Motorola Razr flip phone

Teardown: Motorola Razr 2020

Image credit: Motorola

A retro smartphone design attempts innovation in foldable displays.

When the Motorola Razr arrived in 2004 it was pretty cool, largely thanks to its flip-phone clamshell design. It slipped easily in your pocket and appealed to more than just Trekkers who could finally use an iconic Communicator in real life.

It was also quite reasonably priced. I remember buying one unlocked not that long after its release for less than £100.

The 2020 Motorola Razr is a pricier proposition. Buying one unlocked in the US costs $1,500 (£1,150). UK availability is, at time of writing, restricted to EE. There, a 24-month entry-level contract with 10GB of data will ultimately cost £2,356.

You pay a premium primarily for two things. First, the retro fashion value. Motorola Mobility believes that customers from 15 years ago (and others with noughties tastes) have prospered well since then – here’s hoping you are one of them. Second, and more important, the Razr 2020 seeks to push forward handset design again by incorporating a foldable display.

Open up the clamshell and a 6.2-inch OLED touchscreen, with necessary plastic substrate, smooths into place – theoretically – in a 21:9 aspect ratio with 2142×876 px resolution. There is also a ‘front’ 2.7-inch screen for alerts when the phone is closed that can be used for quick alerts and responses, a traditional OLED replacing the original LCD panel.

Foldable displays are not easy to achieve – as Samsung’s experiences already show – and an iFixit teardown describes the 2020 Razr as “the most complicated phone-based contraption we’ve ever taken apart”.

Yet, while this earns Razr 2020 a mere one-out-of-10 for repairability, the iFixit team was impressed with Motorola’s engineering. This is a first-generation device in a technologically challenging part of the market. Future generations will hopefully be less complex

It also notes that Motorola will charge only $299 to replace the display ex-warranty. That looks a lot, but is not if you consider both component cost and the complexity of display removal from a very tightly packed design.

Certainly, Motorola has had to work within a number of design constraints.

Before looking at the display itself, depth forced a number of specifications. The Razr 2020 is about 7mm deep when open, and just 14mm folded, a comfortable size for your pocket.

To achieve that, the designers have for example split the battery capacity across two cells. There is a 1245mAh cell behind the front screen and a 1265mAh cell glued behind the pOLED display in the handset’s bottom half.

The combined 2510mAh capacity is on the low side for such an expensive phone but then so is the processor, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 with eight cores and a 2.2GHz speed. However, there is a good reason: a higher-performing apps processor would generate more heat and, again with depth a consideration, potentially make so thin a device too hot to handle.

Then, what of the all-​important hinge and display holder? Metal plates at the top and bottom of the extended profile help to stretch the pOLED into place. Meanwhile, at the centre, a continuous geared hinge, cat-head cam, two support plates and springs support opening of the handset and provide an uncreased centre.

The iFixit team describes the hinge’s operation: “The gears keep both halves of the phone moving synchronously, very similar to the gears in the [Samsung] Galaxy Fold.

“The springs in each half of the phone press inward against the cam in the middle to hold the phone open or closed, and provide some resistance when moving the hinge.”

You also get an idea of how this all comes together from Motorola’s relevant patent filing.

Motorola says this assembly should support 50-100 openings a day, broadly in line with average usage, over the typical 24-36-month lifespan of a handset. The company has also noted that with many short-cut tasks available on the smaller screen (email, text, notifications, etc), some owners may find they are consulting the main display less frequently.

Has the Razr 2020 managed to combine nostalgia (it even has a screen profile that mimics the original) and commercially deliverable innovation? Unfortunately, the jury is still out, much as it has been around Samsung’s efforts.

The new handset has had a few hiccups on the way to market. Originally scheduled for December pre-orders, these were put back to January. Since then, there have been claims of screen damage, affecting not only aesthetics but also touch-and-tap responsiveness. Others have had better experiences but found the hinge assembly ‘creaky’.

One unknown factor is how much the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on both quality control and the number of Razr 2020s making their way to market from manufacturers in China. Even if that necessary caveat did not apply, the mechanical aspects of the design mean that we are realistically waiting to hear of more owner experiences after a good few months of its use in the wild.

And, though there is plenty of raw innovation to applaud, you still suspect Motorola will find it challenging to get even early adopters and fashionistas to shell out $1,500 for what feels a bit too much like a science project. 

Motorola Razr 2020, key components

Exploded view

1. Display

2. Mid-frame (top)

3. Daughterboard

4. Selfie camera

5. Main camera

6. Battery (bottom)

7. Main assembly (top)

8. Hinge

9. Daughterboard/cable

10. Battery (top)

11. Main assembly (bottom)

12. Mid-frame (bottom)

13. Motherboard

14. Fingerprint sensor/microphone

15. Vibration motor

Moto Razr teardown

Image credit: iFixit


Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles