Ahead of the RAZR revival, we look at the phone that established the brand
This year, Motorola will resurrect its most successful phone ever: the RAZR. Originally launched in 2004, this trend-setting handset sold in excess of 50 million units between 2004 and 2006, and kickstarted a ‘thin-phone’ revolution that arguably continues to this very day. However, the device was also something of a curse for Motorola; its success led to the company releasing several updated variants which didn’t perform as well as expected, and by the time the smartphone explosion began in 2007, the company was arguably left behind because it had invested so heavily in the RAZR line.
Still, nostalgia is a powerful thing and Motorola clearly thinks the RAZR brand is capable of shifting a few units in 2019, because it is hard at work on what is being called the RAZR V4, a sequel to the popular V3 from all those years ago. Ahead of getting our hands on this new model – which will boast a folding screen while retaining the same look as the original device – we thought it might be fun to revisit the phone that started it all, and to consider how far technology has come in 15 years.
Motorola RAZR V3: Design & Display
With vital statistics of 98 x 53 x 13.99mm and a weight of just 95g, it’s clear to see why the V3 made such a splash back in 2004. While there were plenty of weird, wonderful and eye-catching phones on the market back then – a far cry from today, where all phones look pretty much the same – this was the first device to mix a super-thin profile with premium build quality.
Even in 2019, the RAZR V3 looks and feels futuristic. The use of metal for the casing gives the device a top-of-the-line feel, and that iconic clamshell mechanism – once a common sight in the world of mobile phones – emits a pleasing ‘click’ when it closes. When it’s shut, the RAZR V3 slips effortlessly into your pocket and is so thin and light you forget it’s even there.
The front of the unit, when closed, is home to a secondary 96 x 80 pixel colour screen which allows you to see the time and date, as well as information on who is calling you when the phone is closed. It can also be used as a viewfinder for the phone’s VGA camera, which we’ll come to later. The volume rocker and shortcut keys are located on the sides of the uppermost portion of the phone (the bit with the screen on) and are quite hard to press in both closed and open forms. There’s no power button on the side, as this is located on the ‘Call End’ key instead.
Turn the V3 over and you’ll find the speaker as well as a detachable panel which reveals the removable battery (remember those?) and the SIM card slot. There’s no expandable storage here, and you only get 5MB of internal memory to use.
Open the phone up and you’re presented with a keyboard and a 2.2-inch 176 x 220 LCD screen. The former is fashioned from a single sheet of aluminium, which makes it sound like a texting addicts worst nightmare, but that’s far from the case. Despite the lack of ‘proper’ buttons the V3’s keyboard is a joy to use – assuming you’re OK with T9 predictive text, of course.
The only other aspects of note as the industry-standard Mini-USB connection for charging and data (a quite revolutionary move when you consider that pretty much every other phone of this period had a proprietary connection) and a place on the hinge for a lanyard.
Motorola RAZR V3: Software & Performance
Like most phones from the early 2000s, the RAZR V3 is running a proprietary software system which is unique to Motorola’s phones – this was a long time before apps and downloads became commonplace, and while it’s possible to surf the web and access your email, this isn’t a smartphone.
Outside of a few core functions, it’s amazing just how bare-bones the RAZR V3 is compared to the mini-computers we carry around in our pockets today. Downloadable Java games are supported but they’re pretty dire by modern standards. The big news back in 2004 was Bluetooth support, as well as the ability to use your voice to dial numbers – something we take for granted these days.
While we judge modern smartphones on their overall speed – something that is usually tied to the processor and the amount of RAM available – the RAZR V3 comes from an era where we were more concerned with usability. Moving around the phone is reasonably easy, although there is a degree of lag as you switch between functions. Browsing the web is a painful affair, with pages taking forever to load on the pre-3G connection. Games also run sluggishly, which just goes to show how low our expectations must have been back in 2004.
Motorola RAZR V3: Camera & Battery Life
Motorola’s commercials for the RAZR V3 made much of the fact that the phone was capable of playing music, taking photos and recording video; the company’s most famous commercial showed all of these technologies converging into one super-thin phone. It was a compelling selling point, but as you might expect, it wasn’t quite true.
There’s no way you’d want to ditch your point-and-shoot camera for the V3, as the launch model is only capable of taking shots at VGA resolution. They look terrible, and back in 2004 the intention was more about sharing them via MMS than blowing them up to poster size, as you can do with photos taken on modern smartphones these days. Video recording is also possible, but it’s dire quality and again only good for sharing over MMS.
The RAZR V3’s 680mAh battery gives 250 hours of standby and a talk time of close to 7 hours.
Motorola RAZR V3: Verdict
If we were judging the RAZR V3 by modern standards then it would get a terrible review score; phones have evolved dramatically in the past 15 years and we expect a lot more from these devices today. The RAZR V3 was groundbreaking in 2004, but could you honestly see yourself using a handset that has a VGA camera, no apps and not even WiFi support in 2019?
Unless you’re looking to go on a digital detox it’s unlikely that the RAZR V3 would make a sensible purchase for anyone, so it’s a good job we’re not reviewing this in the traditional sense. Instead, we’re taking a look at why this is such an iconic and beloved device, one that is so acclaimed that Motorola is reviving it this year. Even in 2019, the RAZR V3 looks and feels fantastic, and makes us pine for a time when phones actually had some unique design features. The clamshell design is badly in need of a comeback and we hope that the RAZR V4 proves to be a success, because it’s high time the world of smartphones got creative again.
Viewed in 2019, the RAZR V3 is a relic, but one that we can’t help but adore, despite its humble functionality and lack of power.
Damien McFerran has been covering phones and mobile technology for well over a decade. An Android specialist, as well as an expert reviewer of phones, Damien is one of the best technology journalists working today. He is also editorial director over at the excellent Nintendo Life.