What phone makers need to learn from the Motorola Razr Plus cover display

Motorola kicked off the era of foldable clamshell phones with the Razr in late 2019, an exciting but expensive device with some flaws. But months later, the Samsung Z Flip launched with a better folding experience and a slightly lower price: $1,380 versus $1,400 for the Razr. Over the next few years, the two brands released different clamshell designs in an effort to outdo each other.

Almost four years later, the new Motorola Razr Plus once again takes the lead in design with its “Peek Display” that covers half of the device’s exterior. A larger external display gives you more room for apps and features, but it’s not just about size — all that extra screen real estate is useless if you don’t have intriguing ways to use it. Interactions must scale to the external screen, like a shortcut or preview. And, to Motorola’s credit, the company has done just that.

Phone makers can also take away subtle hints from Motorola’s journey into the Razr iteration, like the features it chose to build on and the design quirks the brand has quietly dropped on several released phones.

Here’s what brands should learn from the Motorola Razr Plus, whether they release foldable or regular phones.

The Motorola Razr 2023 on the left and the Razr Plus on the right

The Razr 2023 and Razr Plus are Motorola’s latest clamshell phones.


Bigger screens are good; useful screens are better

The first modern Motorola Razr smartphone, announced in 2019 and released in 2020, had a 2.7-inch external display with several app shortcuts and new interactivity. You can use the cover’s display to show a live preview of the main 16-megapixel main camera, an easy way to take selfies that are sharper than those with the phone’s 5-megapixel front shooter.

The first Razr’s cover screen was larger than the original Z Flip’s 1.1-inch external display, and it’s even larger than last year’s Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 with its 1.9-inch external screen. Topping them all is the new Razr Plus’ 3.6-inch external display, which is large enough to fit smaller versions of apps, make video calls, and show shortcuts to media and other phone controls.

The shortcut controls are more convenient to use than having to open the phone all the way, and there are other benefits. For years, Motorola has said Razr owners have been conserving battery life by choosing, for example, to control the smaller external screen for notifications or preview text messages rather than activating the entire internal display.

For foldable clamshell device makers like Samsung, Oppo and Huawei (and TCL, if its foldable dreams are ever realised), following Motorola’s lead with a large external display isn’t enough: it should be so extraordinarily useful that people’s behavior has changed and ideally improved compared to “flat” phones. This means rich interactions on the external display via apps and features. As CNET senior editor Lisa Eadicicco pointed out in her Motorola Razr Plus review, the phone can be propped up like a tent, screen facing out to keep an eye on notifications and check what song is playing on Spotify. When she snapped photos of her friends, Eadicicco said they enjoyed seeing a preview of themselves on the back cover. Even playing games on the small screen was fun, she discovered.

“In a time when smartphones can feel awkward to use with one hand, I appreciate the ability to scroll through news headlines on a device that fits in the palm of my hand,” Eadicicco wrote.

This isn’t even reserved for clamshell foldouts. Phone makers have included other interactions beyond the primary display for years, such as having the cascading curved sides of a phone light up to indicate incoming notifications. The Nothing Phone 1 also uses the LED glyph on the back cover to flash for app and message notifications, which the newly released Nothing Phone 2 has improved with more nuances. It’s easy to see what an extra screen on the back of a conventional phone, such as those used in special editions of Asus ROG Phones, from foldables to clamshells, could bring.

A Razr Plus bent at a 90° angle

The Razr Plus can be laid flat on a flat surface at a 90 degree angle to be your own camera tripod. The cover screen previews what the camera sees.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

What was gained and what was lost

The first Razr foldable phone looked a lot like the iconic Motorola clamshell phone first released in 2004. Everyone agreed that the spring-loaded hinge on the 2019 Razr Foldable that let you close the phone just like its clamshell phone namesake was an inspired choice.

On the other hand, that pressure made it difficult to keep the display partially open since it was designed to fully open or close. Motorola gambled that nostalgia would captivate fans of the phone, but once the Samsung Z Flip launched with the ability to open the display to any angle, the flexibility defeated melancholy memories. The new Razr Plus quietly introduced the ability to open the phone halfway (90 degrees).

A 2020 Motorola Razr sitting on an iron fence

The body design of the Razr 2019 and Razr 2020 mimicked the curves and cutouts found in the original 2004 version.

Patrick Holland/CNET

But the most obvious evolution of the Razr series is in its design. The first one in 2019 had a short top half of the phone with a scalloped edge that tucked into the bottom half when closed. It was a clean look that evoked the design of the original 2004 Razr flip phone. But the thick “chin,” which presumably doubled as an echo chamber to amplify the speakers (something I could never quite detect) just seemed awkward in an era where function trumps form.

In the years since, the Razr’s design has slowly warped into more uniform halves with rounded edges, like an Animorphs fun phone case that loses its original look to look like any other clamshell fold-out on the market. It would be hard to distinguish the Motorola Razr Plus from the supposed Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 until you spot the brand’s bat-shaped M logo on the back.

It was easy to see why the original 2019 Razr was designed to evoke its flip phone heritage, especially to convince consumers that old can be new again. But four years later, all clamshell designs look the same.

So the stark lesson is: early movers may come to introduce exciting new design concepts, but just as the first iPhone heralded the death of the physical keyboard on phones, conventions will eventually flatten differentiated designs into bloodless similarity. Aside from the variations in how the cameras are positioned on the back, pretty much all phones these days look the same.

Or the shrewd lesson for brands that bided their time: Now that innovators have normalized foldouts into small but steadily growing sales, new entrants need only mimic the same foldable black rectangle (or rectangles) to toss their hat into the ring.

But the good news for any skeptic waiting to be hooked on clamshell foldables is that Motorola has released the most advanced model that has been honed to have the most exciting feature yet: a large outer cover screen. Brands will be smart to see how much people like it when you give them what they want.

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Image Source : www.cnet.com

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