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Remembering the Razr: The device that snapped shut the era of flip phones

remembering motorola razr flip phoneIt has been almost seven years since I left the house without a mobile phone in my pocket. Seven years since I unwrapped a Christmas present from my wife and set eyes on the Motorola Razr. It was my first proper cell phone. My wife had an ugly blue thing that looked like a wireless house phone before then, but I had avoided getting a mobile on the grounds that I couldn’t be reached on the weekend for overtime requests provided I was out of the house.

The Motorola Razr was the first cell phone that I can remember seeing that kindled some desire. This phone was so stylish it was worth extra overtime. It was a sleek, black design with a dual display and it flipped open to reveal a futuristic nickel-plated keypad. It came in a black leather holster with Bluetooth accessories. The aluminum body felt reassuringly tough. It was also really comfortable to use – the fact that it flipped open and had a hinge in the middle meant that your mouth was naturally at the microphone and the speaker could be held to your ear, something that still feels odd on candy bar designs.

I eventually replaced it with a Nokia pic6131 (which was the first phone to have NFC), but while the Nokia is long gone, I still have the Razr. Even with the cracked front display and worn keypad, it still looks pretty good. I loved my Motorola Razr and I wasn’t alone.

Razr on the cutting edge

Before the smartphone and iPhone revolution, there was a period in time where the Motorola Razr ruled all. By the summer of 2006 Motorola had sold over 50 million Razr handsets and the manufacturer was continuing to churn out new variants with subtle improvements every few months. There was a hot pink version, new models to support GSM and EDGE, and various hardware improvements to the displays, the camera and the internals. The line would eventually account for 130 million sales at the end of its four-year run. That made it the best-selling flip, or clamshell, phone of all time.

The Motorola Razr was first released in 2004 and it wasn’t intended to be a mass market phone. It was a high-end fashion conscious release designed to show off Motorola’s skill and style. It cost around $600 when it first hit the market, but by the time I got one for Christmas in 2005, the price had come way down and Motorola had a massive hit on its hands.

Motorola’s monster

There’s no denying the Razr was a fantastic phone, although beyond calls and texting, the early versions were limited. The V3 had 5.5MB of storage and a VGA camera. You could send and receive email, and browse the web … slowly. For a feature phone it was actually pretty light on features so Motorola just kept adding to it while retaining the iconic design.

You could argue that the Razr’s success ended up hobbling Motorola because the company was afraid to move on to new designs. When the BlackBerry and then the iPhone started to take off in 2007 Motorola was still flogging the Razr and by 2008 it was definitely the proverbial dead horse. In fact, a 2008 report revealed that 24 percent of new iPhone owners in the U.S. switched from the Razr.

Motorola was slow to the smartphone party. A revival for the Razr brand in the shape of the V13 in November 2009 didn’t go as planned. It had a touch screen and a 5-megapixel camera, but demand for the clamshell form factor was gone and it wasn’t coming back. Increasingly big touchscreens were the new trend and Motorola had to get with the program.

motorola-droid-razr

It was back to the drawing board and the modern candy bar, Android smartphone, the Droid Razr came out in October 2011. It was a solid release, but all it really shared with the original was the Razr name and that didn’t prove to be enough to capture major consumer attention. Motorola Mobility was acquired by Google last summer and despite some good-looking devices with a focus on solving the battery life pain point, Motorola is lagging way behind market leaders, Samsung and Apple.

Remembering the Razr

The Motorola Razr V3 deserves its place in the pantheon of great phones. Not many phones break through that 100 million sales barrier, so to sell 130 million was a pretty amazing achievement for Motorola. That anodized aluminum body, just half an inch thick with gentle curves, was a true design classic.

Taking a look on eBay as I write this, I see that there’s still a bustling trade in Razr V3 sales. The top result is a pink, mint condition Razr V3 and 26 bids have pushed it over the $100 mark. Not bad for a phone that’s seven years old.

Check out our Motorola Razr V3c review from December 2005.