2019 will be the year of foldable smartphones. But what do you really have on such a flexible screen, and when can you buy a foldable smartphone? The five most important questions answered.
Foldable smartphones explained: everything you need to know
Rumors about folding devices have been buzzing around for years: Android Planet wrote about it for the first time in 2014 (!). Despite all sorts of false starts, it seems to finally come in 2019. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, all sorts of foldable smartphones and prototypes will be shown this week, and almost all major manufacturers are working on it.
1. What do I have about a folding smartphone?
The era of the ‘modern’ smartphone started about twelve years ago, with the introduction of the first iPhone. Since then, the form factor of mobile phones has hardly changed. The screens have become larger, the edges thinner, but it is still no more than a rectangle with a screen.
That while we have started to do more and more with our smartphones. Mobile phones are no longer available for calls. We use them throughout the day for entertainment, with movies and games. Some people have enough of a mobile phone to do all their work. Browsing on the internet is also increasingly happening only with smartphones. The smartphone replaces more and more devices in your home, from the computer to the remote control to the game console. But the form factor has not changed in all this time.
That brings problems with it. For all those extra functions it is actually so useful to have a large screen. That’s better for movies and games, and easier to type when you’re working. But now it is almost impossible to find another device with a screen smaller than 5.5 inches. Also, larger and larger batteries are needed to drive all that power, but consumers also complain if their device is too thick.
Foldable smartphones can solve many of these problems. On the way you have a small screen, at home on the couch you enjoy games on a larger screen. And with a larger surface, there is also more room for a large battery. In theory, you will soon have a device with a larger screen and larger battery, which still fits in your pocket.
2. How does a foldable smartphone work?
Most prototypes of foldable smartphones are still a bit thick, because there is a big hinge between the different parts of the image. However, the expectation is that the aircraft will become increasingly thinner. You should actually see the device as a smartphone and tablet in one. When closed it is a small smartphone screen, everything is exactly the same, but the image is simply a bit bigger.
A screen is of course only the beginning of a smartphone. For a foldable device, a flexible approach must also be devised for all other components. All parts on the inside, from the battery to the camera to the chipset, are not foldable. That’s why manufacturers have to think smart about where they place the parts.
They are spread over the non-flexible parts of the inside, with cables in the flexible part to find everything together. The other components are for the time being the major limiting factor in the design. Foldable smartphones are still available for manufacturers, but roll-up devices are not there until someone can invent a flexible battery.
In addition, of course, adjustments have to be made to the software. The next version of Android has better support for ‘screen continuity’, Google has already announced . That means that the software understands which part of the screen is folded away. If you fold away one part, the app will be moved completely to the other part. We will probably hear more about it when Google presents Android Q, sometime later this spring.
3. Which foldable smartphones are there?
At the time of writing, only one real folding smartphone has been announced: the Royole Flexpai . This unknown Chinese manufacturer was the first to present a foldable smartphone in October, and has already demonstrated the device at various fairs.
In fact: via the Royole web store you can already buy the device. There are a few hooks and eyes to it: he costs 1400 euros, the delivery is 1-2 months and it is a developer version that may have some cures. The foldability is good, but the Flexpai is pretty clumsy: it weighs twice as much as the competition and is folded almost three times as thick. Only recommended if you necessarily want to be the first, so.
Especially because established names Royole are on the heels. Samsung showed in November 2018 a prototype of a foldable smartphone. The expectation is that the company will come up with a collapsible version of the Galaxy S10 this spring. Also from the Huawei P30 is probably a foldable model in the making.
In Xiaomi Motorola, LG and Oppo a folding smartphone would also be in development, but it is still unclear when they appear. Often it is only about leaked prototypes and patents, but the question is whether they are really released.
4. When can I buy a folding smartphone?
Probably fast, but there are still some hooks and eyes. If we can believe sources, the foldable smartphones from Samsung and Huawei are in shops before the summer. However, it is probably very limited numbers with quite high prices.
We do not know the exact prices and availability of these models, but we count on a substantial surcharge. To illustrate: the ordinary Samsung Galaxy S10 probably costs about 800 to 900 euros, while the foldable model soon becomes at least twice as expensive. And although you will soon find the Galaxy S10 in almost all Dutch electronics stores, the question is whether the foldable Samsung will appear outside South Korea at home.
With Huawei it is probably the same story. The manufacturer is more often at the forefront of new technology, but first releases it in a very limited edition. At the start of 2018, the Huawei Porsche Design Mate RS one of the first smartphones with a fingerprint scanner appeared in the screen. Not available in the Netherlands, and costing no less than 1700 euros. A collapsible ‘Porsche Design’ smartphone from Huawei probably follows the same example.
5. Is it smart to buy a foldable smartphone now?
Even if you can scrape the money together to buy a foldable smartphone, it is not advisable for the time being. With this kind of new technology, it is very rare to be the first to be there. You pay the most, but get a first, questionable version.
As it now looks, the first foldable smartphones become relatively thick and heavy. They are also equipped with software that does not make optimal use of the new screen type. Moreover, no one has yet been able to do an endurance test. Manufacturers claim that such a foldable screen lasts for years, but the circumstances with tests in a laboratory are completely different from everyday life.
It should be noted, of course: we have not yet seen what kind of foldable smartphones Huawei, Samsung and others will present in the coming months. Let’s hope that the teething problems are already gone, and they clearly rise above the prototype stage.