Foldable phones are finally making their presence felt in the smartphone world after some notable false starts last year. In February alone, two foldable devices have hit store shelves — Motorola's reimagined Razr and the Galaxy Z Flip. And we have the feeling that more will come throughout the year.
In fact, everything seems to be folding these days. Lenovo now has a foldable PC, the $2,499 ThinkPad X1, while LG wowed crowds at this year's CES with both a roll-down OLED TV and a model that bends.
But foldable phones got here first, and more are scheduled to join their ranks in 2020 and beyond (including, possibly, a rumored device from Apple). It's a new form factor that promises the convenience of extreme portability when shut and a larger screen whenever you need to get things done.
- Most anticipated phones
- Galaxy Z Flip vs. Galaxy Fold: Compare the Samsung foldable phones
- PLUS: Foldable iPhone design is a marriage of Galaxy Z Flip, iPad
The appeal of foldable phones is clear: you get the productivity-boosting powers of a big screen that can fold up for maximum portability. But the risks are apparent, too — look at the delayed launches of both the Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X last year, as Samsung and Huawei struggled to make sure their first foldable devices were durable enough to survive the rigors of everyday use.
That seems to be changing now that phone makers are rolling out the next wave of foldable phones. Take the Galaxy Z Flip, which just hit stores. Samsung's $1,380 foldable uses ultra-thin glass that feels stronger than plastic, and incorporates a free stop hinge.
Here's a look at the flexible phones that have been announced so far, and what we could eventually see.
Foldable phones you can buy right now
- Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
- Motorola Razr
- Samsung Galaxy Fold
- Royole FlexPai
- Huawei Mate X (China only)
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
The Galaxy Z Flip is Samsung's second attempt to make a foldable phone after last year's Galaxy Fold — more on that phone's bumpy journey in a moment. The Z Flip uses a very different form factor than the Fold, drawing on the flip phones of yesterday (and possibly Motorola's foldable Razr) for inspiration. The Z Flip flips open to reveal a 6.7-inch display.
We're still working on our Galaxy Z Flip review, and factory shutdowns due to the coronavirus mean that Samsung's foldable phone will be hard to come by for a while. But spending some time with the Galaxy Z Flip has revealed some noteworthy differences with the foldable phones that came before it.
Start with that display, which features an ultra-thin layer of glass, making the Z Flip feel more polished that similar devices. ("Polished" applies to the outside of the phone, too, since the mirrored casing picks up a lot of fingerprints.) The flip phone design also makes it easier to slip the Galaxy Z Flip into a pocket, something the Galaxy Fold couldn't claim.
On the outside of the Galaxy Z Flip, you've got a 1.1-inch display that's big enough to show the time and notifications of incoming calls or message; it also doubles as a view finder if you want to take a selfie without opening the phone. Otherwise, the Galaxy Z Flip has a pair of external lenses and a front-facing selfie cam in a punch-hole cutout on the phone's interior display.
Because of the hinge Samsung uses, the Z Flip opens at any angle. Position the screen at a 90-degree angle for something called Flex Mode where the top screen serves as a viewing area and the bottom features touch controls. The Z Flip also lets you run two apps at once on either half of the display.
Samsung didn't skim on the processor, as the Galaxy Z Flip uses a Snapdragon 855 Plus system-on-chip, so its performance matches last year's leading Android flagships based on our Galaxy Z Flip benchmarks. Even with all these features, the Z Flip costs $1,380 — still expensive relative to other phones, but $600 less than the Galaxy Fold's debut price.
Galaxy Z Flip: Available in limited quantities, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip features a flip phone design and powerful specs. While cheaper than other foldables, you'll still pay $1,380 for this device.View Deal
The iconic Razr has returned for its second act — and this time, the 2020 Motorola Razr is a foldable smartphone. Motorola has shoehorned a 6.2-inch flexible OLED panel into a body similar in proportions to its classic clamshell, complete with a secondary display on the outside for quickly responding to notifications and snapping selfies without opening the device. (Here's a closer look at how the 2020 Motorola Razr compares to the original.)
Motorola and Lenovo developed 26 prototypes over a period of four years before settling on the final design of the Razr’s foldable screen and hinge. They claim the new Razr won’t be tarnished by the same fragility that soured the Galaxy Fold’s highly-anticipated launch. In fact, the Razr’s hinge feels so strong and sturdy, it makes the device somewhat tough to flip open with your thumb alone.
Because most of Motorola’s attention has seemingly gone into making the Razr durable, the handset is decidedly less impressive in terms of specs. Inside beats a Snapdragon 710 chipset, not the best-in-class 855 silicon that powers most flagship models. Additionally, the phone’s single 16-megapixel external camera certainly didn't rival Apple’s or Google’s imaging prowess in our Motorola Razr review.
Neither of these faults might be particularly egregious if the new Razr didn’t cost $1,500. Sure, that’s a couple hundred cheaper than the $1,980 Galaxy Fold, but there’s a certain standard of performance you expect when spending quadruple digits on a handset, and the Razr bucks that trend.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
Before the Galaxy Z Flip, there was the Galaxy Fold. Although for a good stretch of 2019, it seemed like that wasn't going to be the case.
Samsung planned to launch the $1,980 Galaxy Fold at the end of April 2019, but that launch was put on hold, after some review units released by the company exhibited problems with the screen. The Galaxy Fold had also seen its share of lackluster reviews based on that pre-release unit. Samsung mobile boss DJ Koh called the Fold launch "embarrassing," and said in an interview that he pushed for the phone's release "before it was ready."
Two big problems popped with the Fold's screen. Some reviewers removed a protective layer that needed to remain in place. In another case, some debris got between the Fold's hinge and its display, rendering the screen inoperable.
Samsung says it addressed those issues in advance of the rescheduled September launch. The protective layer now extends past the bezel, which Samsung expects will prevent people from trying to remove it. Protective caps have been added to the hinge's ends, and there's less space between the hinge and the phone's body in the revamped design.
The Fold uses the Infinity Flex display Samsung introduced in 2018. When unfolded, the display expands to 7.3 inches. Samsung's App Continuity feature lets 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 Fold lasted a little more than 10 hours on our battery test, which we ran using the device's 7.3-inch screen.) 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.
The end result: The Galaxy Fold certainly ushered in an innovative design, but the finished product still feels a little impractical for every day use.
You can get the Galaxy Fold through Samsung, Best Buy and AT&T. We'd recommend the unlocked route, as the AT&T version comes with a lot of preinstalled bloatware.
The arrival of the Z Flip doesn't mean that Samsung is done with the Fold. One rumor suggests a sequel is in the works, with a future version of the Galaxy Fold planned for this year and featuring an 8-inch screen and a Galaxy Note-like S Pen.
Huawei Mate X
The Huawei Mate X impressed us when it debuted at Mobile World Congress 2019, thanks to a unique design that gave the phone active displays on its front and back. But extend those two screens on its "falcon-wing" hinge, and you had an 8-inch tablet that looked a lot more impressive than what the Galaxy Fold had to offer. That bar also housed the Mate X's three cameras — a really innovative design in the world of foldable phones.
Only one problem with the Mate X: Huawei pushed back the launch and then restricted the device's release to China. The device that did ship was very expensive, at 16,999 yuan (roughly $2,400), and it didn't integrate 5G connectivity.
Huawei's gone back to the drawing board with a successor, the Mate Xs. The design looks the same with 6.6-inch front and 6.4-inch rear folding together to create a tablet-like work space. Inside, the Mate Xs now runs on a Kirin 990 processor, which comes with a built-in modem. Huawei expects the new Mate to be sold worldwide, though that likely doesn't include the U.S., where the Chinese phone maker is considered persona non grata by the U.S. government. That also means the Mate Xs won't feature any Google apps, too.
Still, the Mate Xs will give other people around the world another foldable option, and we're looking forward to finding out how its performance measures up to more widely available foldable devices.
The world’s first foldable phone already debuted more than a year ago. 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 developer model. (There's a consumer version of the FlexPai, but it's only being sold in China.) Royole quickly sold out the first batch of FlexPai phones, and you've got to contact the company directly to ask about availability for the second-generation developer model that promises an improved display.
We had a chance to go hands-on with the original FlexPai during CES 2019, 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.
Microsoft Surface Duo
Microsoft is getting into the foldable phone market as well — eventually. At an October 2019 product event to show off new Surface laptops, the company also previewed the Surface Duo. It's a smartphone running Android — yes, Android and not Windows — that features a pair of 5.6-inch displays. You'll be able to flip around the screens, which can rotate 360 degrees, to use the device either as a phone or tablet.
When the screens are side by side, you'll be able to perform up to tasks at once, stretch one app across both screens, or use the second screen as a keyboard. Microsoft promises a slim design, which would give the Surface Duo an edge over bulkier foldables like the Galaxy Fold.
You're in for a long wait with the Surface Duo, though. Microsoft isn't planning to release the dual-screen phone until the 2020 holidays, and it hasn't yet announced a price.
The Surface Duo is just one dual-screen device Microsoft has in the works. It's also developing the Surface Neo, which features a pair of 9-inch screens and a 360-degree hinge. It runs Windows 10X as its operating system. Like the Surface Duo, the Neo ships late next year for an undisclosed price.
LG was rumored to be working on a foldable phone to debut at Mobile World Congress 2019, but last year's trade show came and went without any such revelation. 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 devices, including the newly announced LG V60 ThinQ.
That's not to say that LG has given up on second screens, though its take on the design is a little different from the folding displays other phone makers are pushing out. In November, LG released the $699 G8X ThinQ Dual Screen, a modular smartphone that lets you pop in a second 6.4-inch OLED panel which is housed in a wraparound smartphone cover. The Dual Screen case works remarkably well for running different apps in parallel, though unlike a true foldable display, it's not ideal for expanding a single app to tablet-like proportions. The V60 also has a dual screen option.
Let's not assume the G8X ThinQ or the V60 will be the final word for LG and foldable phones, especially after IP Park, chief technology officer and president of LG Electronics, told us in 2019 that his company was working on both rollable and foldable devices. And 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.
You may think of TCL primarily for its TV sets, but the company makes phones, too, usually under other brand names like Alcatel and BlackBerry. That's been changing in the past year, with phones carrying the TCL name arriving in the U.S. this spring. Also in the works is a foldable phone from TCL. We just don't know definitively what it will look like.
TCL has given us a pretty good idea by showing off a foldable phone prototype at CES 2020. That version is a wallet-sized device that unfolds to reveal a 7.2-inch AMOLED (2048 x 1536) panel. It looked pretty polished when we saw it, but TCL also told us that it's just one of 30 to 40 different designs under development; it just happens to be the furthest along.
We've now seen other TCL designs for foldable phones, including one tri-fold model plus a rollable phone concept that does away with the wrinkles and creases we've seen on foldable phones so far.
TCL's concept uses flexible AMOLED display technology to create an extendable smartphone that's 9mm thin. A motor drives the sliding panel, similar to how LG's OLED TV R9 works. There's a camera array on the backside of TCL's phone, which functions as the device's spine and lets you use the cameras whether you're in phone or tablet mode. Because this is still a concept, there's no price or release date announced.
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.
A more recent 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 last year 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 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. 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.
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, especially since we've heard nothing from Sony about its foldable phone plans. But Sony is reportedly 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 sometime this year. 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 went through last year. 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 . 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 the fact that Android 10 has introduced native support for flexible screens, has fueled speculation that we could one day see a foldable Pixel.
What about Apple?
And finally, there’s Apple. The Cupertino company is not talking about its foldable plans at all, especially not after releasing a trio of new iPhones last September. 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. Concept designers certainly haven't been shy about sharing possible designs for a folding iPhone.
Most likely, Tim Cook and company 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.