Foldable Phones: Do People Really Want This?

foldable phone comparison

Foldable phones. Apparently, they’ll be the next generation of smartphone technology. I’m really apprehensive about all of this, so please follow me on a journey of me trying to work out how I feel about foldable phones and screens.

IFA 2018: My First Look at Foldable Screens

I shot this video at IFA in 2018. It was my first time seeing folding screens. Royole is one of the pioneering companies dealing in this space and I had a good chat with one of the company’s marketing directors (at least I think that’s what he was). He was really positive and I totally bought into what they were doing. Even back in November when Samsung first teased that they were working on a foldable phone, I was still fairly convinced this was all a great idea.

But then I really started thinking about it, logically and practically.

I’d love a foldable phone, but does everyone else feel the same way?

The Samsung Galaxy Fold

Unpacked 2019 heralded the first official launch-ish event type thing of a foldable phone. Huawei would follow suit at Mobile World Congress, but more on that later.

The standout feature, naturally enough, on the Galaxy Fold is the fact you can use this as a phone with a 4.6-inch screen or a tablet with a 7.3-inch screen. Thanks to some pretty cool tech, the device clamshells in half with a bending screen. It’s genuinely awesome from a gadget nerd point of view.

Galaxy Fold Fears

But I have one massive fear which might be a pretty obvious one. I do not trust expensive tech that bends.

Bend lines visible at Samsung Unpacked 2019

That’s an image of the Samsung Galaxy Fold on stage at Unpacked 2019. After a pristine demo in a carefully lit section of the stage, DJ Koh pulled out a Galaxy Fold under much harsher lights which clearly showed lines where the screen folds.

You might say, this is an unfinished prototype, but given that Samsung will be delivering this phone in April, this has to be pretty close to the final product.

Alternate Dimensions

By far, the oddest thing about the Galaxy Fold is the screen sizes. I just don’t understand it. Closed up, the phone is has a 4.6-inch screen. I’m sure some people will like having a small screen, but if you’re looking for a phone as a size-reference you’d need to look at the Sony Xperia XZ1 compact. A more popular reference might be the 4-inch screen of the iPhone 5.

In short, what I’m saying here is that folded up the screen is small. Fortunately, you can open it up to 7.3-inches. Unfortunately, I still think that’s a really odd size for a tablet.

The smallest Apple tablet, the iPad Mini has a 7.9-inch screen and this falls in behind the most popular model, the 9.7-inch. That’s a substantial size difference.

These two size profiles look like complete compromises by Samsung to get a foldable phone-tablet hybrid onto the market.

Double Decker Phones

Speaking of rushing to the market, what about that design.

I’m sorry. I genuinely didn’t want this to be a “go to town on Samsung” session, but honestly. I think it reminds me of a Tommy Tiernan joke where he says people look at Dublin buses and imagine them as being “buses on top of other buses”. The Galaxy Fold is a phone on top of another phone.

After a few minutes trying to find that Tommy Tiernan joke, I opted for another comparison. A comparison that probably makes more sense. It reminds me of the Nokia L’Amour range.

I might sound mad, but it’s got that double thickness feeling about it. Honestly, look…

chunky galaxy fold

A design like that is surely another indicator that Samsung wasn’t too fussed about the look and feel of the Fold. 

Galaxy Fold Price

There’s a lot more specs and features to discuss, but I’m going to keep the bulk of that for another day. Brass tacks time. What’s this going to cost?

Early adopters do pay extra tax for the privilege of playing with new toys at such an early stage. Now, seriously. It’s a big tax.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold will cost in or around €1750 to buy. That means if you were take this phone on an Irish network’s top plan on a 24-month contract, you’d still likely be paying the guys of a grand. Yup. Feel free to take a break before we get going again.

Huawei Mate X Foldable Phone

It would appear that Huawei rather dislikes Samsung. They trolled the living daylights out of Samsung’s Unpacked event, dropping teasers for what the new P30 series and taking a page out of Samsung’s own book. Samsung used to troll Apple hard for lagging behind, but Huawei is now having the Honors. Yup, that’s a phone-nerd joke right there. Enjoy it.

So it was little surprise to see Huawei take to the MWC stage and announce their own take on foldable phones. While many hoped to get a sneak peak at the P30 series, Huawei will instead keep all of that for a stand-alone event in Paris on 26 March.

However, those who went along to the keynote weren’t disappointed with a new laptop and foldable phone announced. Let’s focus on the foldable phone, the Huawei Mate X.

Picking on Samsung’s Shortcomings

I’m not entirely sure who puts together Huawei’s presentations, but boy do they move fast. Just a few days after Samsung announced the Galaxy Fold, Huawei had carefully curated a presentation which showed off where their Mate X was already vying for the lead in the foldable phone market.

I’ll fully admit this is probably personal preference, but first and foremost, when closed, the Huawei Mate X is just a nice phone. Actually, it’s a very nice phone and at 6.4-inches, it’s a grand size. Opened up, the Mate X measures in with an 8-inch display. A little on the small side again but a step in the right direction.

A solid start.

Next up, the thickness. Another point to Huawei.

Mate X versus “other foldable phone” aka Galaxy Fold

The Mate X is a full 6mm thinner when closed than the “other foldable phone” on the market. While throwing shade is Huawei’s forte, at least they are trying to avoid being sued as the naming conventions of their presentation would suggest.

However, in a post presentation press conference, Richard Yu wasn’t holding back…

I’m still trying to get my head around the design of these phones, but beyond the different approaches to hinges, there’s a massive difference in the approach to foldable phones by both Samsung and Huawei. Samsung’s Galaxy Fold opens out into a tablet, while the Huawei Mate X opens into a phone. Imagine opening a book but not stopping until the covers touched. That’s the Huawei approach.

A Problem Shared

It’s not all fantastic news though. While the Mate X looks to improve on some of the Galaxy Fold’s shortcomings, it did display one similar potential issue. Display being the big word here.

You can still see there’s some waviness in that display and I just don’t know if this is something we should all be worried about. Now, Huawei is much further away from launch with the Mate X expected mid-2019 as opposed to the Galaxy Fold’s April launch date.

Huawei Mate X Price

I did try to seguay from a “problem shared” into the price. That was on purpose and if you are still reeling from the Galaxy Fold price, maybe go get a glass of water before reading on.

If you want to buy the Huawei foldable phone, it’ll set you back €2300. To follow the same logic as earlier, on an Irish mobile network, paying €60 per month for 24 months, you’ll still pay well over a grand for the Mate X. But I do have an interesting take on this price.

Does Anyone Actually Want Foldable Phones?

I think there’s genuinely a market out there for foldable phones, but it’s really minuscule. Like, it’s teeny. I can’t really get across how small it’s likely to be. Early adopters and some tech industry leaders will want to be out in front with this stuff. Average consumers on the street will just be glad to know that tech innovation might drive down the price of traditional style smartphones. Maybe.

Do I want a folding phone? Yes. Now that I’ve seen the Huawei Mate X I’ve been a little won over. The prices have got to come down though. To be frank, right now prices are silly. I could just buy a phone and a tablet. I don’t need them to be rolled into one.

However, if someone is thinking about shelling out this kind of money for a foldable phone, the price is unlikely to be an issue. So Huawei’s Mate X being quite a bit more expensive won’t really be a factor, considering how much better they’ve designed the foldable phone itself

Will the general public want a folding phone? No, at least not until the price is more realistic. Right now, most people just aren’t interested in foldable phones.

And this makes sense. Tablet traffic makes up 10% of internet traffic, so generally speaking, people are getting along just fine without tablets.

What have I learned through writing this article?

My goal was to talk through some facts and come to a conclusion and I think I have. The Samsung Galaxy Fold is an expensive, rushed attempt to get a folding phone to the marketplace. The Huawei Mate X is a much better attempt which I believe cut no corners on quality, with Huawei deciding early on to ignore how much it would end up costing.

I’ve also learned just how cut-throat this space is going to be.

Already, Samsung launched a foldable phone and a competitor has launched another and done better. Lads, it’s been a week with this market open and there’s already a war.

Apple thought the iPhone X would be a revolution in smartphone design. Such strong words for what was an ok phone. I’m fairly confident foldable phones are going to go along the same lines. I don’t think they’ll be a 3DTV level of tech fail, but I also don’t think you’ll find one in your pocket any time soon.

I will add, this article could age as well as a positive Theresa May headline claiming she might get a deal from the EU.

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Founding Editor of Goosed, Marty is a massive fan of tech making life easier. You'll often find him testing something new, brewing beer or finding some new foodie spots in Dublin, Ireland. - Find me on Threads