Chances are that most of you grew up with some sort of clamshell cellphone back in the day. Surely these evolved into being the cheap dumb phones that you’ll even find in a convenience store, but this is not how the form factor started.
My first ever was the Motorola StarTAC 3000, which at its time was dramatically smaller than any other cellphone in the market. The value proposition: Get the same experience of a large phone when you need it, that you can later close and tuck away when you don’t. It’s why they were so expensive, it’s why the original Motorola RAZR remained the best selling phone for ages, and it’s funny how that is the main selling point for the new breed of clamshells today.
This is the new Moto RAZR, Motorola’s bet that nostalgia is enough to get customers interested in its phones again, and this is the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, the company’s second modern foldable, and also proof that nostalgia shouldn’t be the only reason you launch a clamshell.
It’s probably too early to fully say that clamshell smartphones are back, but I get so many questions about these two phones every single day, that it’s only fair to tell you now which offering is better.
I don’t think it’s necessary to state the obvious, nobody needs a foldable smartphone. You’re perfectly fine with whatever flat slab you currently have. Thing is every time I’m approached about any of these, no one criticizes them. Everyone I’ve met finds them cool, even if I do have to agree that even these two devices are still ahead of their time.
Calling a winner on hardware is as easy as it is hard. See, even if both companies have experience making clamshells, I feel the RAZR’s design is more deliberate. The textured back gives it more grip, while the asymmetrical top makes it logical that the phone was designed to be opened, while the lower chin keeps the weight and the placement of the speaker and fingerprint scanner. I love it, which is not the same way I feel about the Z Flip.
Samsung’s approach is more of what I mentioned in my 24 hours experience. It’s as if they turned a Galaxy S10e into a foldable. If you’re a symmetry purist this phone is for you, or at least it will be until you start opening it backwards more than once while getting it out of your pocket. The top and bottom glass, only more invitations to the fingerprint smudge mess you won’t get with the RAZR at least for, the bottom, because fro, the top it’s the same mess.
Things get even more interesting when you compare dimensions. You can totally tell that the Z Flip is about 20 grams lighter than the RAZR. Motorola’s offering seriously feels like more of a tank, and the Z Flip more fragile. While closed the Z Flip is 7mm shorter than the RAZR, buts is 1mm wider 3mm thicker. That experience follows suit when extended with the Z Flip being 5mm shorter, but then 1mm wider, even if thickness in this form is almost the same.
Most of the differences while extended can be seen in how both phones approach the displays. Motorola clearly focused more on fitting a modern smartphone in its legacy design while Samsung turned their current successful formula into a clamshell. As a result, the Z Flip has a larger 6.7-inch display vs 6.2, even in a shorter footprint, meaning 82.5% screen to body ratio vs 70, it does 1080p Plus at 21 x 9 vs some odd 876p, and we’re talking Samsung’s famous dynamic AMOLED vs a P-OLED on the Moto. I’m not gonna bring glass into the argument because Samsung’s protective layer over it pretty much means you have the same integrity risks as plastic, but even that doesn’t matter, Samsung still wins the display battle by a long shot.
And sure, you can argue that the Z Flip has a crease while the RAZR’s hinge design doesn’t show you one, but that argument is only valid until you hold them. See the crease you don’t see on the RAZR, you will feel as you glide your fingers on it. You can feel all the gaps in the internal mechanisms, and you can even feel the slight screen separation with the chassis, which enables this design. On the Z Flip that glass layer, while debatable, does contribute to a completely flat feel in everywhere but that crease.
Motorola’s approach to the hinge also makes this just an opened or closed phone. You can’t just choose to keep it slightly opened, but then that also means that opening it with one hand is easier, even if just slightly. The Z Flip on the other hand has a hinge designed for more than one position. Place this phone on a table, use it for selfies, watch a video, make video calls, it actually gives the impression of being ahead of the curve, pun intended..
Now, close them up, and yeah, Motorola wins. I mean, Samsung, what were you guys thinking? The external 2.7-inch panel on the Moto is actually useful while the Z Flip’s fingernail screen is not even informative.
Thing is, basic design elements and that outer screen are about the last thing that RAZR is gonna win in this comparison. Take internals for example. I’d compare the RAZR more to a mid-ranger like the Pixel 3a or less, while the Z Flip is more like the a slightly more powerful Galaxy S10. It’s got a far better processor, 2 more gigs of RAM, double the storage, a much larger battery, wireless charging, a replaceable SIM card vs eSIM, plus support for more carriers while the RAZR is a Verizon exclusive. I mean seriously the only thing the RAZR has in its favor is the splash resistance, which yes, is major, but that’s about it.
And you know, usually I forgive companies for going for mid-range chips since you do get some battery life benefits, but man, that’s another department where the RAZR doesn’t hold a tune. I mean neither is amazing at it, but at least my Z Flip ends the day fine. Not the case with the RAZR. You’ll barely crawl through the day, and even if both devices support some sort of fast charging, only the Z Flip supports wireless charging.
Even if we were to shift to software, this comparison becomes kind of pointless. I mean sure, the RAZR is more stock Android than the Z Flip, but well, that’s more stock Android 9 Pie instead of the Android 10 the Z Flip already rocks.
And sure, Motorola tries to make up for it with it’s gesture navigation at the bottom, though with different gestures when compared to the standard Android 10. The Moto Suite also brings gestures every phone should have to call on the camera or launch the flashlight. Sadly, it also brings an insane amount of bloatware given it’s Verizon exclusivity.
The Z Flip on the other hand is more a Galaxy than anything. This means that if you don’t like One UI, this is definitely not your phone. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I do like it’s approach to quick multi-tasking menus. I do wish we had the Google feed here instead of the Samsung Daily, but at least it’s a way to completely forget that Bixby exists if you also disable the shortcut.
I’d give software to Motorola, but I sadly can’t given how late this phone is to Android 10.
And then the other problem with going with a less powerful processor is that regardless of what sensor you use and what lens you bring, the ISP that powers the camera system is also less powerful. I mean in paper the RAZR doesn’t look so bad even with its single shooter vs the Z Flip’s dual module, but man.. Don’t you dare compare the photos. Like, I’d call the Z Flip a flagship camera, while the RAZR is, as my son would say… Potato quality.
I wish I could say the typical – photos during the day are good on both, but even then the RAZR struggles with detail, color, and just about everything a typical phone should do without a problem. I’m not saying that the Z Flip produces my favorite photos, but Samsung has done a fairly good job at toning down saturation and providing some visually pleasing photos in most conditions.
I mean, switch over to Night Mode or Night Vision from Motorola and wow, this RAZR is just terrible. Completely useless regular shots, even worse Night Vision shots. And again, Samsung is not my favorite, but at least the results are good enough.
Same thing for selfies, where Motorola’s results are what I would expect from a cheap dumb phone, though in that department Samsung isn’t too far behind with the extra softening the software is doing. Try out portrait photos, and well, Samsung’s results are good, while Motorola thinks hair is optional on human beings, I guess.
Last but not least, compare 4K video, and notice the sharpening and grain on Motorola’s results, while Samsung doesn’t just allow you to switch focal lengths, but also provides significant amounts of detail. Try selfie video and well, only the Galaxy can do 4K at 60 from this camera, and with some amazing stabilization. The RAZR, well, it’s not just that it’s limited to 1080p, but the fact that it’s also really bad.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed by a camera experience like with the RAZR, but I mean, what else would you expect from a $1500 phone.
To conclude, I have to admit that I walked into this comparison thinking that I’de love the razer so much that it would win, but let’s face it, there’s just no way. Unless you feel like buying this phone as a product you’ll wanna collect, because nostalgia is your thing, this really feels like an unfair comparison.
Don’t get me wrong, the Moto RAZR is gorgeous, and is definitely my favorite from a design perspective, but the $1500 price tag is really what kills it for me. I mean, why would you buy a mid-ranger just because it folds? And then there’s the problem that Motorola has had horrible issues shipping this device. I had to get this device on loan to get you this comparison.
And sure Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is sold out, but I get the reasons why. It’s more than $100 less expensive, it has specs good enough to compete with any flagship, and as a result, its camera and performance are far better than on the RAZR. And sure it’s claims for glass are debatable, and having it not be water resistant can be an inconvenience, but if you really want a clamshell, this is the device to get.
Sorry Motorola. I’ll say nice first try, but the RAZR is clearly owned by the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.