keynote stage.
Put all that together and I think Motorola has avoided the major mistakes Samsung made with the Galaxy Fold.
That’s not to say that Motorola isn’t making other mistakes all of its own — it absolutely is. Let’s actually get those out of the way first, just so nobody is fooled into thinking that I’ve already decided this phone is amazing without even seeing it in person. I have not, because:
- It has a slow-ish processor, which is potentially not a big issue.
- That processor was chosen to save battery life, which has me worried about battery life.
- Motorola does not have a great camera track record and this probably won’t fix that.
- It costs $1,499.
- It’s exclusive to Verizon.
- It’s exclusive to Verizon and uses an eSIM and therefore has a good chance of being locked down which means that instead of freeing us from carrier lock-in, eSIM is being perverted into creating more carrier lock-in and [insert Charlie Brown saying augh dot mp4 video here]
- Finally, Motorola might be a little too cocky about this screen’s durability.
That is a long list of potential mistakes! But notice that of all of them, only one bears any resemblance to all the mistakes Samsung made — it’s expensive. That, arguably, isn’t a mistake if you look at this phone in the right context — it’s positioned and marketed as something rare and exclusive.
In fact, that’s the very first mistake Samsung made with the Galaxy Fold. It announced it on a grand stage just like any other smartphone of the past decade, which implicitly meant that it could be for everybody. The only signal that the Galaxy Fold wasn’t a knock-around, treat-it-like-you-would-any-smartphone kind of smartphone was the price.
Motorola, on the other hand, is launching with a party in LA instead of a livestream watched by thousands of gadget-heads. The main attraction was Diplo, not a tech executive.
Plus, it’s the Razr. Before that phone became ubiquitous it was absolutely launched as a rare — and quite expensive for the time — status symbol. It’s trading on nostalgia, yes, but part of that nostalgia was how the Razr was once way fancier than other phones.
But after the first Galaxy Fold broke and the second disappointed, I am agog that Motorola has apparently pulled off what Samsung could not: it made a folding phone that goes completely flat and doesn’t have a visible crease. Motorola — the company that has been churning out forgettable midrange smartphones every other month like clockwork for the past few years — beat Samsung, the company that has been at the bleeding (and sometimes jagged) edge of smartphone tech since before Apple was even in the game.
That’s why I have been Zaprudering one particular section of the video Vjeran Pavic shot with Chaim — the part where, in a presentation to journalists ahead of the party, Motorola showed this graphic of the hinge:
What you can see here is that Motorola has three steel plates that are in near-constant contact with the hinge. There’s much less opportunity for a gap you’d feel underneath the screen — the kind of gap that would allow screen-destroying debris in, too.
But the thing that allows the Razr to close completely flat without an internal gap is even more impressive. Let’s take another look at this image. Enhance! Reverse! Slo-Mo! Freeze on the last frame! Relax it’s still a just low-res gif but it will illustrate my point!
The hinge is designed specifically to make space inside itself when closed so the screen can form a “teardrop” shape inside it. You can’t get a very tight radius on a folding OLED screen, but Motorola figured out how to accommodate that much more elegantly than Samsung did.
One note of caution: apparently as it closes the screen doesn’t exactly do what the gifs above imply. It sort of lifts up off the plates as it closes, as Mike Murphy tweeted:
here’s my big thing with this that I need to spend more time with the device to see if it’s a real problem:— Mike Murphy (@mcwm) November 14, 2019
the screen *lifts off* the device, and seems super easy to break
Moto tells me it’s confident it won’t in normal use tho https://t.co/AWlzmI6ALJ pic.twitter.com/h5uXVlvrp3
Still, I bet that achieving this interior teardrop hinge would have been very difficult to pull off on the Fold, as it was a phone that folded out like a book to form a tablet. The Razr, on the other hand, folds vertically to form a phone. The whole concept of the Razr is diametrically (or maybe I should say perpendicularly) opposed to the Galaxy Fold.
That is the biggest Samsung mistake that Motorola avoided: the one at the drawing board. Faced with a compelling new technology, Motorola chose a series of more easily solved problems on its way to making a final product. I just have to believe that the Razr’s fold is an easier engineering challenge to solve simply because there’s less screen that needs to be folded.
Will all these avoided mistakes add up to a successful product? I refer you to my bullet list at the top of this editorial. Any number of those things could sink the Razr — or it could be something else entirely. We’ll review it when it comes out in January 2020 and let you know.
Samsung’s Galaxy Fold was the result of hubris and a desperate desire to breath new life into a plateauing smartphone ecosystem. Samsung set a nearly impossible engineering battle for itself, so it’s not really a surprise that it couldn't rise to the occasion.
The Motorola Razr is also trying to resuscitate Motorola by literally resuscitating an old, beloved phone brand. But because Motorola chose to fight the right engineering battle, it has a much better chance of winning.
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is here
I’m in New York this week primarily to spend time with the computer I’m typing on now, the 16-inch MacBook Pro. As you can see from the headline above, the keyboard is very good. But the overall sentiment out there is clear: it’s okay to be relieved, but Apple is not to be praised for doing what it should have done all along (or at least much, much sooner).
I am hoping to base my review on your questions, so please drop them as comments on our YouTube video (where I’ll look first) or email me (where I’ll look last) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Before then I’ll have more to say, but for now I’ll just note that I have no idea what Apple plans for the 13-inch MacBook Pro. As in: literally none. Apple didn’t include it on its slide of its “Pro” computers at the end of its presentation to journalists on Tuesday (!) and the new 16-inch MacBook Pro identifies itself just as “MacBook Pro” in the about screen, potentially implying it’s like the only one somehow (!!)?
That last sentence is a conspiracy theory, but it’s obvious that Apple is going to need to do something quick. The MacBook Pro and Air are far more popular than this computer.
+ That didn’t take long: Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro was just announced and it’s already on sale
It may have been a slip to say it this stridently, but I don’t think it was a mistake to say something along these lines. I really do think a lot of people at Apple look down their turned up noses at Chromebooks. Many of their reasons are justified — but I think that there’s more than just price that makes schools prefer Chromebooks to iPads.
Turns out you can’t trust your cell phone carrier
Had a blast recording this interview with Arielle Duhaime-Ross about how RCS is coming to replace SMS and how SMS is wildly more complicated than anybody realizes. Give it a listen and also you should subscribe to Reset. It’s truly a great show from a crack team led by a Verge and Vice News alum.
Podcast double feature! If you aren’t subscribed to The Vergecast, go subscribe just so you can listen to this interview from Nilay Patel. It’s a fresh take on competition and it’s different in really fascinating ways from the themes you’ve heard him (and me) repeat over the past couple of years. Great discussion.
This is a very useful history of promises cell carriers have made to appease regulators only to fail to deliver later. You know, just in case there are any carriers making promises right now to convince regulators to let them merge.
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