Rebirth of an icon: Motorola reinvents the RAZR

Motorola RAZR Keyboard

Among companies that have played truly significant roles in building and shaping the wireless industry as we know it today, few if any can stand shoulder to shoulder with Motorola. It has been more than 38 years since Dr. Martin Cooper, a Motorola executive, made the first analog cell phone call from a prototype handset, and Motorola has continued to innovate ever since. The company’s rich history of innovation has yielded an extensive IP portfolio — a big part of the draw for Google, which is currently trying to spend $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility — and it has built a number of iconic devices. None, however, are quite as recognizable as the Motorola RAZR.

First released in 2004, the Motorola RAZR V3 was a pricey luxury phone that dropped jaws around the world. It was sleek, it was gorgeous and it quickly became a must-have for trendy consumers looking to turn heads. The RAZR was impossibly thin and its design was unlike anything most people had seen before. At $500 on contract, the RAZR V3 featured a 176 x 220-pixel primary display, a 96 x 80-pixel outer display, 5.5MB of internal storage, a VGA camera and support for data speeds up to 48Kbps.

The RAZR was a hot phone at $500, but the price dropped within a year and sales exploded. Motorola sold more than 50 million units within the phone’s first two years of availability alone, and the RAZR series is still one of the best-selling cell phones in history.

Motorola tried to recreate the magic it found with the RAZR several times. The vendor launched various new devices including the SLVR, KRZR, PEBL, RIZR and ROKR, and all the while, various new iterations of the RAZR — the V3i, V3x and so on — remained Motorola’s most popular devices. As time moved on and the industry caught up, however, Motorola’s RAZR lost its allure and it eventually became the free-on-contract phone carriers handed out to subscribers who didn’t care enough to choose a more modern handset.

When Motorola once again prepared to reinvent itself in 2009, it found an entirely new strategy. Rather than using a revolutionary hardware design to draw attention to its products, Motorola joined the right team. Google’s Android operating system was beginning to garner some serious attention and Verizon Wireless was ready to spend big bucks to market its answer to Apple’s iPhone. The resulting device, Verizon’s Motorola DROID, is probably one of the most significant smartphones to have launched in the past five years.

But even a year and a half before the DROID burst onto the scene and really put Android on the map, Motorola had RAZRs on the brain. One need only look back to a few big BGR exclusives from 2008 to see that the wheels were turning.

In December 2008, BGR revealed seven unannounced handsets that were in development at Motorola. Among them were the Niagra, the Calgary (above) and the Flash (below). These three handsets featured different form factors and designs, but all three clearly paid homage to the phone that turned the industry on its head back in 2004. The Niagra was a RIZR-like slider that featured sharp futuristic lines and focused on multimedia. The Flash and Calgary were gorgeous smartphones to be built from a mix of glass and aluminum. While the Flash was a full-touchscreen device, the Niagra and Calgary shared a common element that had served as one of the RAZR’s many signatures: the famous RAZR keypad.

These phones, the Flash and Calgary in particular, were designed as potential heirs to the RAZR throne, a former Motorola engineer with knowledge of various handsets that were in development at the time confirmed to BGR. There were apparently other devices being cooked up in Motorola’s labs as well that would be considered as possible devices to carry the RAZR brand into Motorola’s smartphone-centric future. We were told the design that ended up launching as Verizon’s DROID X was among them.

While the DROID and other phones that followed were terrific, Motorola was never able to put together a handset that really deserved the RAZR brand. The initial vision of the Calgary was fantastic, but the vision was muddled along the way to production. In its final manufactured state, the Calgary was definitely not worthy of the RAZR namesake. It would instead launch quietly as the DEVOUR on Verizon Wireless in March 2010 before slipping away into nothingness.

Another RAZR hopeful, the Motorola Flash, was canceled despite being hotly anticipated following BGR’s exclusive coverage of the device. This is likely the phone we were looking forward to most anxiously after seeing images and talking to our sources about the handset. From what we gathered, it would have been an absolute beast with hardware and materials that even the iPhone 4S couldn’t touch. One source told us that it would have been impossible to manufacture the Flash as it was envisioned and keep the device affordable in 2009, and so the project was scrapped.

Fast-forward to 2011, and it’s an entirely different story. Technology has progressed exponentially since Motorola first set out to reinvent the RAZR, and the vendor is finally able to create a remarkably slim smartphone made from premium materials that is still packed to the gills with cutting-edge specs.

“We wanted to build a device that could live up to the RAZR brand and carry on its legacy,” Motorola senior vice president of Portfolio and Product Management Alain Mutricy told BGR in a recent interview. “Like the original, DROID RAZR by Motorola is super thin, super light and super innovative. We kept various elements of the original design, such as aluminum accents, but added new ones that the smartphone market hasn’t seen, such as KEVLAR fiber.”

Mutricy continued, “The new DROID RAZR by Motorola is the RAZR of the future. It combines two iconic brands, but also combines the wildly successful characteristics of the original device – thin, innovative, sleek – with Motorola’s revolutionary smartphone features available today.”

BGR reviewed the DROID RAZR earlier this month and we definitely deemed the hardware worthy of the RAZR brand. As a complete package, BGR Editor-in-chief Jonathan Geller called the phone the best Android device he had ever used. It’s one of the thinnest smartphones in the world and it pushes the design envelope more than most modern handsets. Is it a phone that will turn the industry on its head like the original RAZR? Certainly not. It has been several years since a phone of that magnitude hit the market, and it could be quite some time before another phone has such a tremendous impact on the business. The new RAZR modernizes several of the key characteristics that made the original RAZR great, however, and no other Motorola smartphone to date is more worthy of bearing the iconic brand.

Motorola’s DROID RAZR goes on sale Friday at 11:11 a.m., and it is available exclusively on the Verizon Wireless network in the United States.

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