After more than 16 years reviewing several hundred phones for CNET, only a handful burn brightly in my memory. Mobiles like , the and the will forever rise above a churning sea of black rectangles that have blended into each other.
My relationship with the Razr is particularly complicated. I remember it not just because of its groundbreaking ly slim profile, but also because I was initially so wrong about it. Years from now, when I'm annoying my nephew to help me use the whatever phone has been invented by then, I will admit that I didn't foresee the thin phone tsunami that followed the Motorola Razr's release.
Now Motorola is trying to replicate that success by unveiling a new Razr in a foldable design. CNET's Jessica Dolcourt has its creation story, but first join me for my Motorola Mea culpa.and Roger Cheng
Like I said, I was wrong
Motorola's Razr press release first landed in my inbox in early July 2004, a few days after then-CEO Ed Zander displayed the handset during an investor's conference (few companies announced phones at flashy launch events in those days). My immediate thought was, "It's thin... so what?" It didn't promise any new features and the photos in the press release made it look far from impressive. It looked like a coaster and I was concerned it would feel like a toy.
So, after writing a quick First Take with my first, not-so-cogent analysis ("Eh, it looks OK"), the Razr quickly slipped from my mind. I wouldn't be able to review it for a couple of months, and this was a time when, introducing a new phone seemingly every week. They all needed a review, not to mention the regular series of phones from Nextel, Sanyo and other manufacturers that have long since left the business.
A couple of months later, the Razr finally went on sale at Cingular Wireless (now AT&T). Though I just tried to convince a gadget-obsessed friend that the Razr would not be worthy of the hype that had begun to build around it, the queues that quickly formed at Cingular stories were the first sign that I was mistaken.
A daring design
My review model finally arrived in late November and it was then, when I held the Razr in my hand, that I really grasped just what. Moto was well on its way to . Again.
Motorola had been making history since Martin Cooper placed the. Moto then built the world's , the first mainstream flip phone and the first 3G phone sold in the US. But while Moto's previous hits had at least one envelope-pushing feature (even the was one of the first phones with a vibrate mode), the Razr's feature highlights were a VGA camera (equivalent to 0.3-megapixel), Bluetooth and voice dialing -- generous for the time, but hardly noteworthy.
Outside, though, the Razr was an entirely different story. Motorolaa rarity in the gadget world: a design we'd never seen before. The Razr was gorgeously thin (just half of an inch wide), it had a shiny metal skin and it didn't feel flimsy or cheap. Yes, it was boxy and the buttons were slippery, but it looked so damn good and it slid effortlessly into your pocket. with the latest .
Motorola's success was even more impressive when you remember that 2004 was a time when phone design was massively more exciting and varied than it is now. We had flip phones, swivel phones and sliders. Almost every phone -- especially the-- looked different. The placement of physical buttons and the shape of the body really mattered. Until we get a , phone design will remain relatively dull.
In my final review, I gave the Razr three and a half stars and said, "More than just a pretty face, the Razr V3 backs up its radical design with solid features and good performance." (I pooh-poohed the lack of video recording and the call volume level.) In the end, I got it right.
Making thin in
Of course you know the rest of the story. Despite an initial price of $450 with service (about $725 adjusted for inflation), the Razr was an instant hit. My friend, and many like him, waited hours to get one and Cingular stores sold out. Motorola's iPhone's in 2007 to really kill it -- and Motorola produced in a rainbow of colors (plus a few , and ). But it all showed the power that one phone could have.quickly noticed, and the thin phone revolution had begun. It was a revolution that lasted a bit too long -- it took the
So, yes, I did not call this one well. As it turned out, a new design could be enough to make a phone popular. And while we stay mired in an era where every phone looks the same, I'll fondly remember a time when that kind of revolution was possible.
Originally published Dec. 22, 2018.
Update, Nov. 13: Adds information for the new foldable Razr launch.