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, punch-hole front cameras, bezel free displays 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 are set to be 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, from the already announced to the upcoming and rumoured.
- 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 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 the year 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 has currently been postponed. There have been some reports that it is now fixed though, so we might see the Galaxy Fold V2 soon.
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.
- 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. It's currently only available in China as a developer model 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. He asked for name suggestions. We are all about Foldy Mcfoldface.
TCL announced at Mobile World Congress 2019 that it will be entering the foldable smartphone market at some stage, though it doesn't yet have a specific device. Instead, the company showed off a hinge - called DragonHinge - 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.
- Not ruled out foldable device
LG announced the V50 ThinQ at Mobile World Congress 2019, but it isn't a foldable phone. Instead, the 6.4-inch device has a Dual Screen accessory that allows users to experience two screens together but they can be detached from each other. The Dual Screen comes in the form of a foldable case with a display and it connects to the V50 ThinQ via three pins.
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.
Its IFA 2019 press conference teaser video suggests the future may be sooner rather than later for the company though, with a video of a dual-screen foldable device with an 8-bit style game showcasing a stylised route map to the show in Berlin. This is similar to the V50 ThinQ, suggesting a successor to that device, but the video also shows the teased model with an external outer display, making for something a little more interesting. The company also patented a Z-folding device with two folds so who knows what LG has planned.
- Leaked on Weibo
Like Motorola and LG, 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 more recently 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.
- Internal and external display
- Fingerprint sensor
Speculation suggests Lenovo-owned Motorola is quite literally morphing its 15-year old Razr flip phone into a foldable phone, switching the numerical keyboard for a full display that folds when you shut the phone.
It is claimed the Razr lookalike will not only offer a long internal display, but also a secondary screen on the rear, which will presumably show incoming notifications without the device needing to be open. A camera and fingerprint sensor also appear to be present, based on the leaked patent.
The company confirmed to Engadget it is developing a foldable device that will launch no later than everybody else in the market. Motorola said the design would not feature a screen on the outside and is investigating different formats for the foldable screen, though other sources say there will be a small external display. In terms of specifications, it has been claimed there will be mid-range muscle under the hood.
Lenovo has also committed to offering the first foldable laptop by 2020, so the company is definitely into the foldable market.
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, 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."