With Google betting on a foldable future for Android, it seems all phone manufacturers are getting these type of devices ready. Even Apple is reportedly looking into this form factor (though certainly not for 2019), which offers the convenience of extreme portability when folded and a larger screen whenever you need it.
Even with the delayed launch of the Galaxy Fold, foldable phones and the return of the slider phone will be the hottest trends for mobile devices this year. Here's a look at the flexible phones that have been announced so far, and what we could eventually see. And for all the other non-foldable handsets we're looking forward to this year, check out our list of our Most Anticipated Smartphones of 2019.
Update July 1: Samsung's DJ Koh says he pushed for the release of the Galaxy Fold before the device was ready to ship. There's still no new launch date for Samsung's foldable phone, with rumors swirling that the company has different designs in the works.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
After years where it seemed like a Samsung foldable phone was on the verge of being launched, Samsung was about to launch one toward the end of April. And then screens started breaking.
The Galaxy Fold was to have launched on April 26, with a starting price of $1,980. But that launch was put on hold, after some review units released by the company exhibited problems with the screen. The Galaxy Fold has also seen its share of lackluster reviews. Samsung mobile boss DJ Koh has called the Fold launch "embarrassing," and said in an interview that he pushed for the phone's release "before it was ready."
The Fold uses the Infinity Flex display Samsung introduced last November. When unfolded, the display expands to 7.3 inches. Samsung's App Continuity feature will let you resume using the app you had open on the folded-up 4.6-inch display in tablet mode. And multitasking supports lets you run three apps at once.
The batteries are split into two, one on each side, for a combined power pack of 4,380 mAh. The 7-nanometer processor powering the device is aided by 12GB of RAM. And the Galaxy Fold offers six cameras total — three on the back panel, two inside, and one up front.
In the buildup to the Galaxy Fold's release, some users noted that you can see a visible crease on the Fold's plastic display. (Samsung isn't alone in this regard; eagle-eyed viewers have cited similar issues in Mate X demo videos.) Some reviewers have downplayed the crease, noting that it's not that distracting. We think it's noticeable, especially when you're running apps with a light background, but it's not that prominent if you're looking at the screen head-on.
More problematic have been reports about problems with the screen. While two of the cases are being attributed to reviewers inadvertently removing the protecting layer from the Fold's screen, other devices have run into problems as well, ranging from a bulge in the display to part of the screen going blank. When announcing the delayed Fold launch, Samsung said some issues "could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge. There was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance."
We'd expect a more detailed explanation of what went wrong — and more importantly how Samsung fixed the issue — once a new release date is announced.
Samsung may be looking at other foldable phone designs, though, at least given a flurry of reports about the company's plans. One report suggests a design that folds outward like Huawei's Mate X (see below) and — more incredibly — that Samsung would try to beat Huawei to the market with that phone. Other reports suggest that a future version of the Galaxy Fold planned for 2020 will feature an 8-inch screen and a Galaxy Note-like S Pen or that Samsung will come out with a folding clamshell-style phone. Assorted patent filings indicate Samsung has other designs on the drawing board, from a phone that folds in two places to a device that can bend its way around your arm. These are just patents so they may never result in shipping products — and likely won't in 2019 — but it shows just how serious Samsung is about folding devices.
Pre-orders for the Fold began April 12, but customers who pre-oredered the device at both Best Buy and AT&T have seen their pre-orders get cancelled. Samsung gave its customers until May 31 to confirm they still wanted to get the phone. (T-Mobile will offer the phone, too, once it ships.)
Huawei Mate X
Huawei's folding phone has surfaced, and at €2,299, the Mate X is not going to come cheaply. And it's going to show up later than originally promised.
Still, you get a lot for your money if you splash out for this folding phone. Unfolded, the Mate X acts as an 8-inch tablet. But fold the device, and you've got two screens — a front-facing 6.6-inch screen augmented by a 6.4-inch panel on back. That screen can double as a mirror when you take a photo of someone using the Mate X's camera. (Huawei is keeping mum on the camera specs at this point.) The folded Mate X is just 11mm thin — there's no gap between the screens — so it should fit easily into a pocket.
The Mate X packs plenty of power with a Kirin 980 processor and a Balong 5000 modem that lets this device connect to 5G networks. A pair of batteries combine to offer 4,500 mAh of battery life to keep the massive screens powered up.
Huawei had been aiming to launch its phone in June, but now plans to push back that release until September. The reason, a Huawei spokesperson told CNBC, was to do more testing to avoid the troubles that plagued the Galaxy Fold's aborted rollout. "We don’t want to launch a product to destroy our reputation,” Huawei's spokesperson told CNBC.
It's also worth noting that Huawei finds itself in the crosshairs of the Trump administration, which has barred U.S. companies from buying telecom equipment from Huawei while the U.S. Department of Commerce is forbidding U.S. companies from offering hardware and software to Huawei without permission. Huawei says that shouldn't impact its ability to produce the Mate X, though we'd be surprised if Huawei sold its foldable phone in the U.S.
The world’s first foldable phone already debuted last November. It isn’t as polished as Huawei or Samsung’s but, hey, the little Chinese David beat the two Goliaths to be first to market. Called the FlexPai, it has a 7.8-inch AMOLED screen with a 1920 x 1440 resolution and measures 7.5 x 5.3 x 0.3 inches.
The Snapdragon 855-powered Flexpai has two cameras rated at 16 and 20 megapixels, and comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in its $1,318 base model. While Royole says it sold out the first batch of FlexPai phones, it's continuing to take orders on its website, suggesting that the company plans to make additional models. Be prepared to wait up to 90 days for your order to ship, Royole warns.
We had a chance to go hands-on with the FlexPai during CES, and it's a more polished experience than initial videos of the phone might have you believe. Folding the FlexPai is relatively fluid, and you can use the phone in full-screen, phone-sized and tent modes. The device also doesn't feel that heavy. Still, the FlexPai felt a little unfinished, like it had been rushed to market to beat the bigger players. We hope to eventually test out the cameras and see how this phone holds up to everyday use.
The brand now owned by Lenovo may resuscitate its legendary RAZR model in the form of a foldable phone, at least judging from US Patent and Trademark Office patents found by Dutch tech blog Mobielkopen and confirmed by a January report in the Wall Street Journal.
According to TechRadar, Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing said that foldable screens may be the key to reintroduce the RAZR, a really compact flip phone that expands into a full screen similar to the 6.5-inch phones we have today.
“With the new technology, especially folding screens, I think you will see more and more innovation in our smartphone design," he told TechRadar. "so hopefully what you just described [the RAZR] will be developed or realized very soon." Patents spotted on the World Intellectual Property Office database seem to back that approach up. A firm named Yanko Design followed weeks later with a mockup, seen below, based on sketches filed in those patents.
Motorola essentially confirmed it will come out with a foldable phone in an interview with Engadget. Motorola has "no intention of coming later than everybody else in the market," Motorola vice president of global product Dan Dery said.
New renders of the Motorola Razr have since emerged, showing the phone alongside some packaging. And one Razr concept video proved so convincing, executives from Motorola parent company Lenovo apparently used it in a meeting with tech reporters in China.
Xiaomi's folding phone has gone from prototype to a more polished promotional video that emphasizes what an eye-catching design Xiaomi is working on. It's a double-folding phone where the top and bottom of the tablet-sized screen fold down, leaving you with a compact (if chunky) smartphone.
The latest video, posted to Weibo, shows us what the phone will look like when it folds and how it will work when unfolded. Xiaomi's effort could be called the Xiaomi Dual Flex or Xiaomi MIX Flex, and it's unclear when it will available.
There have been rumblings about Oppo's foldable phone plans, first uncovered by Mobielkopen in the form of patent filings. And now the Chinese phone maker has come out and said that it's ready to build a folding phone — if there's enough interest.
While there are few details about specs for this device, Oppo vice president of Chinese sales and marketing Brian Shen took to Weibo to post photos of a foldable prototype. Like Huawei's Mate X, Oppo's take on a foldable phone has the screen wrap around the outside of the fold, leaving you with two screens on either side of the device when it's folded up.
In his post, Shen said the foldable phone could enter mass production if Oppo sees enough customer demand.
That had been all we heard of Oppo's foldable phone plans until recent reports of an Oppo patent covering a foldable phone with a pop-up camera. That approach could potentially solve one of the design flaws with foldable phones like the Mate X — where to put the phone's camera. As of early June, it's still unclear if Oppo is going to proceed with this — or any — foldable phone design.
The 2017 Axon M was more flop than foldable, thanks to a dual-screen design that reminds me of the LG patent. But that’s not the end of the line for ZTE. In an interview, ZTE Marketing VP Jeff Yee said that they will get “something that’s truly bendable.”
ZTE has filed patents not just for a phone that folds in in itself, but also a phone with a wrap-around display. While drawings reveal the general design of each, their size, price, and development progress is not yet known.
Mobile World Congress came and went this year without an LG foldable phone, as had been rumored. Instead, the company showed off the new LG G8 ThinQ and 5G-ready LG V50 ThinQ phones, right after LG president Kwon Bong-seok, told the Korea Times that it's premature to come out with a folding device. "We have reviewed releasing the foldable smartphone when launching 5G smartphone but decided not to produce it," the LG executive said. Instead, the company is focusing on its 5G device for now.
LG is experimenting with a second screen, but it's not quite the folding display that other phone makers have developed. When it unveiled the LG V50, the company also showed off an add-on called the Dual Display that clips on to LG's new phone, adding a second 6.2-inch panel. The display lets you run two apps at once and it's consistent with an LG patent discovered earlier by Letsgodigital.
The Dual Display add-on won't be coming to the U.S. LG hasn't announced pricing.
Still, let's not assume LG has given up on a foldable device entirely, especially after IP Park, chief technology officer and president of LG Electronics, told us at CES that his company was working on both rollable and foldable phones. And recent trademark filings suggest that LG is at the very least lining up potential names for a rollable device.
In a filing with the European Union Intellectual Property Office, LG has applied to register three brand names: Flex, Foldi, and Duplex. The latter may refer to the dual-screen phone. Flex is already in use in of LG’s curved phone, the G Flex 2. It seems logical to think that Foldi may refer to a foldable screen phone.
There’s also another patent — filed on November 20, 2018 — that shows this strange foldable by LG:
Sony Xperia F
This one's far from official, surfacing only on Chinese site CNMO, so take it with as many grains of salt as you prefer. But Sony is apparently working on a foldable phone of its own, reportedly called the Xperia F.
Details are pretty scarce. The phone will reportedly feature an ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio and won't be ready for prime time until 2020. At least there's already a concept video, though.
It would certainly make sense for Sony to try something to liven up its smartphone business, especially with Xperia line failing to make much of a splash, particularly in the U.S. And 2020 could be the right time to jump in with a foldable phone, given the problems some of the early entrants are having. Still, until more details emerge — let alone a confirmation that Sony is even interested such a phone — we'd hold off on planning for the Xperia F release.
We're doubtlessly going to hear from other device makers about foldable phone plans, especially if the Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X prove to be popular once they ship. For now, though, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with concept designs.
One of the more interesting efforts comes from Sharp and features a candy-bar shaped design that folds in two. Interestingly, Sharp's phone leaves some of the screen exposed when folded, presumably so that you can check the time, see incoming calls and read notifications. Dutch blog Let's Go Digital used Sharp's patent filings to sketch out what such a device would look like.
Google has patents of its own for a phone that folds in two and three places. That, plus Google's work on a version of Android that supports devices with flexible screens, has fueled speculation that we could one day see a foldable Pixel.
And finally, there’s Apple. The Cupertino company is not talking about its foldable plans at all, but there’s no doubt they are working on exploring different designs, as shown by a series of patents covering everything from hinged designs to phones that have multiple folds.
Most likely, Tim Cook and Jony Ive will wait until Google, Samsung, Huawei, and company iron out all the many technological kinks. But perhaps, if the format takes off as these companies and the Westworld scriptwriters think it will, Apple may be left behind in the Next Big Thing.