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Foldable smartphones : But what’s in it for you?

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Now that the first foldable smartphones have been presented, it is time to see what you can do with those devices. During the Mobile World Congress fair in Barcelona, ​​we visited several manufacturers to try out the foldable models.

Few of foldable smartphones

After months of rumors about foldable smartphones, various manufacturers have finally presented their own vision of the product in recent days. Often these are prototypes: elaborated, rough ideas that are not suitable for the consumer market, but which can already give a glimpse into the future. In this article we look at the foldable phones from Samsung, Huawei, Royole, Oppo and TCL. All companies have their own view of the foldable smartphone.

foldable smartphones- Samsung Galaxy Fold

A few days before MWC 2019 started, Samsung presented the Samsung Galaxy Fold . This smartphone has two screens. The foldable screen, which can be folded out into a tablet, is located on the inside of the device. On the outside we find a small screen of less than 5-inch, that you can use as a smartphone screen when you leave the device folded. For the time being, this is a unique design, as many manufacturers opt for a model with one large, flexible screen.

Such a design naturally has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that this device looks pretty sleek and businesslike. Especially in the silver-gray color, the device will not look out of place for many business conversations when you take it out of your inside pocket. When folded, it is a narrow device, one that is extremely handy and can be stored neatly. Also, the foldable screen, measuring up to 7.3-inch in size, will not easily scratch the inside, as the specially designed case offers sufficient protection.

Because Samsung has opted for this striking design, you do have extremely thick edges above and below the front screen. There are three cameras on the back. The great thing about the Samsung Galaxy Fold is that there are plenty of multitasking options. You can have up to three applications open at the same time and choose which app you open on the largest part of the screen. On the left is the main application, while on the right side of the expanded device you can run two apps in small screens.

With a total of five cameras on the device, there are also plenty of possibilities in the field of photography. This way you can use the three cameras on the back, whether you unfold the device or not. When you open it all the way, you naturally have a much larger viewfinder, while when folded you can take better photos with a ratio of 4: 3. There are also two cameras inside, which you can use to take selfies or make video calls, for example. When you do that, you see yourself and the other in the picture.

Of course, the software responds to the state of the hardware, so that as a user you hardly notice the transition that you initiate yourself. If you unfold the device, the open app will be presented immediately. If you fold it in half again, the app will automatically move again. For this, Samsung works closely with Android, so that the operating system can be optimized for the changing shape of Android smartphones. The Galaxy Fold should appear in the second quarter.

Huawei Mate X

Huawei takes a different approach and presents a foldable smartphone with one large screen. You can use this screen on the inside and outside, since the screen is folded on the outside. As a result, you have a smooth back when you unfold it and a large screen at your disposal if you want to use it as a regular smartphone. On one side of the unfolded screen is a thickened element, which contains a lot of technology.

For example, you will find the USB-C port on it. Because the Huawei Mate X is quite thin, thinner than most foldable smartphones of the moment, there is no room for that elsewhere on the device. That extra thick edge is also used for clicking the screen when you want to fold it. By means of a special hinge (we have been told that it contains more than a hundred patented parts), Huawei also ensures that the screen does not have an opening in the folded position.

That is, for example, different with the first foldable smartphone, which was announced at the end of last year: the Royole Flexpai (more about that later). Thanks to this design, the Huawei Mate X already looks better and more convenient than its direct competitors. It also seems as if Huawei is much further with the development of the prototype than, for example, Oppo or Samsung, but nevertheless imperfections are visible when you look at the device closely. For example, the screen may bleed slightly after folding.

Moreover, there is still something to be desired in the field of software, but here too it really applies that it is still an early version. Of course, Google is working on support for foldable smartphones within Android, but it is also up to manufacturers themselves to make something of it. Here too, the software responds to the state of the hardware, so you will probably switch seamlessly between apps on a large and small screen. That is of course the very idea behind such a foldable smartphone.

The Huawei Mate X is perhaps best described as two smartphone screens that are stuck together, although that is of course not actually the case. The whole feels like one product and not like a mess. Of course, that does not mean that there is still a long way to go, but for the time being Huawei seems to be the only one closest to a product launch in this form. The thick border next to or behind the screen also contains three cameras and a flash.

Oppo

Although the Chinese brand Oppo has promised to present a foldable smartphone during Mobile World Congress 2019, unfortunately that did not happen. That does not mean that there is nothing to report at all. Fortunately, Brian Shen, vice president of the manufacturer, showed some photos of the device on Weibo, the Chinese variant of Twitter. This way we know a bit about what Oppo is currently working on and we get an impression of how the company wants to present the foldable telephone.

As it looks now, Oppo will move in the same direction as Huawei. There is one large screen, which you fold over with the screen to the outside. The reason that Oppo has not currently scheduled an official presentation for this model is because, in our view, the company has doubts about the design and the added value of this product. Despite this, Oppo’s foldable phone seems to be able to do the same as those of Huawei and Samsung, in terms of multitasking, app use and media consumption.

TCL Dragonhinge

TCL is also present with its own idea for a foldable smartphone. This is purely a prototype, as there is currently no name known of a smartphone with the so-called Dragonhinge on board. The manufacturer is now mainly concentrating on the Dragonhinge, the special hinge that ensures that you can bend the screen. As it looks now, this device gets a large screen with relatively thick bezels on all sides, so you don’t have one thick bezel on just one side.

Of course there is a large part in the middle in front of the hinge, which is also clearly visible. In the center of the 7.2-inch screen is a lighter part than is present elsewhere, something that is very noticeable from certain angles. In addition, there is also a screen on the front, so you can use the device in two ways. The large tablet screen is protected because it is not on the outside. However, this can all change when TCL decides to present a real existing design.

Royole Flexpai

The Royole Flexpai is the first foldable smartphone that was already announced at the end of last year. It is a flexible smartphone that you can use in different ways. The Royole employees have repeated several times that the device does not have a glass screen, but a special type of plastic that makes folding possible. The special hinge on the back allows you to bend the device back and forth without stretching the screen or the like.

There is one screen on the Royole Flexpai. You can use that screen in different ways. Completely unfolded, it is a tablet screen on which you can use one application at a time. That app is very useful when you change the shape of the hardware and switch between tablet and smartphone mode. For example, in the video below you can see what happens to the layout of the calendar application when we switch from tablet mode to smartphone mode.

Furthermore, the software already responds reasonably well to the way the hardware is used. Besides the change of the shape, there is of course also a constant change of the position: horizontal or vertical. Unfortunately, the Royole Flexpai has a clear top and bottom, which prevents you from holding the device upside down. Fortunately, that does not detract from the physical flexibility of the device. Unfolded, you are left with two screens: on the front and back.

Both screens can be used, for example for taking photos or using apps. If you want to take a picture, the person at the back of the search can also immediately watch how that person is being portrayed. But you can also choose to fold the Flexpai completely into a tablet for taking the photo. Due to the placement of the two cameras on the device, you technically take a selfie at that time, but we will not talk about that further. The cameras sit on a thick rim.

LG V50 ThinQ

If there is one manufacturer that takes a completely different approach, it is LG. The not-so-successful smartphone manufacturer presents an intermediate step that we have already seen coming from China. The LG V50 is a ‘normal’ smartphone with a single screen that cannot be unfolded or folded. But when you buy an accessory you can attach a second screen to it. It is a special case that is equipped with an OLED screen. 

The single screen on the LG V50 is 5.4-inch in size, while the optional accessory’s screen is 6.2-inch in size. You technically have a 12.6-inch space, but that’s not a fair comparison. Moreover, there is still a thick border between the two screens, which makes a wide viewing experience impossible. However, there are plenty of options in the field of multitasking and you can just run two apps side by side. For example, you watch a YouTube video on the left, while you visit Tablets Magazine on the right.

But what good is foldable smartphones in the end?

All those possibilities are of course nice and nice. And if we are honest, the products often already look cool. But the question that remains after getting the first impressions is: what good is it in the end? In a society where smartphone fatigue is a broad concept, the question is whether people are really waiting for a new form factor , one that has yet to prove its usefulness. The experience, especially the software, is not really optimally designed at the moment.

Based on these first impressions, we don’t want to immediately write off the products, but we now have to do our best to figure out what you really need such a thing for. Of course you can make calls with it, it is handy that you can multitask well and the viewing experience of apps such as YouTube and Netflix is ​​relatively better, but it is not so much better that we will soon run to the store to get such a foldable smartphone. . We do believe that this will in any case not be the smartphone successor in the short term.

It is true that this new form factor can provide a revival in the smartphone industry. The devices feel like a new category, even though two existing categories are merged here (smartphones and tablets). Today, the smartphone market is boring, with devices all starting to look alike and offering solutions to self-created problems (such as shortcuts at the bottom of a long, narrow screen). In short: all very cool, but it is not really useful yet.

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