Foldable Phones – What You Need to Know

February 22, 2019

11:45 am

The foldable phone race is officially on. With Samsung, one of the biggest smartphone manufacturers, putting its money where its mouth is and releasing a foldable phone this year, the mobile industry looks like it could be in for something of a shake up.

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold may not be the first folding phone, but it’s definitely fired the starting pistol. Still, it won’t have the field largely to itself for long – competitors are announcing their own devices that can offer flexible screens and innovative technology.

Should Samsung be worried? Maybe, though it can take confidence from making the biggest headlines so far. We take a look at what Apple, LG, Huawei and others are also cooking up.

Samsung Unveils the Galaxy Fold

Folding phone status: Confirmed

At the February 2019 Samsung event, the company gave the world a proper look at its Galaxy Fold, the world’s second (we’ll get to that in a minute) commercially available folding phone. Previously, Samsung had given a brief preview at a developers conference back in November 2018, though it was a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affair.

Now though, it’s official, and and the Samsung Galaxy Fold is coming to stores at the end of April 2019. It’s a neat little device,  with a 7.2-inch screen when open, making it practically a tablet in your pocket. It has two batteries (presumably to help power its two separate screens), huge 512GB storage and 12GB of Ram. If you think that sounds like the phone for you, check the price tag first – you won’t get much change out of $2,000.

You can read our Galaxy Fold write-up for more, but what is everyone else doing?

Royole – The First to Fold

Folding phone status: Confirmed

You might not have heard of Royole, but it holds an unlikely claim to fame in being the first manufacturer to make a commercially available folding phone. The Royole FlexPai managed to beat Samsung’s Galaxy Fold to the punch. Sadly, chances are it will simply be a footnote in the history of mobile phones, rather than a pioneer.


The reasons for this are two-fold, if you’ll pardon the pun. Firstly, Royole is hardly a household name, and second, now the Galaxy Fold has taken the spotlight off the FlexP, it will likely struggle to stay relevant. The second is that, well, the FlexPai doesn’t seem that good.

Early hands-on previews have not been kind, citing issues with the speed of the phone, and the fact that the screen’s hinge leaves an ugly bump on the display when laid flat. There have also been complaints about the price. Still, at $1,300, it’s significantly cheaper than the Galaxy Fold.

Apple – Pipped by Samsung?

Folding phone status: Unconfirmed

So, now that its main rival has a headline-grabbing mobile phone, what is Apple up to in the space? Well, the answer is ‘not much’. Publicly, Tim Cook’s gang have said little about it’s plans for a bendy screen. While there have been patents registered by the company that show off the possible applications of such a device, you’d be hard pushed to find a major mobile manufacturer who hasn’t done the same.

With criticisms that Apple’s designs have become stagnant and dull, and the recent downturn in profits for its mobile division (don’t worry, they’re still making a lot of cash), a folding phone could well be the shot in the arm that Apple needs. Apple has to innovate to keep up with Samsung. First, it may need to swallow its pride and follow the industry, rather than lead it.

Sony – Transparent and Rollable

Folding phone status: Unconfirmed

Sony phones may not have the broad appeal of Apple or Samsung, but that hasn’t stopped it exploring the potential of flexible phones. While the company has been tight-lipped so far, we have been offered some insight by our reliable friend, the patent office.

Sony is seemingly not content with the idea of a phone that simply folds up – it’s gone one step further. Its patent shows that Sony is also exploring the possibility of making the screen transparent, a tech double whammy. Whether or not this will ever see the day remains to be seen. It may even be a case of Sony protecting potential ideas, but it would certainly give Sony a unique product in the evolving folding phone market.

Xiaomi – A Folding Tease?

Folding phone status: Unconfirmed

This Chinese brand has been making waves in recent years, offering desirable Android devices at affordable prices, and managing to sidestep the controversy being levelled at its national competitor, Huawei.

Unlike some other brands, we know for sure that Xiaomi has a folding phone, because it’s shown it off. In a video released in January this year, Xiaomi CEO Bin Lin is seen playing with a concept phone that is able to fold at the sides. In the clip above, he watched a video on a larger screen, before pushing back the ‘wings’ of the display to make for a more compact version.

While the company clearly has the tech, Xiaomi has stated publicly that it has no plans to enter it into mass production, unless there is a demand from consumers. If it were to take the plunge, it may be able to offer something that other brands have failed to do so far – value for money.

Huawei – Joining the Party

Folding phone status: Confirmed

Huawei has barely been out of the news in the past year, with stories involving alleged international espionage that could come straight out of a James Bond film. We expect Huawei would rather be hitting the headlines for its products rather than its politics, and it looks like its next big phone release could well achieve that.

huawei-mate-x-3

Shown off at Mobile World Congress in February, we’ve now had our first look at the Huawei Mate X, the company’s answer to Samsung’s Fold. It’s a slightly different beast – the MateX’s screen is on the outside of the phone, and opens flat into one large 8-inch display. That’s certainly different to Samsung’s approach of a small screen on the outside and a larger one inside.

Huawei has also decided to make the Mate X 5G. While 5G coverage is currently rather limited in the US, it does futureproof the phone, as well as making it more desirable in countries where 5G is more widespread.

The phone’s cameras are housed in the clasp portion of the phone, meaning that the screen itself is unimpeded by a notch or hole. Under the hood, it’s packing some impressive specs, utilising the Kirin 980 chip of Huawei’s Mate 20 series, and 8GB of Ram. There’s also 512GB storage, which can be expanded thanks to Hauwei’s Nano Memory Card, a handy device that fits into a slot in the phone’s dual SIM port.

The Mate X is the most expensive folding phone to date, priced at 2,299 Euros, which is around $2,600.

Oppo – Prototype Revealed

Folding phone status: Confirmed

Not long after Huawei showed the world the Mate X, fellow Chinese mobile manufacture Oppo took to social media to show that it wasn’t missing the foldable phone craze. Posted from his Weibo account, Brian Shen, VP at the company, revealed Oppor’s folding prototype.

oppo-folding-phone

At first glance, it looks incredibly similar to the Huawei Mate X, even down to the clasp that holds the display closed. There’s no word on the internals of the device as yet. Shen stated that it wasn’t yet a consumer product, and that Oppo would wait for demand to rise before it began producing the phone on a commercial level.

With no video of the device – just some snaps of the product being used – we can’t even be sure that it’s even a working prototype at this stage. It may be just a mock up, but the fact that the company released the snaps straight after Huawei’s press event shows that Oppo is desperate not to be left in the dust.

LG – Waiting for Consumers

Folding phone status: Unconfirmed

LG has been showing off its flexible screen technology of late, mainly with its large OLED displays, which have been gaining lots of attention at electronic shows. Its 65-inch TV that can discretely fold away is particularly impressive.

This has led to speculation that it could be incorporating its display tech into a new line-up of phones, a rumour that the company itself fed when patents for a folding phone were uncovered.

However, it appears that even if LG is planning something, it’s holding those cards close to its chest. At a recent press conference, LG’s head of mobile communications, Kwon Bong-seok, had the following to say:

The market demand for smartphones is expected to be at around 1 million, but LG’s main issue in smartphone business is to regain its market position. Considering this situation, it is too early for LG to launch a foldable smartphone. In terms of technology, we are fully ready to respond depending on consumers’ reactions [to foldable smartphones].

Should You Buy a Foldable Phone?

The day may come when the only type of phone you’ll buy is foldable. The tech we’ve seen so far is definitely a glimpse into the imminent future, and a much-needed kick into gear for the smartphones market, which has been stalling of late with incremental upgrades that are far from revolutionary.

The more pertinent question is should you buy a foldable phone now? It rarely pays to be one of the earliest adopters of any tech. You’ll pay extra for the premium of being first, and you’ll miss out on the improvements that come with second and third iterations (and beyond).

If you have up to $2,000 to spare this year, you’ll probably be delighted to show off your Samsung Galaxy Fold. But, for most of us, it’ll be smarter to wait for foldable phone tech to become more common – and a lot cheaper.

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Jack is a senior writer at Tech.co with over a decade's experience researching and writing about consumer technology, from security and privacy to product reviews and tech news.