Lenovo’s smartphone division has once again been caught misleading the press on its future plans. This time, the company held a press event for Chinese media and showed off what it said was a render of the mythical Moto Razr phone reboot with a foldable display. The only problem is that “Lenovo’s” Razr render was a fanmade video that it downloaded from the Internet, and the creator says the company didn’t even have permission to use it.
The allegedly stolen video in question is this Moto Razr concept video created by Waqar Khan. What appears to be an edited version of Khan’s video was given to the Chinese media, and reports like this one from Sina Technology (a media company from the owners of Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter clone) rehosted the video saying (through translation), “Lenovo today unveiled its own folding screen mobile phone video in an interview with Sina Technology and other media.”
The rehosted video, reportedly from Lenovo, shows Khan’s Razr render with some—but not all—of the watermarks removed. The most noticeable remaining watermark is on the clock, which says, “Concept by @WaqarKahnHD” above and below the time. This appears on the inside and outside screens of the phone render. The original video has watermarks in the bottom left and top right corners of the video, which have been cropped out in the version given to the Chinese media.
Video of the media briefing. pic.twitter.com/Fv9QRyg6S4
— Richard Lai (@richardlai) May 16, 2019
Richard Lai, editor-in-chief of Engadget Chinese, also confirms that the meeting with Lenovo did actually happen, and he even shared a video from the press event. In it, Khan’s video appears on a projector—again with Khan’s watermark in the clock, but this time with a “Lenovo” screen at the end of the video.
This is not the first time Lenovo’s smartphone division specifically has gone out of its way to mislead the press. The company shared incorrect and greatly exaggerated renders of the Lenovo Z5 in the run up to launch, for instance. The company’s renders and description of the phone, released just weeks before the launch, claimed it would be nearly all display with a notch-less design. Lenovo made the Z5 seem like a significant leap over existing smartphones, but when the final release came, the company instead turned in a phone with a notch and a thick bottom bezel, just like every other phone on the market at the time.
So is the foldable Razr phone actually in development?
Allegedly taking a fan made video and passing it off as a Lenovo project is embarrassing enough, but there’s a big question that needs to be asked after all this: does the folding Moto Razr phone actually exist? If the folding Razr is a real smartphone in development and Lenovo wanted to talk to the press about it, why didn’t Lenovo have their own self-made render to share? Why would a fan render be accurate at all?
Lenovo has never actually said it is building a folding Razr phone. The company patented a folding Razr design, but every company patents every possible design it can think of, and patents are never solid indicators of future products. The only credible news about the Moto Razr came from a Wall Street Journal report written in January 2019. The story noted a $1,500 foldable smartphone would be released on Verizon the US “as soon as February.” Obviously, it’s May now, so it doesn’t seem like the timeline in that report was accurate. Was the phone delayed for upward of five months, or was the report wrong?
We haven’t seen a single solid piece of evidence that the Moto Razr actually exists. It’s extremely rare that any high-profile in-development phone is kept a secret. It’s also hard to imagine that the phone was at one point a month away from launching, soon delayed several months, and then never leaked after all that rearranging. Other than a few dubiously sourced renders (which, as seen above, can come from anywhere), this phone is a ghost.
Try to imagine Lenovo’s position here: you are extremely thirsty for press attention, you want to talk to the press about your in-development Razr phone, and rather than show what you are actually working on, you choose to download and edit someone else’s YouTube video. This is not behavior that makes sense—particularly if the Razr phone is actually in development.
The closest thing we’ve seen to phone with a Razr-style design is a prototype Sharp display demo that had a vertically folding screen. This “device,” shown off in April 2019, wasn’t a phone; it was a foldable display mounted to a big metal box. Despite having an entire metal shoebox worth of space to store smartphone parts in, the folding display part still wasn’t anywhere close to the thinness you would expect from a “Razr” phone.
— 小口貴宏 / EngadgetJP (@TKoguchi787) April 10, 2019
As we learned with the Galaxy Fold, foldable displays are very fragile, and one way to help with longevity is to not put a hard crease in the display. This is the strategy Sharp’s display demo takes, but keeping a wider bend radius in the display means a thicker device.
The foldable Moto Razr design pictured in Lenovo’s patents and Khan’s render does not seem like a possible smartphone design. It’s too thin, the display would need to fold too much, and it doesn’t look like there is room for a sizable battery. It looks more like someone traced the original Razr design for a patent with no consideration for feasibility.
While technology constantly improves and designs that were not possible today eventually become possible in the future, Lenovo will most likely not be one of the companies to leap ahead of the pack when it comes to foldables. Lenovo is not a top-tier smartphone company—it does not produce new or trail-blazing smartphone designs the way Samsung, Apple, and Huawei do. When foldables do get figured out, they will most likely be solved by one of these three companies.
Samsung is a foundational giant in smartphone technology, and the Galaxy Fold, with all its problems, is the closest foldable to launch because Samsung is the biggest and most advanced display manufacturer on Earth. Apple is the most profitable smartphone company and can invest a ton of money in R&D and supply lines to create smartphone technologies that have never been done before. Huawei is the second biggest smartphone manufacturer behind Samsung, but as a Chinese company, it has the benefit of faster collaboration with all of the supply line companies in China. Many would also say the company has the full might of the Chinese government behind them, which would help a lot in getting to market first.
In contrast to any of those organizations, Lenovo’s smartphone division has never shown the ability to get a feature or technology to market first. The entire industry is barreling toward foldable smartphones, but in order for a second (or third?) tier manufacturer like Lenovo to get a foldable smartphone out the door, we need to see the big companies nail everything down first. Even then, all of these first-generation devices will be way uglier and thicker than this mythical Razr render.
Listing image by Waqar Khan