Buying a foldable phone in 2019 will be an expensive mistake

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Buying a foldable phone in 2019 will be an expensive mistake
I get it – we're all ready and eager to move on to the next milestone in phone evolution, which at this point in time seems to be the foldable phone. We've been waiting patiently for this tech to become ready for mainstream introduction, and we've also gotten tired of the yearly iterative upgrades which all but defined the smartphone industry during the last few years. We crave the next big thing, and now that manufacturers such as Samsung and Huawei have given us a taste of it, the temptation to rush in this new direction can be felt in the air.

I hate to be that guy, but: don't, just don't buy a foldable phone this year.

Let me tell you why (I have many reasons)...

2019 foldable phones will be semi-experimental devices

We're seeing it already. Both Samsung and Huawei are planning on releasing their foldable phones by the middle of the year, but the devices are not yet in a state to be used by anyone. No one outside of Samsung and Huawei (and probably some corporate partners) has even touched these products, and the reason is they are not ready. There is still some time to polish them up before release, but most of the R&D and engineering legwork has already been done, so it's not very likely that there will be major changes in the hardware from now until release.

This isn't a very good sign for our early foldables. Here at the Mobile World Congress, we've been quick to notice that there's a visible bump (or wrinkle) in the Huawei Mate X's screen, right where it folds. We've also noticed this in the Samsung Galaxy Fold prototypes that are displayed here (only behind glass). It's very interesting to see if any company will be able to solve this problem, or if the Mate X and Galaxy Fold will be launched with some amount of this imperfection anyway.

The folding screens are obviously the most problematic components here, but the brand new hinges, which will for the first time ever allow you to fold your smartphone in two, are bound to cause problems, too. Fitting the hardware components inside the phones in such a way as to allow you to fold them, and then designing all that around a specialized hinge that would be responsible for holding the thing together and for enabling much of its functionality, will be as big an engineering feat as creating the bendable OLED screen itself. Much of the uptick in reliability and seamlessness of the user experience we've been enjoying with modern smartphones has been due to the fact that manufacturers have been able to reduce the number of moving parts to zero. Now, in the quest to fit as much screen as possible in as little space as possible, we're again adding a bunch of moving parts, and we know those things tend to be a weak link.

That's not to say that foldable phones won't have reliable hinges, but this being a brand new component type, the chances of running into problems (if not from the beginning, then maybe down the road) are pretty high.

Prices will be much, much lower a year from now

You've probably seen the price tags announced for the Galaxy Fold and Mate X: $1980 and EUR 2300 (around $2600), respectively. I'm sure Samsung and Huawei execs would love you to drop that kind of dough for their first attempts at this form-factor, but you're smarter than that.

In what has surely been a long and difficult development process, these phones represent the first stage that could at least in some way be considered ready to ship. The technology (screens, hinges, and internal architecture) is extremely new, so of course the prices will be prohibitively high. This is not a $1000 iPhone X, though; it's not a culmination of a tried and proven form-factor. What we have here is something way more uncertain and unfinished in nature, and dramatically more expensive than anything we've seen so far.

All of that means that once these first baby steps are made, we're bound to see a whole host of manufacturers jump on the bandwagon and start contributing to the foldable device type. The multitude of makers from China will be especially instrumental in the quick propagation of the technology, and we all know how good those guys are at pushing costs down. Xiaomi, for example, has already started teasing its fans with a foldable phone prototype.

In a year from now, those $2000 beta-version foldables will be more like $1300 polished foldables (conservative estimation). Why would one jump the gun this year in a scenario such as this? Just hold your wallet shut and watch as early adopter enthusiasts struggle through the kinks of the first generation. What's more, if you're truly enthusiastic about foldable phones, you'll surely want to upgrade to the way more refined experience of next year's generation.

Think ahead to hefty repair costs

We don't know how durable these foldable phones are going to be, but chances are they'll be flimsier than our trusted flat phones. We're already paying astronomical amounts for broken OLED screens. Can you imagine the repair / replacement costs for a 7" flexible OLED panel?

In the case of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, at least it folds on the inside, so the main display will be more or less protected, though we can't know if it won't still crack if you drop your Fold on the ground. The Mate X's display, however? It folds on the outside, and it covers the whole phone – front to back. It'll be almost twice as easier to crack it than that of a normal phone today. And while your warranty will probably cover screen defects that might occur naturally with usage (hopefully there aren't such, but who knows how these first folding displays will hold up after a year), it certainly won't cover accidental drop damage. We're looking at repairs bills at least in the multiple hundreds. And no, there are no cases for foldable phones yet.

In a year, many of the inevitable hardships of living with a foldable phone should be figured out, like how to keep them safe, and how to avoid the possibility of $1000 repairs.

The software will have bugs, for sure

Most manufacturers have just recently become consistent in delivering stable and reliable software releases. That's for good old flat and rigid smartphones. Imagine the added complexity of a foldable phone – every piece of the whole system, including apps, will need to be updated and optimize for both closed and unfolded use.

The transitions between a closed and open state while an app is running will have to be figured out also – for most apps out there. Samsung says they have worked hard to achieve just that, and they call it app continuity. Them billing it as some sort of a special feature – it means it's something that needs to be created and developed – it won't just happen automatically if you install Android Pie on a foldable device that switches form-factors. And let's just say that first attempts at such challenging software endeavours usually don't end up without any issues or bugs, especially when you consider that most third-party apps out there won't be optimized in any way for such use. At best, there will be infrequent random hiccups and delays. At worst, the workflow will be unstable and prone to crashes or artifacts.

First-gen models are quickest to get abandoned by their makers

This is a big one. It often happens when a company releases a product that is very new in its nature — the first-gen product in a particular new direction (like the first iPad or the first foldable phone) — that those products don't get supported for a very long time.

This happens for a number of reasons, most importantly because the underlying tech in first-gen products is often just good enough for release, and doesn't have much headroom to support future software releases designed to take advantage of the newer, rapidly developing components.

This is even true of some Apple first-gen products, like the original iPad. The original iPad was a groundbreaking device that was launched to immediate market success, but was actually supported for just two years after release. Initially launched with iOS 3, it was only updated up to iOS 5. In contrast, its successor, the also very successful iPad 2, continued to receive software update for the amazing five years! Thus, after being launched with iOS 4 in 2011, the iPad 2 lived to see an official update to iOS 9 in 2016! What a huge difference in support after just a year of product maturation.

And that's Apple we're talking about – imagine the kind of support these first-gen foldable phones are going to receive from companies like Huawei or Samsung.

The goal of this article isn't to bad-mouth foldable phones, but to save some people a lot of money. These first products are mighty expensive, but definitely not out of reach for a lot of people, so it makes sense to really consider whether a foldable phone would constitute a smart purchase this year. To me, the answer is definitely not. I can perfectly see the allure of devices like the Mate X – cool-looking, innovative, futuristic and powerful – the foldable form-factor really seems to be the next big step in the evolution of the smartphone. However, this is simply not the time to buy a foldable phone. You'll pay a lot of money for an incomplete, beta-version product. We've waited this long, let's give it another year, and we'll have a significantly wider range of better models to choose from, at considerably lower prices.

Is it worth it to be a foldable phone early-adopter?

Yes, take my $2000!
No, my money is better spent elsewhere.

Related phones

Galaxy Fold
  • Display 7.3" 1536 x 2152 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 10 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855, Octa-core, 2840 MHz
  • Storage 512 GB
  • Battery 4380 mAh(32h talk time)
Mate X
  • Display 8.0" 2200 x 2480 pixels
  • Camera 40 MP
  • Processor HiSilicon Kirin 980, Octa-core, 2600 MHz
  • Storage 512 GB + Nano Memory (NM)
  • Battery 4500 mAh



1. apple-rulz

Posts: 2115; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

At the Samsung event it took the guy three presses to get the maps app to open.

53. Cat97

Posts: 1893; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

And it also has creases, just like Huawei:

55. sgodsell

Posts: 7368; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Huawei's is way worse, because the screen is always on the outside. At least Samsung's display is protected on the inside when you told it.

56. shm224

Posts: 288; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

I think I recall Huawei/BOE announcing inward folding display, or something to that effect a while back. Is it technically challenging to create a inward folding display?

61. Vogue1985

Posts: 459; Member since: Jan 24, 2017

That's because the guy was super nervous, his hand were shaking the whole. Even when demonstrating the wireless charge function he forgot to turn it on. Can't blame him though, many of people, watch.

2. alanrock

Posts: 313; Member since: Oct 04, 2018

wait for Apple and then buy it in droves....riiiight.

59. almostdone

Posts: 448; Member since: Sep 25, 2012

by 2030...

4. Xxtoxicskittlexx

Posts: 190; Member since: Jun 11, 2018

The author has a point. Why pay an astronomical price for 1st Gen when they will say of gen 2 "We took what was great from Fold 1 and made it even better. Our industrial and manufacturing process made the impossible possible. So this year's Fold 2 starts at 899" lol

6. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3137; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

Bendable phones and folding phones are 2 different animals. I'm waiting to see what Microsoft's offering looks like. The engineering behind their hinge is impressive to say the least. Separate panels is the way to go for now until the bendable display matures properly.

8. odachek

Posts: 123; Member since: Sep 01, 2012

Foldable phones in 2019 are fabricated to send a message to the world that they can do it, and especially to Apple that Android phones can also be an innovative luxury device, more to come, and probably cheaper.

9. darkkjedii

Posts: 31053; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

I’ve zero interest in buying one, but I do like the innovative drive from Samsung and Hauwei. Now on to the Note 10, the best of 2019.

27. sissy246

Posts: 7112; Member since: Mar 04, 2015

Can't wait for note 10 I am interested in the fold also but, not tell second generation and i hope they will add the pen to it.

51. darkkjedii

Posts: 31053; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

The fold is a lot more money, than I'm willing to pay. Hella nice, but too expensive.

10. JRPG_Guy

Posts: 144; Member since: Jan 13, 2019

That Galaxy fold can use some refinement. Starting with that notch. Replace it with the hole.

11. RangoX

Posts: 77; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

This is obviously for rich people who can afford it and won't care if their device is obsolete after a year or two.

16. drunkenjay

Posts: 1671; Member since: Feb 11, 2013

even if i was rich i wouldnt buy it. id rather buy a gold iphone or a s10.

38. RangoX

Posts: 77; Member since: Feb 20, 2015

I agree, I want a S10e though

54. _deeuk

Posts: 48; Member since: Nov 06, 2018

I'm not rich and I'm definitely buying the Samsung Fold and no I'm not waiting to play catch up. The tech is out so i will get it. Why wait! The future is now.

12. User123456789

Posts: 918; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Buying at any point of your life is a mistake... I doubt its durability is faithful.

17. Mrmark

Posts: 396; Member since: Jan 26, 2013

If you think prices are going to go down you guys are fooling yourselves these prices are going to be this price and higher moving forward

26. libra89

Posts: 2281; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

You have a point. Look at what happened after the iPhone X. The X was $1k base and then the runner-up was also 1k base so nothing really changed, aside from an updated Face ID lol.

36. almostdone

Posts: 448; Member since: Sep 25, 2012

The prices are likely to remain the same for the flagship foldables however other manufacturers will release mid tier specs for around $1000 - $1500.

48. Ray.S

Posts: 457; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

I guess my point was that such cutting edge innovations are so quick to develop, that tomorrow's $1000 "mid-tier" foldable devices will be perfectly competitive with today's $2000 high-end foldables. Putting the latest Snapdragon shouldn't make much difference price-wise, and just as we now have $500 phones with the latest Snapdragon, I think we'll have powerful foldable phones in the $1000 range a year from now. Maybe there will still be more premium ones at $2000, but I can't see performance being one of the compromises. Screen quality maybe?

18. tangbunna

Posts: 480; Member since: Sep 29, 2016

people buy shoes , bags, dress, belts, sunglasses, etc, for more than $3k each just to wear once. they never say it is their mistake.

19. libra89

Posts: 2281; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

I totally forgot about the point of a first of its kind device having dropped support quickly. I wasn't interested anyway.

20. Aruminiumaian

Posts: 209; Member since: Jul 22, 2017

It's so funny that Huawei fans and Samsung fans are bashing each other for how the foldable smartphone from each brand is superior to one another, like Galaxy Fold has better durability, Mate X has better design etc. It's not like they will buy those foldable phones any time soon anyway. Current state of foldable phones is an absolute mess: overpriced, poor ergonomics, very fragile and soft display, poor app compatibility because of unusual display aspect ratio, most likely short battery life, long-term durability issues and the list keeps going on. Until manufacturers solve those issues it's a big NO from me.

21. Poptart2828

Posts: 396; Member since: Jan 23, 2018

The only opinion that matters is the person that is willing to fork over 2 grand because it's compelling enough to do it

22. AngelicusMaximus

Posts: 696; Member since: Dec 20, 2017

I really think the reason the candy bar design has stagnated for so long is because it's a very optimal design. I'm not saying there will never be anything better because there likely will one day, I'm just saying that the foldable design isn't it.

23. monoke

Posts: 1162; Member since: Mar 14, 2015

If there was one that unfolded to a 16:9 aspect or wider, I would then consider one. A squarish aspect imo is useless for my uses .

24. AngelicusMaximus

Posts: 696; Member since: Dec 20, 2017

I agree about not liking the squarish aspect ratio, but if you make the unfolded version 16:9ish, then it will be squarish when folded. But, I suppose some people might like it better that way.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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