The return of the Razr

21 Oct 2011

Apple has so fundamentally changed the nature of the handset business that it’s easy to forget that, before the iPhone happened, Motorola was the sexiest handset manufacturer on the planet.

It didn’t have the biggest market share, but it had the Razr – a thin, sleek clamshell that looked great and did most of the things that high-end feature phones were expected to do at the time (which admittedly wasn't all that much). It was so good that Moto was never really able to top it, if only because then-CEO Ed Zander seemed to think the Razr didn’t need topping.

He was wrong, and Moto’s mojo pretty much evaporated.

Now, following massive in-house clean-up, the spinoff of the handset business (now owned by Google) and recent relative successes with devices like Droid, Atrix and the Xoom tablet, Motorola Mobility (as it’s known these days) has announced the Droid Razr, an LTE Android smartphone that will be available next month in the US (and, we're told, Singapore).

Upon hearing the news, I was a bit skeptical whether Moto should be reviving an old brand that is both Moto’s most famous phone brand and a painful reminder of its fall from grace.

So far, though, it doesn’t seem to be doing any harm, if only because, as NPD analyst Ross Rubin told Reuters, the Droid Razr looks and acts nothing like its namesake.

It probably helps on the world-of-mouth front that reviews for the Droid Razr have been generally positive, though it’s interesting to note that – unlike the original Razr – the form factor itself isn’t the star attraction. It may well be the thinnest smartphone in the world, but that comes with the tradeoff of an integrated battery, one of the few consistently negative things reviewers have said about it. That said, much love has been lavished on the Kevlar casing and the Super AMOLED screen encased in Gorilla Glass (to say nothing of the HDMI port).

And while many are disappointed that it’s running Android 2.3 instead of Ice Cream Sandwich (an update is promised in Q1 next year), that appears to be a minor quibble compared with the Droid Razr’s performance (1.2-GHz dual core processor + 1GB RAM) and features like Smart Actions and Webtop.

Whether that will translate into the kinds of sales that the old Razr used to generate – let alone propel Motorola Mobility back into the big leagues – remains to be seen, of course. It still has tough competition from the likes of Apple, Samsung and HTC.

And of course, it’s unclear whether dusting off the old Razr brand will play a role either way. NPD’s Rubin noted that while reviving the Razr brand won’t hurt sales of the new smartphone, it probably won’t help Motorola sell more of them, either.

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