Folding phone screens are the next big thing…maybe. They’re certainly thick on the ground at Mobile World Congress, the yearly phone extravaganza in Barcelona. We’re rounding up all of the designs with folding screens we’ve seen so far.
Note that all of the folding screen designs, even the ones currently destined for a full release, were shown in strictly hands-off capacity, either behind glass or only accessible to a presenter. How these phones will handle in the real world is, at least for the moment, very much in the air.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
This is the big one, introduced at a pre-MWC press event last week. Samsung’s design actually uses two screens: a smaller 4.6-inch one on the front of the device and a 7.3-inch screen with a polymer cover that unfolds from the inside, book-style. The camera setup is disjointed: one on the “front,” two on the inside in a notch where the larger screen sits, and three on the back. The Galaxy Fold will be available in April with a price of $1980 to start, and there’s a 5G variant in the works as well.
Huawei Mate X
This design from Chinese giant Huawei takes more or less the opposite approach from Samsung, using a single screen that wraps around the front and back of the folding body. That one is 8 inches when open, with a relatively small 2480×2000 resolution. When folded, its primary screen is 6.6 inches, while the “rear” screen is 6.4. The phone looks more elegant, and the camera setup makes more sense with the form factor: three sensors hang out in the thick “lip” where the fold rests in its smaller configuration. This allows all three cameras to be either rear-facing or front-facing “selfie” cams, depending on how you’re holding it.
Huawei says that the phone packs a 5G radio, its own Kirin 980 processor design, and a combined 4500 mAh battery. It will cost an astounding €2300 ($2600 USD, not that it’s likely to come to the US at all) when it launches in mid-2019.
Another competitor from a big Chinese brand, this Oppo design looks a lot like Huawei’s Mate X but hasn’t been confirmed for a retail release at the moment. The hardware is only being shown on Weibo by an Oppo executive. It uses the same exterior folding screen with a single panel, a large grip that the phone folds into when closed, and holds the camera and external ports. Oppo says it may develop the design into a full release if it sees enough demand from the market.
TCL, the current owners and marketers of the Blackberry brand, is also working on folding designs. These concepts have no clear path to retail release—they’re the earliest in development of the bunch. But they’re worth checking out. One of them uses the interior, book-style fold of the Galaxy Fold, essentially trying to shrink a tablet into a phone size. Another has the larger interior screen plus a small external screen.
The other design uses the fold to crunch a conventional smartphone-style device into a clamshell, folding over a vertical screen into something that looks like the hinged “dumb” phone designs of the late 90s and 2000s. Another concept shown to the press is a fold that goes in a circular motion, allowing a phone to be worn like a “slap” bracelet when not in use. It’s worth noting that TCL is a huge OEM seller of screen technology, so these designs may show up connected to other brands.
Samsung may have stolen everyone’s thunder a week ago, but LG wants you to know it isn’t out of the Android game just yet. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the company is introducing three phone designs.
The LG V8 gets the company’s annoying “ThinQ” branding but otherwise looks like a solid if unambitious design. It’s equipped with the latest Snapdragon 855 processor, 6 GB of RAM, and a 6.1-inch display with the familiar rounded corners and notched cutout. That screen is OLED, by the way, with a generous 3120×1440 resolution. And that’s not its only trick: the flat surface of the display is used as an amplifier for the phone’s speaker, a neat extra.
LG is hoping for a bit of differentiation with more hardware flexibility, including 128GB of storage and a MicroSD card slot, a headphone jack, and a choice between a fingerprint reader, face unlock, and “palm vein” biometrics. That unlocks your phone or apps with the unique pattern of blood vessels in your hand, recognized via a dedicated camera on the front. That camera can also handle hand gestures, which sounds less interesting. The conventional cameras are 8 megapixels and 5 megapixel wide-angle on the front, with a dual 12/16 megapixel setup on the back. Confusingly, some international market variations of the G8 will also get a third 12 MP telephoto lens. The battery is 3500 mAh.
The company also announced the G8s, a cheaper alternate version of this model that will appear in some markets. It’s mostly the same, but uses a slightly larger 6.2-inch screen with a lower 1080p resolution. The rear gets three cameras, 13 and 12 megapixels main sensors and a 13 MP telephoto lens, while the front is only packing one (plus the vein and gesture sensor cam). Note that it omits the SD card slot and that speaker-screen is nowhere to be found. It also starts at “just” 64GB of storage.
The LG V50 is the company’s new flagship in the main line. It has all the features of the G8 above, with a larger 6.4-inch OLED screen, the same camera setup plus a 12 MP zoom lens, and a boosted 4000 mAh battery. The biggest differentiation is that it will launch with ultra-fast 5G wireless support, which is probably what that bigger screen and battery are accommodating.
To ostensibly compete with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold design, the V50 will also have an optional dual-screen add-on case. The “Dual Screen for G V50 ThinQ 5G” (just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) packs an additional 6.2-inch 1080p OLED display, connecting to the main phone via POGO pins. It’s a secondary screen for apps, but it can also be used horizontally as a keyboard or game controller.
Prices and precise release dates haven’t been announced yet. Expect them to be competitive, more or less, with Samsung’s Galaxy S10, S10e, and S10+, respectively.
As smartphones get more powerful and run more and more complex applications, phone memory gets more important. To that end, Samsung wants it known that if you buy a Galaxy S10 or S10+, you’ll get at least 8 GB of RAM.
The company said as much to Android Police when asked about the RAM situation on the new models. Apparently, some of the pre-release demonstration hardware showed “just” 6 GB when its specifications were checked in the Settings menu, causing confusion among the enthusiast community.
Samsung’s own website is feeding some of that misinformation, with its specs page not making it clear which versions of the phone get 6 GB, 8 GB, or a massive 12 GB of memory. At the moment it looks like only the cheapest version of the less expensive Galaxy S10e (the “e” stands for “essential”) will be equipped with 6 GB of memory—all the “regular” S10 and S10 Plus models get at least 8 GB. Some versions of the most expensive 1 TB storage Galaxy S10+ will have up to 12 GB, matching the bombastic specification of the Galaxy Fold.
8 GB might seem like overkill for a phone, especially considering that some new laptops are still being sold with just 4. But mobile memory is a big deal, especially among those phone buyers most likely to pre-order new devices. One of the most common complaints about Google’s own Pixel 3 phones is that they have “just” 4 GB at their high price level.
It’s finally here! Samsung’s folding-screen phone, the Next Big Thing that will ignite the imaginations and empty wallets all over the smartphone world! Or, more probably, not. The Galaxy Fold is an aspirational device, like a flagship supercar or an ultra-rare luxury watch. It’s the phone you drool over, but not the one you buy. Samsung knows this—it’s hard to imagine that they don’t, with a price tag that makes even Apple’s most expensive iPhone look cheap by comparison. And they’re fine with it. Because the Galaxy Fold is a massive gamble from one of the only phone manufacturers that can make it. And however this product cycle plays out, Samsung wins.
Buying the Mustang
Samsung gave the Galaxy Fold pride of place in its pre-Mobile World Congress press event, with both the event’s tagline and the lead position secured for the daring new design. But it isn’t the one that Samsung is actually invested in: that is, obviously, the Galaxy S10. Look no further than the presenters if you need evidence. The Galaxy Fold was introduced by a vice president of the marketing department. But when Samsung CEO DJ Koh came out, brandishing a brief demo of the Galaxy Fold hardware, it was the Galaxy S10+ that he personally introduced.
That’s because, this year as every year, Samsung’s going to sell a hell of a lot of Galaxy S phones. Even with the alarming price increases (roughly in step with Samsung’s only major competitor, Apple), carrier promotions and financing options will ease the financial pain of that cool new model. But even someone who might be able to justify a $1000 hit to their budget would be reticent to double it for the Fold. Want more evidence? The Fold uses a tiny (by modern standards) 4.6-inch front screen, presumably so small on such a large device because Samsung needed every cubic millimeter to cram in other hardware around that interior hinge and massive screen. And even so, the Galaxy Fold isn’t getting the best of Samsung’s newest doohickeys, aside from its massive interior screen. Ultrasonic fingerprint reader integrated into the screen? Nope, it has a side-mounted reader, like a phone from eight years ago. Reverse wireless charging that can give your Galaxy Buds a boost? Nope, not mentioned at all. While the S10 has a maximum of a terabyte of onboard storage, the Galaxy Fold is limited to 512GB, despite a massive 12GB of RAM. The phone doesn’t even get the Galaxy S10’s signature new feature, the “hole punch” for the camera—the interior screen just uses a massive cutout for its dual cameras.
So what does all of this mean? It means that Samsung isn’t concerned with making the Galaxy Fold the be-all, end-all smartphone in every possible measure. Because it doesn’t need to be. The S10+ plus is the phone they’re marketing to enthusiasts, to people who want something on par with (or better than) the latest iPhone or Pixel. By contrast, the Galaxy Fold is a classic aspirational product: the one you want on everyone’s mind, even if no one can afford it. Or even justify it. Think about this in terms of cars. If you’re a car buff, you know about the Ford GT, the Dodge Viper, the Nissan “Skyline” GT-R. Those are the cars you drool over, maybe even take a test drive of the dealership’s loaner if you’re feeling daring. But even if you could scrape together the monthly payments, you know you’d regret it the first time you tried to actually put a full load of groceries in the trunk, or the third time you filled up the gas tank in a week. If you want something fun but at least somewhat sane, you buy the Mustang, or the Challenger, or (perish the thought) the Maxima sedan. The supercar is the one in the dealer window that gets you in the building. But it’s not the one you’re actually going to buy.
So it is with the Galaxy Fold. This will be Samsung’s headline device in 2019, the one you’ll see in multiple commercials around September and October to get you thinking about how innovative and futuristic the brand is. And it’ll work: you won’t see anything like it for quite a while. But with a price tag basically twice that of a standard high-end phone, a thickness that will barely slip into your pocket, and the dubious utilitarian upside of a small Android-powered tablet, Samsung knows you’re not actually going to buy one.
The Galaxy Fold is for Bragging Rights
With the smartphone market sagging and profits down as users either balk at high prices or simply keep their older phones longer, there are only two companies that can make phones as outrageous and advanced as the Fold right now. Apple didn’t, because that’s not how Apple operates. Apple, for all its boasts of innovation and genius, is conservative: it has gentle, stable evolution of hardware. And Samsung did make the Fold—because that’s not how Apple operates. https://youtu.be/7r_UgNcJtzQ Samsung, with its market leading position by volume and its relative safety, can afford to make the Fold, even knowing it’s not going to be the money-maker that the S10 will. And it’s the only player in the Android game that can. OnePlus can’t blow hundreds of millions of dollars on research and development for a new form factor. Neither can Samsung’s in-country rival LG, or even the quickly-rising Chinese brands like Huawei and Xiaomi gaining huge profits on a growing market. Google could probably afford it, but like Apple, they’re relatively conservative in terms of pure hardware. Samsung isn’t conservative. As yesterday’s presentation pointed out, they bet big on big phones with the original Galaxy Note, and started a trend that even Apple followed before too long. They’ve pushed now-standard features like AMOLED displays, wireless charging, and water-resistant bodies long before it was clear that there would be a demand for them. Samsung takes the risk. And though it doesn’t always pan out—how long did it take the company to finally admit that premium Android tablets weren’t going to come back to life?—it does mean they deserve the credit.
So imagine that the Fold will flop, and that Samsung is aware that this is a strong possibility. Say the Fold doesn’t sell a tenth of the units that this year’s Galaxy S and Note models do. That’s okay. Even if the Fold is a critical and commercial failure, it’s worth the money to maintain Samsung’s position as a purveyor of daring design (at least by the standards of its closest competitors). Having that dazzling shot of the phone unfolding in a season’s worth of NFL commercials will be worth every penny spent bringing the product to market.
This Will Go One of Two Ways
But let’s assume for a moment that the Galaxy Fold does succeed. If it does, a remarkable conjunction of circumstances will need to occur. First, Samsung needs to absolutely nail the hardware. For a first-gen product in a brand new form factor, this seems unlikely. For all of Samsung’s boasting of “ten years of Galaxy S” at the presentation, the first two generations of Galaxy S phones were forgettable at best, and just plain awful at worst. Remember Google’s first forays into Android-powered phones, Microsoft’s original Surface, or even the first-gen iPhone with its 2G connection? Big changes mean big risks, and usually big mistakes. With that huge polymer-based display and oddly-shaped AMOLED screens, I doubt Samsung is even making these things at anything approaching its normal volume—note that it’s releasing six weeks after the Galaxy S10 trio.
If Samsung can pull a rabbit out of a hat there, they’ll also need to nail the software. This seems a little more likely, as they have the help of Google working with the latest versions of Android to handle multiple screens and folding screens elegantly. The demonstrations were certainly impressive, with apps transitioning seamlessly between two screens and working in a multi-panel interface. But don’t forget that they’ll also need developers, both of major apps like Facebook and Spotify and the smaller, more personal apps that users rely on, to take notice. And lastly, Samsung would need consumers to get excited in a big, big way. With a starting price of $1980, even more for the promised 5G version, Samsung’s marketing department would need a miracle worthy of an Old Testament prophet in order to get buyers lining up around the block for the Galaxy Fold. There was nothing in yesterday’s demo that showed why a very large but somewhat clunky screen, paired to a much smaller and less appealing one that you’d be using a lot of the time, would be worth two or three times the price of the phones we’re already comfortable with. Hey, Samsung: my phone already plays Netflix and works with Google Maps, and using three apps at once instead of “just” two isn’t worth a down payment on a car.
At today’s Unpacked event, Samsung finally and formally unveiled its long-rumored folding Galaxy phone. The Galaxy Fold (natch) uses a 4.6-inch exterior screen and a folding, seamless 7.3-inch screen that opens book-style thanks to an interior hinge.
As impressive as the technology is, Samsung wants a premium price for what it calls a new category of smartphones. When the Galaxy Fold comes out on April 26th, it will start at $1980 USD, just shy of two grand. If you want the 5G version, with few details and no date, you’ll no doubt have to shell out more.
Samsung bills this as a “luxury phone,” but what you’re really paying for is novelty. Not that it isn’t impressive. The folding screen works seamlessly with the exterior screen, allowing apps to go from one to the other when the interior hinge is activated, with none of the flickering or choppiness you might expect. Samsung developers are working with Google to make sure the experience is as fast and smooth as possible.
Working with the larger interior screen, you can use two or even three apps at once with Samsung’s multi-panel interface. Apps can be moved from the larger window to the smaller easily, allowing for comfy multi-tasking without using the switcher button.
Other hardware features include a “7-nanometer processor” (precise model and capabilities weren’t mentioned), 512 GB of storage capacity, and a side-mounted fingerprint reader—note that the Galaxy Fold is missing the screen-integrated fingerprint reader on the Galaxy S10. No less than six cameras are on the phone: three on the back, one on the front, and two cameras on the inside.
The battery is split into two main packs, with 4380 mAh combined. How long will that last switching between screens? Who can guess? There are a lot of hardware, software, and market features of the Galaxy Fold that are a mystery at the moment, and won’t be truly explored until it’s released and we can see how practically it works in the real world.
However novel or useful this first major implementation of a folding phone screen is, it seems unlikely that Samsung will sell many of them. Samsung seems to know that, too: the Galaxy Fold was introduced by a marketing executive, while Samsung CEO DJ Koh waited for his moment to reveal the more market-friendly Galaxy S10. The consumer reaction to the Galaxy Fold will be critical to see if there are more folding screen products from Samsung, or its competitors, in the near future.