(Pocket-lint) - Folding smartphones burst on to the scene in 2019, making the phone industry much more interesting having faced years of stagnation and same-y looking glass rectangles. It was a chance to show off designs, be more adventurous and do something different. And the best part about it: not one company launched a product exactly like another.
For 2020 this particular market will undoubtedly develop further as new companies join in with their own iterations, and existing manufacturers mature and refine to make theirs better. While the cost may still be prohibitive for a lot of people, these are the devices to look forward to in the near future.
Huawei Mate XS
Huawei officially unveiled its second generation folding smartphone in early 2020, and it features much of the same design and hardware capabilities of the original Mate X. It's essentially an 8-inch tablet that folds outwards, leaving you with one large regular smartphone style screen on the outside.
It has a sturdier hinge than the first generation model and features fast 55W charging as standard. It's quite big, and will need some form of protection in order to stop that screen from being damaged with use, but it feels solid, well-made and - as importantly - has powerful internal components.
The big question currently is whether the lack of Google Play Services will hinder it from becoming a global success in the developing foldable market.
Samsung Galaxy Fold 2
Samsung took two stabs at its first Galaxy Fold before finally releasing it to the public, but we hope with the second generation it will have learned from that process and wil be able to launch a refresh without those early design and durability problems.
There's been suggestion that Samsung will offer it with a ceramic option for a more premium build, as well as featuring stainless steel metal frame to replace the lighter, less durable aluminium.
The biggest feature update over the first gen is arguably going to be a bigger, more useful external display. It's been rumoured it'll take up much more space on that front cover, and may almost be an edge-to-edge panel with skinny bezels. It's also rumoured to feature the same camera setup as the Galaxy S20+.
So far, it's expected that Samsung will launch the phone mid-way through 2020, with the possibility of it arriving in July.
Microsoft Surface Duo
So this is an interesting one, and given that it has two screens rather than a single flexible panel, there's an argument to be had over whether or not it belongs on the list, but it seeks to provide a solution to the same problem as many of the current folding smartphones: fitting a big screen in your pocket.
Like the Mate XS and Galaxy Fold, it's more of a folding tablet than a folding phone, but Microsoft has been working on it for years and it was finally announced officially at the end of 2019.
You can use it to play with apps, games and make/receive calls, and it runs Android (not Windows). With it being an unusual form factor and with Microsoft wanting to do things its own way, the interface looks to be a highly customised version of Android, but Android it is nonetheless.
The only downside to this exciting-looking product is that we have to wait until the end of 2020 until it's available. Microsoft has said it'll be ready for the holidays.
President of Xiaomi, Lin Bin, tweeted a teaser video of a foldable phone in 2019 - so the trend is on the Chinese company's radar - though we haven't yet had a launch.
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. However, TCL won't tell us what it is called even though it has shown it off several times.
The device 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.
More exciting, however, is probably the device that doesn't fold at all. TCL has used the same flexible screen technology to develop a phone that rolls out, like LG's popup rollable TVs. So rather than unfolding, the display seems to simply expand in front of your eyes when you want the bigger panel, as it rolls out from within the phone's chassis.
The only issue with TCL is that it has so far not launched a single foldable or flexible smartphone in any form for public consumption, it just seems content with showing of concepts and prototypes for now. So we don't know if, or when any of these will be available to buy.
- 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 it didn't.
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 sister 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. But 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 last 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."