Foldable Future: Smartphones Return to Design Classic

Samsung has been the pioneer in the sector, presenting the first foldable smartphone at MWC three years ago.

Foldable Future: Smartphones Return to Design Classic

Photo Credit: Roydon Cerejo/ Gadgets 360

Oppo Find N comes with a proprietary hinge that helps removes crease

Highlights
  • Samsung vows its latest models will give users experience of tablets
  • Oppo Find N has seen "really hot" sales in China
  • Samsung already has the jump on its competitors in foldable smartphones

The "snap!" of a shutting phone is the nostalgic sound resonating from the giant stands of Samsung, Oppo and Huawei at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.

Star of the early 2000s, the flip-phone is making a comeback, with the big names of the industry hoping the high-tech new version — the foldable smartphone — is on the verge of going mainstream.

As production costs start to fall, analysts expect a tenfold increase in sales by 2026.

Samsung has been the pioneer in the sector, presenting the first foldable smartphone at the Barcelona conference three years ago.

The South Korean firm accounted for 87 percent of foldable phone sales last year according to analysts DSCC.

It vows that its latest models — the Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Z Flip — will give users the sort of experience normally reserved for tablets and laptops.

samsung galaxy fold samsung_galaxy_fold

Samsung Galaxy Fold was the first foldable smartphone from Samsung

"We are working with players like Disney+ and YouTube to best integrate their applications into this screen size and make maximum use of all the possibilities of the product," said Francois Hernandez of Samsung France.

But competition is rising, with companies like China's Oppo muscling in.

Its Find N, currently available only in Asia, has seen "really hot" sales in China, according to the company's head of products Arne Herkelmann.

The foldable phone "is ready for the mass market," she told AFP.

"We see that it is becoming more and more mature as a technology and also reaching more approachable prices, so definitely in the future, you will see more foldable devices."

samsung galaxy z flip folded compare samsung_galaxy_z_flip_folded_compare

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is smaller than most smartphones when folded

Disruption

It has not just been the technical challenge of creating a bendable screen that has held back the market.

It has also been hard to disrupt the fundamental image — seemingly set in stone with the first iPhone in 2007 — of a smartphone as a large black rectangle with a single touch screen.

They remain a niche segment with a market share of just 0.62 percent in 2021, according to Ritesh Bendre, analyst at Counterpoint Research.

But with Huawei (and its P50 Pocket), Xiaomi, Motorola, and even Google working on their own models, that share is expected to reach 3.5 percent by 2025, he said.

huawei p50 pocket launch huawei_p50_pocket_launch

Huawei P50 Pocket uses a circular secondary display
Photo Credit: Huawei

A key turning point is expected when Apple joins the fray, which analysts expect to see around 2025.

"Apple is a hugely influential company," said Bendre, estimating that foldable sales would surpass 60 million when it gets involved.

"This will add further credibility and help open up the foldable market to iPhone customers. Volumes will depend on whether Apple is aiming for a more expensive or cheaper type of foldable," added DSCC's Ross Young.

But in the upcoming battle of the foldable, Samsung already has the jump on its competitors, especially in the technologies necessary for its production.

"Samsung is taking advantage of Apple's lack of participation and Huawei's difficulties" linked to US sanctions, said Young.

"It sees foldable screens as a way to improve its flagship position against Apple and other brands."


How does the Oppo Find N improve over Galaxy Z Fold 3? We discuss this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
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  • REVIEW
  • KEY SPECS
  • NEWS
  • Design
  • Display
  • Software
  • Performance
  • Battery Life
  • Camera
  • Value for Money
  • Good
  • Large, vibrant folding display
  • Intuitive software for multitasking
  • Top-tier performance
  • Great-sounding speakers
  • Water-resistant design
  • Bad
  • Average battery life
  • Cameras could do better in low light
  • Heavy, bulky when folded
  • Expensive
Display (Primary) 7.60-inch
Processor octa-core
Front Camera 10-megapixel + 4-megapixel
Rear Camera 12-megapixel + 12-megapixel + 12-megapixel
RAM 12GB
Storage 256GB, 512GB
Battery Capacity 4400mAh
OS Android 11
Resolution 2208x1768 pixels
  • REVIEW
  • KEY SPECS
  • NEWS
  • Design
  • Display
  • Software
  • Performance
  • Battery Life
  • Camera
  • Value for Money
  • Good
  • Vibrant folding display
  • Very good build quality, easily pocketable
  • Top-tier performance
  • Water-resistant design
  • Bad
  • Main screen washes out under sunlight
  • Cover screen could be more functional
  • Weak battery life, slow charging
  • Low-light video could be better
Display (Primary) 6.70-inch
Processor octa-core
Front Camera 10-megapixel
Rear Camera 12-megapixel + 12-megapixel
RAM 8GB
Storage 128GB, 256GB
Battery Capacity 3300mAh
OS Android 11
Resolution 1080x2640 pixels
  • KEY SPECS
  • NEWS
Display (Primary) 7.10-inch
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Front Camera 32-megapixel
Rear Camera 50-megapixel + 16-megapixel + 13-megapixel
RAM 8GB, 12GB
Storage 256GB, 512GB
Battery Capacity 4500mAh
OS Android 11
Resolution 1792x1920 pixels
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