Today, smartphones are more or less ubiquitous, and industry observers have spent the last few years lamenting the boring, mainstream evolution of the current vogue of single-screen handsets. In response, phone manufacturers are mixing it up with fresh innovations that diverge from the “Great Glass Slab.” The result is a compact, hybrid phone-tablet combo that may eventually become more convenient and appealing than the gigantic phablets designed for people who seek more screen real estate.
For the moment, they’re extremely expensive. But despite their hefty price tag, the marketplace for foldables continues to heat up at a respectable pace, and Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts that, in the near future, foldable smartphones will become a “must-have” product for major smartphone brands, fueling “super replacement cycles” at the high end.
The few foldable phones available today sport a variety of styles and forms. There’s the clamshell-type design, while TCL has famously experimented with less -onventional design concepts. We can likely expect folding phones from companies like Oppo, Xiaomi, TCL, and Apple, eventually, though some may target local markets.
Although the first foray into the foldable arena was hit-or-miss, resulting in some highly-priced flawed products, the significant upgrades of the second and third generations are encouraging, with companies like Samsung, Motorola, Huawei, and others leading the charge for a creative overhaul of the smartphone look. Here are the best foldable phones available today and models to look forward to in the future.
Folding phones available now
Motorola Razr (2020)
This updated model is Motorola’s successor to the Razr 2019. This new model addresses many of the complaints about the older phone, including a lack of splash resistance. The Razr 2020, available unlocked, heavily resembles the look of the older model, with the same size, clamshell design, and dimensions, as well as the internal 6.2-inch 21:9 foldable display and external 2.7-inch Quick View display. It also runs the same software — though the Quick View display can now run any app, accomplish quick tasks, and reply to messages.
The new device sports 3D curved glass on both sides with an aluminum frame in three new colors: Black, gold, and gray. The chin at the bottom is smoother and smaller, and the fingerprint sensor is now on the back of the phone.
Motorola Razr (2019)
The Moto Razr caused a huge stir when it resurrected, in modern form, a beloved flip phone of the early 2000s era in all its clamshell glory. The external display and characteristic chin, which hosts the antenna and speaker, are reminiscent of the Razr of old. This model debuted in November 2019 as a Verizon smartphone sporting a foldable, 6.2-inch plastic OLED display, 21:9 aspect ratio, and 2142 x 876 resolution — and a $1,000 price tag.
When shut, the Motorola Razr’s 2.7-inch OLED Quick View display offers alerts while allowing quick responses to text messages and emails. The screen has an anti-splash nano-coating but no IP rating for dust or water resistance. Most built-in apps feature seamless transitions that let you start using an app on the outer screen and flip open to the larger display with no loss of content. It is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 710 processor, 6GB RAM, and 128GB of non-expandable internal storage.
Why buy this over its successor above? One word: Price. The older Razr is a couple of hundred dollars less than its upgraded brethren, and that alone could be enough to help you afford a futuristic folding phone.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G
The new Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is not your big sister’s Z Flip from last year, as Samsung has upgraded the Z Flip to include 5G. With its 6.7-inch AMOLED display and 2636 × 1080 resolution, the new Z Flip appeals to a certain class of buyer. While there is a noticeable crease in the middle of the device at the bend area, it is hard to see when looking directly at the device. A Flex Mode detects when the phone is half-open and automatically separates the interface into two screens for certain apps.
With Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 Plus processor, 8GB RAM, and 256GB storage, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip’s chipset is up there with the highest-end flagships. The device has a 3,300mAh battery and the ability to charge or share power wirelessly to other devices. It also features a pair of 12-megapixel wide-angle and ultrawide-angle cameras. While its website says this model is currently out of stock, Samsung promises the supply will be replenished soon.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G
The successor to last year’s Galaxy Fold, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 promises to succeed where the older phone failed. Not only does it update the specs of its predecessor, but it seeks to solve the durability issues that plagued the original Fold.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 features a larger 7.6-inch inner touchscreen, a larger 6.2-inch cover touchscreen, and an added 12MP telephoto camera lens. There’s also a more powerful Snapdragon 865 Plus processor and a sleeker body. Samsung has outfitted the new device with the latest Ultra Thin Glass (UTG), which made the Z Flip sturdier than the original Fold. It also features a freshly redesigned hinge, which uses tiny bristles to banish dust and debris, which was a serious weak point on the original Fold.
ZTE Axon M
The ZTE Axon M doesn’t exactly have a foldable display. Rather, it consists of two identical, 5.2-inch Gorilla Glass displays folded to stack atop each other. With that setup, you get three modes — Dual, Extended, and Mirror — for multitasking, watching videos, or playing games. The twin HD screens combine to give you a full 6.75-inch tablet display.
Mirror Mode lets you and a friend see the same content from opposite sides of the device when placed on a table. Traditional Mode gives you a regular smartphone that’s easy to use and hold in one hand. It has 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, expandable up to 256GB with a microSD card. It runs Android 7 Nougat with a 2.15 GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon Integrated ARMv8 and features a 20MP camera that acts as both a selfie and rear camera. The ZTE Axon M is unlocked to work with GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile, but not CDMA carriers like Verizon.
LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen
The LG G8X ThinQ Dual Screen features an innovative folio case that hosts two screens, plus a monochrome display on the outside for quick-glance use. The device is 8.4mm thick, accommodates a flush camera array, and carries rugged MIL-STD810G specs with an IP68 water resistance rating. The second identical 6.4-inch OLED screen is the clever charm: When you place the device in its case, it connects to the second screen via USB-C, powered from the phone. The camera has two lenses on the back: A 12MP main lens with optical image stabilization and a 13MP super wide-angle lens. The front has a 32MP selfie camera. And, get ready: It has a 3.5mm jack for your listening pleasure.
Using apps alongside each other in portrait mode works great. The outside secondary 2.1-inch monochrome screen displays time, date, and notifications. If the whole thing gets too unwieldy, just remove the folio case and go back to using a single screen.
Microsoft Surface Duo
Microsoft released the Surface Duo, a dual-screen, Android 10-powered phone with a signature design that showcases a split where the two screens meet. A pair of 5.6-inch AMOLED displays make up the Surface Duo, each with a resolution of 1800 × 1350 at 401 pixels per inch. The phone can fold completely closed, open like a book, or fold back on itself for single-screen use.
The high-resolution display opens to 8.1 inches with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2700 × 1800 pixels, covered by Corning’s Gorilla Glass, and supports the Surface Slim Pen. A new icon type groups a pair of apps to launch them simultaneously side by side, one per screen. The Surface Duo runs the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 platform with 6GB of DRAM and 128GB or 256GB of storage.
Folding phones available only in China
There are numerous innovative, high-quality folding phones made by Chinese companies that are only available for the Chinese market. We cover them here because they are available, and perhaps in the future, they will have more widespread distribution.
Huawei Mate X2
The Huawei Mate X2 is a departure from the previous version of the phone, the Huawei Mate X. The new model eschews the folding-back-on-itself design in favor of an open-book style similar to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. Unfolded, it features an 8-inch, 90Hz, 2480 x 2200 pixel OLED display, while on the closed front of the phone, you get a 6.45-inch, 90Hz OLED screen with a 2700 x 1160 pixel resolution. Huawei uses an unusual wedge design for the body so that when the device is closed, the phone is completely flat with no gap between the two halves. The 295-gram weight is distributed evenly, so the phone always feels balanced and comfortable. It has so far only launched in China, where it starts at the local price of $2,740.
Royole FlexPai 2
The Royole FlexPai was the world’s first commercial foldable smartphone released to the Chinese market. This obscure company has since released an update, the FlexPai 2, which is much improved from the original version — and is still only available in China. The new model features a 7.8-inch unfolded display with a resolution of 1920 x 1440 pixels and a 4:3 aspect ratio. When folded, the main and secondary displays measure 5.5 inches (1440 x 900 pixels) and 5.4 inches (1440 x 810 pixels), respectively. The FlexPai 2 folds closed flush with magnets. The Android-based WaterOS 2.0 makes for smooth navigation, aided by a Snapdragon 865 chipset, 4,000mAh of battery, and either 8GB or 12GB of RAM. You can purchase 256GB or 512GB of storage. Royole FlexPai 2 retails for 9,988 RMB (China) or $1,544 (U.S.).
Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold
The Xiomi Mi Mix Fold comes equipped with an 8.01-inch, WQHD+ resolution, flexible internal display with a 4:3 aspect ratio, and a 6.52-inch AMOLED screen and debuts the company’s Surge C1 Image Signal Processor and Liquid Lens for pro photos. Its quad-speaker setup, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 5,020mAh battery, and 67-watt fast charging, offers a premium experience. It can show one billion colors, tuned by Xiaomi’s color calibration algorithm, while the Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support and DCI-P3 color gamut create highly dynamic and life-like images via a 90Hz refresh rate and a 2520 x 840 pixel resolution.
Powered by Xiaomi’s A.I. algorithm, the Mi Mix Fold’s displays generate images and videos that can double the image resolution from 720p to 1440p or enhance video quality from 480p to 1440p. The Mi Mix Fold was released in China, where it costs the local equivalent of about $1,520.
Folding phones from concept to rumor mill
As usual, the rumor mill is buzzing about next-generation folding phones. Here are a few newcomers we may soon see.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
Those who purport to have the inside track are saying Samsung is about to launch the third incarnation of its Galaxy Z Fold in mid-to-late 2021, with a wide range of upgrades that include S Pen support. Additional features may include water and dust resistance and an under-display camera. Rumor also has it that the anticipated Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 could be color-matched to the Galaxy Z Fold 3 or even bundled with the phone. A release date may be set for July for both the Z Fold 3 and the Z Flip 3. Look for a price tag north of $2,000.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
The smart talk has it that a Z Flip 3 will debut alongside its spiritual sibling, the Z Fold 3, but there isn’t an abundance of details. Leaked photos seem to confirm that the company is retaining the original clamshell design, but Samsung may update the look by introducing a two-tone design. The handset is reportedly launching in eight different colors, including green, black, beige, violet, white, gray, dark blue, and pink. The renders show off the Z Flip 3’s dual cameras and 1.83-inch cover display — a step up from the Galaxy Z Flip’s 1.1-inch front panel. It’s been suggested that, like the Z Fold 3, the Z Flip 3 may support Samsung’s S Pen.
Google Pixel Fold
A leaked internal document last year suggested that Google is working on a foldable Pixel. Nothing much is known about what features it will have beyond the ability to fold, although the leak suggests that the new foldable could be part of the range of Google smartphones announced with the Pixel 6, with a launch date in late 2021 or early 2022. Very few details and much speculation are swirling around this potential product, which a conceptual video likens to a variation of the Pixel 5.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold S
Samsung is reportedly working on the Galaxy Z Fold S, said to feature a similar design to Microsoft’s Surface Duo in that it will feature a 360-degree hinge capable of outward and inward folding. Unlike the Surface Duo, industry speculation suggests that it won’t be a dual-screen phone but instead will feature a single flexible OLED, much like the Z Fold 2 and the original Fold. Other than that, nothing else is known, and the chatter around this prospective product has gone quiet recently.
OPPO X 2021
Chinese mobile phone maker Oppo has developed a prototype called OPPO X 2021, a rollable concept phone with a scroll-like display featuring an OLED flexible screen and measuring between 6.7 and 7.4 inches. Its dynamic sliding frame, powered by a Roll Motor powertrain, lets you extend and retract the screen without hard folding or visible creases — a 6.8mm central axis lets the display bend without leaving any visible traces or creases on the screen. The fixed frame and sliding frame combo protect the device, while the side button locks and unlocks it to extend and retract the rollable display. With two built-in drive motors generating a constant force for the display, stress is designed to be equally distributed. A 2-in-1 plate supports the display with zero gaps between the segments.
TCL Rollable and Trifold
Rollable and trifold rollable folding smartphones are occupying designers at TCL. These designs use ButterflyHinge and DragonHinge technologies to allow phones to seamlessly expand into tablet-sized devices. The Trifold starts as a 10-inch tablet in its normal state and then morphs into a 6.65-inch tablet, all with a 3K display and a 20.8:9 aspect ratio. The rollable phone outwardly appears like a universal 6.75-inch smartphone initially. When you need a bigger surface, you can easily unroll the screen to a tablet size with a 7.5-inch display. The movement launches the phone’s mechanical operation, and it seamlessly tucks the OLED screen into the phone.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo — who has a decent track record for accuracy — now says a foldable iPhone will be released in 2023, featuring an 8-inch foldable OLED display with QHD+ (Quad-HD, 2560 x 1440 pixel) resolution. According to a new research note reported out by MacRumors, Apple could sell up to 20 million units — its predicted shipment — during the launch year. Kuo named SDC as the exclusive display supplier and Samsung Foundry as the exclusive DDI foundry provider. Kuo also predicts that Apple will adopt TPK’s silver nanowire touch tech.
Initially, the Apple prediction was based on patent information that revealed the company is working with hinges or multiple folds. Apple has now filed a continuation patent that highlights a more durable folding screen. A foldable iPhone could feature a new, crack-resistant display made of mixed materials — not just flexible glass. According to an updated patent application, Apple has proposed using ceramic particles to reinforce the protective layer of a folding smartphone. Should that come to pass, observers in the know say Apple will emerge on top in sales.