Do we really need foldable smartphones?

This article contains a lot of speculation and rumors. These will be highlight with bold and italic text

There has been a race in the Smartphone world. This race is race to be the first to make a foldable smartphone. Lenovo, Motorola, Oppo, Microsoft, Xiaomi, Huawei, LG, and Apple have all had rumors about foldable phones.

The Rumors

Apple has filed a patent for “Electronic Devices With Flexible Displays”, and LG is making foldable displays (and even sold some to Huawei) and filed a patent for a foldable phone. It’s been rumored that Xiaomi is working on a foldable phone, although I wasn’t able to find any proof. Oppo has several patents for foldable phones. There have been rumors that Motorola is reviving the RAZR brand for their foldable phone, and Lenovo (which owns Motorola) made concept videos for foldable phones back in 2016.

Microsoft has also been working on project Andromeda (aka the Surface Phone) for some time now. The Surface Phone is rumored to to be a phone with 2 screens. It will also have it’s own OS called AndromedaOS. According to Neowin, there are several files on Windows pointing to Andromeda and AndromedaOS and a language pack with references to Andromeda on the Windows store.

Now that we know about all of the rumors from companies, we are going to look at the three modern foldable phones. While the Kyocera Echo was technically the first foldable phone, we will only be looking at phones that came out after 2016. Please note, I don not own any of these phon myes.

ZTE Axon M

This was the first foldable phone, however it’s not how most people imagined it. This isn’t a phone that can convert into a tablet, this is just made for multitasking. The phone has 3 modes that you can switch between with an M key on the navigation bar. There’s dual mode which lets you run two apps at once, extended mode which lets you use the phone like a mini tablet, and mirror mode which just mirrors the displays. The idea of mirror mode is you could fold the phone to a tent like position and watch videos together with friends.

The dual mode would be very useful for me. Usually I write these articles on my phone, and I always use Android’s multitasking feature to research while I write. The extended mode is stupid in my opinion. Most of the time, I use my iPad to watch videos, but you can’t really watch video on this phone because there is a giant bezel going down the middle of the two screens. The mirror mode could be useful if you wanted to watch something on a train with some friends, however I could never find myself using it. Overall this phone flopped. Fortunately, if you really want this phone for some reason, the price dropped from about $750 to only around $300 on Amazon.

Royole FlexPai

This is the first phone with a foldable screen. According to CNET, The screen is actually pretty good and the specs are decent too. The phone has a 4k 7.8 inch screen (pretty much tablet size), but it can fold like a book to a 4 inch screen. The problem with this phone is the software is very slow and bogged down. The FlexPai uses a fork of Android called Water OS. The phone also costs $1318 (for 128 Gigabytes), which is slightly cheaper than a 512GB iPhone Xs (which is $1349). The phone is also very thick, and chunky when folded into a phone, but when it’s a tablet, it’s about 7.6 mm thick, 0.3 mm thicker then an iPhone 6s Plus. According to PDevice, The Royole Flexpai uses the unreleased Qualcomm Snapdragon 8150, has 6 gigabytes of ram (or 8 if you bought the 256GB model), and a 3800mAh battery. This means that the phone is a power house when it comes to specs.

Overall this is not a product made for consumers because of how slow the software is. Digital Trends out right said that you shouldn’t buy it because it isn’t ready for consumers yet. However, if you are a developer and you need to get your app ready for foldable displays, and you have thirteen hundred dollars to spend, this could be the phone for you, but I would wait for the Galaxy X.

Galaxy X

At the time of writing this article, this phone is unreleased, however the Galaxy X has been confirmed by Samsung during the 2018 Samsung Developer Conference (SDC18). The phone’s design was disguised. This disguise makes it look like a brick when it’s folded into a phone. I believe that this disguised prototype isn’t even close to what it will look like. I think it will look very similar to the Samsung Galaxy S9 when folded (and the similar Galaxy Tab S4 when it’s not folded).

Samsung is partnering with Google to have foldable displays natively supported, and from some of the betas from OneUI, we can get a basic understanding of what the software will be like on the Galaxy X. CNET speculates the phone will cost around $1500. CNET also speculates that the phone’s battery life will last just as long as current Galaxy phones. Unlike the Royole FlexPai where the same screen bends from a tablet to a phone, the prototype for the 7.3 inch screen folds shut, revealing the 4.5 inch screen. Under this paragraph is a GIF comparing the way these phones fold.

FlexPai folding vs Galaxy X folding

With the speculated price tag of 1500$, I believe this phone will be a power house when it comes to specs. I suspect it will have at least 6 gigabytes of RAM, and at least 128 gigabytes of storage. I also think that it will have a very big battery in order to power 2 screens.

I think that when the Galaxy X comes out, it will be much better then the Royole Flexpai. Unlike Royole, Samsung is a company that makes products for consumers, not developers. Therefore the Galaxy X would have to be very polished when it comes out. Even if I could afford the Galaxy X, I would not buy the first generation of Samsung’s foldable phone. I think the 2nd generation will be much better.

Conclusion

Even though the technology is cool, it’s not finished yet. Foldable phones are also very expensive. Right now it’s cheaper to buy an older phone like a Google Pixel, and a cheap tablet then it is to buy a phone with a foldable screen. Sure, the ZTE Axon M exists for only 300$, but that giant bezel ruins the point of a foldable smartphone. I think foldable phones will take off when you can buy one new for 800$, not 1300$. The price needs to be accessible to the average consumer for foldable phones to be successful.

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