Motorola gets its Razr screen apologies in early

Ahead of shipping in a couple of weeks, Motorola has published some vids highlighting features of the pricey foldyphone, but also how to take care of it.

We’re distraught to have to inform you that Moto has followed Apple’s lead in dispensing with the definite article when referring to its products, as if they were a person or at least a fondly regarded domestic animal. Hence we get the video below, entitled ‘Caring for razr’, invoking the image of an enfeebled relative or instructions to a dog-sitter.

Razr is a delicate little petal, you see, and can’t just be manhandled as if it’s just some slab of circuitry egested from an indifferent production line. Razr has feelings, which will be hurt if you don’t treat it like the special, unique snowflake it is. Especially fragile, it seems, is its defining bendy screen, which we’re told is inclined to acquire ‘lumps and bumps’.

Now, before you scoff, let they who are without sin cast the first stone. Are you entirely free of lumps and bumps yourself? Because if not then who do you think you are judging Razr? Yes he/she/they cost a grand and a half and the upside of his/her/their deliberate Achilles Heel is far from obvious, but Moto urges those who adopt Razr to be gentle.

Huawei to have another crack at foldable phone at MWC 2020

After a year where the foldable phone failed to live up to the expectations, Huawei has said it will have another crack at delivering on the promise at Mobile World Congress 2020.

Each year the annual mobile bonanza in Barcelona is usually dominated by the launch of a ‘quirky’ device. Over the last few years we have seen HMD Global tap into consumer nostalgia with Nokia devices, while snap phones reminiscent of the Matrix franchise flirted with attendees in 2018. This year, Samsung and Huawei splashed their foldable devices over every wall available for advertising, but the concept was a flop.

In short, the devices were too expensive, poorly engineered and impractical. They looked more like concept models than a realistic attempt to innovate in the telco world. But Huawei has not given up.

Speaking to Fandroid, Huawei Consumer CEO Richard Yu stated the foldable device would be showcased at Mobile World Congress 2020 and is expected to be on sale during the first three months of next year.

What this device actually looks like or will feature is unknown for the moment. The Huawei Mate X should be the basis but considering the design will be a year old by February you would hope there are some updates.

Although the devices have been subject of considerable criticism over the course of 2019, you do have to give the manufacturers some credit. Industry and the general public have been demanding innovation, a shift in form-factor first and foremost, and the manufacturers did respond. Admittedly they did not get it right the first time, but this was not for a lack of effort.

The Huawei Mate X eventually made it to the market after several delays, partly thanks to friction with the US. The Samsung Galaxy Fold has been available the longest, though the screen and design have been frequently criticised. LG introduced a device called ‘Bendi’, Xiaomi has ‘Flex’ and Oppo has its own ideas. There is plenty of competition for the attention, but realistically, all these efforts fell short.

Huawei has a reputation for producing excellent devices so we will look forward to seeing this device, but breath will not be held.

Motorola resurrects the Razr as a foldy smartphone

It was inevitable really, wasn’t it? Motorola is hoping the Razr feature phone brand can be transplanted into the smartphone era.

The Razr was probably the last time Motorola achieved mass market success in the handset market, but that was 15 years ago. Things have moved on a bit since then but if the brand, design and form factor worked before, it can work again, right? That seems to be what Moto is counting on by launching a smartphone based on the original concept.

The defining industrial design tweak is that this one is the first to bring foldy screen technology to the clamshell form factor. The result is essentially a regular modern smartphone that can fold in half. This distinguishes the new Razr from earlier efforts from Samsung and Huawei, because they’re more of an attempt to go in the other direction  and turn a phone into a tablet by unfolding it.

Moto doesn’t seem to have published a press release so you’re spared the generic-yet-hyperbolic canned quote about how this is the best thing since sliced bread. The site created to let you find out more does speak of ‘a design that shatters the status quo’, so that’s something. And there’s both a vid and a GIF, which you can see below.

Verizon seems to have the initial exclusive on the new Razr, and will start flogging it for $1,500 in the new year. A lot of that cost is down to the foldy screen, of course, but punters might have expected a better chip than the Snapdragon 710 for their grand-and-a-half. Maybe the form factor prohibits more powerful chips due to heat considerations and there is a generous 128GB of storage as consolation.

The original Razr sold well mainly because it looked cool and, at a time when handset design has stagnated, that may be all this one needs to take off too. The price will obviously scare most people off though, and having got used to carrying six inch devices around it remains to be seen how much of a USP being able to fold this one in half will be. Still, fair play to Moto for giving it a go.

 

Huawei gets in on the 5G foldy phone game

Just days after Samsung’s big reveal Huawei has launched a foldy phone of its own on the eve of Mobile World Congress 2019.

In contrast to the Samsung Fold the foldy screen of the Huawei Mate X is on the outside of the folded device. It also seems designed to be more compact when folded and is slightly biggers – 8 inches, when unfolded. Lastly it seem to come with 5G from the start thanks to Huawei being in control of its destiny in that departments.

Regrettably Huawei feels the need to go down the hyperbolic launch event path forged by the late Apple boss Steve Jobs. So the theme for the big Barcelona event was ‘Meet the unprecedented’, despite the launch having been precedented three days ago. The obligatory superlative was satisfied with the somewhat qualified claim this it is ‘the world’s fastest foldable 5G phone.’ This presumably means Huawei thinks its 5G modem is faster than the Qualcomm X50, which is an interesting claim.

“With the advent of the all-scenario era, consumers are increasingly looking forward to revolutionary experiences,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei’s consumer business group, who you can hear more from in the video below. “To support the hyperconnected 5G period, Huawei Consumer BG remains committed to the all-scenario smart ecosystem strategy. We will spare no effort to drive pervasive connectivity to individuals, office and homes, and create a world-leading 5G all-scenario smart living experience that is unlike anything that has come before.”

That’s about it for now. It looks like a pretty cool device, but it wants to be considering it will set you back $2,600. This first set of foldy phone launches seems to be as much about bragging rights, technological chest-beating and headline chasing as anything, but that doesn’t mean they’re not interesting. Prices will have to come down, of course, but maybe no by that much if they can demonstrate genuine, useful added value from the first new smartphone form factor in over a decade.

 

Samsung details its foldable display plans

Tech giant Samsung reckons there might be a market for a foldable phone that turns into a tablet.

Samsung has been banging on about flexible displays for years, but it has always been teased in a vague, utopian way. Just imagine a world in which devices can bend, they invited us to do on an annual basis, without going to far as to actually detail the practical benefits of such a thing. There was even talk of rollable displays that we could unfurl like a high-tech scroll.

But now, finally, all this talk has coalesced into an actual product: the Infinity Flex Display. It was revealed at Samsung’s developer conference in San Francisco, together with a concept smartphone that unfolds into a tablet and a new version of Samsung’s Android user interface called One UI.

“Samsung continues to build on its legacy of category-defining form factor and display innovation that has paved the way for a breakthrough foldable smartphone form factor,” said the supporting announcement. “The Infinity Flex Display together with One UI delivers a new kind of mobile experience allowing users to do things they couldn’t do with an ordinary smartphone.

“Users now have the best of both worlds: a compact smartphone that unfolds to reveal a larger immersive display for multitasking and viewing content. The app experience seamlessly transitions from the smaller display to the larger display as the device unfolds. In addition, users can browse, watch, connect and multitask without losing a beat, simultaneously using three active apps on the larger display.”

Clearly Samsung understands that just enabling novel form factors alone won’t achieve much; it needs to catalyse an ecosystem that develops applications and functions designed to make use of its unique qualities. Merely making use of the greater screen real estate would be unremarkable, but enabling a smooth transition between smartphone and tablet mode while, for example, watching a video might be handy.

A short video of the announcement can be seen in the Samsung tweet below, followed by one from veteran consumer tech hack Vlad Savov, which illustrates some of the challenges Samsung will face in turning its flexible display technology into something people will want. Lastly there’s an infographic from Samsung detailing how great it is at mobile displays, for anyone not already convinced of that.

 

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Samsung set to refocus its smartphone strategy on mid-tier devices

The head of Samsung’s mobile communications division has said he’s going to focus on mid-range devices for the introduction of new features from now on.

The new strategy was unveiled in an interview with CNBC, which said the move was born of a desire to appeal more to ‘millennials’ – the new word for young people. From this we can infer that, because younger people tend to have less cash, they buy cheaper phones. So far so bleeding obvious, but since that has always been the case it sheds little light on why Samsung has suddenly decided to move downmarket with its phones.

“In the past, I brought the new technology and differentiation to the flagship model and then moved to the mid-end,” said DJ Koh in the interview. “But I have changed my strategy from this year to bring technology and differentiation points starting from the mid-end… So we are very much focusing on millennials who cannot afford the flagship. But how can I deliver meaningful innovation to our millennials? That’s the reason I’m trying to differentiate the mid-section.”

All this talk of millennials smacks of spin. The flagship Galaxy S9 smartphone doesn’t seem to have had a great year and the top 15-20% of the market seems to be permanently owned by Apple, so maybe Samsung has decided it’s just too much risk and hassle to introduce its latest tech in that segment. If you try something new in devices that cost half the price and are much lower profile then, presumably, the cost of failure is much lower.

One of those new features could well be a foldable phone, which Samsung has been banging on about for at least a decade, but which Koh says may now be imminent. In a separate story CNBC quotes Koh as saying it’s time to deliver on a foldable after surveys indicated there might be demand for such a thing. But he still doesn’t seem to sure what the point of a folding phone is.

“You can use most of the uses … on foldable status,” said Koh. “But when you need to browse or see something, then you may need to unfold it. But even unfolded, what kind of benefit does that give compared to the tablet? If the unfolded experience is the same as the tablet, why would they buy it?”

It’s hard to see these moves as anything other than acts of desperation from Samsung. When the prospects of significantly reducing Apple’s share of the premium tier a weak and when competitors are producing flagship devices with similar specs at a fraction of the price, the top-end of the smartphone market must look pretty bleak. But whether or not Samsung can deliver the kinds of numbers it needs to by refocusing on the mid-market remains to be seen.