Is the Future Folding?

Folding phones are a relatively recent development in the smartphone industry with the Royole FlexPai narrowly beating Samsung and Huawei. Currently, there are two different categories of folding phones, which are the book-style and clam shell variants. The book-style offers a narrow build that unfolds to reveal a tablet size screen. At the same time, the clam shell has an average, modern screen that folds to become a more compact package. Folding phones appear to be an attractive trend as many significant companies are beginning to craft their version. Samsung, for instance, has already released two separate variants. Meanwhile, Apple has released the same phone for three years in a row.

As previously stated, the first foldable phone to be announced was the Flexpai. This phone tends to be recognized as rushed or incomplete, with some of the most important aspects of a good smartphone being ignored. Both styles of foldables have the same goal: provide more in a smaller package. The FlexPai, although technically a “folding phone” focuses more on folding and completely ignores how people use phones. This device is NOT pocketable, so unless you plan on needing to stuff your phone in a man purse, you might need bigger pockets.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold came soon after Royole’s attempt. It offered a much more reasonable size and significantly better specifications, containing the highest-end processor and flagship amounts of RAM and storage, the same camera array as the Galaxy S10 and S10+, with a 4,380 mAh battery as well. The Galaxy Fold has a 4.6″ outer screen used for quick interactions and unfolds for a 7.3″ display. Although the most fully-featured, the Galaxy Fold has a price tag of $1,950, which does little to get this phone into the hands of people who actually look at price tags.

Huawei’s Mate X has its unique take on folding by having its flexible display on the outside of the phone. This design means that, when folded, the Mate X has a more common screen size at 6.6″ and an unfolded size at 8″. Although these numbers are better than the Fold’s on paper, these phones generally have soft plastic screens, which are significantly easier to scratch than the modern gorilla glass that is on most phones. Because of this, the Mate X has a potential problem of durability as particles in pockets or purses are even known to cause micro-scratches even on gorilla glass. Another potential danger are keys or wallets, which could create gauges in flexible plastic, which seems like a very 2007 problem to be concerned about.

A more recent, and highly anticipated addition was the Motorola Razr, which is a modern reboot of the 2000’s classic. The new Moto Razr is a clam shell with an outside “Quick View Display” and a 6.2″ inner display. This phone’s main priority is its design, with Moto doing its best to fit modern technology in an almost 20-year-old design with a 6.9mm thickness. This measurement is an example of what this technology can do for pocketability. Because of the Razr’s thinness and premium functionality, this phone currently costs about $1,500, yet has the processor and battery of a mid-range range device rather than the flagships that it’s priced alongside.
Most recently, Samsung released the Galaxy Z Flip, which is the most exciting device to enter the market as it helps close the gap between folding phones and the regular devices we are used to. Although there are apparent compromises in price and specifications, this phone gets closer than previous ones to being reasonable. This phone has a 3,300 mAh battery and a 6.7″ display. It also has dual cameras, which are a noticeable step up from the Razr’s single camera. The Z Flip costs $1,380 and has equivalent specs as 2019’s Galaxy S10e, which was considered a flagship phone.

Clear benefits are being shown by these foldables, all stemming from the possibility of getting more use from a smaller package, whether that be book-style or clam shell. Although these devices are making strides to make this technology widely available, it’s still quite clear that folding phones are a luxury that needs more time to drop down in price and go up in quality. There are too many sacrifices being made to make these phones available, most commonly in price and specs. An example of this is the Z Flip. Although it is arguably the most reasonable value, the Z Flip has the same hardware as the S10e, which currently sells for as low as $350 (refurbished), and shows a massive premium only to gain a folding screen. As the competition between companies and the technology matures and develops, these phones will become more reasonable, however, and may become the next “normal”.