Motorola RAZR could return as Verizon foldable smartphone

The Motorola RAZR could return as a flagship folding smartphone, rebooting the iconic cellphone name within months. Epitomizing the mid-2000s phone market, the RAZR V3 launched in 2004 as the spiritual successor to Motorola's StarTAC, and went on to make the company millions with numerous iterations and color variants.

That run ended abruptly with the arrival of smartphones, and the iPhone in particular. Though the RAZR was slimmer and smaller than the iPhone – and had that rewarding "snap" when you closed it to end a call – it fell far short of the features new smartphone users were coming to expect, like full internet browsing and a decent camera.

Now, though, the RAZR may be ready to return – at least in name. Motorola-owner Lenovo is reportedly working with Verizon on an exclusive clamshell smartphone with a flexible display, which will bear the RAZR name when it launches this year. It would be among the first handsets to commercially offer a foldable screen.

Certainly, a clamshell smartphone would be a better bearer of the RAZR name than the 2011 DROID RAZR ever was. Then, Verizon and Motorola used the branding to highlight the slim design of the Android device. However it did not fold, and after several iterations on the form-factor and name, the two companies quietly retired the branding.

It's only with the arrival of commercially-feasible flexible OLED that a real RAZR smartphone is possible. Samsung is using the technology for an Android smartphone that unfolds into a roughly 7-inch tablet, which is expected to be revealed officially on February 20 alongside the Galaxy S10. At CES 2019 last week, we tried out the Royole FlexPai, billed as the first foldable phone on the market, though not without its foibles.

Part of the challenge isn't just hardware but software. Designing an interface which suits a screen that changes shape and size, and which allows the best possible use of display real-estate for apps while also preserving maximum backward-compatibility, is equally essential. Google added the first steps to supporting that in its latest Android OS. Back in early 2018, meanwhile, a Motorola patent described how the company envisaged the folding mechanism of such a smartphone working.

Sales could kick off as soon as February 2019, the WSJ reports, though warns that the new RAZR is still in testing and that timelines could still change. As is believed to be the case for the foldable Samsung Galaxy smartphone, sales expectations will be low. The new foldable Motorola RAZR smartphone will be priced at around $1,500, it's suggested, and Lenovo plans to produce only around 200,000 devices.

As with 5G, foldable phones are expected to be a niche market in 2019. The sheer expense of folding OLED panels will keep their pricing high, and such devices are likely to exist primarily as examples of technological prowess by manufacturers, at least for the foreseeable future.