Foldables aren't really the 'small' phone you've been looking for (yet)

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

When presented with the option, I always choose the smaller phone. I know I'm in the minority, on my last upgrade my girlfriend and I went into the shop at the same time and she stared at me in confusion when I intentionally chose less screen and a smaller battery. The reason for this is pretty simple, I like walking around and using my phone with one hand. Not that awkward one-handed thing where your pinky holds the bottom edge while you swipe on the keyboard thing either, actually being able to reach every part of the screen with your thumb while holding the display with one hand.

My colleague Ara Wagoner recently hailed foldables as the solution for those of us who want smaller phones, and honestly I don't see it. Folding these phones in half may solve one of the problems caused by the current crop of phones, but these clever little things are not yet there in solving all of my problems.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip vs. Moto RAZR

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

I want to take a moment to highlight something Ara said in her editorial, because it really is important.

...this foldable gives you the functionality of a Galaxy S20+ with the portability of a Gameboy Advance SP. Clamshells give us a screen big enough for binge-watching Hulu in bed, but a profile tiny enough to actually fit in those pathetic excuses for pockets that they put on women's jeans and jackets.

I fully agree, lady pockets are embarrassing at best and flat-out lies at worst. Unless the thing you're wearing has been designed by someone who cares (shout out to Katie Elhoffer) you can bet those pockets aren't going to hold your phone. But not every woman wants to see a cottage industry of lady pocket-friendly accessories form in order to solve this particular problem. My friend and PCMag columnist Jill Duffy summed it up nicely on Twitter not long ago.

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Folding a long phone in half is a neat trick, and the things Samsung is doing with the software on the Galaxy Z Flip is clever for sure, but at some point, I'm going to want to actually open this phone up all the way and use it like I would any other phone, and when that happens I'll be back to having a phone I can only sort of use with one hand. In fact, I'd argue if you were to decrease the screen height on the Z Flip by exactly the same size as the hinge, you'd have something pretty damn close to what I'd call the perfect sized phone.

While I am personally incredibly excited with all of the experimentation, I'm not ready to call and of these foldables a viable solution.

It's also important to point out this clamshell design is one of three different designs in the foldable space we've seen so far. The experimentation happening with these form factors is exciting, but the industry hasn't settled on a form factor writ large for all to enjoy, if it ever does. Folding as a concept still makes phones thicker in parts, and requires a lot of extra space for the physical hinge to do its thing, both of which get in the way of a phone being smaller. So while I am personally incredibly excited with all of the experimentation, I'm not ready to call and of these foldables a viable solution to this admittedly niche complaint of mine.

The bigger question, from my perspective? If Samsung is able to make a phone as impressive as the Z Flip with admittedly lesser specs without compromising on daily performance and feature set, why isn't there a cheap, small phone based on this exact same platform?

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

7 Comments
  • Funny enough I don't stick my phone in my pockets so I acknowledge my jeans are too tight to even put anything in my pockets. So I like not necessarily a small sized but comfortable sized phone that I can carry in one hand with my wallet.
  • Most of my friends are girls, and they usually keep it in their purse, or have it sticking halfway out of their back pocket because the front pockets are simply impossible. It goes from bad to worse when they wear a dress and have a small purse.
  • You can have pockets added to you pants easily and cheaply. Heck if you have access to a sewing machine you could probably do it yourself. Test on other people's pants first.
  • You hit the nail on the head Russell. Although my current phone "feels right", there are times I want something small that disappears in my pocket. I still have my iPhone 5S for nostalgia, and though the screen is amusingly small, the phone is still blocky and feels bigger than it is. Coincidently, when I double-tap the touch sensitive frame on the U12 Plus for one handed mode, I have it so the screen shrinks down to the same size as the 5S 🤔 Hey Russell, I know it was not a great phone, but was the Palm phone close to the form factor you are thinking of?
  • I did love the Palm Phone, but even something roughly the size of the iPhone SE worked well for me.
  • You're not alone, I've been wanting a smaller offering for years.
  • Foldable phones are gimmicks and Apple is the true market leader in what truly matters to the consumer and foldable phones will always Bea niche market for the geeks and nerds.i love big phones and won't use any phone that isn't over 6 inches in screen size.