As many of you are probably aware, we're about to see quite a few foldable smartphones released in 2019, and even though only Royole's offering launched up until now, I do believe that you will want to stay away from foldable devices altogether in 2019. Why is that? Well, there's a good chance that neither of the devices that become available this year will be worth the asking price, and there are a number of reasons why, many of which will probably stick around for many years to come. We will talk more about those reasons in this article, even though neither of them will stop some of you from getting what Samsung, LG, OPPO, Huawei, or any other company plans to release, as it's hard to argue that those phones will be unique, and quite innovative.
Before we get into it, it's worth saying that quite a few smartphones manufacturers already confirmed that they're planning to release a foldable smartphone in 2019. Samsung showed off its demo device at its developer's conference, Motorola's patents surfaced recently, Huawei confirmed its device is on the way, as did OPPO, and Xiaomi's CEO even demonstrated the company's foldable smartphone quite recently. Several other companies made it clear that they're getting ready to pull the trigger on foldable smartphones as well, so you won't be lacking options if you're dead set on getting a foldable device this year, but hear me out first.
The Asking Price
This is the first reason why you may want to stay away from foldable devices, and even though I was about to leave it for last, it's quite an important factor in the whole story. Rumors are claiming that Samsung's foldable handset will cost around $1,700, and smartphones from other OEMs will also be notably more expensive than their regular flagship offerings in 2019. Now, manufacturing a foldable device is not an easy task, this is brand new technology that we're looking at, and the approach is considerably different than with regular smartphones, so it's not surprising that foldable devices will be more expensive than regular phones, at least at first, but just because something is new and shiny doesn't mean it's worth it. Foldable smartphones will offer something unique, two form factors in one, but not everything is nice and dandy as it sounds, read on.
Too Thick For Most People
As it's usually the case with first-gen products and innovative technology, we will see a number of designs at first, but no matter how different they are, they will all have one problem in common… thickness. Nowadays, most smartphones are around 7mm thick, so people are used to very thin smartphones which they can put in their pockets even though most of them sport 6+-inch displays… well, foldable devices will probably double that thickness (at the very least). We still do not know how thick exactly will each of those phones be, of course, but when you consider that the phone needs to be folded, and that the display cannot really magically fold all the way, you can imagine that we'll deal with thick phones. So, no matter if a phone folds inwards or outwards, it will be thick, and chances are we're looking at thickness which goes way over 15mm.
Considerably Heavier Than Regular Smartphones
Thickness is not the only design-related issue, however, as the sheer weight of those phones will also be a problem for some. Foldable smartphones will have large displays, of course, and in order to power those displays, OEMs will need to include rather large batteries in such phones. That, in addition to the general footprint of such devices, will increase weight considerably compared to today's handsets. Truth be said, phones these days usually weight around 170-200 grams (at least flagship-grade device and phones with large displays), while they were a lot lighter before. Some people are already not happy with smartphone weight, and foldable phones will increase that weight considerably. We would like to stay away from guessing as to how much will they weigh, as that will differ quite a bit from one phone to the other, but they will weight considerably over 200 grams, maybe even over 300 grams.
Other Design-Related Issues
Now, some of you may even have a problem with other design aspects of such phones. The first thing that comes to mind is screen damage. It seems like it will not be difficult to scratch the display or crack it, as no matter if a foldable phone folds inwards or outwards, a display will be used as a backplate at one point or the other. In Samsung's case, when the phone is unfolded, a secondary display will be part of the phone's back side, so when you place it on a surface, that display will basically be touching the surface and it won't be hard to damage it.
In Xiaomi's case, on the other hand, the whole back side will a display, essentially, when the phone is folded, that won't be an issue when it's unfolded (contrary to Samsung's offering), but when you fold its two sides, two thirds of its display will be used as a backplate. On top of what was said, such phones will probably have thicker bezels than you may anticipate, not to mention that there are a number of other displays issues that may occur, but we'll talk more about that in the next paragraph. Now, if you're all about proportional devices, you may have an issue with some of these designs as well, designs like Samsung's, for example. The company's device will fold outwards, right down the middle, which means that when folded, one side of the phone will be all display, while the other will be a connection of the phone's sides, so they will be completely different, both in look and feel… so it will be interesting to see whether that will bother people, and how quickly will they get used to it.
That will not be an issue with Xiaomi's design, however, as the sides of the phone will be identical both when the phone is folded and unfolded. We're taking these two companies as examples because they've shown us the most when it comes to foldable smartphones, not including Royole.
Possible Display Issues & Display Quality In General
Most OEMs will probably do their best to include real quality displays inside such phones, but we don't really think they'll measure up to displays in regular smartphones. Companies have been developing flexible displays for a long time, and a number of quality panels surfaced, but what we've seen thus far on demo devices does not look all that great. Due to constant folding of such smartphones, those displays look plasticky when you look at them, as if you took a piece of plastic and constantly fold it, the surface is not as smooth as on regular smartphones, and thus is a bit distracting, at least I thought so. Speaking of displays, general displays durability is also in question. A number of OEMs said that they've been testing such displays a long time, and many of them will probably say that you can fold those displays as much as you want, that they're extremely resistant and what not, but I'm still quite skeptical.
You will be folding that phone a ton of times on a daily basis, and truth be said, displays issues may become a thing after a while. Repairing such phones will be quite expensive at first, which is not really your problem if you have a warranty for a device, presuming that the manufacturer will acknowledge that warranty, of course, as this is actually a perfect opportunity for them to wiggle out of it for a number of reasons. Don't get me wrong, you will probably be able to avail that warranty without an issue, but I've stumbled upon a number of warranty-related issues in the past when it comes to regular smartphones, so I can only imagine what will happen with foldable ones, as there are a number of additional ways they can be damaged.
Camera access is yet another issue that some of these phones may face. In the previous paragraph, we talked about how Xiaomi's phones will have identical sides compared to Samsung's, well, in terms of cameras, Xiaomi's design approach may prove to be more of an issue in the camera department. Considering that Xiaomi's phone will fold on both sides, its whole back side will be covered by parts of its main display, which essentially means that you will not be able to use the camera while the phone is folded, and that's the point when most people will want to take pictures.
Very few people want to hold a huge tablet in the hand and take pictures, so… it will be interesting to see how will Xiaomi fix this issue in the final design. Samsung's approach will not have such problems as one side of the phone will never be covered up, so its main camera(s) can be placed there without a problem. Once again, these are the two companies that basically showed off their design approaches, so we know what to expect, which is why we're taking them as an example, but most other companies will face similar issues.
Smartphone manufacturers will need to include larger batteries in foldable smartphones, as displays on such phones will be noticeably larger, but we're guessing that those batteries will not be too big, as foldable phones will be heavy as it is, so OEMs will not want to make the issue even more pronounced. In retrospect, that means that battery life on most foldable phones probably won't be great, but we're only guessing, as OEMs may actually sacrifice extra weight in order to get battery life where it should be. This is an issue that will depend from one OEM to another, so you'll either get an extremely heavy device and great battery life, or a somewhat lighter device (still heavy though), and poor battery life… at least if we simplify it all the way. It will be interesting to see how will companies handle such issues.
Dropping A Foldable Phone May Not Be The Best Idea In The World
So, most smartphones today are quite fragile, to be quite honest. Manufacturers tend to use metal frame and glass back on most phones, which essentially means that there's a high chance you'll break your phone once it drops, its front or back glass. That was not much of an issue in the past, but it is now. So, will foldable phones be more resilient? Well, truth be said, probably not, in fact, they will be even more prone to damage than regular devices.
On regular phones, displays do not wrap around the edges, which is not the case with foldable devices, the display will either wrap around one edge, or the other, with the exception of phones that fold inwards, of course. That essentially means that the display is more or less more prone to damage than regular displays, as the sensitive surface is larger than on regular phones, due to display real estate on the sides, which could be a really huge problem for designs such as Xiaomi's, if you're clumsy enough to drop your phone, of course.
So, considering we've only seen one phone thus far, most of this info is based either on demo devices that companies had shown off, or patents that we've seen. Some of these issues will not affect all foldable phones, but there are quite a few of them that will. In one way, it seems like foldable phones are a considerable step forward, while in others, it seems like we're backtracking. Foldable phones will probably stick around for years to come, may even become a standard down the road, but the first-gen products that we'll see this year probably won't be worth your money, at all, though you're free to disagree, of course, as per usual.