The second generation of flippables is upon us: clamshell-style foldables with usable external displays that allow you to get stuff done without having to open up the phone up at the slightest provocation.
Leading the charge is a brand that has been seeing a bit of a renaissance, first with affordable phones and now with a flip phone worthy of the razr name—Motorola. With the razr 40 ultra ( ₹89,999), it gets a lot right and—to loosely borrow another tech brand’s mission statement—manages to make phones fun again.
The superlatives hold good even after the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5—the razr 40 ultra is still the lightest flip phone despite its Series 7000 aluminium frame. It folds to a slim 15.1mm thickness, courtesy the upgraded zero-gap hinge, and yes, it still packs in the largest cover display (3.6 inches) of any flip phone.
The display is bigger than the display on the original iPhone and Motorola has outdone itself by pushing the screen down to the edges, even wrapping around the two camera lenses and the LED flash. With a 144Hz refresh rate and 1,056x1,066-pixel resolution, the pOLED display is by no means a “secondary” display.
Also read: Where do foldable smartphones go from here?
Aside from easy-access widgets for quick settings, weather, calendar, contacts/calling and, of course, taking selfies from the rear cameras, you can run all manner of apps on the external display without having to flip open the phone. It’s incredibly easy to respond to WhatsApp messages, check emails, play a YouTube video or check Google Maps as you are navigating a route. You can choose to have apps expand to fill the entire area or cropped to just above the cameras.
Motorola has even loaded it with casual games specifically designed for the smaller screen, though you can try and play Asphalt or Call Of Duty: Mobile as well. Playing complex games isn’t ideal, nor is loading portrait layout apps like Instagram, but the razr 40 ultra worked well with more apps than I expected it to and I enjoyed using the cover display to “splash and dash”—get most tasks done without having to open up the phone.
Yet, for each time you do flip it open, the internal 6.9-inch, 1,080x2,640-pixel, LTPO (1-165Hz) AMOLED panel rewards you with a good HDR10+ compatible display without as much of the visible “crease” at the point where the screen folds as on the Samsung Z Flip 4. The reduced crease, the zero-gap when folded and the phone’s ability to take on multiple yoga positions—tent mode or propped open anywhere between 45- and 140-degrees—is courtesy the revamped water-drop hinge. The flip side is that the phone doesn’t unfold completely flat, leaving it just a few degrees concave.
The razr 40 ultra is the only foldable with some modicum of dust protection (IP52) but it trails Samsung in water protection. And as I have been reminded by enough razr purists, though the phone looks slick, particularly in the Viva Magenta colour with its faux-leather back, its rounded corners are a far cry from the sharp edges that gave the original razr its name nearly 20 years ago. But it’s comfortable to hold.
Under the hood, you will find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, a competent, battery-efficient chipset that serviced last year’s flagship phones, along with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage.
The phone does well for everyday use and had no performance issues. It did warm up a little during longer gaming sessions and extended camera use. For a device this slim, the 3,800 mAh battery lasts a day of typical use with a fair amount of cover display action, which is lighter on power consumption. While wireless charging is available, it is slow at 5W speeds, but the 30W wired charging will fill up the battery in a little over an hour.
What’s notable is the clean approach to software, with only a few widgets and gestures for launching the camera/flashlight giving the razr 40 ultra a very Pixel software vibe. Motorola does a great job in app transitions from the cover display to the main and vice versa but it could optimise first-party apps for “flex” mode, when the screen is folded at an angle.
Clamshells seem to default to a dual camera set-up that is somewhat inferior to regular smartphones at the same price. The razr 40 ultra is no exception. You get a 12-megapixel main camera, a 13-megapixel ultrawide that doubles as a macro shooter and a 32-megapixel selfie-shooter. For the most part, both rear cameras deliver well in good light—but with limited dynamic range and somewhat muted colours on the primary camera.
Bright highlights and tricky exposure often threw off the camera in day shots but night mode shots were more impressive. Macro shots via the ultrawide were good, as were selfies with the internal camera, but it was so incredibly convenient to use the cover display to shoot quick selfies that one often forgot that a perfectly capable selfie shooter lay just a flip away.
I will say this again. Motorola has improved the clamshell-foldable form factor with good design, reliable performance and by far the best cover display around. More importantly, it has made a phone fun to use, without resorting to gimmicks. Sure, at its asking price, you could pick up one of many 2023 flagships with faster charging, better battery life and performance and better cameras, but this is the price you have to pay for this fast-evolving form factor.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, posts @2shar.