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Smartphones are great — don't ruin them with foldable gimmicks

Samsung, one of the biggest smartphone manufacturers in the world, is getting ready to drop a bombshell on the industry. Rumors surrounding a "Galaxy X" phone with a foldable screen have existed for some time, but recent rumors and reports from Samsung itself indicate that 2018 may be the year this finally comes to market.

The idea of a foldable/bendable phone is exciting considering all of the technical and mechanical challenges required to make it work, but for me, I'm still not convinced this is something that'll serve any real purpose aside from marketing gimmicks.

History often repeats itself

Let's take a trip back to 2011. Rebecca Black's 'Friday' was a thing people actually listened to; Prince William and Catherine Middleton were just married; and Kyocera released the Echo, a foldable Android phone with two displays. The Echo's two screens allowed you to share posts on Facebook while watching a YouTube video at the same time, have a larger canvas for playing games, and more. It was an interesting idea, but limitations in both hardware and software prevented it from being anything special.

Previous foldable phones have left much to the imagination.

A few years later in 2017, ZTE came out of the gate with the Axon M – another take on a foldable smartphone with two separate displays joined together by a hinge. The Axon M is a much more polished phone than the Echo, and while things like Android's split-screen mode make the software side of things more usable, it still ended up feeling like a concept device rather than a phone you'd want to use day after day.

ZTE's already said that it plans on continuing with the Axon M series to create a phone that's eventually a single display with a bendable design, and this is the same route Samsung aims to take with the Galaxy X. That'd be a huge leap compared to the foldable phones we've seen so far, but early concepts still leave me with a lot of questions.

Give and take

Looking specifically at the Galaxy X, one concept shows a very narrow phone that's surrounded by rather large bezels above and below its display. You'd use the phone in the traditional candy bar shape like normal, but a bending mechanism near the middle of the screen would allow the phone to fold up into itself. With a concept like this, the idea is that you can have a large phone and then fold it up for easier portability.

In order to achieve this design, it's expected that internal components (such as the battery, processor, etc.) are positioned above and below the hinge mechanism inside – resulting in those large bezels you see on the front. It's admittedly well thought-out for this form factor, but is any of it worth it?

Screens may bend, but what about internal components?

Starting with the display, using a foldable OLED panel means that you won't have a glass screen over it. Instead, it's likely that Samsung will have to cover the Galaxy X with plastic. Phones like the Moto Z2 Force have adopted plastic/polycarbonate covers in favor of glass, and while plastic does have the benefit of being more shatter-resistant and flexible, it picks up scratches the second you take it out of the box.

Then there's the issue of components. The concept for the Galaxy X with its internals positioned in a way so they're not actually bending is smart, but as the renders show, this will likely result in bulkier overall designs. Technology is always evolving and it's possible Samsung and other companies will be able to clean up the aesthetics throughout multiple iterations, but I don't envision there being a bendable motherboard or battery anytime soon. These are components that are essential to every smartphone, and they serve as real obstacles when trying to bend the case they're housed in.

Lastly, we've got to consider the durability aspect of this venture. Any time you introduce moving parts to something, it creates an added vulnerability and better chance of things going awry. It's easy enough to cause irreversible damage thanks to a solid drop with current phones, so what's going to happen when a new point of weakness is added? What if the hinge gets bent in the opposite direction? These are all questions that have yet to be addressed, and they're things we need to keep in mind if we really want a world of foldable phones.

A game of wait and see

Samsung's been known to experiment with radical ideas in the past. Things like the Galaxy Round and Galaxy Beam were one-flop wonders that never saw successors, but devices such as the original Galaxy Note and Galaxy Note Edge introduced ideas that eventually become staples of Samsung products.

I'm perfectly fine with Samsung and other companies trying new things. That's how we figure out what works and what doesn't so we can move on to bigger and better projects. Samsung will release the Galaxy X either late this year or early next year, and depending on how the market reacts, will decide whether or not this is something it wants to continue with.

If it chooses to do the latter, I can only hope that the industry reserves foldable phones to their own category rather than forcing the entire market to adopt the new form factor. The mixture of 16:9, 18:9, bezel-less, and non-bezel-less phones in their current form offer plenty of variety to choose from, and they do so without compromising an entire product for slightly better portability.

Your turn to chime in

Now that I've done my ranting, I'd like to hear from you. Do you think foldable phones are a fad, or do you truly believe they're the next big step the industry should take? Sound off in the comments below, and I'll do my best to respond to as many of ya'll as I can.

LG publishes patents for two foldable phone concepts

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • I hate to be a naysayer but this whole idea is just idiotic. These things will fly off the shelves at a snail's pace if at all. No practical use at all. I know Samsung has always had the philosophy of throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks but this one is going to slide right off for sure.
  • You never know. If its done right, marketed right and comes out at the right time it just might. Apple is also rumored to be on the same path and theirs looks better thought out and for sure will be a better designed device. But, these devices will be priced much higher which is gonna really suck.
  • Apple hasn't designed a better device than Android since like the first iPhone. It's been the bezel king for years. Now it's the hairline king, with the biggest rear camera warts in the whole industry..
  • Yeah, but Apple has a customer base large enough to make mainstream features that from other manufacturers may be considered gimmicks.
  • Exactly! @ ZOMMBIE1, remember Apple is the company that usually sets the trends. Latest tech trend is facial recognition tech and the notch. Look how much more talk there is about it as well as other companies that are heavily rumored like Xiaomi and Huawei to be releasing some sort of Face ID competitor and have already released like Oneplus's. And of course Samsung is already beefing up its iris scanner with intelligent scanner for its S9
  • Yeah I agree apple does have the customer base, cause most iPhone users are just blind followers.
  • @zommbie
    you literally seem butthurt that people use apple. I thought people stopped putting down competition that makes android better after their 11th birthday... guess not
  • Having no bezels is NOT a deal maker or breaker for me. Actually I like the regular pixel, iphone and sonys better than the samlgwei me too devices lately.
  • Just jumping in for a little apple bashing, huh? Nice.
  • Yep. I own Android but I buy Apple stock!!
  • I remember back in the old days where we all had flip phones soooo......
  • This certainly seems like a solution in search of a problem. Not once have I been in a position where I've needed my mobile device to fold. But that's just me. Maybe there is a market that's not aimed at me.
  • I have no use for a foldable phone. For myself, stupid idea!
  • It's not about folding up your 5'' phone into 2,5'' for your pocket.
    it's about folding out your 5'' phont to 10'' when you need it. Literally transform your phone into a tablet in 2 seconds.
  • That would be dope, I would consider buying it!
  • I agree that's how I look at it. At the end of the day the tablet market has hit it's peek and slowly selling less any less unless it's the surface type tablet which is a different selling point. And with that having a 5" phone that can become a 10" tablet it could sell very well but it has to be done right for me.
  • If you could still use it as a 5" phone that would be OK. If you have to unfold it to a tablet size everyone you make a call or get access text message, no thanks.
  • That isn't how it works. 5" unfolds to 6.5" inches. In the ZTE, 5.2" unfolds to 6.8".
  • Well, there is an image in the article that shows a device folded completely in half, so... And in what world would anyone gain anything by occasionally adding an extra inch to their device? That's the most stupid idea, ever!
  • That certainly makes more sense. Based on the sketch in the article I would never have perceived that to be a foldable tablet. That looks more like a foldable phone to make it a smaller semi-useless device.
  • Sadly, not really, it's not gonna transform it into a tablet. It's gonna convert it into an ultra-long phone, at least the way Samsung seems to see it. I prefer 16:9 than 18:9, let alone anything longer (36:9 phone, anyone?). Meanwhile, best tablets are generally 4:3 (so 12:9, for sake of comparison). Kyocera/ZTE way seems to be better, but that will make the bezels way bigger, to compensate for a huge hinge gap.
    So yeah, I don't see the future in this kind of stuff. Sure, technology moved forward, but when I hear of a bendable phone, I still imagine Sony Tablet P and snicker.
  • Folding the larger phone one direction helps, but the phone that is twice as long will also be twice as wide.
  • Can you imagine trying to stuff a device that's 5" long, 2.5" wide and nearly an inch thick anywhere for storage? I have a difficult time believing everyone will be willing to carry a back-pack everywhere they go.
  • Do you own a tablet? I'd venture to say a majority of people do. That's the market IMO. A phone that folds out and becomes a tablet would be awesome especially if it is in the Note series so it can use an S-Pen. No need to have 2 devices anymore.
  • I do own a tablet. I have never taken it anywhere, though. It's basically used for Apple Music to play lullabies/white noise for my daughter while she sleeps. However, if that's what it's for then I suppose that makes more sense. It still doesn't appeal to me but like I said I just may not be the target audience.
  • Blah blah blah
  • I'll pass
  • Innovation... Skip foldable. Give me a heads up display that responds to thought and operates on excess belly fat -- and of course doesn't cause cancer or turn me into a brain washed borg as far as I know.
  • Heck yeah! Then I would have an excuse not to exercise and to eat whatever I want!
  • I'd give up my V30 for the simple life of the greatest flip phone ever, the Star-Tac. No large screen to keep my short attention span happy. Just a small screen for the number being called and that's it!!
  • And one of the best features of the Star-Tac was hot-swapping batteries mid-call. Or being run over by a semi and the only damage was an inch-long crack in the housing. The good old days!
  • With a longer phone, they will be able to something more permanent up top like the quick settings or the notifications, won't they, while you play games or do whatever you do on the rest of the phone?
  • Not crazy about a "flip-phone" style, but sign me up for a 6" phone that opens up to a bigger tablet.
  • Exactly. With Chrome OS of course.
  • Yesss!👍👍
  • If it can be made, even if stupid, it will be made. We risk at some point almost being forced to buy the stupidity. That is the way they prove that they own the patent, and nobody else can touch it. In the mean time, the stupid idea actually goes to market.
  • Like they said in the article if they're foldable that means the display is plastic and will be prone to scratching unless it is matte which I doubt. I hate plastic displays. I am pretty old school though and don't even like the current display trends (2:1 ratio, round corners and curved screens). I just want a 5 inch 16:9 rectangle.
  • Wow, lets stop people from trying new ideas. A few years ago I am sure some wrote articles about how how dumb 2 in 1 laptops. I don't see anything wrong with Samsung trying a new type of device. If the idea is bad it won't go forward. If the idea is good then what is the problem. Personally I probably would not care much for a foldable phone, but others may find it works for them. Why not give it chance. I guess the author likes better innovation like removing the headphone jack just because. I don't mind change if it improves usability. Removing the jack did not lead to better weatherproofing or larger batteries.
  • I agree. Change is great, but it is not for everyone. This device is not for everyone. The statement that it does not solve a problem, well I can name on all fingers products/services that people said that about.
  • A lot of people gets offended when they see something they don't prefer. They believe their preference is absolute and should be enforce to everyone. So much for the saying that Android offer choices., Its not like they're actually gonna lose something for this since they're not gonna buy it anyway. If this sticks its just gonna be another category and if it flops then we can all move on and at least give them a nod for trying something new.
  • This is just a stepping stone something bigger and better. Some in the industry and consumers thought the Galaxy Note was ridiculous when it was introduced. Even Steve Jobs said that they would never produce a phablet size phone because of there was no way that it could be used with one hand as the major argument. The UI adapted, the industry adapted - consumers adopted because of the benefits. Also Steve jobs argued that a stylus was ridiculous to be used with even a tablet. Well now we have the iPad Pro series and soon iPhones with Stylus (Pencil) support. Fortunately, my experience with devices and OSs exceed 2012, so my insight is much more honed. Now, yes Axon M and lesser companies wanted to be first to market, they did not have the hardware, OS or UI/UX depth to pull it off. We have to remember Samsung is an ODM, they also manufacture many existing and future components that are available for todays devices and tomorrow. They also have a larger research and development capability that rivals and exceeds even Apple along with manufacturing capacity to scale it. What they lack mainly is UI/UX experience to sometimes adapt Android or whatever completely to compliment these innovations. it takes the entire ecosystem of Android developers, OEMs/ODMs and even Google to evolve Android and apps to work with new form factors like a dual screen, foldable device with different orientations, configurations and aspect ratios. Patience. The first series of these next-gen devices are going to be expensive, not readily available and intended for early adopters - like in the past. Now onto the hardware. With computer aided design, form-factors, hinges and everything industrial designers need to make happen is easy. However, as the author identified, reducing hardware tradeoffs are a challenge. However, besides advancements in mighty engineering, new materials, components and converging technologies are happening everyday. Battery tech alone is on a constant state of evolution - including flexible, but ins some cases, is not scalable at the moment. Universities and companies like Samsung have developed new forms of materials for mainboards to make them somewhat flexible as well. Apple even has been "stacking" their motherboards for iPhones for years now, reducing the footprint to save space for battery(s) and other components and also yielding smaller, thinner devices. A new material called graphene will change all of this. Graphene can hold a charge (battery), it can be a display, of can be a motherboard, it is bendable, flexible and can also be transparent. So, guess who is way ahead of the game with this awesome material - yep - Samsung. But, until recently, the material is very hard to produce.
    Now, I am not really a fan of the prototype that has ben circulating the net and shown in this article. I am more interested in the tablet configuration of a foldable device that Samsung and LG have leaked. They both are basically convertible devices that represent a phone and a tablet depending on how they are folded. Possibly even be used with a Stylus. Now, a Galaxy Note X would be awesome, however I don't think Samsung is up to the task offering the user experience that these class of devices deserver, nor is LG and definitely not ZTE. I believe that Google and Apple, especially with it's extended iOS 11 gestures for the iPad. The answer to the UI/UX challenges, atleast on the Google side of the equation is Chrome OS and Material Design. It's perfect. It already support styluses. Android apps run, although in a container. Plus we would not have to depend on Samsung for updates to support this new, rapidly evolving tech with OS updates. Other benefits is that ChromeOS is already here. It supports both fullscreen and Windowed apps. ChromeOS also is highly secure and contains the worlds most powerful, versatile and extensible Web Browser, Chrome - not a mobile, crippled subset as in Android and iOS. A next generation foldable device like the Galaxy X deserves nothing less. One device to rule them all. One device, one true OS, one design philosophy to match. I leave you with some great references of what is and what could be. ChromeOS Tablets Universal Stylus: The note will have lots of Company Soon. Tech and cooperation have caught up. Project Linda and Others Galaxy Noet X Videos:
  • Here is a better video of what I would call the Galaxy (Note) X. Also, I believe Apple would be the last to adopt this because they would loose their purposeful segregation of device form-factors forcing consumers to invest more into the entire iOS ecosystem of separate iOS phones and tablets.
  • A worthy article on its own. Well done.
  • Thanks ChrisFricke. Just like you I love tech, Just wanted to share an opinion.
  • No thanks.
  • It's an answer to a problem that doesn't exist.
  • Says someone about every new innovation.
  • Headlines like this remind me of the people who swore that things like physical keyboards and "pocketable" sub, 4" screens were all that we needed. With a lack of forward thinking like that, we would not have the devices that we are reading this article on today.
  • I'm here for the innovation, whether it's sticks or not something good for the masses is bound to come from it.
  • They already ruined phones with the curved screens.
  • And you’ve ruined comments sections with your dumb posts
  • I've been waiting for LARGER screens forever. Now using a puny S8, and I used to have an 8 inch screen. So foldable will hopefully enable much larger screen sizes, rather than smaller phones.
  • Same here, i have a Note 8 and i don´t need to make it smaller. But i like the idea of being able to make it bigger.
    Open it like a book and it becomes a 12" phablet would be nice?
  • So now, tech sites whine when companies innovate? First of all, how can a smartphone pick up scratches if it is closed with the display on the inside, in your pocket? Second, making components bend (or putting them somewhere else) is engineers' concern, not yours – unless you plan to conceive and build your own bendable smartphone, of course. Finally, this future trend of foldable seems very promising, and I look forward to seeing what it will lead to in terms of features and usage. Then – and only then – will I decide if it's good or not.
  • Speak for yourself. I'd love to have a foldable device than can open up to a massive screen for viewing things easier on my couch, desk or kitchen table. I wouldn't need a tablet anymore
  • Counterpoint: curved screens. You can say that it's a gimmick all you want (and the design might not be for you, I'm not a fan) but there are serious and tangible ergonomic advantages to the design. What started out as a rather pointless tech demo became the defining feature if a smartphone line. Give me a giant screened phone that I can fold and easily put in my pocket and I might perk up, I think the best thing is to wait and see.
  • Gimmick: term used by people to describe something new that they either don't understand or don't see themselves personally using. Requires a "my experiences and opinions are the only things that matter" mindset.
  • Gimmick: Something creating for marketing purposes that has little value...and people buy into it. Requires succumbing to market research.
  • It's not even out yet and we've ready got opinion pieces! This is just a filler I reckon. Let it come out 1st then bash it.
  • Moto Z2 Force has a glass screen, it just has a plastic screen on top of it.
  • Wait and see, and when I say “see” , I mean after the first few attempts at marketing the idea of a truly foldable idea(no hinge); and the bulkiness, or lack thereof, and form factor, then we’ll see how it flies. This may take time.
  • Surface foldable the all in one device... If it's as good as my Surface Pro i7 then it just might be a game changer...
  • Doubtful I'd be interested in this mainly because it's a Samsung device. I've had enough issues with past ones that I'll never buy another. I prefer a small phone and don't need a tablet when out and about. But I can see others who might like it and innovation is always good. Choice is always good also. You buy what you like and I'll buy what I like. I shall be interested to see how it fares tho for sure.
  • That is exactly what I WANT!! Build me a foldable Surface that I can make calls on and I'll jump on it SO fast ... I'll be in Hog Heaven!!
  • I don't think we need bendable devices. I'd rather companies focus on new battery tech. Polish up things like HDR enabled screens, and maybe even bring back IR blasters across the board instead of just on mid range devices.
  • So which of the two companies has already licensed the use of "Bend Me, Shape Me" for their TV ads?
  • We're probably going to have to agree to disagree on this. One of the enduring compromises of portable devices is display/input area versus pocketability. The move toward larger and larger screens has shown how greater display/input area has some real benefits. More space often means you can do more and do more at the same time (a la Samsung's split screen pairing). But the other factor, pocketability still comes into play. If the device is too big, you will end up putting it down somewhere instead of carrying it with you.
    It may be like the butterfly keyboards on ThinkPads of a few decades ago: a momentary really good idea that eventually gets obviated by some other designs, but for now, foldable tech seems like a reasonable way of addressing both concerns while still pushing the envelope.
  • I'm waiting for an origami phone that folds down to about nothing and unfolds into multiple shapes and sizes. At some point, there is no reason to be carrying these big things in our pockets, sitting on them, etc. For one, I will welcome our new folding overlords.
  • Yeah we hate choices, variety, and product differentiation. Choices, and individualism overwhelms us. EVERYTHING needs to be the same... glass back, glued together, non replace-able batteries, no headphone jack, no hi-res DAC, no SD card slot, no IR blaster. (Sarcasm)
  • This maybe good for ppl who likes to place it in their pockets so u don't crack ur screen etc but I don't see it working 4 long term reliable reasons
  • So this is it...the AC staff is gone with the exception of a once a week collaboration piece and we have to read a bunch of garbage pieces that decry an change in a completely boring market as "bad, awful, evil and scary" Let me tell you - the content of this site has slid quickly down hill since Phil left.... Jerry, Alex - those guys feel like they're off doing other stuff...why bother...
  • I'm not sure how you can dismiss something that hasn't even come out yet or how the form factor might even work. That is like everyone laughing when Samsung released the Note and people were like that ridiculous. If done right, it might be a compelling device. when you want a small screen but if you need a larger tablet like could be very cool. Either way. I'll wait to reserve judgement when it actually comes out and still not some vaporware device. before I start bemoaning it.
  • I'm not so sure about bendable in the middle being very useful but if the whole thing were able to flex and twist a bit I'd be all for that. Especially for the "Active" line where they're more likely to get dropped, sat on, and otherwise thrown around and abused.
  • One man's gimmick is another's favorite feature. Don't impose your own needs and desires on everyone else. Android Central seems more and more to be "Google Central." If Google didn't think of it, copy it, or make it, it's second best.
  • Oh, and reaching conclusions about the actual device based on a concept drawing is beyond absurd.
  • I think the idea itself is worth developing. Part of the idea, I think, is eventually we get to the point of paper like devices like the newspapers in Harry Potter. If you read sci-fi, you'll find foldable devices that have the properties of paper. You can write on it like paper and fold it up and put in your pocket. Yet you can do other things like communicate or watch videos. Even if Samsung were unable to sell foldable phones, there is always offshoots that the technology can create or inspire. Just because a technology isn't a commercial success, doesn't mean it's not useful. Many people thought it was stupid to build airplanes; look at us now. Many people thought that the automobile was stupid; look at us now. Many people thought personal computers were unneeded; look at us now. Let Samsung give it a try. We already know the worst case scenario, but we won't innovate if we don't push the limits.
  • Exactly. We don't know what we need until someone gives it to us.
  • TLDR, only needed to read the headline and agree completely. I don't want a foldable phone. How about we just make the software good and add actual useful features.
  • Sorry but wasn't the same thing said about big phones with a stylus as one point? lets see what it brings. If a phone could open to a size 8 inch tablet but when folded be able to fit in you pocket then i would be interested as it would be one device that you could bring along with you.
  • Is anyone really even asking for a foldable smartphone? I mean being able to fold the darn thing in two isn't at all on my list - longer battery, memory expansion (SD Card slot), break resistant screen and my personal desire for an IR blaster as my VCR/DVD combo remote is dying. I'd think a foldable smartphone would suffer from a lack of rigidity that a regular smartphone doesn't suffer from...