The original Razr V3: A novel thin design that changed cellphone design and Motorola.Angela Lang/CNET
In May 2006, a former CNET colleague and I interviewed Ed Zander, Motorola's CEO at the time. The original Razr V3 was two years old, and Moto was still riding a wave of excitement from the radically thin phone. It had expanded to other carriers beyond Cingular and the company had introduced a second-gen model, the Razr V3x.
In between questions about Apple's then-rumored smartphone (the iPhone would finally debut the following January) and the company's plans for the soon-be-released Motorola Q, I asked Zander what the V3's success had meant to the company that pioneered the cellphone. Though I expected him to boast about the Razr's stratospheric sales, he had a more thoughtful answer instead. The Razr, he said, had a tremendous effect on Motorola internally. As Zander put it, the phone made Moto employees realize the company "could be cool again."
Video: Motorola Razr is futuristic and familiar
His answer may sound like hyperbole, but it really wasn't. In the two years prior to the Razr V3, Moto was producing a series of solid, dependable phones, but it was running behind rivals such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson in designing hits. Its last "it" phone, the swiveling V70, had gone on sale in 2002. The Razr gave the company a much-needed charge.
Motorola, now owned by Chinese consumer electronics giant Lenovo, gets another chance to be cool again. Much like it did in the early 2000s, Motorola finds itself largely ignored thanks to its portfolio of budget-friendly, but low-profile, phones. But the new Razr, which marries that chic clamshell design with a foldable display -- CNET reviewer Jessica Dolcourt describes it as "nostalgic, with a sharp futuristic edge" -- is a bold move from a company that hasn't attempted many bold moves in recent years. (Roger Cheng has the full story on the new Razr's creation.)
"The atmosphere at Motorola now is invigorating," said Mike Jahnke, global industrial designer at Motorola, who was involved with both the original and new Razrs.
Don't underestimate the Razr
The new Razr launches at a time when skeptics are questioning whether we even need foldable phones. It didn't help that the Samsung Galaxy Fold suffered from early defects and Huawei delayed the release of its Mate X phone. Despite being shown off in February, the Mate X was only just launched last month.
The new Razr: Still thin, but foldableJames Martin/CNET
But it may be too early to write off foldables -- and the new Razr.
As I've written before, I initially failed to grasp just how popular the original Razr would be. It was only when I held it in my hands that I realized how innovative it was -- an unbelievably thin design that we'd never seen before. Motorola showed how small a flip phone could be with the Startac eight years earlier, but the Razr made it even smaller. When it appeared in stores, people queued to buy it -- a sure sign that Motorola was cool again.
There were quite a few versions and colors of the original Razr.Tyler Lizenby/CNET
Competitors quickly noticed the thin phone trend and introduced Razr lookalikes. Sanyo (remember that name?) had one of the closest Razr copies with 2006's Katana. Available in several colors, it also was half an inch thick and had a slippery flat keypad with a "chin" just below. But it was Samsung that went all in on thin, and in multiple forms. Its slim phones ranged from the MM-A900 flip phone to the D900 and U650 sliders to the X820 and T519 candybar designs. Samsung even competed with itself to make the "world's thinnest phone." After a while they all blurred into each other and the announcement of another "thinner than ever phone" sparked little buzz.
Back in a rut
The Slvr L9 looked like a Razr that had been hammered flat.Motorola
The trouble with a wave of success, though, is that you can only ride it for so long. And that's just what Motorola did. For a while it seemed to work. The Razr V3 exploded into a full rainbow of colors (a big debate back then was which pink Razr was the real pink Razr), and Moto adapted the thin profile into other designs, each with a vowel-dropping name. There was the Krzr flip phone, candybar Slvr, slider Rizr and several Razr updates like the V3xx and the Razr Maxx Ve (no relation to the Droid Razr Maxx).
Then came Apple.
Just as it did with with so many other things, the first iPhone changed the conversation -- suddenly, the phone industry had something else to talk about. Being thin wasn't enough anymore. Building the best iPhone competitor was now the thing to do.
Motorola, which had spent years working on the Windows Mobile-powered (and thin) Q, was left devastated by the iPhone. While it launched the Droid and a number of other flagship Android phones through a strong partnership with carriers such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T, it never reached the heights of the Razr again.
The Droid Razr M was one of Motorola's Android phones that carried the Razr name.Sarah Tew/CNET
But even as once-happy owners replaced their Razrs with smartphones, the Razr left an enduring legacy. It wasn't just that Moto applied the Razr name to a series of Android phones including the Droid Razr and Droid Razr Maxx. More subtly, thin designs continued, even as phones grew larger. Consider that 2007's iPhone was a hair's breadth thinner than the Razr. But that spec was more of a footnote than a highlighted feature (the massive Samsung Galaxy Note 10 is even slimmer).
So next time you're sliding your slim phone into your pocket, remember how Motorola first flattened the road 15 years ago.