Motorola Finally Launches Foldable Razr Smartphone, Hinge Design Improves Display Lifetime

Published November 18, 2019

As expected, Motorola launched its foldable clamshell smartphone on November 13th and it received an enthusiastic response from most media and reviewers. In the case of the US market, it is exclusively available from Verizon and is priced at $1499. Pre-orders start on December 26thand it will be available January 9th.

Motorola has brought back the Razr brand, first introduced in 2004, with this foldable smartphone and believes this is just the beginning of the foldable era. According to a New York Times interview with Motorola President Sergio Buniac, the company developed the new Razr after seeing a consumer need for foldable phones. He said, “Foldable is a technology that’s (just) starting. We believe there are so many options and avenues with that, so we have to think about new consumer segments as we move forward.”

In regard to the later than expected introduction, he said, “We are two or three months behind. That’s OK. It’s new technology. There are good days and bad days, but we want to feel that it’s really mature before going to market.”

What are the details on the phone? The specifications are shown in the figure below. As indicated, they have a 6.2” foldable OLED with 2142 x 876 resolution, 21:9 aspect ratio and 373 PPI. Initial volumes on the foldable display came from AUO, but the primary supplier for the remainder of this quarter is BOE. China Star will also begin shipping this panel from Q1’20. BOE is the primary supplier on the front rigid OLED from its B6 line which has SVGA resolution and a similar PPI of 370. This line is currently producing displays for Huawei and Xiaomi wearables.

The most innovative aspect of the 2019 Razr is how they designed the hinge to minimize the likelihood of a crease/foldable mark in the foldable display. The display has a manageable radius when it folds so that it is less likely to crease as seen from Motorola’s 2018 patent. The larger fold radius produces less stress on the display and less fatigue in the colorless polyimide cover film, making delamination, a folding mark and other defects from the compressive stress less likely. This is believed to be accomplished by creating an open cavity in the hinge design that allows the display to curve around rather than fold around the hinge. There is no hard crease. According to the patent, rather than having the hinge behind the display, the hinge is on the left and right side of the display which gives the display room to bend rather than fold. Motorola says the hinge “includes moveable support plates that rigidly support the display when the phone is open, but collapse out of the way when the phone is closed.” This allows the phone to have a zero gap hinge, but not causing the display to crease. In addition, because it is a clamshell, the hinge and crease area are much smaller than in a book type foldable an is protected when the phone is closed.

Motorola Clamshell Hinge Patent

We have seen such a design before, from Samsung, in its prototypes from a few years back as shown below. Samsung can’t be pleased that Motorola beat them to market with such a design. However, Samsung will differentiate their upcoming clamshell phone with foldable ultra-thin glass (UTG) rather than CPI, which should prove to be harder and less scratch resistant than the CPI cover film.

Samsung Foldable Prototypes

Getting back to the Razr, the new Razr looks like a traditional Razr smartphone with a large chin which houses the fingerprint ID sensor and USB-C charging port. The notch at the top houses a 5MP camera and speaker with that camera only used when the phone is unfolded. The primary camera is on the front and features a 16MP sensor and can also be used as a selfie camera when the phone is closed. Pictures and videos will also quickly move from the front display to the unfolded display and vice versa when you open and close the display.

The 2.7” external rigid OLED display, called as a quick view display, serves as an information screen displaying time, notifications, selfie images, signal indicator, battery life and alerts. There is no touch capability though. You can also continue talking with the new Razr when you close the phone so long as the phone is on speakerphone, Bluetooth or video call modes.

With two displays, you would think they would adopt a larger battery. However, they chose 2 smaller batteries that add up to just 2510mAh which is a concern. The form factor limits the size of the battery they can adopt. Other brands might want to adopt a flexible OLED on the front to adopt a larger battery.

The form factor of the new Razr is a major plus, but users will have to be accustomed to the increased thickness. When folded, it is around 2X the thickness of a current smartphone at 0.55” vs. ~0.3”. When unfolded though, it is slightly thinner at 0.27”. The 21:9 aspect ratio and large chin make it a little longer than most smartphones at 6.77”, but when folded is just 3.7”, much shorter than any other smartphone on the market. Thus, it is more portable when folded than any other existing device, can fit in front pockets, small compartments in a purse, etc.

The chipset is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 which is more mid-range than high end. 128GBs of storage with 6GBs of RAM is standard. Razr customers are offered 24-hour turnaround and free advanced exchange support with free next-day freight as part of their standard warranty. In terms of display defects, Verizon offers free of charge repair or replacement during normal use as part of their standard warranty. For repairs that fall outside of warranty, a $299 display replacement fee applies.

Would I buy one? Since I am looking for a better camera and photography options at this time, probably not. The small battery is also a concern. But, if a clamshell foldable did come to market with the type of camera options you can find in a high-end smartphone and a larger battery, I would seriously consider it. I love the idea of a more portable smartphone since I ride with one on my bike and my bike jersey has limited storage options.

At DSCC, we are also optimistic on the outlook for foldable clamshells due to their lower costs and prices, increased portability and increased ruggedness compared with other foldables as seen from our forecast below. We do expect the Razr to do well, especially among previously satisfied Razr users who miss the satisfying click when they shut the phone. Motorola wisely replicated the look of the old Razr as a UI option with the display showcasing the look of the buttons of the older Razr’s. We expect other clamshell designs to come to market at larger sizes and with UTG, which should further boost ruggedness and reduce lifetime concerns.

Foldable Smartphone Forecast by Form Factor

Source: DSCC’s Foldable Market Update and Outlook Report

Motorola’s Retro Razr Mode

Source: The Verge

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Written by

Ross Young