Can a foldable phone replace your tablet and smartphone?

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Can a foldable phone replace your tablet and smartphone?
In our Huawei Mate Xs review, we found the Mate Xs a joy to use for reading, social media and browsing the internet. Such a device could cost well beyond what most people are ready to pay for a smartphone right now, but if you do choose to get it, or the Samsung Galaxy Fold, can you comfortably use it for all of your digital needs?

Let's take a look at what the experience is like, of replacing both your standard smartphone and tablet with one single device - a folding phone. I tried using the Mate Xs instead of my iPad and conventional smartphone, so I could accurately point out the pros and cons of doing so.

Functionality differences

Despite being thicker and heavier than the average smartphone, a folding phone like the Mate Xs is much more convenient to carry around than both a smartphone and a tablet. One device to charge, one device to use, and it fits in a pocket, unlike a tablet.

Alternatively, using a conventional tablet, which is essentially the same thing as your smartphone, but with a larger screen and even less functionality, can be seen as redundant. It just has a bigger screen, but the operating system is the same as on your phone, while it's cameras and display are often even worse.

File management

Managing all of your files - movies, music, games, documents - between two or more devices is in no way as convenient as having them all on just one folding smartphone.

However, some people prefer a dedicated tablet for watching Netflix, and the square aspect ratio of the folding Mate Xs, for example, is far from perfect for that, as we're about to find out.

Watching video content

Netflix does allow for pinch-to-zoom, which crops the content to the folding device's square screen, and while that fills the screen and makes what you're watching larger, it cuts off the video frame on both sides significantly.

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The other option is simply watching in widescreen, as intended, with giant black bars above and below the videos, which, this way appear just as small, if not even smaller than how they would on your phone. YouTube, for example, forces you to watch with black borders, so that large display you just unfolded, and paid quite a lot for earlier, remains mostly unused. And, in the case of Huawei's Mate Xs, there isn't even an official YouTube app.

Cherry picking the right streaming content to watch on a square-screen folding phone, such as stand-up comedy specials, where the subject is generally in the center of the screen, is the only way to enjoy your large folding screen in its entirety. With that, we can conclude that square folding phones, which are the majority, are not good for watching movies or YouTube.

Xiaomi showed us a great wider-screen two-fold concept back in early 2019, but more recent patents suggest that it is not what we're going to get. Smartphones with rollable screens, like the one we saw in an LG patent may be worth waiting for instead, as most of them appear to be designed with a 3:2 screen aspect ratio, instead of square.

Social media and internet browsing

This is where the current folding smartphones excel. A large, square screen can allow for a desktop-like browsing experience, and power users can easily get a Bluetooth keyboard and even do some work on what was just a phone in their pocket five seconds ago.

Social media browsing on a folding smartphone means large Instagram photos, more Reddit or Discord content at a glance, and easier messaging on a larger touch keyboard.

Light internet users may even be able to replace three devices with one foldable phone - their laptop, tablet and smartphone, and here's hoping some day soon the technology evolves and becomes affordable enough for even power users to consider it.

Durability differences

By all means, whatever your current smartphone is, it's likely way more durable than any folding phone out there right now. Current folding phones feature delicate plastic screens that are easy to scratch and don't support third-party protectors. On top of that, they don't feel as nice to touch as glass displays do.

In addition, although impressive, most folding phone hinges I've tried so far sound grindy and crack when unfolded, to then show a crease in the middle of the display, where the folding happens. Unfolded displays don't even lock in a perfectly flat position. It's a bit of a gamble giving away thousands of dollars for something that may not last even a month, if you're not careful, and feels like a prototype.

Price differences

According to Statista, the average price of smartphones in the US this year is $492. Assuming most people don't care about the highest specs, while at the same time steer clear of the lower-range options, let's round that to $400. As for tablets, Apple's most affordable, yet still highly functional and powerful base 2019 iPad costs $330. So for $730 or less, you can get yourself both a nice smartphone and tablet.

A single folding phone on the other hand, can go well beyond $2,000, and objectively, you're not getting that much for that price jump. But as with any new technology, although it starts expensive, it's bound to get cheaper and better as time goes on.

For those who can afford it, know what to expect, and like being on the cutting edge of consumer tech, having a folding phone can however be well worth it, and buying one supports the development of what comes next.

Bottom line

Light users could easily replace their standard smartphone, tablet and even laptop with a single folding device, as long as they're able and willing to spend a premium price for the convenience.

Average and power users may be better off waiting for the technology to get cheaper and more polished. It's also worth noting that a two-screen device like the upcoming Microsoft Surface Duo may be a better alternative to the more expensive and delicate folding-screen smartphones.

What are your thoughts on folding devices? Do you see them as the next big thing, and do you want or have one? Alternatively, are you happy with your tablet and conventional smartphone? Let us know below.

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