Is this the future of smartphones? So far the biggest innovations we've seen in mobile this year have been bigger screens and smaller bezels, but Chinese manufacturer ZTE has raised the bar with its Axon M, the first foldable handset with a dual display, suggesting a host of potential uses.

You could browse the web on one screen and compose an email on the other perhaps, or watch Netflix on one display while Twitter scrolls across the second one. Both screens are 5.2 inches diagonally, combining to make a 6.75-inch, 1,920 x 2,160 panel with the two displays both facing forward (admittedly with a large join in the middle).

Maybe the Axon M will be most useful for productivity apps, allowing you to type away on a document in landscape mode without obscuring three-quarters of the screen with a keyboard. ZTE says a three-finger swipe sends apps between screens, or you can have them configured to act like one whole display.

Games could also benefit from the dual-screen approach, as with the Nintendo DS family of devices, and if you set the phone up in a tent shape you can play against a friend sat opposite, one screen each. That kind of experience will need some effort on the part of developers, though.

However, even without any special tweaking of standard apps, the ZTE Axon M is an intriguing idea. It runs Android 7.1.2 Nougat, comes with a mid-range Snapdragon 821 processor, and packs in 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of local storage. A 20 MP rear-facing camera with an F1.8 aperture is included, and a 3,180-mAh battery sits inside, but you're not really going to be buying this for the specs.

Dual screens have been tried before, most notably on the Yotaphone, but ZTE is the first to make both screens full color LCD and add the folding mechanism for good measure – similar to the many 2-in-1 laptops we've seen in recent years, only with a second display instead of a keyboard, and with everything shrunk down.

The concept might have more long-term potential than you would think at first glance. Samsung has long been rumored to be working on a foldable phone called the Galaxy X, tipped to appear in 2018 or 2019, though that is supposedly being made from one single seamless display rather than two hooked together.

With Apple, Samsung, and Google dominating the smartphone market in recent years, at least in the US and Europe, it's going to be difficult for the Axon M to muscle in, even with a unique selling point – but ZTE at least deserves kudos for trying something new.

At launch, the ZTE Axon M will be exclusive to AT&T in the US for $24.17 on a 30 month contract, we're awaiting standalone SIM-free pricing. Further worldwide availability and pricing is yet to be announced.

Product page: ZTE

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