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7 Highlights of Foldable Smartphones: A Brief History of Foldable Design

Foldables: either the future of mobile or a very expensive fad consumer product.


Foldable smartphones haven't been on the market for long. As anyone who's followed their trajectory so far knows, it's been a rocky ride, mainly thanks to the Samsung Galaxy's pretty disastrous launch.

Since then, other big companies have released their own versions, interesting patent filings have been discovered by enterprising journalists, and Samsung has released the spiritual successor to the Samsung Galaxy; the much more robust-looking Galaxy Z Flip.

Here are some of the notable foldables, as well as concepts for foldables, that have been released so far.


1. Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

"Its design doesn't follow the rules, it breaks them," Samsung's introductory video to the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip says. Thankfully, its latest foldable smartphone, recently unveiled at Samsung's special event, looks a little sturdier than the Galaxy Fold.

Though a crease is clearly visible in the Galaxy Z Flip, its 6.7-inch display folds comfortably into a pocket-sized device that harks back to classic clamshell-style phones from the 90s.
Source: Samsung

Perhaps the most important improvement over the Galaxy Fold is the Galaxy Z Flip's price point. The Galaxy Z Flip is priced at $1,380 — still steep, but more reasonable than the Galaxy Fold's $2,000 price.

Then there's the durability of the device itself. This time the device's screen is covered in glass, making it feel like less of a magnet for scratches than the Galaxy Fold. The Galaxy Z Flip's sturdiness and specs, compared to other foldables, makes us think that there might be something in foldable smartwatches after all.

2. Royole FlexPai

Officially launched on October 31st, 2018, the Royole FlexPai will go down in history as the world's first commercially available foldable smartphone — though history's yet to decide whether that's a good or a bad thing.

Royole, a leader in foldable screen technology, ambitiously took on the big names like Samsung with its FlexPai release.
Source: Interesting Engineering

The smartphone/tablet hybrid uses Royole’s 2nd generation Cicada Wing flexible displays, allowing it to bend freely from 0 to 180 degrees. Its cameras include a 20-megapixel telephoto lens and a 16-megapixel wide-angle lens.

The FlexPai 2 was set to be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress. As that has now been called off, Royole has moved its unveiling forward.

3. Samsung Galaxy Fold

The Galaxy Fold was always going to be a prototype of sorts, being the first foldable smartphone released by Samsung. However, at $2,000, seeing big issues right out of the box was an incredibly hard pill to swallow for consumers.

Even after the foldable smartphone's second launch, after delays and reports of easy breakages, reviews focused on the Galaxy Fold's poor durability. With the release of the Galaxy Z Flip, Wired UK notably said that the new phone should have been Samsung's first foldable.
Source: Samsung

The Galaxy Fold features a 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display on the inside, a 4.6-inch display when folded. It also comes with 6 cameras and 2 batteries, one on either side of the fold, totaling 4,380mAh.

The device has a QXGA+ (4.2:3) resolution when used as a tablet, and an HD+ (12:9) resolution when it's folded as into smartphone size.

4. Huawei Mate X

Unveiled and exhibited at last year's Mobile World Congress right next to Samsung's booth where they were showing the Galaxy Fold, the Huawei Mate X is an impressive foldable smartphone in its own right.
Source: Huawei

Priced at $2,600 (€2,299), has a 6.6-inch front screen and a 6.38-inch back screen. When unfolded it opens up into an 8-inch display. The smartphone also has 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. 

At its unveiling, Huawei highlighted the fact that the phone is "ultra-slim" and "ultra-compact" "opening to just 5.4mm thick and folding to a slimline 11mm."

5. Motorola Razr

Originally touted as a phone to show the true potential of foldable smartphones, reviews focused on the fact that its specs, most notably its battery life, just aren't up to standard.

Based on the old classic clamshell-style Razr flip phone, the new foldable Motorola Razr has a 6.2-inch pOLED screen with a 2142x876 display.
Source: Sarang Sheth for Yanko Design

Priced at $1,499, the Razr also comes with a 2.7-inch glass-covered OLED display on the outside of the phone that allows users to respond to messages without even unfolding the phone.

While it may not have lived up to expectations, it is notable for being the first commercially available foldable smartphone with a clamshell design.

6. Oppo Smartwatch concept

While this design is only a concept seen in a patent filing, it might show an impressive new direction for foldable tech; the foldable smartwatch.

The design concept, patented by Oppo and founded by LetsGoDigital, indicates that the company might want to take on Samsung and Apple with its ambitious design.
Source: LetsGoDigital

The concept includes a rollable display that can expand the screen's length without making it wider. While Oppo's new design probably won't be commercially released any time soon, it does give an indication as to the different creative directions foldables can take.

7. Samsung Z-shape foldable concept

Much like the Oppo design above, this concept was presented in a patent that's available to see on LetsGoDigital, the company that created the renders shown below.

The concept, which might never be released commercially, allows a smartphone to fold into a Z shape. In other words, it's a Galaxy Fold with an extra fold. Based on the Galaxy Fold's durability, that's probably not a good thing.
Source: LetsGoDigital

If the Galaxy Z Flip is as successful as it looks set to be, Samsung will likely take the lesson that sturdiness should always take precedence over — for lack of a technical term — excessive foldiness.

While it hasn't been easygoing for mobile companies releasing new foldables, they certainly seem to be backing the technology to succeed. So what do you think? Do you believe that foldable smartphones will go mainstream, or do you think they're just too expensive and impractical? Be sure to let us know.