After years of stagnation, smartphone design is a field replete with innovation. Just months after the first-ever foldable phone, we’ve seen two more launches that present two alternative views of how a phone should fold.
They were off to a rocky start, but the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X are selling out as fast as their companies can make them. Samsung is signing deals to ensure higher production capacity for next year and we’re sure Huawei is doing the same.
But will Motorola prove to be a dark horse? The Motorola Razr 2019 is showing that a clamshell form factor can be popular again (the complaints about its specs are reasonable, but they seem mostly unrelated to how it folds).
Meanwhile, Xiaomi is still toying with a dual foldable design but nothing has reached the production lines yet. The Mi Mix Alpha is showing an interesting alternative to foldables too.
Let’s break it down. Samsung chose the inward folding design for the screen protection it offers. However, with an exclusive deal for Ultra Thin Glass (which is more resistant to scratches), it may be laying the groundwork for an outward folding phone.
Huawei already has one and it clearly simplifies things – it cuts the need for an external screen or a dedicated selfie camera. The plastic cover of the screen means you have to handle it with great care, but Corning and many others are working on folding glass that may solve the issue.
The design of the Motorola Razr 2019 is technically the same as the Galaxy Fold – the screen goes inside and there’s an external screen. Still, the direction of the fold and the size make a world of difference.
Both the Mate X and the Galaxy Fold aim for large tablet-like displays. They have relatively square aspect ratios, suitable for documents and multitasking. This makes sense, after all the real limit to mobile screen size is how big a phone consumers are willing to carry.
The dual fold designs promise more of the same – an even bigger screen once unfolded and even more worry about the screen cracking or creasing when you fold it. Still, once the technology is perfected, this may be the way to go.
The Motorola Razr goes for portability instead. It has a 6.2” 22:9 screen when unfolded, yet collapses to 94 x 72 x 14mm, easily pocketable. Mini flagships may be a dead breed, but foldable screens could bring them back.
Finally, the wrap-around screen of the Mi Mix Alpha. There’s no way to “unfold” the screen into a bigger one, but the design has obvious advantages and few disadvantages compared to the current slabs.
Most smartphones today have glass backs and very curved sides to their screens already. You might as well extend that curve to the back, right? This way you can use the main camera for selfies (avoiding notches, punch holes and pop-ups), plus it looks so cool. Removing the metal chassis makes one side of the phone more fragile, though (plus this design brings up the cost).
The best foldable form factor is…
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