Photo by Avery White for The Verge

Flip phones deserve a shot because phones all look the same now

Phones don’t have to just be featureless glass slabs


As more folding phones get released, I’m seeing more people ask an important and honest question: does anybody really need this? There are many different answers but I think the most important one is simply this: not at the prices we’ve seen so far, no.

But if prices can come down and build quality can go up, I can see all sorts of cases for folding phones. The easiest case to make is for something like the Galaxy Fold, a phone that unfolds into a little mini tablet. In both of my reviews of that device, I came away disappointed in the execution but interested in the idea. Little tablets are nicer than giant phones, and making one more portable seems like a good idea.

A flip phone is a tougher call, though. For the Motorola Razr, there was an opportunity for it to just ride on its nostalgia value — a squandered one, it turns out. It’s an opportunity I don’t think will come around a second time. Motorola tarnished the Razr brand with this launch. More importantly, many (maybe most!) people just don’t feel that nostalgia at all, as Marques Brownlee recently pointed out.

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The main reason I think people might want a folding phone is that it is, in fact, more portable. It fits better into small pockets and handbags. Yes, they are thicker than equivalent smartphones, but there really are people who care less about that Z-axis than not having a slab sticking out of their jeans.

The Galaxy Fold has two main use cases: the phone mode for quick things and the tablet mode for immersive things. What was interesting about it is that there was nothing in between, so it made me more conscious of my phone usage.

I didn’t experience anything like that with the Razr. I don’t think it’s likely that a flip phone will fundamentally change our sometimes overindulgent relationship with our phones. Sure, there is a tactile satisfaction to closing it and maybe a psychological benefit of seeing it closed and not in use. There’s some value there, but I don’t know how much.

But I don’t want to dismiss this form factor just yet. Before everybody settled on monolithic slabs of glass, there was a wide diversity of form factors for phones. It meant that you could find a phone that fit your preferences and personality, something that had a little character.

Back in the day we had “candybars” and “flip phones” and which one you got was purely a matter of style and personal preference. They didn’t do much, so literally you’d go to the store and pick one based on something other than specs. You’d pick the one that looked cool, had the battery life you wanted, was the most durable, or some other thing.

Now, most of that expression comes through phone cases. But as smartphones get ever harder to distinguish from one another, I don’t think it would be such a terrible thing for us to have more choices in form factors. If most smartphones do basically the same thing, we could go back to picking one that looks cool or is the most durable. There’s still the iOS vs Android divide, of course, but at least in Android world there could be more choice.

If folding phones can come down in price and come up in their durability, I don’t see why we couldn’t have that kind of choice with our smartphones again, too.

Verge Deal of the day 

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is now available refurbished, starting at $2,039

You can now save a good amount of money on Apple’s latest MacBook Pro by buying it refurbished. Before you raise an eyebrow, they recently became available on Apple’s refurbished site, and instead of paying $2,399 for the base model, you can get it for $2,039. It has quite a few models to pick between, all of which are around 15 percent off their retail prices. Better yet, your purchase will show up good as new, be covered by a one-year warranty, and you can add AppleCare to it for extra assurance.

Reviews from The Verge

Motorola Razr review: folding flip phone flops. If you haven’t, click through and at least listen to the creaking at the top of the video. I have to say that this was a pretty big disappointment — Motorola did so many things right and had so many clever solutions to some of the problems folding phones have. It just couldn’t get all the other parts of a phone right.

See also: Motorola Razr undergoes iFixit’s ‘most complicated’ teardown yet.

MSI Prestige 14 review: hot pink and hot in your lap. Very good and comprehensive review from Monica Chin. I also love this pink color and would love to see more daring color choices from more companies. It’s all the better that MSI did it on a gaming laptop with a discrete GPU — though as Monica writes, there’s some issues with heat to worry about.

Product launches

Half-Life: Alyx will launch on March 23rd. Admission that will make at least one reader unsubscribe to this newsletter in absolute disgust: though I have played Wolfenstein 3D, the original Doom, Quake, and many other early first-person games (Ultima Underworld players make some noise), I have never played Half-Life 2.

Xiaomi’s Mi 10 flagship 5G phones launch in China. This almost reads like the spec sheet for the Samsung Galaxy S20, doesn’t it?

Xiaomi just took the wraps off its latest 5G phones, the flagship Mi 10 series. Both the Mi 10 and Mi 10 Pro feature 6.67-inch 2340 x 1080 OLED displays with a 90Hz refresh rate, Snapdragon 865 processors, dual-mode 5G, Wi-Fi 6, up to 12GB of RAM, wireless charging, and quad-camera configurations with a trendy 108-megapixel main shooter that can record 8K video. Both phones will ship in China first before going international.

Microsoft and Nike have created a custom Jordan-branded Xbox One X

Uber is testing out a new 1-800 number for people who don’t use apps. You might think this is a good opportunity for a joke but I strongly disagree. Making this service available by phone is a big win for accessibility and access. Not everybody has, can afford, or even can use a smartphone. If you see anybody cracking wise, please push back.

Tech policy

Oracle strikes back at Google in Supreme Court copyright case. I know this is a consequential case for the laws surrounding code and copyright and I know the outcome is going to be a big deal. It is the Paul Rudd of court cases. You’re continually reminded that oh yeah, it’s still around and continually sort of surprised that it still looks exactly the same as it did ten years ago. Also: it’s sort of funny in a non-threatening way at this point.

Copyright could be the next way for Congress to take on Big Tech. It’s not just section 230 that has a ton of proposed legislation in the works. Adi Robertson has a good overview of the state of play for this other work happening right now in Congress — and makes a very good point here:

Proposed copyright overhauls have set the internet on fire in the past. In 2012, sites like Google and Reddit went dark to protest the SOPA anti-piracy bill. But by 2020, many sites are busy battling complaints about harassment, child abuse, political radicalization, and other issues. So this year’s hearings will be taking place in a landscape where “internet freedom” isn’t as compelling a rallying cry as it once seemed,

Kirsten Gillibrand outlines new Data Protection Agency to take on Big Tech. Makena Kelly details the proposed legislation. I have to say it’s great to finally start seeing actual proposals about data privacy instead of the vague talk about the need for and acceptance of regulation. It’s all been so hazy.

The proposal has already garnered a high-profile endorsement from Shoshana Zuboff, former Harvard Business School professor and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism. ... “With this Bill, Senator Gillibrand joins a history-making new wave of legislative and regulatory efforts in the US and Europe that promise to assert democratic governance over commerce in the digital age,” Zuboff said in a statement.

Amazon pauses Microsoft’s $10 billion Pentagon contract as trial proceeds. Whatever you might think of the ethics of these companies providing services to the DoD, I think you have to admit that Amazon’s claim that it lost the contract because of Donald Trump’s animosity towards Jeff Bezos is not an outlandish worry.

Amazon has claimed that it lost out on the $10 billion contract because of Trump’s personal animosity toward Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post, which Bezos owns. Amazon argued that the process of granting the contract had “clear deficiencies, errors and unmistakable bias.”

More from The Verge

Inside Clinc, the AI startup facing troubling allegations of sexual harassment. Another big story from Zoe Schiffer, who summarizes it well in her Tweet: “A professor at the University of Michigan is stepping down as CEO of his buzzy AI company following multiple claims of sexual misconduct from current and former employees.”

Microsoft sneaks working Surface Duo demo into failed event recording.

Tesla owner says remotely disabled Autopilot features have been restored. Glad this happened, but Tesla’s policies around these upgrades and used vehicles sure do seem confusing — and they shouldn’t be.

YouTube is the frontrunner in the mobile streaming wars, and it’s not even close. Julia Alexander provides a good overview here, including your regular reminder that as big as you might think Netflix is, it’s still tiny compared to YouTube:

“We do wonder in the fullness of time, ‘Can we be as big as YouTube?’” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in July 2019. “YouTube is seven times larger than us, roughly, in viewing hours, and a phenomenal service. Of course, it’s free. So the real question is, can we produce enough content that people are willing to pay for?”