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Don't buy the new Razr just yet. At least wait until you see the Galaxy Z Flip

Commentary: Motorola's impressive 2020 reboot of the Razr as a foldable phone is here. But don't make it your next phone unless you know the caveats.

Motorola Razr

Motorola has reinvented the Razr as a foldable smartphone.

Juan Garzon/CNET

The next stage of smartphones continues to unfold with the official launch of the Motorola Razr on Feb. 6. The iconic Razr brand has been reinvented as a cutting-edge smartphone with a folding screen and it's available exclusively on Verizon in the US to start -- coming to other countries later in 2020. But before you make an impulse purchase of this nostalgic phone, there are some important things to understand about it.

1. The Razr is an early peek at the future

I've been saying this a lot lately: Foldables are destined to play a key role in the future of mobile devices. Humans have been folding things for a long time. Folding is one of our best innovations, because it's an incredibly practical way to optimize space. We fold papers to slip them into our pockets. We fold clothes to put them in our suitcases. We fold reading material in half and call it books. As technology advances, it only makes sense that we're going to start to fold these devices that have become so central to our lives to get larger screens and more viewability out of these little slabs we carry with us wherever we go. 

Read: CNET's in-depth review of the Motorola Razr 

The Moto Razr is a remarkable accomplishment of engineering that gives us an impressive glimpse of the future. When opened, the Razr is roughly the size of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, but it folds into a little package that sits neatly into the palm of your hand. It's mesmerizing to fold and unfold the screen when you first get ahold of this device. You can't help but admire what Motorola has pulled off. And if you like living in the future, this device is for you. But you're going to have to be more careful with it than the phone you use today and you're going to have to be comfortable trading some high-end smartphone features for that foldability. 

2. The Razr's screen durability is a huge question mark

You're probably familiar with the problems Samsung faced with Galaxy Fold screens breaking when the phone first arrived in mid-2019. Samsung made some key changes and the revised version of the Galaxy Fold that appeared a few months later has fared much better now that it's in the hands of hundreds of thousands of users. But the truth is that if these foldable devices were software, they would be beta releases. They are still very early and very experimental.

After using it for a few days, I have serious concerns about how well the Moto Razr is going to hold up over time. The Razr makes a cringeworthy crinkling sound every time you open and close it. And the sides of the Razr's hinge have a tiny air gap and I worry that dust and lint will easily get in there and cause the hardware to fail over time.

Read more: Can we fold the Razr 100,000 times?

Just as troubling is the concern over how well the foldable Razr will hold up to the daily wear and tear that today's phones go through. When it's folded, the Razr could be even more durable than most of today's slabs of glass -- like a hardcover book protecting the pages within. But when it's flipped open and it suffers the kind of falls that phones regularly endure today, how will it hold up? 

While I was testing the Razr, I accidentally let it slip out of my hand while it was open and it fell from about 3 feet (waist level) and landed softly on its back on a carpeted floor. For a couple of hours afterward, the screen acted funny, swapping involuntarily between normal resolution and a low-res mode in which all the colors were washed out. I did a factory reset and it didn't fix the problem. But after I turned it off overnight, it eventually stopped doing that and went back to normal. Nevertheless, the incident deepened my concerns about how durable these early foldable screens are going to be.

Motorola Razr Foldable Flip phone

The durability of the hinge on the Moto Razr will be among the most important things to watch.

James Martin/CNET

3. The Razr is missing high-end features

While the 6.2-inch screen of the Moto Razr is almost as long as the Galaxy Note 10 Plus' 6.8-inch display, it's not nearly as wide. As a result, the onscreen keyboard feels far more cramped than those spacious keys on the Note 10 Plus. So while the Razr has the length of a phablet, in usability it feels more like a standard smartphone than a high-end premium model. That extends to a lot of other features as well, which means you're paying a high-end price ($1,500) for the folding action, but you're not getting the latest and greatest smartphone features to go with it.

Now playing: Watch this: Motorola Razr is futuristic and familiar
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The Razr has one standard 16-megapixel camera on the back, for example, while the latest Apple and Samsung flagship phones have three-camera arrays that add zoom and ultrawide-angle cameras. The Razr has a 2,510-mAh battery, compared with the iPhone 11 Pro Max's 3,969-mAh and the Note 10 Plus' 4,300-mAh batteries. The Razr has a 15-watt fast charger, while the Note 10 Plus comes with a 25-watt charger and can charge even faster with a special 45-watt unit. The iPhone 11 Pro Max comes with an 18-watt fast charger in the box. Both the Samsung and Apple flagship devices support wireless charging, while the Moto Razr does not. Both flagships also feature face unlock, which the Razr doesn't offer. The Razr also has a much less powerful processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon 710) than the Samsung and Apple flagships. And it will not include 5G, which is expected to be featured prominently in Samsung and Apple flagship phones during 2020.

Motorola Razr Foldable Flip Phone

Unlike other high-end phones, the Razr only has a single camera on the back.

James Martin/CNET

4. The Galaxy Z Flip will be a powerful competitor

At its annual Unpacked event next week, Samsung is widely expected to launch a device called the Galaxy Z Flip that will reportedly be very similar to the Moto Razr. Samsung has been experimenting with folding screens for years, so it's not surprising that it would follow the vertically folding Galaxy Fold with a horizontally folding clamshell phone. While Motorola has gotten inspiration and support from its parent company Lenovo -- which features folding hinges in its popular Yoga laptop line -- it doesn't have the deep expertise in making screens that Samsung has. 

The Galaxy Z Flip is likely to be around the same price as the Razr -- although some reports have suggested it could be under $1,000. However, Samsung's clamshell device is rumored to include more high-end features than the Razr, such as a 6.7-inch screen, an additional ultrawide camera, wireless charging, a 3,300-mAh battery, a Snapdragon 855 Plus processor and a more dustproof hinge. Since it's less than a week before Samsung is expected to announce the details of the Galaxy Z Flip at its Feb. 11 Unpacked event, we have to recommend anyone who's thinking about buying the Moto Razr to wait until we all learn the final details of what Samsung is planning.

Originally published Feb. 5.