The year of the foldable smartphone has arrived. Now that smartphones are more or less ubiquitous worldwide, and industry observers have spent the last few years complaining about how boring and mainstream the current designs have become, tech companies are once again mixing it up with fresh innovations that diverge from the Great Glass Slab.
The few foldable smartphones, either currently available or under development, sport large, mostly high-resolution displays alongside a variety of the usual high-end smartphone features. The overall result appears to be more of a hybrid phone and tablet combo in a compact package that may eventually prove more convenient and appealing than the gigantic phablets designed for people who seek more screen real estate. In addition, there may be a slew of creative foldable or clamshell-type designs for different kinds of uses, while TCL experiments with unusual design concepts and forms. It helps that Android 10, the latest mobile operating system from Google, folds in native support for foldable devices. Apple may also be quietly exploring a foldable phone, though the company has been typically mum on the subject. Nearly a year ago, Apple patents revealed it may be thinking about creating a folding iPhone — a kind of iPhone and iPad hybrid to inspire the Apple crowd.
As it stands, there are few foldable phones on the market, and Digital Trends reviewers have deemed them largely not worth purchasing in their present form and at such high prices. Although the first foray into the foldable arena has been somewhat hit-and-miss and has resulted in some flawed or overly expensive products, it’s early days and companies like Samsung, Motorola, Huawei, and others are leading the charge for a creative overhaul of the smartphone genre. Look forward to a future of thinner bodies, better battery life, and apps designed to take multiple screens into account. Here are the foldable phones available so far, and what we may look forward to in the foreseeable future.
Best folding phones available now
Samsung Galaxy Fold
The Samsung Galaxy Fold, despite a series of mishaps related to its initial launch, is still one of the earliest and high-end foldable models to hit the market. With the final September 2019 release, the phone now offers speedy performance, multitasking features, a 7.3-inch screen for reading and watching videos, and respectable battery life. The phone has two screens; the first is a small, 4.6-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 1,680 × 720-pixel resolution, surrounded by thick bezels. When the Fold is opened like a book, it reveals a 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen with a 2,152 × 1,536-pixel resolution. Its Infinity Flex display is made from bonded layers of polymer, as opposed to glass.
The phone is not IP rated for dust- and water-resistance — the only flagship Samsung phone without the rating. One of its best features is App Continuity, which makes any app you were using on the 4.6-inch screen automatically open on the 7.3-inch screen with contents unchanged. The Fold is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor with 12GB of RAM, 512GB of internal storage, six cameras, and a large 4,380mAh capacity battery.
Huawei Mate X
The Huawei Mate X is a highly impressive folding phone, and alongside the Samsung Galaxy Fold, it is one of the first specimens of its genre out the gate. Sadly, it is only available in China at the moment. Its flexible innovative screen can bend and stretch without damage and it sports a thin Falcon Wing hinge design that appears to dissolve into the device for a smooth and flat finish on both sides. It’s compact for carrying in your pocket but unfolds to reveal eight inches of space for multitasking or entertainment, with an edge-to-edge bright OLED display, as well as 5G connectivity with integrated 4G and 5G antennas.
The screen has a noticeable crease on the fold line, and though it’s unobtrusive, you can feel it with your finger. It has a slightly crumpled texture and running your finger over the screen has a different sensation than most smartphones because the screen is not glass. The Mate X features a sophisticated camera design where the dual-screen allows a preview of your shot in real-time. Fast charging features let you charge the phone up to 85% in 30 minutes.
The Royole FlexPai was the world’s first commercial foldable smartphone actually released to the public, from a company few have heard of. While it beat everyone to the foldable punch, the impression the product left overall has been distinctly mixed. When viewed flat, the device features a 7.8-inch, full-color display with a 1,920 x 1,440-pixel resolution and a 4:3 aspect ratio. Folded up, the FlexPai splits into two displays — one with a 16:9 aspect ratio, and the other with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It’s intelligent enough to know which is which: The FlexPai automatically detects which display is in use and automatically turns the unused one-off. Its camera features two lenses — a 20-megapixel telephoto and a 16-megapixel wide-angle. As a combination mobile phone and tablet, Royole’s ultra-thin, flexible display can be folded from 0 to 180 degrees. The FlexPai’s edge screen offers a handy display of notifications for incoming calls, emails, and messages.
Where the Royole FlexPai falls down, compared to the first two devices on our list, is the software; it’s a little slow to react to being folded and lacks polish overall.
Dual screen folding phones available now
ZTE Axon M
The ZTE Axon M doesn’t have a foldable display, rather it consists of two identical, 5.2-inch Gorilla Glass displays folded to stack on each other. With that setup, you get three modes — Dual, Extended, and Mirror for onscreen multitasking, watching videos, or playing games. The twin HD screens combine to give you a full 6.75-inch tablet display. Mirror Mode lets you and a friend see the same content from opposite sides when placed on a table for easy viewing. Traditional Mode gives you a regular smartphone that’s easy to use and hold in one hand.
The phone is unlocked to work with GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, but not CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint. It has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable up to 256GB with a MicroSD card. It runs Android 7.1.2 with a 2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Integrated ARMv8 and features a 20MP camera that acts as both a selfie and rear camera.
LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen
The LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen is kind of a cross between the ZTE Axon M and genuine folding smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Its innovative folio case hosts two screens plus a monochrome display on the outside for quick-glance use. The device is slightly thicker than some others at 8.4mm, but it also accommodates a flush camera array, and carries rugged MIL-STD810G specs with an IP68 water resistance rating.
The second identical 6.4-inch OLED Full Vision screen is the clever charm: When you place the G8X ThinQ in its case, it connects to screen number two via USB C, with power derived from the phone. The camera has two lenses on the back: a 12-megapixel main lens with optical image stabilization and a 13-megapixel super wide-angle lens. The front has a 32-megapixel selfie camera. And, get ready: It has a 3.5mm jack for your listening pleasure. Using apps alongside each other in portrait mode works great. The outside secondary 2.1-inch monochrome screen displays time, date, and notifications. If the whole thing gets too unwieldy, you can simply remove the folio case and go back to using a single screen.
Folding phones on the horizon
The Moto Razr — unlike other foldable counterparts from Samsung and Huawei — resembles an updated throwback, but in a good way. The Moto Razr more or less resurrected in modern form a beloved flip phone of the early 2000s era, retaining its clamshell glory. Its external display and characteristic chin, which now hosts antenna and speaker, are reminiscent of the Razr of old. The new incarnation was introduced in mid-November 2019 as a Verizon smartphone sporting a foldable, 6.2-inch plastic OLED display with a 21:9 aspect ratio and 2,142 x 876 resolution — and a $1,500 price tag.
When shut, the Razr’s 2.7-inch OLED Quick View display offers alerts while allowing quick responses to text messages and emails without opening the Razr. The screen has an anti-splash nano-coating but no IP rating for dust or water resistance. Most built-in apps feature seamless transitions that let you start using an app on the outer screen and flip open to the larger display with no loss of content. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 710 processor, 6GB RAM, and 128GB internal storage, which is not expandable via MicroSD card. All of this sounded so great that the company was overwhelmed by consumer interest. Whereas pre-orders were originally set to begin in December 2019, the release date has been delayed for an unknown interval so that the company can realistically match supply with demand.
Samsung Galaxy Fold 2
The smart money has it that Samsung plans to launch yet another folding phone at its Unpacked event on February 11. Currently referred to as the Samsung Galaxy Fold 2, renders from Dutch site LetsGoDigital have released rumored prototype designs for the Fold followup — which somewhat resembles the new but delayed Moto Razr in form factor. The Galaxy Fold opens out from a phone into a tablet, but it looks like the Fold 2 may unfold into a phone from a clamshell design. According to reports, the new phone may feature a 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with a hole-punch display and that it may use a new type of material, called Ultra Thin Glass (UTG), which is as foldable as the polyamide plastics used in the Galaxy Fold, but more scratch-resistant. Beyond that, few details are clear at this point.
Microsoft Surface Duo
Microsoft announced the Surface Duo, a dual-screen, Android-powered phone during its annual Surface October 2019 hardware event in New York City. The surprise unveiling of this new device, with two 5.6-inch screens joined by a thin metal 360-degree hinge, reveals a new design and software direction for a foldable phone. Aside from a volume and a power button and thin strips that sit on the left side of the device, the Duo is sleek. The prototype demoed was powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855. While it may be kinda, sorta a Windows phone, it’s also developing in collaboration with Google to feature a version of Android. Its design showcases the split where the two screens meet, allowing the phone to fold completely closed, open like a book, or folded back for single-screen use. The product is still in its early stages, though observers hope that it will be ready for release in time for the 2020 holiday season.