LOS ANGELES • Motorola is rebooting the iconic Razr flip phone as a 6.2-inch smartphone with a foldable display that gives the Lenovo-owned brand a unique selling point against Apple and Samsung Electronics' finest.
The new device reprises the Motorola Razr name and looks like a modernised version of the original.
It costs US$1,499 (S$2,040) and will be available for pre-order next month in Europe and as a Verizon exclusive in the United States, ahead of its retail arrival in January.
For Lenovo Group, which has a tiny fraction of the global smartphone market, it is an effort to build brand awareness in the US via a halo device.
Launched in late 2004, the first Razr became an icon in the US, sold 130 million units and was the face of the phone industry before Apple launched the iPhone in 2007.
Motorola's new model has a shot at some fame as well, as it is set to become the first true foldable phone on the market - every other device so far could more properly be described as a foldable tablet - and company executives have told Bloomberg they are confident that their design will not succumb to the durability issues that pushed back Samsung's Galaxy Fold launch.
The 2019 Razr is no bargain, but compared with the US$1,980 Galaxy Fold or Huawei Technologies' US$2,600 Mate X, it is the most affordable member of the most expensive modern phone category.
The compromise that users will have to accept with the Razr is in some of its specifications: It has a small battery at 2,510mAh and runs the older Android 9 Pie operating system on Qualcomm's sub-flagship Snapdragon 710 chip. It lacks the 5G option and bountiful memory of its rivals. Aside from the US and Europe, it will also be on sale in Latin America, Asia and Australia.
Motorola president Sergio Buniac said he does not see the launch as a "silver bullet" for rocketing Motorola's sales up to Apple and Samsung numbers.
Over the past several quarters, Motorola has turned its mobile business from a flailing unit of China's Lenovo to profitability in many markets, he said. The new Razr is intended to continue that even without strong sales.
Mr Buniac said he is hoping for "a little bit more" demand than supply, while Lenovo chief operating officer Gianfranco Lanci said "it will bring greater awareness to the brand, especially in key markets like North America".
Motorola's take on foldable phone design is markedly different to the first batch of foldable devices.
Instead of a vertical hinge that makes it open like a book, the new Razr opens and closes like a classic flip phone. Closed shut, the phone is a square that is about half the size of an iPhone 11 Pro Max, and Motorola has used the foldable technology to make one of the most portable phones on the market.
In the process, it has brought back the action of flipping the phone shut to hang up calls, which is something most premium smartphone consumers have not done in at least a decade.
Samsung is planning to introduce its own square-shaped foldable phone as its second Galaxy Fold device early next year.
Until that time, Motorola looks set to be all alone in offering a regular smartphone capable of collapsing into a pocket-friendly clamshell.
In a brief hands-on test with the Razr, the handset felt and looked impressive. Its screen felt fragile, but the device's design chief Ruben Castano said "we feel like we've really developed a robust solution", pointing to stainless steel structural plates between the bottom of the inner screen and the device's internals.
When unfolded, the Razr operates like most other Android phones, running a full touchscreen version of Google's operating system.
Like the original Razr, the 2019 model has a chin at the bottom that houses electronics such as the LTE antenna. It also has a notch at the top of the main display, lacks a headphone jack, and will be available only in black and with 128GB of storage without further upgrade options. Its camera and battery specs are underwhelming.
But the Razr's shortcomings may very well not matter. This device is designed to appeal to those nostalgic for the flip phone era, for whom specs may not be a priority, as well as the early adopters of new technology, who are more tolerant of first-generation imperfections.