The big new smartphone design trend for 2019 is the folding screen. As phone displays get ever larger, with some now bordering on tablet dimensions, the folding panel takes things back a step by allowing a phone to bend in the middle and therefore be both normal sized phone and tablet.
The first we saw was from Royole in the FlexPai, which was rushed out for January’s CES show in an effort to be the first to launch. ‘Fun but flawed’ was our initial impression, with the overall feeling that the tech is impressive but not quite there yet.
Of course, Royole was not a brand that had crossed our path prior to the launch of the FlexPai, so we have much higher expectations for some of the industry’s biggest names – these guys have been working on their foldable designs for many years now.
At February’s MWC 2019 we saw finished foldable designs from Samsung, Huawei, while TCL showed us a prototype and Motorola all but confirmed it was also working on such a device. LG’s foldable phone is all a bit up in the air, though its new V50 does support a second display which is half-way there, sort of.
And then there’s Apple with the possibility of a foldable iPhone. Will it, won’t it? Read more below.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
There’s a 4.6in HD+ Super AMOLED screen on the outside of the device, which can be unfolded to reveal a larger 7.3in QXGA+ Dynamic AMOLED display that can display three apps at once. The exterior screen is not usable in this position, but App Continuity allows you to continue what you were doing on the smaller screen on the larger display.
Galaxy Fold has a total of six cameras, with three (16Mp + 12Mp + 12Mp) on the back, two inside (10Mp + 8Mp) and one (10Mp) on the front in its folded position.
The new Samsung phone features 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and a fast 7nm 64-bit octa-core processor. The battery is rated at 4,380mAh.
The phone uses a new custom operating system called One UI, which is much more simplified than what we are used to seeing on Samsung devices, and optimised for one-handed use.
Huawei Mate X
Huawei may well have outdone Samsung just four days after Unpacked when it announced the Mate X at MWC 2019. It folds the opposite way to the Galaxy Fold and has a more expansive near bezel-less display.
Unfolded it’s 8in but fold it outwards and that one display becomes a front display of 6.6in and a rear one of 6.38in. It’s pretty special at this stage, and the most ready-for-market foldable at the time of writing.
The software is as yet unproven, and at €2,299 it is mightily expensive but just look at it. It goes on sale midway through 2019.
The Huawei Mate X will be when of the first 5G phones when it arrives.
At MWC 2019 TCL and sister company CSOT showed off a foldable phone prototype using its patented DragonHinge tech. We saw them behind glass and they are a compact take on foldables that are less flashy than Huawei or Samsung’s.
This is because TCL is, it says, dedicated to making these phones more affordable than rivals at around the $1,000 mark. Because of this, don’t expect to see one on sale until at least 2020.
We’re also not sure if these phones will be TCL branded or be licensed to TCL’s brands like BlackBerry or Alcatel. Yes, you could have a foldable BlackBerry in 2020. We love tech.
Xiaomi Foldable Phone
Xiaomi president Lin Bin earlier this year posted a video to Weibo that shows him using a Xiaomi folding device running MIUI software.
The phone in the video is revealed to have two folds, which allows a quarter of the display at either end to be folded back and wrapped around the device. The screen appears to remain active when folded.
Xiaomi reportedly told LetsGoDigital: “The double folding phone is the latest innovation by Xiaomi. One of the key components of the phone, the flexible folding screen, is co-developed by Xiaomi and its supply chain partner. Aside from the screen, its design, folding mechanism and MIUI adaptation are independently developed by us.
“Xiaomi is first in the world to present a double folding smartphone and has conquered the technical challenges posed in its three different form factors – double folded, single folded, and tablet form. Prior to finding the best solution, Xiaomi has conducted extensive research and experiments to develop a robust folding mechanism that will allow the flexible screen to withstand mechanical stress.”
Korean outlet ETNews also reports that Xiaomi – and another Chinese brand, Oppo – are working with suppliers to obtain the necessary components for production of foldable devices.
Sources suggest the Xiaomi foldable phone might materialise in the second half of the year, perhaps with the name ‘Xiaomi Mix Flex’. It’s probably too early to learn more about the upcoming Xiaomi foldable phone at its MWC press conference on 24 February.
Motorola Foldable Phone
The WSJ reports that the iconic Motorola Razr flip phone will return as a foldable phone in 2019 – with a sky-high $1,500 price.
Apparently Motorola owner Lenovo is partnering with Verizon on the device, which it says could be available as early as February 2019 (which obviously hasn’t happened yet). It hopes to make 200,000 foldable Razr phones.
Renders (shown above) of such a device point to it adopting a similar shape and format to the original Razr, but replacing the former physical keyboard with more screen. Of course these are merely concepts, and nothing is yet known about the final spec of the new Razr phone.
At MWC 2019 Motorola vice president and general manager Anthony Barounas all but confirmed that a foldable Motorola device was in the works during a press briefing.
“If you go around the stores today, for me the phones all look the same. It’s difficult to see if it’s a Motorola. How we differentiate to the consumer, show them something really different, that’s where foldables comes in. And that’s where Motorola also has a very big investment. I can’t say much but we have one franchise that will have a very big impact there,” he said.
LG Foldable Phone
Despite rumours that LG would announce its foldable phone at MWC 2019, the company is now expected to hold off until at least 2020.
Brian Kwon, who now runs the company’s smartphone business, told journalists at a Seoul press conference in February that LG has “reviewed releasing the foldable smartphone when launching [its] 5G smartphone but decided not to produce it”.
According to the Korean Times, LG believes it is too soon for it to launch a foldable phone, and must instead focus on regaining its market position.
Apple Foldable iPhone
Amidst all this talk of foldable phones it’s only natural that people would turn their attention to Apple: will there be a foldable iPhone?
In truth there is no hard evidence to suggest Apple is working on such a device, and history tells us it will probably hold off longer than other phone makers to see whether this is a trend that will stick.
But Apple does have patents alluding to a foldable iPhone, and in the past it has allegedly put in orders for foldable screens with LG.
Plus there’s the fact that the many concept images of such a device already circulating point to genuine interest from consumers (that shown here was made by Dutch industrial designer Roy Gilsing for Foldable Phone News).