Folding phones have blurred the lines between smartphones and laptops

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 multitasking
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 multitasking (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

I have to admit, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 has wowed me the same way the Surface Duo has. I'm not saying I'll rush to buy either because the price is still too high and these early adopter foldables haven't reached their full potential just yet. But that's coming and when it does get here, foldable devices are going to change everything we think we know about being mobile and connected.

Foldables are no longer gimmicks.

The Fold 2 especially drives home the idea that this sort of product is not just a gimmick. Like most of us, with the first foldables from Samsung and Huawei I simply saw a phone that stretches out into a bigger phone. While that might be useful for something like watching a show or playing a game, using a giant phone is awkward and cumbersome when you want to do something as simple as sending a message to a friend.

That "problem" still exists and Fold 2 users are going to spend plenty of time using the cover display for all of their "phone things" because it's just easier. But what Microsoft and Samsung have done with the latest generation of foldable shows off the productivity factor in a big way, and that really matters.

Traditionally, we've used a phone for most of our daily tasks and maybe have a tablet for videos and games. We can work from our phones in a pinch, but most folks who work at a computer all day usually have, well, a computer or a Chromebook to work with.

Nobody will be ditching their laptop or phone and rushing out to buy a foldable any time soon.

That's also not going to change very soon, but if you're a person who often works while out of the office or your home, these foldables are something new and different.

It's all about how the big screen (or two screens in the Surface Duo's case) can be used like two separate displays. The Samsung Unpacked Part 2 event showed this off in an amazing way when the Fold 2 was open like a small laptop with a YouTube video on the upper display and the comments on the lower half.

Now watching YouTube videos and leaving snarky comments (or heaven forbid reading the toxic comments) is hardly work unless you create content for a living. But combine that with the way Samsung, Microsoft, and their software partners have worked to get Microsoft Office or Gmail to flow the same way. Excel up top and a keyboard on the bottom sure beats using a regular phone if you want to work on a spreadsheet.

I've already written how there will be some apps that multitask across two parts of the screen or two separate screens but there will be at least a million others that don't. Samsung, Microsoft, or even Google can't fix that and there will always be at least one app you want to use that is never updated to work well with a foldable.

Surface Duo Hands On

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

But if this category of device takes off, and I think it will, we'll see more and more developers fire up whatever SDK they need so their app can also be spectacular on a foldable. With numbers — as in device sales — comes change.

Foldables aren't a phone, or a laptop, or a tablet. They're a mix of all three.

Consumers aren't going to flock to foldable devices right away. We all know that; the price is prohibitive and most people just don't need something like a foldable phone. But these aren't phones. They are mobile productivity devices that can let someone leave their laptop and the heavy bag it's in at home if they spend a day in the park or even go on a mid-week trip for a day or two.

Foldables aren't a phone. They aren't a laptop. They aren't a tablet. A foldable isn't as good as any of those for the things a phone, tablet, or laptop does best. But a foldable can do everything all three of those devices can in one package. As the software catalog of apps designed for foldables grows, more and more people will want one. Including yours truly.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I disagree strongly, because keyboards.
  • The BlackBerry fold 2021 🤣🤣🤣
  • I disagree strongly because Android...
  • Uh, no. There is no blurring of the line. A phone is still a phone, fold or not. Sure, it can be a more productive phone. But it is nowhere near a match for a laptop in that regard. Two different things altogether.
  • So, what exactly makes a phone, a phone? I'm going at this a different way. In the article there is the concession that most people still use 'a computer or a Chromebook to work with." So why is a Chromebook not a computer? I was going to bring that up, wondering what defines a computer. Then you make this comment and I wonder what defines a phone anymore? Is it that it fits in your pocket? Is it that it makes phone calls? I have an LTE connected laptop on which I can make phone calls (effectively), but it doesn't fit in my pocket. You can buy a small Windows computer that fits in your pocket, but doesn't make phone calls. Admittedly you have to add UI peripherals, keyboard, monitor, but the part that fits in your pocket, is the computer. You seem to tie the distinction to productivity. Doesn't that depend more on what you need to do, than the device you use to do it. I think the lines between phone and computer, or the sub-genre of laptop, were blurred well before foldables. If we are only talking about form factor, not function, then sure a phone is not a tablet, is not a laptop, is not a mainframe, and never will be.
  • I'm with you. These could theoretically work as companion work/school devices, but really depends on the type of work or school someone is involved in. The problem I see is that when someone is at work, they have a dedicated work station with either a PC or monitor. You'd have to work a job in which you're very mobile for these foldables to be truly useful, IMO. When it comes to viewing a document, my Galaxy Note 20 or any other smartphone is sufficient. If I'm going to edit or manipulate that document, I'm going to want to be at my desk 9 times out of 10, and, if I'm at my desk, I'm not going to use a foldable. I can see these being useful for a small demographic. Don't know what that demographic is, but I'm sure it's out there. For most everyone else, it's just a novelty.
  • More like smartphone to tablet, I don't think they're reaching to laptop, yet
  • Running Android, there'll never be a chance of confusing any of these foldables for laptops; not even the MS Duo...
  • No blurry lines that I can see. Pretty clear what the differences are.
  • If a Foldable came with a physical keyboard as an attachment that could all fit in your pocket, then yes that statement would stand.
  • There is no way I would confuse with a laptop. However, like everyone else's thoughts...this does "start" to blur the tablet line....