This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
The year is 2004. Netflix is making millions by mailing DVDs, every teenager is on MySpace, and the iPod Classic is the hottest media player money can buy. Mobile tech was simpler back then. We had no iPhones or Android phones. In fact, downloadable ringtones and wallpapers were pretty much the most advanced feature the average cell phone could offer. So, how do you make an outstanding phone in 2004? With outstanding design, Motorola thought, and gave us what quickly became the hottest cell phone in the world – the Motorola RAZR V3.
The V3 was the very first phone launched under the RAZR brand. It was one of the hottest phones of its time, and by the time it was discontinued 4 years later, it had sold over 130 million units. Its maker made a pretty penny, while Motorola’s competitors got to see how much of an impact product design could have on consumers.
But why was the Motorola RAZR V3 such a big deal in 2004? Why were people paying top dollar to own one? And why is Motorola now resurrecting the RAZR V3 in the form of a foldable Android smartphone?
Why was the Motorola RAZR V3 such a big deal?
To answer, we have to start by looking at the mobile landscape in 2004. Back then, smartphones were as rare as they were clunky. They were made for business people who needed to send emails on the go. Meanwhile, the typical mass-market cell phone was primarily used for talking and texting. Mobile data, while supported on many models, was slow, pricey, and of limited use. No less importantly, a typical 2004 phone appeared as if it was made by engineers, not by designers. It was a chunky piece of grey plastic with a smallish screen and a numeric keypad below it. They were gadgets made to be used, not to be admired.
But the Motorola RAZR V3 was different.
At the time of its release, it was the thinnest phone in the world. Sure, a thickness of 0.54 inches would impress no one today – an iPhone 11 is just 0.33 inches thick – but next to other phones of that era, the RAZR V3 looked like it came from another planet.
The Motorola RAZR V3 next to other phones from 2004
And the Motorola RAZR V3 didn’t only look great. It truly felt like a premium product. Unlike its plastic contemporaries, it was made of metals like aluminum and magnesium, while the external display was protected by a layer of glass. A spring-loaded mechanism aided the lid as it opened and closed. The chin at the bottom made the device easier to hold and operate. The speaker was loud and could play fancy MP3 ringtones. And the keypad, with its blue electroluminescent glow and unique design, was practically a piece of art inspired by tech.
The Motorola RAZR V3 was super thin for its days and had a futuristic keyboard
But the Motorola RAZR V3 wasn’t cheap. At launch, it was priced at $500 with a 2-year contract, meaning that you would mostly see one in the hands of the rich and famous. And in TV ads and on the covers of magazines, of course. On the other hand, that initial exclusivity and aura of luxury surrounding the V3 made it even more desirable in the months that followed. Motorola had succeeded in striking an emotional chord with consumers. It had made a phone that people didn’t necessarily needed – but definitely wanted. As the RAZR V3’s price fell down, units were shipping by the millions.
Okay, by now you’re probably wondering what the Motorola RAZR V3 could actually do beyond drawing the envious looks of bystanders. In reality, the phone wasn’t as advanced as some other phones at the time. On one hand, its 2.2-inch color screen with 176 by 220 pixels of resolution was pretty. It also offered conveniences like Bluetooth connectivity and support for Java applications. On the other hand, the battery was rather small, as you would expect, and even though the RAZR V3 could play video files and MP3s, the 7MB of built-in, non-expandable memory severely limited the device’s multimedia capabilities. The camera offered 0.3MP of resolution at a time when 1MP cameras were already available on high-end competitors. Here’s what image quality was like:
Photos from the 2004 Motorola RAZR V3
The foldable Motorola RAZR 2019 is coming. But why?
Will the Motorola RAZR 2019 be a smashing hit? At $1500 a piece, I doubt it. But I have a feeling that Motorola isn’t launching this phone to make money. The brand is in a state where it desperately needs a way to remind people that it still exists – and that it can still make cool stuff. Perhaps Moto is trying to replicate the V3’s success formula here – not a bad idea in a day when practically every new phone looks the same as the one next to it. But in 2019, it will take more than nostalgia for Motorola’s plan to work.