Are foldable phones dead on arrival now?

Are foldable phones dead on arrival now?
This year was supposed to be a paradigm-shifting one, where we go from the plebeian flat and rigid phone screens to getting a taste of the future where we will fold and roll and unfurl like the benevolent video-guzzlers we are. The first future-fetchers, however, turned out to be... how to euphemise it... uninspiring. 

There are only two upcoming foldable phones from brand-name manufacturers that have actually reached a retail stage and you can potentially hope to grab from a retail shelf sooner or later. Both the Galaxy Fold and Mate X are big bulky contraptions that look and feel more like prototypes than polished retail rule-breakers that charge two grand for the early adopter privilege. The sad part is that they also behave like it. 

The Galaxy Fold launch stalled before it materialized, and the release date is now up in the air, as it turned out that the materials and folding technology used aren't going to be up to real-world snuff just yet. A top anti-fingerprint layer turned to actually be what provides the final protection of the Galaxy Fold screen, as it best mimics the oleophobic glass cover we are used to on our phones. Design mishaps of that layer and the hinge in the middle led to people damaging their preview Fold units, and Samsung is now busting its head how to best rectify those. The crease in the middle will stay, though, and is even enshrined in the manual as normal.

The outfolding Mate X, while an intriguing concept that hasn't yet had anything coming unglued for the simple fact that it hasn't been used as a daily driver by anyone outside of country rep offices, also seems to be dead on arrival. Granted, it is for reasons outside of Huawei's power to influence, like a new cold war with China but we'd wager to guess that the number of potential customers that will be ready to splurge north of $2000 on it has dropped precipitously in the last two weeks.

With the world's two largest phone makers essentially taking a seasonal hiatus from the folding handset business, and no alternatives announced, the only thing left is to wait for second-tier manufacturers like Xiaomi or Sony to do what much larger companies with billions in R&D resources, couldn't. Those extra field players may use a few other available design approaches, like Sharp's clamshell with bendable display, or Xiaomi's dual-folding type you see below.

However, the whole premise of foldable phones was, until a few years ago, to turn the 4"+ phone screens of the time into 7"+ ones. 

In fact, Sharp's approach is closer to what we imagined a foldable handset would be - an old-fashioned flip phone that has an uninterrupted screen where the hinge would be, making it compact to carry, and giving you a huge display when you need it. 

Folding on the horizontal axis would have the resulting phone being more compact, too, as the Sharp prototype folding screen is just 6.2" when open.

The Galaxy Fold and Mate X are chasing different, vertical foldable axis concepts, and are rather bulky when closed in addition to less practical when unfurled. Watching YouTube on their opened displays, for instance, renders 20%+ of the resulting large screen diagonals underutilized which defeats the purpose of lugging a bulky and expensive foldable phone with you.

Now that we have pop-up cameras and punch-hole display designs that fit those desired large screen diagonals in the same overall footprint as the large phones of yesteryear, the perceived main advantage of foldables becomes somewhat moot, even if you can run three apps at once on them.

We wish every manufacturer involved with their development good luck, but for now it seems that the foldable phone revolution is DOA, and not just because the first efforts have teething problems of the size that could make them extinct like the saber-toothed tiger but because for now their added value is not commensurate with the compromises needed to fulfill the concept. What do you think?

Are foldable phones already dead on arrival?




1. tokuzumi

Posts: 1948; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

The problem is the phones are folding on the wrong axis. Even if these were relatively affordable, I don't want a tall rectangle that folds out into a huge square. Give me a flip-phone style smartphone that is small in the pocket, but unfolds to something with a 18:9 screen. Put a mini screen on the outside that displays time/date, and will show notifications. It will also act as a mini viewfinder for the camera so you don't have to flip the phone open to take a photo (it would have a shutter button for the camera).

3. TBomb

Posts: 1632; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

I thnik you are looking for the Razr concept that has been floating around.

5. bucknassty

Posts: 1365; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

Moto razr needs to save this form factor!!!

17. sgodsell

Posts: 7514; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

I noticed that this article never mentioned Motorola's foldable RAZR smartphone.

15. Dadler22

Posts: 242; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

I know I am!

2. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Too big to be a cellphone ( Fold inner screen has 162.6 cm2, note 9 has 103.2 cm2) . Too small to be a tablet (Fold has 162.6 cm2, Ipad mini has 193.3 cm2 and is small already for tablet) . Cost more than both combined. Fold and Mate X are giant failures. Moto Razr concept is better idea. Clamshell phone.

4. TBomb

Posts: 1632; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

DOA? For the general public? Yes.... Until Apple does it. OEMs need someone to product a successful foldable (physically, not financially) that is POPULAR. No one except Samsung and Apple would be able to be first and reverse the current reputation of foldables... and Samsung had its chance.

7. JCASS889

Posts: 594; Member since: May 18, 2018

You mean until apple buys it? They don't make screens, they will have to buy

8. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Apple is not going to kill iPad sales in favor of a giant book style iphone.

11. TBomb

Posts: 1632; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

Maybe they just make their tablets foldable then.

12. Bankz

Posts: 2550; Member since: Apr 08, 2016

Till a manufacturer like apple does it, this is bound to fail on all corners tbh.. cause apple are the only ones who could actually utilize a true tablet and phone OS/UI, which will be killer imo.. unlike the Galaxy fold which is a larger phone UI and nothing more.. plus only apple has the capability to make this mainstream..

13. TBomb

Posts: 1632; Member since: Dec 28, 2012

The iPhone to iPad is just a larger phone UI too. What do you mean? 4icons across the top on the iPhone and 4 icons across the top on an iPad. You gotta explain yourself a little better for me.

6. Ray.S

Posts: 460; Member since: Jul 19, 2011

Even if it eventually works... I don't know. I think any actually good foldable phone is still way off in the future. Not this year or next.

9. VariableCheapskate

Posts: 185; Member since: May 29, 2019

Yeah, watch PhoneArena do a 180 when Apple makes a folding smartphone or tablet. I only voted no because it's going to come back at some point, just slightly less than outrageously expensive, but still outrageously expensive. Also with the usual obsolescence methods built in to aggravate customers.

10. eausa

Posts: 86; Member since: Feb 28, 2019

I think these retarded headlines need to be dead on arrival. Why da f would foldables be doa? Other than the issue they are working out, most reviewers raved at it's practicality and usability. Once these issues are worked out, it's going to be a great device.

14. Vokilam

Posts: 1343; Member since: Mar 15, 2018

It’s DOA if Apple never enters the foldable scene.

16. Godlymansean

Posts: 339; Member since: Apr 14, 2017

Like the idea/design of some, but only one i would even remotely consider is the Motor Razr if the final form is to my liking.

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