Folding screen phones from Samsung, Sony, LG and more on the horizon
You might have heard that one of the smartphone trends of 2019 is going to be foldable phones, devices with displays you can actually bend all the way in half. What you might not realize is just how many of these devices are on the way – so we're listing all the phones currently in the pipeline here.
If you're old enough to have had a mobile phone in the late 1990s or early 2000s then you may well remember the classic clamshell design – being able to snap your phone shut with a flick, a much more dramatic way to end a call than today's screen tap.
The devices coming down the line are truly foldable phones, though – complete with screens and internal circuitry that actually bend to take on multiple form factors, whether you want to use them as tablet-style devices, or handsets with screens on the front and the back.
We've already seen the ZTE Axon M (admittedly more of a dual-screen phone than a foldable one), and the Royole FlexPai – a truly foldable phone even if it's more prototype than finished product right now. But here are the big brand phones to start saving for.
Official pre-launch images are pretty much non-existent, and bear in mind that the product names, specs, and designs are just speculation for the time being.
Rumors of a foldable Samsung phone have been swirling for years now, and late in 2018 we finally got a proper look at a prototype, using what Samsung is calling an Infinity Flex Display. The phone itself is reportedly going to be called the Galaxy X or the Galaxy F (for Foldable), and it might even appear alongside the Galaxy S10 phones early in the year.
Samsung has scheduled a product launch for February 20 at which the Galaxy S10 phones are going to be unveiled – will a Galaxy X/F join them? Considering the bendable tech crammed into the phone, plus its rumored high-end specs (12 GB of RAM has been mooted) it's likely to be a very expensive device – probably well into four figures.
Patents filed by Samsung suggest the phone display is going to automatically adapt to however it's folded or unfolded, with the full screen measuring 7.3 inches corner to corner. Considering the company first teased the idea of a folding phone eight years ago, we're expecting this to be one of the more polished and reliable folding handsets that arrive.
Industry insiders let slip that Sony is working on flexible display technology quite some time ago, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if we saw a foldable phone from Sony during the course of 2019. As with LG though, specific details about the handset are hard to come by at the moment, so it's not clear exactly what it'll look like or how powerful it'll be.
In fact patent applications that have come to light suggest one of Sony's future phones is going to be transparent as well as foldable, which means it might be one of the last to launch. Developing a phone that can bend in the middle is a difficult enough challenge on its own without adding transparency as well, but that's what Sony seems to be doing.
We've seen concept videos showing off what the Sony foldable phone might look like – potentially with an 8-inch screen and potentially called the Sony Xperia Note Flex – but for the time being these are based on rumors and speculation rather than anything solid. All we know for definite is that Sony will want to keep up with the trend for flexible displays.
The big phone manufacturers don't like to get outpaced by their rivals, and it seems as though all of Samsung's big competitors are gearing up for their own foldable phone launches. Based on leaked trademark applications, it looks as though the LG foldable phone could be called the Flex, the Foldi, or the Duplex (or perhaps all three).
As well as those trademark filings, we've seen plenty of other hints and links that LG has a foldable phone in the pipeline. There was talk that such a device would appear at CES 2019 – that didn't happen, but we did see a rollable television screen instead, which proves that LG is busy investigating the potential of these flexible displays for all of its product lines.
LG has also been busy filing patents around foldable phone tech, so we know the company is at least considering how to get it to market. Other details on the LG foldable phone, like specs and sizes, are thin on the ground – but we have seen reports that the LG G8 will come with a dual-screen display, setting the stage for a folding phone later in the year.
Huawei is one of the phone makers that has come out and confirmed it's working on a foldable phone for the future, though exactly when we'll see it and exactly what form it's going to take remains to be seen. CEO Richard Yu has said the bending handset should appear at some point during 2019, though it's unlikely to be before Samsung's launch.
As with several of the other foldable phones in this list, we've seen concept videos and patent filings giving hints about what the Huawei foldable phone is going to look like – with the option of one screen doubling up as a keyboard, perhaps – but for now we don't know whether they're going to end up being anything like the finished product.
What we do know from Huawei phones of the last few years is that the company is unlikely to skimp on specs and features. Expect the foldable Huawei phone to come packing the most powerful internal components available, and quite possible a triple-lens camera around the back. It's also certainly going to be very expensive when it finally goes on sale.
News that Motorola is working on a foldable phone should be no surprise to those who've been paying attention, parent company Lenovo has been dropping hints about the potential of folding screens since early last year, and mentioning them in the same breath as the Razr brand. Could the old-school foldable phone be getting a new lease of life?
Once again, there are patent filings to pore over: it does indeed look like the Razr form factor might be making a comeback, only this time the physical hardware hinge is going to be replaced with a bend in the screen. That might mean a keyboard or keypad at the bottom of the display, with apps above. There's also a secondary display on the back.
It's worth noting that patents don't always match the finished product, or even end up being finished products at all – but they do give an idea of the way a company is thinking.
Xiaomi has recently teased the arrival of its own foldable phone by posting a video showing co-founder and president Lin Bin playing around with what we presume is a prototype. As you can see, the fold mechanism is a little different to the norm: there are two hinges, so the two sides of the larger display fold around the back of the device.
As one of the biggest phone makers in China, you would expect Xiaomi to be on top of whatever new tech is coming down the line, but we don't know much else about its foldable phone beyond what's in the video. The software interface certainly looks slick and responsive, adapting quickly to the change in form factor while a video plays on screen.
If Xiaomi is able to push out a foldable phone before the year is out, it's most likely going to follow the template of the other ones mentioned here: high powered and expensive. Keep an eye on MWC (Mobile World Congress) in Barcelona in February, when we might well hear more about the Xiaomi foldable phone and the other folding devices in this list.