Motorola Razr 2023 review: Not enough of a good thing

There are several things I like about the Motorola Razr, starting with the price: its MSRP is $699, which already makes it the least expensive modern flip phone you can buy in the US. It’s currently reduced to $499, and discounts will likely be easy to find throughout its lifespan as well.

I’m also a fan of the lovely green “vegan leather” finish of my review sample. And in theory I like the concept of the small external display. It measures just 1.5 inches diagonally, so it’s only really designed for checking notifications or looking at the next event on your calendar. You get the gist and nothing more, so you can read a text or check the weather forecast without being drawn into an unplanned scrolling session. If you really need to get to work on something, simply unfold the Razr and there you have your regular phone screen – sounds great!

But here’s what I don’t like: If you want to do almost anything with the Razr, you have to open the phone, which largely defeats the purpose. With everyday use, you quickly reach the limit of what you can use the outer screen for, and the prompt to ‘open to continue’ when you want to read more than the subject line of an email becomes annoying.

The point is that you’re using a very small screen to check if your notifications are actually taking up space more in some cases work better than a standard slab phone. You have to scroll up and down on the small letterbox display to see them, and if you want more context you have to tap through multiple screens. It’s a lot less efficient than just looking at a lock screen, expanding notifications when you want to read more, and quickly dismissing the notifications you want to dismiss. I was often tempted to leave the phone unfolded on my desk when I wasn’t using it so I could catch up on it more quickly, which again defeats the purpose of folding the phone in half.

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The 2023 Motorola Razr was announced alongside the Razr Plus, a great device with a very large (well, relatively speaking) external screen. You can read and reply to emails, access Spotify, play games and even run entire apps on the outer screen if you want. It also costs $999. This non-Plus Razr (Razr Minus?) comes with the aforementioned tiny cover screen and a few other spec downgrades.

This Razr comes with a usable 128 GB of storage and 8 GB of RAM. It uses a Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 chipset, a mid-range processor that’s well over a year old, in place of the 8-series flagship in the Razr Plus. Does that make a big difference in everyday life? Not really, although the only place I found it difficult was scrolling through the phone’s ad-festooned weather app. The phone became warm during an extended period of time Zakstad 2 session, although I didn’t see that impact on performance in any way.

There’s up to 30W fast charging available with a compatible wired charger (sold separately, as these days) and wireless charging is supported, albeit only at a very slow 5W. Still, I appreciate having it at all, and having slow charging I don’t have any problems if I put it on my charger before going to sleep. Battery life is generally very good; I’ve never had any trouble getting through a whole day on a single charge, even with heavy use.

And that ‘vegan leather’ finish? It’s a nice name for plastic, but don’t let that fool you: it’s fun. It’s textured and has a bit of grip, so it feels a little more secure in my hand. It retains dust and lint more easily than glass or plastic, but wipes clean without much effort. For my money, it looks better than the smudged mess of fingerprints that many glass-backed phones turn into.

Like the Razr Plus, the Razr has an IP52 rating, which means it is only water-repellent and cannot fully withstand immersion in water. There is also no guarantee against dust ingress, which is a serious problem with foldable phones. No one has figured out how to make a phone with moving parts completely dustproof, so that’s understandable, but Samsung and Google make foldable phones with full IPX8 ratings for rugged water resistance. A drop in a puddle or, god forbid, the toilet could spell doom for the Razr – keep that in mind when comparing it to the more expensive but waterproof Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5.

The Razr 2023’s small outer screen comes with a few customizable watch face options. They all display the time, date and battery level of the device; one style called “dashboard” also shows you the current temperature. You can enable a handful of panels, including a calendar and a timer, which can be accessed by swiping left and right on the main clock screen.

Swiping up brings up your notifications (indicated by a blue dot on the main screen), and swiping down gives you access to control panel settings like your flashlight and airplane mode. If all you want to do with it is set a timer and read the occasional text, that’s great. But for most people, I think it takes a little more to be truly useful.

It tells how many times the Razr asks you to open the phone to continue doing what you want to do. Would you like to read the first few lines of that email? Reply to a text message? Choose an album to play on Spotify? You must open the phone to continue. Once you’ve played something, the media controls appear on the corresponding panel, but the display is so small that the controls are limited to pausing, playing or skipping tracks – there’s no option to skip forward 15 seconds, which is essential if you want to skip the ads in the podcast you’re listening to (sorry, Vergecast advertisers).

There are a few quirks too, like the fact that the timer on the cover screen apparently has nothing to do with the phone’s main clock app. If you set a timer on the outer screen and open the phone, it is nowhere to be found. Likewise, you can’t view a timer set in the main clock app on the cover screen.

But my biggest complaint about the cover screen is that it’s just not useful enough. You can do more – and faster – with a traditional lock screen or even a smartwatch. The cover screen should help you do things so you can avoid opening the phone and coming face to face with the main screen; instead, I found it caused more frustration than anything.

I wish I had better news about the Razr’s camera. Photos in good lighting are fine, but anything from mediocre indoor lighting to very low light is bad. You can get some decent photos out of the system, but overall it doesn’t seem to handle noise all that well. Storytime photos in my son’s dimly lit bedroom are a blurry mess of noise-reduction-induced watercolors. HDR photos show a lot of noise that would have been better left in the shadows. The video lighting is uneven and prone to flicker, even when there isn’t much change in the scene.

One of the reasons I’m looking forward to testing a flip phone is that the camera is so versatile: you can put it down and take hands-free photos or selfies with the main camera and use the cover screen to preview the framing to watch. You can do those things with the Razr, but when the image quality is this unreliable, it’s not really a selling point.

I’m all for features that help me use my phone more mindfully, but the Razr’s minimalist approach is just too minimal. A well-constructed focus mode scheme or a good lock screen interface can help you get rid of unimportant notifications and surface the important notifications with less frustration. Add to that concerns about durability and an unreliable camera, and I just don’t see a good argument for the Razr.

Unfortunately, if your heart is set on a flip phone, you’ll have to pay for the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 or the 2023 Razr Plus – both are good, although Samsung has the better track record for durability and software updates. The Google Pixel 7A is an excellent budget choice if price is more important than foldability. But if you’re looking for a really affordable foldable? Looks like you’ll just have to keep waiting.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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