Remember the days when text messages and Snake on your Nokia 3310 were two of the most exciting things a phone could manage? We do too. Fast forward 15 years and we have in-display fingerprint scanners, bezel free displays, punch-hole front cameras and a whole new take on slider and flip phones.
Flip phones were once slim, compact and hinged devices. Now, flip phones have morphed into foldable phones and they unhinged, in both senses of the word. With bendable screens, Android support, plenty of potential and huge price tags, here are the devices leading the crazy foldable smartphone trend.
- Internal and external display
- Fingerprint sensor
Lenovo-owned Motorola has quite literally morphed its 15-year old iconic Razr flip phone into a foldable phone, switching the numerical keyboard for a flexible OLED screen display that folds into a square when you shut the phone, with a second Quick View display to the front.
The device was unveiled on 13 November in Los Angeles and it comes with a glass and stainless steel construction, a fingerprint scanner in the chin and it's around 14mm thick. The main screen is 6.2-inches with a resolution of 2142 x 876 pixels, while the secondary screen is 2.7-inches with a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels.
Under the hood, you'll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor, coupled with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a 2510mAh battery. There is a 16-megapixel camera that flips to be a selfie and main camera and there is a 5-megapixel internal camera for face unlock and attentive display features. Price has yet to be revealed.
Lenovo has also committed to offering the first foldable laptop by 2020.
- 6.6-inch front, 6.38-inch rear, unfolds into 8-inch OLED tablet
- 4500mAh battery with 55W fast-charging
- Kirin 980 chipset and 5G modem
- Leica triple camera
Huawei stole the show at Mobile World Congress 2019, unveiling its take on a folding phone in the Mate X. Unlike the Moto Razr and the Samsung Fold (below), the X has its screen on the exterior fold - presented as a 6.6-inch main screen and elongated 6.38-inch screen on the rear. Unfolded, the two present as an 8-inch tablet form.
It's seamless, with no separation, no kinks or creases but it might struggle with scratches.
Elsewhere the Mate X offers top-end spec: its got a 4500mAh total battery capacity with fastest-in-class 55W charging (80 per cent in just 30 minutes), the company's top-end Kirin 980 processor and a 5G modem for the fastest possible connectivity. Huawei has said it will be out before the end of 2019 despite delays - and it will start at €2299, which is about £2000.
- 7nm 64-bit octa-core processor, 12GB RAM
- 4.6-inch to 7.3-inch Infinity Flex display
- 512GB storage
- 4380mAh battery capacity
The Samsung Galaxy Fold was made official in February, following years of rumours. The device was revealed alongside the Galaxy S10 range at Samsung Unpacked 2019, but while it was due to go on sale at the end of April in the US and beginning of May in Europe, with a starting price of €2000, it had a few teething issues.
A "fixed" version of the device is now available to buy though and you can read all about what Samsung changed between the first and second generation of the device in our separate feature.
The Galaxy Fold foldable smartphone has a 4.6-inch screen that folds out to a 7.3-inch tablet, but unlike the Royole FlexPai (below), it has a more consumer-friendly design with a more considered hinge. It features a 7nm Exynos chip, coupled with 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. There is no microSD but the device does offer six cameras and the software allows for three-app multi-tasking when open on the larger display. Rumours have started for a Galaxy Fold 2 however so watch this space.
- Qualcomm SD855, 6/8GB RAM
- 7.8-inch flexible screen, 308ppi
- 16MP/20MP cameras
- 134 x 190.3 x 7.6mm (unfolded), 320g
Royole beat everyone to the punch, announcing the first commercially-available smartphone with a flexible display back at CES 2019. It's only available in China as a developer model at the moment but the FlexPai turns from a 7.8-inch tablet to a smartphone by folding in half.
It's got all the power of a typical flagship smartphone but it's a bulky bit of kit when folded and it doesn't fold flat, leaving a nice big air gap next to the non-existent hinge. It also starts at £1209/$1300. There's plenty of future potential though, especially given the screen technology is just millimetres thick.
President of Xiaomi, Lin Bin, tweeted a teaser video of a foldable phone so the trend is on the Chinese company's radar, though it wasn't ready for Mobile World Congress.
The device folds both sides, allowing for a smaller phone unit from the larger 4:3 tablet. The video shows the software adapting accordingly depending on the form factor, but Xiaomi's vice president told us the company is still studying what technologies should be offered.
Currently, the device is just an engineering sample, though Bin said if it is liked by enough people, the company would consider developing a consumer version and a patent has appeared since. He asked for name suggestions. We are all about Foldy Mcfoldface.
TCL announced at a hinge at Mobile World Congress 2019 called the DragonHinge that that could feature on various foldable phone designs, as well as wearables. There was also a prototype device at MWC, which opened and shut like a wallet. The screen was on the inside and while there was no external display, the company also showed a concept with a display on the cover, allowing users to check notifications and messages.
Since MWC, the company has shown off another prototype that features two hinges, expanding into a device offering three screens. Unfolded, the TCL prototype has around a 10-inch screen, basically turning it into a tablet. It's not available yet though.
- Not ruled out foldable device
LG announced the V50 ThinQ at Mobile World Congress 2019, followed by the G8X ThinQ at IFA 2019, but neither are a foldable phone. Instead, the smartphones have a Dual Screen accessory that allows users to experience two screens together but they can be detached from each other.
The company hasn't completely ruled out making a foldable phone though. It told us in our pre-MWC 2019 briefing that a foldable phone doesn't make business sense just yet but that if things change in the future, it's something it might consider. The company also patented a Z-folding device with two folds so who knows what LG has planned.
- Leaked on Weibo
Oppo has filed patents for a foldable smartphone. The company's product manager was reported to have said news regarding Oppo's foldable smartphone plans would potentially appear at MWC but not much else was said and nothing appeared at the show.
Instead, images of the device landed on Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo and there have been some official patent renders too. The phone is clearly a prototype and has an OLED wraparound display on the outside rather than folding internally. Based on the Weibo images, one side of the screen has a thicker bezel for cameras and so on, though this wasn't the case on the patent images.
When the Oppo foldable phone will launch is not yet known but it certainly looks like the OnePlus parent company will launch one at some point.
- 6.2-inch, OLED, 4K
- Dual rear camera (19MP + 12MP)
- Qualcomm SD855
- 8GB RAM, 128/256/512GB storage
It's long been claimed Sony is also working on a foldable smartphone and several concept videos from Tech Configurations show just how amazing the device could be. With various names speculated, including Xperia Note Flex, it's claimed Sony's foldable device will take things to the next level and also offer a transparent display.
An in-display fingerprint reader, dual rear camera and Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855 chip are all listed specs in the concept leaks. The Sony Xperia folding smartphone is also said to have a polymer joint and a 6.2-inch OLED display with a 4K resolution when folded out.
Apple has filed a couple of patents for foldable phones, suggesting the Cupertino company is also working on a device to meet this trend. According to one patent, the Apple foldable smartphone may use "overlapping hinges" attached to "flexible displays".
Another patent suggests the device could roll rather than fold, while another suggests the folding area will be kept warm to prevent cracking. Naturally, rumours are very contradictory but it has been said Apple will wait till 2020 to release a foldable smartphone so we might have a little longer to wait yet. The company's co-founder told Bloomberg it really wants one though.
Google is also said to be looking into foldables, but we aren't expecting a foldable Pixel any time soon. Ahead of Google I/O 2019 earlier this year, Google told CNET it is prototyping foldable devices: "We're definitely prototyping the technology. We've been doing it for a long time," said Mario Queiroz, Google's Pixel development lead.
However, he added: "I don't think there's a clear use case yet...We're prototyping foldable displays and many other new hardware technologies, and have no related product announcements to make at this time."