Are foldable phones the way of the future?
Manufacturers are always looking for the hook that’ll keep consumers upgrading perfectly functional phones for the latest model. Enter: foldable phones.
The Galaxy Fold is Samsung's newest experiment, a $3399 phone that folds open to reveal a bigger screen. It’s performed well in our lab tests and we got a hands-on at the IFA tech show in Berlin. The idea seems to be that users will want a phone that can convert into a tablet, with more usable screen space and more places to fit cameras.
When closed, the Fold looks and feels quite long and narrow, but very thick. At almost 2cm deep at the hinge, it wouldn’t be as comfortable in your pocket as a normal smartphone. The front has a 4.6” touchscreen and works like a regular mobile. It’s got a front-facing camera and three rear-facing cameras.
The Fold’s main feature is its foldable 7.3” middle screen. When you open it up, the exterior screen turns off.
Open, it’s like a small tablet. At the top of the screen sit two front-facing cameras. The “bump” where the cameras are does cut off a small amount of the screen (though it only matters when you’re watching video in landscape, then you lose a corner).
The Fold did well in our testing, scoring high for performance and ease of use.
The bendable screen has led to a lot of worry from users about breakage. To test this, we added a folding machine to our durability testing which opened and closed the Fold 37,000 times. The phone came through with no problems.
We also conducted our usual shock-resistance test – aka “the tumble test” – where we drop a phone 100 times. A lot of phones fail this test before 50 drops, and the folded Fold was no exception. However, unfolded the phone passed, with our lab only noting “small dents and scratches at the edges”.
Hands on, the Fold feels very much like a first-generation device. It's bulky and a little cumbersome, though lighter than it looks. Newer versions will almost certainly be thinner and simpler to use. In the short time I had with it, the Fold easily handled multitasking and did everything I expected a top-of-the-line smartphone to do. It also costs over $3000 which means you have to be very committed to the gimmick to want to buy one.
Samsung isn’t alone in exploring the folding phone market (though so far it is the only company to release one in New Zealand). Each company making one has taken a different approach.
Huawei’s Mate X has a large foldable screen that wraps around the outside, with a thick edge on the back for its three cameras. This feels like a more logical setup without needing a third exterior screen.
Microsoft has yet to launch its new foldable phone, the Surface Duo. It will be out next year alongside the Surface Neo, a tablet/laptop with the same concept. The Duo’s screens don’t fold, but they come right up to the hinge to make it feel more like one big screen.
Motorola's relaunched Razr might be the most exciting device. Instead of a phone that folds out to a tablet, the new Razr is a regular phone that folds in half. It can still take photos and do other tasks while folded, making it attractive as a smaller device rather than a gigantic one.
Nokia has also released a “folding” phone. The Nokia Flip is a retro 2000s device. It’s a feature phone that doesn’t have all the capabilities of a smartphone, but has Google Maps, a voice assistant and Bluetooth.
It’s aimed at the budget-conscious and those who want a simpler phone, but the Flip was primarily designed for those with movement issues with their hands. Instead of fiddling with on-screen prompts, the phone can be answered by flipping it open.