Skip to main content

Samsung is now so far ahead in the folding phone game, will anyone else bother?

Quick quiz question for you: Name one other widely available folding smartphone that’s not made by Samsung? You probably can’t, and that’s because outside of China, Samsung has already beaten every other manufacturer into submission, and won the folding smartphone race with barely any challenge at all.

Except, is this a win to be celebrated by anyone, Samsung included? Possibly not. Domination on this scale may not push many to take on Samsung, and that’s not good news for folding smartphones in general.

Folding supremacy

Samsung has put eight years into the development of folding smartphone technology so far, and after using the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, it’s easy to see how far it has come since the release of the original Galaxy Fold, and just how much catching up potential opponents have to do.

Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 seen from the front with open screens.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Advancements in durability, screen technology, and software make Samsung’s new phones usable every day, long before most others have even left the start line. Each fulfills Samsung’s promise of adding mass-market appeal to its folding smartphone range, and even the prices aren’t as horrific as before. You can buy the Z Flip 3 for around the same as a OnePlus 9 Pro or a Samsung Galaxy S21+, and while the Z Fold 3 is still very expensive, it’s $200 less than the first Fold, yet technologically superior in every way.

If you want a folding smartphone today, a Samsung is by far the best choice to make, coming in with the most impressive hardware at the lowest price. While this is an accurate statement, it’s also because Samsung is really the only game in town.

Where’s everyone else?

Various manufacturers have talked about releasing a folding smartphone for years, including Oppo and TCL, but only a few have actually done so. Most recently, Xiaomi released the Mi Mix Fold but only in China. It looks similar to the Galaxy Fold range but in true Xiaomi style, it doesn’t cost as much, except you’ve got to import one to try it.

Huawei Mate X2 standing up, slightly unfolded
Huawei Mate X2 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Huawei for a while looked like it was going to be Samsung’s major challenger. The original Huawei Mate X was different from the Fold with an outwardly folding screen, as was the Mate XS. Huawei did sell the Mate XS in the U.K. but it didn’t come with Google Mobile Services. The Mate X2, released this year and Huawei’s current foldable effort, has not been released outside China. Well-publicized restrictions mean Huawei isn’t in the race, globally at least, at the moment.

Anyone else? Motorola brought back the Razr name for its folding smartphone, which is a nostalgic take on the original Moto Razr phone’s clamshell design and is now almost a year old, while Microsoft made the dual-screen, folding Surface Duo. To recap, that’s two folding smartphones you can’t buy, one that’s a year old, and another that’s not really a true folding smartphone at all.

What’s going on?

Folding smartphones are cutting-edge mobile devices and they cost a lot to develop. Samsung with its vast bank account and in-house display-tech expertise was always ideally positioned to propel itself ahead of the competition. However, it has now done so to such an extent, the competition may not even bother creating a competing folding smartphone at all.

Galaxy Fold
Samsung Galaxy Fold Image used with permission by copyright holder

Xiaomi could release the Mi Mix Fold internationally without doing much, but according to reviews like Mr. Mobile’s, it’s not a competitor to the Galaxy Z Fold 2, let alone the Z Fold 3. TCL has shown several folding smartphone concepts, but none have been made real yet, and despite its own screen expertise, it doesn’t have the brand recognition in smartphones that Samsung does.

Google is rumored to be working on a Pixel Fold, but there’s no firm evidence it will be released in 2021, and as for Apple we’ve only heard the most basic of rumors about a folding iPhone, and none have a potential release date this side of 2023. That means absolutely anything could happen, including the device never actually being released at all.

Samsung’s name is currently synonymous with folding smartphones, and few companies will be keen to invest the money needed to develop a phone worthy of taking on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, only to then be faced with the arduous task of grabbing mindshare from the public before actually selling any in meaningful quantities.

If it’s a losing battle, why start the fight? Samsung’s long-term investment in foldables has been so successful, it may have scared off the competition, and this is a problem. Not just for you and me, but for Samsung too.

This can’t be good, right?

If the only choice in folding smartphones is which Samsung foldable you pick, then it’s not great for us as buyers. Competition gives us choice, drives innovation, and pushes prices down. If companies aren’t prepared to put a new device up against Samsung, this won’t happen. Samsung is committed to making folding smartphones mainstream and affordable, but it can do so at its own pace for now.

Then there’s what this means for folding smartphones in general. If Samsung owns the segment, can folding smartphones survive in the market for the long term? Samsung obviously thinks so, and as costs reduce over time they have a better chance, but what if all other companies simply decide that instead of releasing a device that directly competes, they come up with something that does the same thing slightly differently. It’s still risky, but the pay-off could be far greater if the resulting device turned out to be better received than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold series.

#OPPOX2021 Rollable Concept phone is one of the technologies on display at #MWC21 in Shanghai. What innovations make the phone possible? The special Roll Motor powertrain allows the phone to unroll smoothly. #OPPOxMWC21

— OPPO (@oppo) February 24, 2021

Oppo is working on a rollable smartphone called the Oppo X 2021, for example, and LG showed something similar at the start of 2021, before deciding to leave the phone business entirely. The benefits are the same as a folding device but the execution is different, and there’s no denying how cool it looks when the screen unfurls in front of your eyes. Samsung would probably prefer if the competition followed it directly down the folding path, rather than taking an alternative route to arrive at the same destination, but right now that seems like a pointless, expensive, bandwagon-jumping endeavor.

The future isn’t set

Does all this mean you should be wary of buying the Galaxy Z Fold 3, or Z Flip 3? No, not at all. They’re without a doubt the most exciting smartphones you can buy at the moment, the latest models are truly everyday devices, and if you want to experience the future of mobile, it’s the only way to do so.

Yes, I said the future. While Samsung is without competition at the moment, the general concept of smartphone hardware that combines both small and large screens in one package for convenience is the way forward. But Samsung’s superiority means it’s not exactly clear whether that future will fold, roll, or do something entirely different.

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
Google has a few surprises just for Samsung’s new foldables
A person holding the open Samsung Galaxy Z Fold6, showing the screen.

Enthusiasts eyeing the fresh slate of Samsung foldable phones are in for some extra software goodies from Google. The company today announced a handful of new tricks for the Galaxy Z Fold 6, Galaxy Z Flip 6, and the new Galaxy smartwatches, too.

First is context-aware Gemini. On the new foldable phones, when you summon the Gemini assistant, it will identify what’s happening on the screen and will make suggestions accordingly. For example, when watching a video, Gemini will push something like “ask about this video.”

Read more
How to watch Samsung Galaxy Unpacked on Wednesday
Samsung logo sign at the Mobile World Congress.

It's almost time! After numerous leaks over the past few months, the next round of Samsung products will finally be announced at the upcoming Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event.

New phones, watches, and the company's first smart ring will almost certainly be announced. But when is this next Galaxy Unpacked happening? And how can you watch it? We have all of the details.
When is Samsung's Galaxy Unpacked event?
The Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event for July 2024 is set for Wednesday, July 10, starting at 9 a.m. ET/6 a.m. PT. The event is happening in Paris, France, the site of this year's Summer Olympic Games.
How to watch Samsung Galaxy Unpacked
Like previous Galaxy Unpacked events, Samsung is live streaming this month's Unpacked across multiple platforms. You can watch it on the Samsung website, the Samsung Community page, and YouTube.
What we expect from Galaxy Unpacked 2024
Galaxy Z Fold 6 render OnLeaks / SmartPrix

Read more
Samsung’s next folding phones will copy this clever Pixel Fold feature
A person folding up the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5.

The anticipated launch of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 and Z Flip 6 is right around the corner, with Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event taking place in Paris on July 10. Despite the imminent release, we’re still getting additional leaks and rumors as we inch closer to the release. The latest comes from Evan Blass (@evleaks), who posted leaked marketing materials on X (formerly Twitter) that reveal some interesting features copied from the Google Pixel Fold.

It appears that Samsung intends to add its own take on the Google Translate feature called “Interpreter Mode” to its upcoming foldables. Google introduced this feature to the Pixel Fold last year, allowing users to translate text and voice on the main display while showing the translation on the outer display. Essentially, this allows users to have a two-way conversation without having to pass the phone between each other.

Read more