Foldable phones hold the key to Radically Better Smartphone Cameras

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Foldable phones hold the key to Radically Better Smartphone Cameras
Smartphone cameras have evolved tremendously in the past few years, but something is holding them back and they cannot quite match a dedicated camera just yet.

I know exactly what that one thing is and I think that foldable phones hold the key to that next level smartphone camera experience.

Smartphones have made great improvements in photo and video quality despite their limitations. Clever software tricks, increasingly more complex camera algorithms and video stabilization systems have helped boost smartphone cameras tremendously, but one thing hasn't changed and that one thing is sensor size.

There is just one way to get better phone cameras: a bigger sensor

See, photography at its most fundamental form is pure physics. The size of each individual pixel in the camera sensor defines how much light can be absorbed, it defines the quality of an image and it defines the overall characteristics of a camera. You can tweak that via software, but fundamentally, you cannot change the physics.

So if you asked me about the one thing phone makers could do to bring an instant improvement in camera quality, I would answer without hesitation: increase the sensor size!

But a larger sensor size would also make for a much thicker phone. So... how do we solve that conundrum?

I think that foldable phones may hold the key: the new Samsung Galaxy Fold for instance measures a whopping 0.6 inches (15.5mm) thick when folded. This is more than 50% thicker than your average smartphone. And of course that feels very thick, but it's kind of a necessity in order to have the foldable phone experience. So... why not embrace it? Why not use the necessary thick form factor to - finally! - bring a much larger, say a 1" sensor on a smartphone?

How can this be done when each half of the phone is rather thick? Well, why not embrace the thickness that you have anyway and add a static element to the whole design where you'd have the huge camera sensor?

Huawei's Mate X design, for example, has a static element, a grip which is quite thick and is a perfect opportunity to implement a huge camera sensor.

This has the potential to truly "rewrite the rules of photography" (as a certain company promised recently) almost overnight.

Galaxy Fold: exciting screen, not so exciting cameras

This is also why I think that the Galaxy Fold, as exciting as it is, is also one big missed opportunity. The $2,000 phone of the future ships with... the same camera setup as the Galaxy S10. And it's a good camera, don't get me wrong, but it's not $2,000-level good! It's not revolutionary.

So here is my appeal to phone makers: foldable phones need to be thick. Embrace it and use it to the fullest by adding a large camera sensor that would change the smartphone camera landscape once and for all. Millions will thank you later with their dollar.



1. bucknassty

Posts: 1353; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

imagine a big THICC sensor in the bottom part of that moto razr concept!

7. RevolutionA

Posts: 399; Member since: Sep 30, 2017

Imagined. It's very ugly

2. Dr.Phil

Posts: 2449; Member since: Feb 14, 2011

I imagine that we will have slimmer folding phones soon enough. That was actually one of the cons I read about the hands on with the Galaxy Fold was that it was very thick in the pocket.

3. gdawilson

Posts: 299; Member since: Jul 21, 2014

I don't get the desire for foldable phones. The screen is too small, on the Galaxy Fold, to do anything practical until it's open For the price of the Galaxy Fold, you could buy a high end tablet with a bigger or smaller screen, plus a new phone too

4. Crispin_Gatieza

Posts: 3151; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

The Nokia 808 had a 1/1.2” sensor and the Lumia 1020 had a 1/1.5” sensor. Any question why these are still some of the best smartphone cameras ever? If the 808 would’ve had BSI and OIS it would’ve been unbeatable even today.

5. rsiders

Posts: 1975; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

No lie I took my Lumia 1020 on vacation just for fun and ended up having to rely on since I did something dumb with my V20. I was still impressed with the pictures I got out of it. The larger sensor still allows you to get perfect portrait mode shots with no software trickery because of the physical size. The focusing speed still sucks and the viewfinder doesn't show real time changes for shutter speed and ISO changes, but once you do a few test shots, you're pretty much in there.

9. CDexterWard

Posts: 85; Member since: Feb 05, 2018

Couldn't agree more. Still question the day I passed up the 1020 at the AT&T store and got the LG G3 instead. Those things are almost 6 years old and still get about $130-$150 on the used market, despite having little else to cheer for in 2019 besides the phenomenal camera. Wish Windows phone was still a thing

6. rsiders

Posts: 1975; Member since: Nov 17, 2011

If Google would just get on board with this line of thinking AND still use their software processing genius, we would have the most amazing pair in our pockets. Huawei is the closest to achieving this with both hardware and software but the software needs just a few little tweaks.

8. Xxtoxicskittlexx

Posts: 190; Member since: Jun 11, 2018

A sensor size increase to use with the amazing large size viewfinder would be awesome for photos. I can already see that with the G Fold.

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