Foldable smartphones have arrived on the scene — and to much excitement. Now that smartphones are more or less ubiquitous worldwide, and industry observers have spent the last few years lamenting the boring and mainstream evolution of current single-screen handsets, phone manufacturers are mixing it up with fresh innovations that diverge from the Great Glass Slab.
These brand new foldable smartphones — currently available, under development, or still experimental — feature large, mostly high-resolution displays alongside a variety of high-end accouterments. The result is more of a compact hybrid phone-tablet combo that may eventually be more convenient and appealing than the gigantic phablets designed for people who seek more screen real estate.
Foldable phones are sporting a variety of styles and forms, too. There’s the foldable or clamshell-type designs for different uses, while TCL continues to experiment with design concepts. Companies like Oppo, Xiaomi, TCL, and perhaps even Apple may soon get into the act. It also helps that Google’s Android 10 mobile operating system features native support for foldable devices.
As it stands, there are a few foldable phones on the market, and most are only available at very high prices. Although the first foray into the foldable arena has been somewhat hit-and-miss, resulting in some flawed or overly expensive products, it’s early days, and companies like Samsung, Motorola, Huawei, and others are leading the charge for a creative overhaul of the smartphone genre. Look forward to a future of thinner bodies, better battery life, and apps designed to take multiple screens into account. Here are the foldable phones available so far, and what we may look forward to in the future.
Folding phones available now
The Moto Razr — unlike other foldable counterparts from Samsung and Huawei — resembles an updated throwback, but in a good way. The Moto Razr more or less resurrected in modern form a beloved flip phone of the early 2000s era, retaining its clamshell glory. Its external display and characteristic chin, which now hosts the antenna and speaker, are reminiscent of the Razr of old. The new incarnation was introduced in mid-November 2019 as a Verizon smartphone sporting a foldable, 6.2-inch plastic OLED display with a 21:9 aspect ratio and 2142 x 876 resolution — and a $1,500 price tag.
When shut, the Razr’s 2.7-inch OLED Quick View display offers alerts while allowing quick responses to text messages and emails. The screen has an anti-splash nano-coating but no IP rating for dust or water resistance. Most built-in apps feature seamless transitions that let you start using an app on the outer screen and flip open to the larger display with no loss of content. It is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 710 processor, 6GB RAM, and 128GB internal storage, which is not expandable via MicroSD card.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, with its 6.7-inch AMOLED display and 21.9:9 aspect ratio, definitely pushes buttons for certain buyers. While there is a noticeable crease in the middle of the device at the bend point, if you look directly at the device, it is hard to see. Samsung added more features to the Z Flip’s interface to enhance the new flip phone’s experience. Flex Mode detects when the phone is half-open and separates the interface into two screens for certain apps. With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, the Z Flip’s chipset is a step above most 2019 flagships. There’s no option for expandable memory. The device has a 3,300mAh battery and the ability to charge or share power wirelessly to other devices. It also features a pair of 12MP wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle cameras.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
The Samsung Galaxy Fold, despite a series of mishaps related to its initial launch, was one of the earliest and high-end foldable models to hit the market. With a final September 2019 release, the phone offers speedy performance, multitasking features, a 7.3-inch screen for reading and watching videos, and respectable battery life. The phone has two screens: The first is a small, 4.6-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 1680 × 720-pixel resolution, surrounded by a thick bezel. When the Fold is opened like a book, it reveals a 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen with a 2152 × 1536-pixel resolution. Its Infinity Flex display is made from bonded layers of polymer, as opposed to glass.
The phone is not IP rated for dust and water resistance — the only flagship Samsung phone without the rating. One of its best features is App Continuity, which makes any app you were using on the 4.6-inch screen automatically open on the 7.3-inch screen with contents unchanged. The Fold is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor with 12GB of RAM, 512GB of internal storage, six cameras, and a large 4,380mAh capacity battery.
Huawei Mate X
The Huawei Mate X is a highly impressive folding phone, and alongside the Samsung Galaxy Fold, was one of the first specimens of its genre out the gate. Sadly, it is only available in China at the moment. Its flexible innovative screen can bend and stretch without damage and it sports a thin Falcon Wing hinge design that appears to dissolve into the device for a smooth and flat finish on both sides. It’s compact for carrying in your pocket but unfolds to reveal eight inches of space for multitasking or entertainment, with an edge-to-edge bright OLED display, as well as 5G connectivity with integrated 4G and 5G antennas.
The screen has a noticeable crease on the fold line, and though it’s unobtrusive, you can feel it with your finger. It has a slightly crumpled texture and running your finger over the screen has a different sensation than most smartphones because the screen is not glass. The Mate X features a sophisticated camera design where the dual-screen allows a preview of your shot in real-time. Fast charging features let you charge the phone up to 85% in 30 minutes.
The Royole FlexPai was the world’s first commercial foldable smartphone actually released to the public, from a company few have heard of. While it beat everyone to the foldable punch, the impression the product left overall has been distinctly mixed. When viewed flat, the device features a 7.8-inch, full-color display with a 1920 x 1440-pixel resolution and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Folded up, the FlexPai splits into two displays — one with a 16:9 aspect ratio, and the other with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It’s intelligent enough to know which is which: The FlexPai automatically detects which display is in use and automatically turns the unused one-off. Its camera features two lenses — a 20-megapixel telephoto and a 16-megapixel wide-angle. As a combination mobile phone and tablet, Royole’s ultra-thin, flexible display can be folded from 0 to 180 degrees. The FlexPai’s edge screen offers a handy display of notifications for incoming calls, emails, and messages. Where the Royole FlexPai falls down in comparison with some others, is the software; it’s a bit slow to react to being folded and otherwise lacks polish.
Dual screen folding phones available now
ZTE Axon M
The ZTE Axon M doesn’t have a foldable display, rather it consists of two identical, 5.2-inch Gorilla Glass displays folded to stack on each other. With that setup, you get three modes — Dual, Extended, and Mirror for onscreen multitasking, watching videos, or playing games. The twin HD screens combine to give you a full 6.75-inch tablet display. Mirror Mode lets you and a friend see the same content from opposite sides when placed on a table for easy viewing. Traditional Mode gives you a regular smartphone that’s easy to use and hold in one hand.
The phone is unlocked to work with GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, but not CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint. It has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable up to 256GB with a MicroSD card. It runs Android 7.1.2 with a 2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Integrated ARMv8 and features a 20MP camera that acts as both a selfie and rear camera.
LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen
The LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen is kind of a cross between the ZTE Axon M and genuine folding smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Its innovative folio case hosts two screens plus a monochrome display on the outside for quick-glance use. The device is slightly thicker than some others at 8.4mm, but it also accommodates a flush camera array, and carries rugged MIL-STD810G specs with an IP68 water resistance rating.
The second identical 6.4-inch OLED Full Vision screen is the clever charm: When you place the G8X ThinQ in its case, it connects to the second screen via USB-C, powered from the phone. The camera has two lenses on the back: a 12MP main lens with optical image stabilization and a 13MP super wide-angle lens. The front has a 32MP selfie camera. And, get ready: It has a 3.5mm jack for your listening pleasure. Using apps alongside each other in portrait mode works great. The outside secondary 2.1-inch monochrome screen displays time, date, and notifications. If the whole thing gets too unwieldy, you can simply remove the folio case and go back to using a single screen.
Folding phones on the horizon
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
The successor to last year’s Galaxy Fold, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 promises to succeed where the older phone failed. Not only does it unsurprisingly update the specs of its predecessor, but it looks set to solve the durability issues that plagued the original Fold when it first appeared, too. Samsung has fitted the newer device with the latest Ultra Thin Glass (UTG), a feature which made the Z Flip sturdier and more robust than the original Fold. The Korean company has also provided the Z Fold 2 with a freshly redesigned hinge, which uses tiny bristles to keep at any dust or debris that may interfere with its ability to fold and also its lasting power. Aside from that, the foldable features a bigger 7.6-inch inner touchscreen, a larger 6.2-inch cover touchscreen, and an added 12MP telephoto lens. There’s also a more powerful Snapdragon 865 Plus processor and a sleeker design that echoes the S20 and Note 20.
Microsoft Surface Duo
Microsoft announced the Surface Duo, a dual-screen, Android-powered phone during its annual Surface October 2019 hardware event in New York City. The surprise unveiling of this new device, with two 5.6-inch screens joined by a thin metal 360-degree hinge, offers a new design and software direction for a foldable phone. Aside from a volume and a power button and thin strips that sit on the left side of the device, the Duo is sleek. The prototype was powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. While it may be kinda, sorta a Windows phone, it’s also developing in collaboration with Google to feature a version of Android. Its design showcases the split where the two screens meet, allowing the phone to fold completely closed, open like a book, or folded back for single-screen use. The latest word concerning a release date is that it may be available this summer.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold S
While only an unconfirmed industry rumor at this point, Samsung is reportedly working on the Galaxy Z Fold S. It’s said to feature a similar design to Microsoft’s Surface Duo, in that it will feature a 360-degree hinge capable of outward and inward folding. Unlike the Surface Duo, industry speculation suggests that it won’t be a dual-screen phone, but instead will feature a single flexible OLED, much like the Z Fold 2 (and original Fold). Other than that, nothing else is really known, although Samsung is likely planning to unveil the device in 2021.
Google Pixel Foldable
A leaked internal document suggests that Google is working on a foldable Pixel for next year. Nothing much is known about what features it will have beyond the ability to fold, although the leak suggests that the foldable will be part of the range of Google smartphones announced with the Pixel 6 in late 2021. Google had previously disclosed that it’s prototyping Pixels with foldable displays, so it would seem that next year’s announcement may be the culmination of one or two years of R&D.
Xiaomi Mi Fold
Xiaomi’s folding phone, making progress, has evolved from prototype to video demo. This proposed folding smartphone, which has not yet been named but could possibly be called Dual Flex or Mix Flex, or maybe something else, is a double-folding device in which the top and bottom of the tablet-sized screen cleverly fold down into a compact smartphone form factor.
Chinese mobile phone maker Oppo says it may build a folding phone — if it’s convinced of the demand. Brian Shen, Oppo vice president of Chinese sales and marketing, posted photos of a foldable prototype on the Weibo site last year. Oppo’s foldable prototype phone features a screen that wraps around the outside of the fold, with two screens on each side when the device is folded.
TCL Rollable and Trifold
TCL is experimenting with rollable and trifold rollable folding smartphone designs. There is a prototype of the Trifold rollable, which uses the company’s DragonHinge and ButterflyHinge technologies. The Trifold begins life as a 10-inch tablet and folds into a 6.65-inch device, with a 20.8:9 aspect ratio and 3K resolution.
The rollable phone looks like your basic smartphone with a 6.75-inch screen, but it unrolls to expand to a 7.8-inch screen, with a single gesture that prompts its motorized operation. The rollable design hides its OLED display inside the phone.
Apple appears to be quietly exploring a foldable iPhone — or maybe a foldable iPad. While the company has been typically mum on the subject, an eagle eye on Apple’s patents certainly points in that direction. Apple has several patents featuring everything from hinged designs to multiple folds that suggest it may be contemplating a folding phone or tablet design at some point.
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