What You Need to Know about Foldable Phones

Foldable phones have been stealing the tech spotlight recently, but are they really all they’re cracked up to be? Here is what you need to know to make up your own mind.

Thanks to new offerings from Samsung and Huawei, foldable phones have been making a comeback. These mobile devices are smartphone-tablet hybrids. Vendors are hoping that they open up a new revenue stream in an otherwise saturated mobile device market.

But are foldable phones really all they’re cracked up to be? Here is what you need to know to make up your own mind.

What All the Hype Is About

The biggest selling point of foldable phones is that they increase the amount of screen real estate yet are still small enough to tuck in a large pocket or handbag. You can use them when they are folded or unfolded.

For example, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which is scheduled for release on April 26, 2019, has a 4.6-inch display when the device is folded. Opening the phone like a book reveals a larger 7.3-inch screen inside.

This is by no means the standard size and design of foldable phones’ displays. Because this is the first generation of the product, anything goes. For instance, Huawei’s Mate X, which is expected to be released in summer 2019, has a 6.6-inch display on the front and a 6.38-inch one on the back when folded. When you unfold the phone, they combine to become one 8-inch screen. Equally important, although the phone opens and closes like a book, the larger display is outward facing – like the cover on a book.

Eventually, some designs might prove to be more durable or beneficial than others and become standard on all foldable phones. This might the case when it comes to the phones’ hinges. Both Samsung and Huawei designed new hinge systems for their foldable devices.

Samsung is promoting the durability of its hinges and has even posted a short video on YouTube showing the hinges being tested. For this test, the phones were folded and unfolded 200,000 times, according to Samsung. This is equivalent to folding and unfolding the devices 100 times per day for more than 5 years.

Huawei is touting the sophistication of its hinge system, which it calls the Falcon Wing. According to Huawei, the smartphone and tablet modes transition seamlessly from one to the other, thanks in large part to this hinge. When unfolded, the screen is a perfectly flat surface.

Another notable feature of foldable phones is the ability to open and work with multiple apps on the display at the same time. For example, the Galaxy Fold lets you work on three apps simultaneously, while you can have two apps open in the Mate X.

Why You Might Want to Wait a While

While foldable phones hold great promise, you might want to hold off buying one. The reasons why include:

  • You don’t know what types of issues will crop up because it is the first generation of foldable phones. For example, real-world use might reveal that the polymer screens crease from being folded. Furthermore, it’s unknown what the repair process and costs will be like if problems occur.
  • More vendors are planning to enter the market, which will give you more choices. The list includes companies such as Motorola and TCL. Even Samsung is planning to release two more foldable phones in the near future, according to a Bloomberg report.
  • 5G networks will be more prevalent in the future so you can take advantage of 5G foldable phones. This might be an important point to consider when it comes to the Mate X. Huawei is planning to offer only a 5G version of the phone. Samsung will be offering both 4G and 5G models of the Galaxy Fold. The 5G model is expected to be released later in 2019.
  • The cost of foldable phones is currently high. For example, the price for the 4G Galaxy Fold is $1,980. The cost of the 5G Mate X is €2299 euros (around $2,600 USD). The cost will likely go down over time due to competition and the fact that the foldable phone will no longer be a brand-new technology.
  • Some experts are saying that people should hold off buying foldable phones until the devices have glass displays rather than polymer screens. While flexible, polymer screens are more prone to damage such scratches compared to glass. Corning and other manufacturers are currently working on creating highly bendable glass that could work on foldable phones. Experts predict that it will be available by the time foldable phones go mainstream.

An Important Note about Huawei

Some important information about Huawei needs to be mentioned. Although this Chinese-based company is not well known in some parts of the world (e.g., the United States), it is the second largest smartphone vendor. (Samsung is No. 1.) However, some governments believe that Huawei devices include backdoors that allow the Chinese government to snoop on users, which the company denies. For this reason, Section 889 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act bans US government agencies from purchasing Huawei telecommunications products. Regardless of this issue, Huawei’s Mate X provides a good idea of what to expect with foldable phones, which is why it is discussed here. Its inclusion is not an endorsement of the product.