Motorola Razr will be hitting the market with a number of 'firsts' which include a vertically foldable OLED in a clamshell form factor and eSIM only support. While the former is the most striking and visible feature of the phone, the latter is very significant. Motorola has not built-in a traditional SIM tray, which means that Razr will only work with networks that support eSIM. Razr will be the first eSIM only smartphone in the market.
What is an eSIM and why is Motorola using it in the Razr?
eSIM is short for embeddable SIM and it is a part of the device. It does not require a physical SIM card to activate a cellular connection and can be switch between networks via a software interface. A physical SIM requires a slot to be created in the hardware, which takes up valuable space. eSIM gets rid of such a requirement, which is why it is already being used in a number of popular smartwatches like Apple Watch. Companies like Apple also take advantage of eSIM as a mechanism to connect to a second network. Apple's dual SIM iPhones sold in most parts of the world don't support two physical SIMs, they support a physical nano-SIM and an eSIM.
Since the Razr has an extremely thin profile - it is just 6.9mm thin when unfolded - it made sense for Motorola to go for an eSIM. In Razr's thin form factor, the company did not have to make space for a physical SIM card. Of course, this has its drawbacks. The phone can only be used in places where cellular companies support eSIM, and at the time of writing, it is not a very long list. Approximately 45 countries have carriers that offer eSIM support.
An eSIM also makes it more difficult to switch networks, compared to a physical SIM, due to lock-in policies by cellular companies. This was not one of the intended features of eSIM, but this is what companies like Verizon are doing. In the United States, Verizon, AT&T, Truphone, and T-Mobile support eSIM, but since Razr will launch as a Verizon exclusive, it will be contractually locked for 90 days. After 90 days, you can pay off the phone and switch to another service. There's another catch: Razr does not support LTE bands 12 and 14, which AT&T and T-Mobile utilize. You would be able to use the Razr, but not as well as on Verizon.
For customers in China, an eSIM also means that they cannot purchase and use the Razr since no company supports eSIM technology. Even Apple has to create variants of its dual-SIM iPhones, without support for an eSIM.
It is certain that Motorola will release a future version of Razr with support for a physical SIM, and even 5G. The company has done this with the original Razr, which gained support for 3G and other networking technologies over many iterative updates after its initial release.
Before placing your pre-order for a Razr, make sure to check if your carrier supports it, otherwise you will be left with an amazing phone that only works on Wi-Fi.