What exactly are Android foldables? To put it in as simple a form as possible, it's an Android smartphone that can fold. This article is going to be going more in-depth about what Android foldables truly are, and why they are so important.
As of March 2020, there are two different types of foldables, primarily. There are foldables that are clamshell style. And they look similar to the flip phones we used about a decade ago. The other style is a phone that folds out into a tablet. Two very different form-factors, from each other, let alone regular smartphones.
What operating system do foldables run on?
Currently, every foldable runs on Android. However, like with other smartphones, these do have different skins on-board. For instance Samsung's smartphones run on One UI, which is put on top of Android. And that's where all of the features really come in, for that specific form factor.
Android is a popular choice for foldable devices for one big reason. It's open. Allowing smartphone makers to use Android almost anyway they like. Google does have a few requirements, but for the most part, smartphone makers are free to do whatever they want. With smartphone makers able to use their own skins on top of Android, to add features and such for their foldables, it makes it much easier than having to build an entire operating system from scratch. Not to mention Android is hugely popular. With over 90% market share worldwide.
What smartphone makers are producing foldables?
Most smartphone makers are working on foldables as we speak, but only a couple have some that are available to purchase. However, they are not going to be easy to get a hold of, many are out of stock quite often. These include Samsung, Huawei, Royale, and Motorola.
Foldables are still fairly expensive, and that's because the tech is still brand new. The cheapest foldable available right now, is the Galaxy Z Flip, which is still pretty pricey at nearly $1500.
Other smartphone makers have announced that they are working on foldable smartphones like LG, ZTE, and others. Even Apple is working on a foldable, but don't expect theirs to be available anytime soon.
Foldables are still currently first-generation, so they are not perfect. Filled with bugs and other issues, not to mention that they can still break very easily. And are not waterproof or even water resistant.
What are the benefits of a foldable smartphone?
There are many benefits to both styles of foldable smartphones. And as this part of the market progresses, we'll likely see even more different form factors available. But let's break down the benefits by form factor.
The main benefit of having a clamshell smartphone, is the ability to have a larger smartphone in a smaller footprint. This is especially important for women. As their clothes don't generally have pockets in the front and when they do, they are pretty small and not that wide. That is why the Galaxy Z Flip and the Motorola Razr are so popular right now, compared to the likes of the Galaxy Fold.
Now this isn't quite a benefit, but it is something that brings back some nostalgia. Being able to flip the phone close and hang up on someone. Like we could with flip phones in the 2000s and early 2010s.
Most clamshell phones also have small displays on the front, that can show you the time as well as your notifications. So you can see what notifications you have, without needing to flip the phone open. Which can be very helpful and conserve some battery life.
Smartphone to Tablet size benefits
There's more benefits for a foldable smartphone that can unfold into a tablet-sized device, than a clamshell. And it's all in that sentence. Imagine having a phone in your pocket, that you can then unfold when you need a larger display. To read a book, or use Google Maps and there are other use-cases too, but those can be infinitely more useful on a larger tablet like display, versus a small smartphone display. Especially since tablet displays are wider.
On top of that, you could get one device that replaces two devices. And this is likely going to be how tablets exist in the future. As foldables that are actually smartphones.
Right now, this does mean that your smartphone is going to be about twice as thick and heavy as normal. Due to the fact that it is essentially two phones, with a hinge. But it also means a much larger battery inside. And that's going to keep the phone running longer.
Does Android support foldables?
In short, yes. Google added support for foldables with Android 9 Pie in 2018. Google added even more support for foldables in Android 10, which includes better support for multi-window and multiple apps being used at the same time. It also better supports changing from the outside screen to a larger inner screen on a foldable, like the Galaxy Z Fold. Where the screen is not only a different size, but also a different aspect ratio and resolution. So it's not as simple as just redrawing the app on the second display. Which would also take more time and resources, instead of it being instant when you open the phone.
Google has support for App Continuity, starting with Android 10. What this means is that if you have an app open on the main display, then open your foldable smartphone, the app will open on that screen, where you left off. Samsung has already done this with the Galaxy Fold, ahead of Android 10.
On top of all of this, Google is also adding support for more screen aspect ratios. Since foldables could use anything from 1:1 to 21:9 and everything in between. Which would result in a much different experience, compared to the usual 16:9 or even 16:10.
Finally, Google has also added Multi-Resume in Android 10 and later. Essentially what this does is allow all apps that are currently being used in multi-window to be resumed at the same time. Prior to Android 10, only the 'active' app would resume when the phone is turned back on or opened.
Over the next few versions of Android, Google will continue to better support foldables as it and its partners make more foldable devices, and learn more about what consumers want from foldables.
What are the most popular Android foldables available?
Currently, there are really only three foldables that you can actually buy. Huawei does have the Mate Xs, but it's not available in many countries, and Royale's Flex Pai 2 is also limited in availability. But Samsung and Motorola offer their foldables in the US and a few other countries. And are somewhat easy to get your hands on.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip is the company's second foldable smartphone, but it's first clamshell. It has a tall 6.7-inch display, which folds in half. There is a tiny, 1.1-inch AMOLED display on the front which will show you notifications, as well as the time and battery percentage. However, that small display doesn't do much more than tell you what notifications you have. You can't really archive emails, or reply to text messages from that screen. But there is a cool feature where you can use it as a viewfinder for a selfie.
There's a dual-camera module on the backside which sports two 12-megapixel cameras. One is a wide-angle or main sensor and the other is an ultra wide angle camera. Inside the clamshell, there is a third camera, which is a 10-megapixel sensor. The Galaxy Z Flip is powered by a 3300mAh capacity battery. Along with the Snapdragon 855+ chipset, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Retail price for the Galaxy Z Flip is $1380.
Motorola Razr (2019)
The Motorola Razr (2019) is very similar to the Galaxy Z Flip. It's also a clamshell device, that has a 6.2-inch display inside. On the outside, there is a much more usable 2.7-inch square display. Which has Motorola's very good, always-on display. Motorola was the first to do an always-on display, and still has the best. With the outside display on the Motorola Razr (2019), you're going to be able to deal with your notifications, like archiving emails. And also read them. For instance, if you get a message through WhatsApp, you can actually read the message from that outer-display and determine whether you need to respond to it now, or wait til later.
Internally, the Motorola Razr (2019) is running some older hardware – this is because Motorola was working on this phone for quite a few years. This includes a Snapdragon 710 chipset, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. There's also a tiny 2510mAh capacity battery. The reason for this small battery is simply, nostalgia. Motorola was trying to recreate the Razr flip phone, which was the most popular phone of the 2000s. Which was a very thin device – razor thin some might say – and that means a small battery.
The retail price for the Motorola Razr (2019) is about $1499
Samsung Galaxy Fold
The Samsung Galaxy Fold was one of the first foldables to get announced, and it had a rough start. The Galaxy Fold was set to go one sale in April 2019, but it was delayed almost six months, while Samsung worked on some issues with the Galaxy Fold. Which included the plastic over the screen (which literally protects the display and removing it, kills the display) as well as adding some endcaps to the hinge so that debris don't end up underneath the display.
Nevertheless, it is now available, and it's the most expensive model on this list. The Galaxy Fold has a 4.6-inch display on the front, and it opens up to a 7.3-inch display. Going from a small phone to a small tablet size. It also boasts six cameras. On the back, there's two 12-megapixel cameras and a 16-megapixel camera. Inside there is a 10-megapixel and a 8-megapixel camera. While the front has a 10-megapixel sensor.
Internally, Samsung put the best specs available at the time, in the Galaxy Fold. That includes the Snapdragon 855, 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. This is powered by a 4380mAh capacity battery.
Retail price for the Galaxy Fold is $1980.
Foldables vs 'Dual Screen' smartphones
While some companies are doing true foldable smartphones, there are others that are simply doing "Dual Screen" smartphones. These include LG and Microsoft. And both companies are doing it a bit differently.
The definition of a folding phone, however, is having a single screen that can fold in half. Without any sort of bezel along the hinge. If there is a bezel in the middle of the screen, then it's a dual screen smartphone.
LG has made three dual screen smartphones so far. The LG V50 ThinQ 5G, V60 ThinQ 5G and G8X ThinQ. It's not a bad idea. Essentially what LG is doing here is giving you a flip case that has a screen attached to it. And when you attach it to your phone, you get a second display. Which can take multi-tasking to another level. However, the big downside here is that the phone is then much larger, thicker and heavier. But the good news is, that you can remove the case whenever you want. So there's good and bad here.
Microsoft's dual display smartphone, the Surface Duo, is a bit different. In fact, Microsoft is not even calling it a smartphone, just a "dual display device". It has two 5.6-inch displays that are connected by a hinge, and when you unfold it, becomes a 8.6-inch display. Now obviously, 5.6-inches plus 5.6-inches does not equal a 8.3-inch display. And this is because when it's unfolded, it is more like a square aspect ratio instead of rectangle. One of the main use cases for this is using one display as a software keyboard and the other as a monitor. Making it a very tiny, but usable laptop. The Microsoft Surface Duo isn't slated to come out until the end of 2020 though.
Is an Android foldable right for me?
Android foldables are still in their infancy. Many of these are still first-generation devices that smartphone makers and Google itself, are looking to work the kinks out of first. This is part of the reason why they are so expensive. Smartphone makers don't want these devices to be available to the masses.
However, if you are an early adopter and want to live on the bleeding edge, then an Android foldable is probably a good choice for you. For most people, a clamshell will be the better bet.
Foldables will continue to get better and better in the coming years. So if you can hold out on getting one, we'd recommend doing so. As these are going to progress pretty quickly, and it wouldn't be surprising to see successors coming less than a year after the predecessor is announced.