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, plus 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 with actual bendable screens. That tends to bring the potential for huge price tags, though, to get hold of a piece of the magic.
Here are the devices leading the foldable smartphone trend.
- 6.2-inch internal foldable screen, 2.7-inch external display
- Foldable clamshell design with patented hinge mechanism
- Fingerprint scanner in 'chin' section to bottom
- Sub-14mm thickness when folded
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 an almost-square when you shut the phone, with a second Quick View display to the front.
The device was unveiled on 13 November 2019 in Los Angeles, was set for pre-order for the end of that year - but this was then delayed due to high demand. It will now ship 6 February 2020 in the USA and not long after in the UK and Europe.
The Razr features a glass and stainless steel construction, a fingerprint scanner in the chin section at the bottom, and it's around 14mm thick when folded. The main screen is 6.2-inches, made from Plastic OLED so it can fold, while the second screen on the front is a fixed 2.7-inch panel for glancing at notifications.
Under the hood, you'll find a Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 processor, coupled with 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a 2,510mAh 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.
- Exterior screen: 4.5-inch, 1680 x 720 pixels, Dynamic AMOLED
- Interior screen: 7.3-inch, 2152 x 1536 pixels, Super AMOLED
- 7nm 64-bit octa-core processor, 12GB RAM, 512GB storage
- 4,380mAh battery capacity
The Samsung Galaxy Fold was made official in February 2019, 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 - as the first true foldable phone to market - and you can read all about what Samsung changed between the first- and second-generation of the device in our separate feature.
We found its design to be largely successful, marrying a 4.5-inch external screen on the outside, with a 7.3-inch folding screen on the inside. Sure, the external could fill more space in the frame, but we're sure a new generation will make that even better.
It features a 7nm Exynos chip, coupled with 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage (so no need for microSD!). There are six cameras to ensure every angle is covered, while the software allows for three-app multi-tasking when open on the larger display.
- Clamshell foldable design
- 6.7-inch display rumoured
- Announcement 11 February 2020?
Not content with one foldable phone, rumours suggest that Samsung has a second one on the way. But it's rather different to the Fold (above), instead folding down the middle, much like a Samsung version of the Moto Razr (up top).
It's been called the Fold 2, the Bloom, it's known by the SM-F700 model number, but it looks like the go-to-market name will be the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. We don't know a great deal more than that at the moment, so we'll be waiting with baited breath the hear more about this Razr competitor come mid-Feb.
- 6.6-inch front, 6.38-inch rear, unfolds into 8-inch OLED tablet
- 4,500mAh 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 (above), 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.
We don't know yet, because the Mate X still hasn't made it to market. Amid the troubles Huawei is facing with releases outside of China, it looks to be on hold until ready. Which has, of course, given Samsung the opportunity to take lead with its refreshed Galaxy Fold hitting the shelves.
Elsewhere the Mate X offers top-end spec: its got a 4,500mAh total battery capacity with speedy 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.
So when will we finally see the Mate X? Huawei said before 2019 closes, but that wasn't the case. So we'll just have to wait and see. We do know that it'll be pricey though: Huawei has said it will start at €2299, which is about £2000/$2550.
- 7.8-inch screen folds in half
- Qualcomm SD855, 6/8GB RAM
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 into 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 2019. Perhaps MWC 2020 will be when it's showcased instead?
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. A patent has appeared since, too, suggesting that could be the case.
At MWC 2019, TCL announced its DragonHinge, which could feature on various foldable phone designs, as well as wearables. That came into greater fruition at CES 2020, where we saw the prototype phone in usable form.
The unnamed deviced opens and shuts like a wallet. The screen is on the inside, and while there is no external display, the company has also shown a concept with a display on the cover in the past.
Since, the company has shown off another prototype that features two hinges, expanding into a device offering three screens. Unfolded, this 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 then 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 2019 - 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 resolution
- Qualcomm SD855, 8GB RAM
- 128/256/512GB storage
It's long been claimed Sony is also working on a foldable smartphone. Several concept videos from Tech Configurations show just how amazing the device could be. With various names speculated, including Xperia Note Flex, it is 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".
The company's co-founder told Bloomberg it really wants to make one though. B we might have a little longer to wait yet.
Google is also said to be looking into foldables, but we aren't expecting a foldable Pixel phone any time soon. Ahead of Google I/O 2019, 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."