Are folding phones just a fad?

It has been one of the most spoken about tech trends of 2019 and there are mixed reviews, some are excited about the advancements in technology to transform a phone into a tablet in a split second and some are saying it’s just not ready. Foldable phones have been spoken about for years and now they’re here, we are not sure how functional they really are.

ROYOLE – FlexPai

We were first introduced to the world’s first foldable smartphone at CES 2019. The Chinese company Royole revealed the FlexPai and the reviews were not great. The phone itself massive at 7.8 inches diagonally it is more of a brick than an upgraded version of the more traditional phones of nowadays. Not the type of phone you can keep in a pocket. The device is run through Android and has an AMOLED display. Other key features and specifications are;

Snapdragon 855

6/8GB RAM

128/256GB storage

16MP+20MP camera

3970mAh battery

Two SIM card slots

USB-C port

Fingerprint scanner

5G Enabled

The FlexPai is effectively two phones attached together with a hinge allowing you to convert the device into a tablet. From the reviews at CES, this is clearly a ‘useable’ tablet, but not remotely a ‘useable’ phone. Rather surprisingly you would still need to splash the cash as this phone retails at £1496, even with the issues that Royole have been having with the software.

It feels as though the company felt the pressure to get the phone ready before anyone announced their rival devices. Or maybe we are just too keen to have the name as ‘first foldable phone’ either way they have made a mistake in showing the phone too early and now it will always be known as the gimmick rather than being an exciting and futuristic device.

SAMSUNG – Galaxy Fold

Samsung seems to have had a much better run of it, the 7.3-inch device starts out as a ‘tablet’ that you can fold into a phone with a 4.6-inch display. The phones circling at the moment have a display around 5.6 inches. That is quite a dramatic difference, not one we are sure about. The tablet has definitely been prioritised here. The key features of this phone are:

Snapdragon 855

OLED Display

7-nanometre processor

12GB RAM

512GB of Onboard Memory

universal flash storage 3.0

4380mAh battery

A system of 6 cameras

5G Enabled

Fingerprint scanner

The Galaxy Fold retails at £1,800, this is quite a jump considering in 2018 the average selling price for a smartphone was around £280.

Samsung described the phone as being a unified device, this absolutely was the aim and they announced that they were set to launch the phone on 26th April 2019. Before the big day, Samsung sent the phone to press and influencers to review the phone, unfortunately, the device brought forward at least two major issues. The foldable display has a protective layer due to not being able to use glass for the phone, many mistook this for a plastic screen protector and tried to remove this and therefore ruined the display. Even though that is down to human error, the display was still failing as the exposed areas allowed debris to get inside the display and ultimately break the phone.

Samsung does seem to be headed in the right direction with their foldable phone but once again we are left feeling as though we have been sold a very expensive unfinished product.

Huawei – Mate X

The last of the three foldable phones that have been announced this year is the Huawei Mate X, this definitely looks as though they have upgraded the Royal with the same way in which they are holding the phone and creating a double-sided screen.

The screen is a whopping 8 inches FullView bigger than the two competitors and allegedly folds down into two 6.6-inch display canvas and a 6.3-inch screen on the back. Folded the device is around 11 millimetres in width making it the thinnest phone in the market. Just like both the previous devices the phone splits into two screens when folded and are completely interchangeable. This phone has also been 5G enabled much like the others. Other key features include:

4380mAh battery

Kirin 980 chipset

11 MLM

 FullView 8-inch display

512GB storage

OLED DISPLAY

Fingerprint scanner

40MP + 16MP + 8MP lenses

This phone is arguably much closer to how everyone envisioned the ‘foldable’ phone to look. The simplicity of the phone is quite impressive. The Mate X is due to launch on June 20th, 2019 so not too long to wait to get your hands on the device. The device itself folds away neatly and even has a clasp to ensure structural security. The phone will come with a 55-watt supercharger that promises 85% of the battery in just 30 minutes.

Why isn’t it working?

The reason foldable smartphones are currently limited in success, affordability and design; is due to the fact the physical screen cannot fold flat in half like a piece of paper, due to the current technology available to us. The reason they can bend at all is due to the OLED display which is flexible. It works by pulsing electricity through an organic mesh to provide power to each pixel [or OLED]. As such this doesn’t require a backlight, previously the option for displays. Folding a display powered by a backlight would result in dark or black spots, a result of light only being able to travel in a straight line.

Other components such as batteries, glass and circuitry are also breakable under pressure, therefore a new design solution had to be made for these components too, with manufacturers such as Royale and Samsung opting for a polymer screen to allow the phone to physically fold. This comes with its drawbacks as well; the polymer screen is proving not to be durable and is quickly picking up dents and marks. This is only after a week of use, so who knows what will happen in the future.

Another issue posed is how do you put a case on these phones? Samsung has provided a case for their device that for the external facing screen and back that is only attached with an adhesive and still doesn’t protect the phone itself in a way you would expect. When you are spending between £1,500 and £2,000 on a device you will use every day, you would hope that it is provided with some form of security. Unfortunately, it isn’t, the Royole’s FlexPai and Huawei’s Mate X, there is no way you can case these without obstructing the screen because of the way in which the phone folds. The phones are now being classed rather hilariously as outies and innies, but which is the preferred design?  

What are the positives?

Well, foldable phones are a step forward in smartphone technology. Smartphones haven’t really progressed all that much since the full screen with minimal buttons came about. This is an exciting development for the industry. The sheer scale of the screens is impressive and with certain devices, you are even able to split down to multiple screens. Jumping from the average phone screen being 5.6-inches to around 8-inches will absolutely change the way in which we watch/stream and play games.

The new devices definitely reduce the need for having a phone and a tablet, by maximising phones screens there is no longer a need to carry around cumbersome tablets. If you think about what you use a tablet for versus what you use a phone for, the main aspect is the screen size, when you are able to almost double a phone screen the tablet is taking a step backwards. You are even able to

Another great advantage of folding phones means that there is more space for batteries, so more batteries, in turn, mean better battery life. The average battery used in a smartphone at the moment is 1500mAh battery, the three phones we have spoken about are all over twice as big as this, a brilliant use of the space.

Although these are all great advancements in smartphone technology, we are still left with a lot of questions.

Firstly, is there a gap in the market for the foldable phone?

Are foldable phones even being created or are they foldable tablets that you can use as a phone?

Lastly, are we ready for it yet?

All in all, there is a long way to come before the first foldable phone is genuinely functional, but we are extremely excited to see where this goes and how the companies will develop the technology for this to become a mainstream device and not just a gimmick.