Opinion, Smartphone

Foldable Smartphones – Do We Really Want Them?

Smartphones with foldable displays used to be a pipe dream not too long ago, until the Royole FlexPai came into the picture. It’s then followed by other foldable phones from bigger brands like Samsung and Huawei with the Galaxy Fold and Mate X respectively.

But this brings up the question: do we really want foldable smartphones? As impressive as these phones are, the technology is still in its infancy. In this article, we’ll explain why foldable smartphones aren’t necessarily worth the hype…yet.

Let’s start with something that’s been catching the headlines lately: durability issues. Recently, Samsung started sending out review units of the Galaxy Fold to some media, and most of them have reported issues with the foldable phone.

Take The Verge’s unit, for example. In normal use, the Galaxy Fold the site received started developing a bulge of some sort, which eventually damaged the phone’s display. It’s quite a worrying issue, considering the fact that The Verge was only using the Fold like any other phone.

Certain media, on the other hand, tried to peel off what appeared to be a screen protector on top of the Galaxy Fold’s screen. Turns out, it is actually a protective layer, which is a part of the display structure “designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches,” as Samsung puts it.

Samsung further elaborated that removing the protective layer or “adding adhesives to the main display” of the Galaxy Fold may cause damage. Basically, you can forget about putting on a screen protector on the Fold – you’ll have to live with the phone as it is.

Despite these durability issues, Samsung is still going ahead with the 26 April launch date for the Galaxy Fold in the US. The Korean company also added that it will “thoroughly inspect these units (the broken ones) in person to determine the cause” of the screen breaking. Hopefully, retail units of the Galaxy Fold won’t suffer from this issue.

Next, let’s talk about practicality. Looking beyond the Galaxy Fold (which is, in itself, is really thick when folded), the Huawei Mate X isn’t particularly practical either. See, unlike the Fold’s design, which has its display fold inwards, the Mate X’s display wraps around the phone.

We don’t know yet just how durable the Mate X’s foldable display is, but if the Galaxy Fold’s screen can break even with the inward-style folding, we can’t imagine if the Mate X will fare any better with its outward-facing screen. On top of that, the screen will be subjected to daily wear and tear too, so expect it to collect scratches here and there.

And then we have the software side of things. Foldable smartphones that have been unveiled so far are basically Android tablets when their displays are folded out. And…well, Android-based tablets aren’t that great in the first place.

Granted, the ability to fold out your phone for a bigger display is a compelling feature. But this goes back to the practicality standpoint: foldable smartphones now aren’t exactly in a compact form factor.

Even if you can overlook these points, the current crop of foldable smartphones are expensive. This is the biggest hurdle with phones of this category now, and you’re basically spending a lot of money for unproven technology. Only time will tell if foldable smartphones will be as reliable as traditional ones.

At the end of the day, that is the reality of being an early adopter. New technology will be costly, and while there’s no denying the impressive engineering that went into developing this new category of smartphones, they’re still ultimately a gimmick at this point in time.

That is not to say foldable smartphones will never reach mainstream appeal. As the tech matures, prices will go down, and if things go well, we will undoubtedly see better implementations of the technology further down the road. Any possible durability issues should be addressed as well.

But until that day comes, it will remain to be a niche product. Yes, a smartphone with a foldable screen is an engineering marvel in the palm of your hand, but it is not something most of us would want right now – not yet, anyway.