Published on April 8th, 2020 📆 | 1533 Views ⚑0
Moto Razr review—RIP to our Moto Razr (March 30, 2020 – March 31, 2020)
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.
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.
|SPECS AT A GLANCE: Moto Razr|
|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
|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 x 72 x 6.9 mm|
Folded: 94 x 72 x 14 mm
|STARTING PRICE||$1,499.99 at Verizon|
|OTHER PERKS||front fingerprint sensor|
This hinge is clearly what’s 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 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 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.
You can swipe down from the top of the screen to get a UI that looks just like the quick settings, but isn’t the quick settings. You can’t customize it and there are only six icons: Wi-Fi, data, Bluetooth, tethering, camera, and flashlight, along with a brightness slider at the top.
The flashlight button—I don’t understand this—is it for a practical joke you can play on your friends? Of course, the flashlight button turns on the camera LED, but this is a flip phone, so when you’re using the front display the camera and LED is pointed at your eyeballs, so the flashlight button just blasts you in the face and blinds you. And this LED is painfully bright—you’ll see stars for a bit afterward. I guess you can try and press the button while not looking at the display, but that is pretty hard, and then you’ve still got to turn the flashlight off at some point, so good luck doing that without being blinded. I guess you can cover the LED with your hand? What was Motorola thinking on this one?
The last bit of functionality on this screen is the Google Assistant, which you can bring up by saying “OK Google” or by double-pressing the power button. You’re limited to verbal responses from the Assistant only though—no visuals, which is a bummer and seems unnecessarily limited.
Google’s Android Compatibility Definition Document only requires a 2.5-inch display to run Android, so the Moto Razr’s front display is actually big enough to run the normal Android UI. There was no need for Motorola to reinvent the wheel here. Normal Android would have worked and been more functional. It wouldn’t require usage instructions. It would let users customize things like the quick settings. It would let them run simple apps like a calculator without any problems. The Google Assistant could display visual results, and users could do things like scroll through music playlists from the front display.
Everything about the front display would have been better if Motorola just left Android alone. The custom UI doesn’t do anything better than normal Android and doesn’t add any new features. It’s just pointlessly restrictive.