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Has the foldable killed the tablet or just made it better?

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

Everybody's always trying to predict and proclaim the death of tablets. We've seen it since the dawn of the first "phablet" devices like the original Galaxy Note; with a big enough phone, who needs to spend even more money on a bigger, less portable touchscreen device with more or less the same features?

That argument actually holds some merit. I have a few tablets sitting around, including high-end options like the Galaxy Tab S7+, that I almost never so much as boot, because between my phone for casual use and my laptop for work, all of my needs are met with just two devices. There's just not much reason for me to carry around a third piece of tech that takes up more space in my backpack and, with additional accessories like a keyboard and stylus, can often reach upwards of $1,000.

But tablets have their own advantages that neither phones nor laptops can fully match. They're considerably lighter and thinner than most laptops, and generally offer dramatically better battery life (though I suspect that may change as the shift to more ARM-based computers continues). They're perfect for gaming and watching movies on the go, and detachable keyboards make tablets far better for typing out assignments than phones, while stylus support makes them terrific sketching devices as well.

Until foldables have been fully democratized, tablets are probably here to stay.

Phones like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can check most of these boxes while also tucking away into your pocket (at least, assuming you have relatively deep pockets), but even the Note with its 6.9-inch display can feel cramped compared to a larger tablet, especially for things like multitasking and drawing.

Of course, you can get an even larger pocketable display by picking up a foldable, like one of my favorite phones of the year, the Galaxy Z Fold 2. It's an incredible device that can expand out to a 7.6-inch display (measured diagonally) with a roughly 5:4 aspect ratio that truly offers a tablet-like experience — it's nearly the same size as the display on Apple's iPad mini lineup.

Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ with keyboard cover

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

But the Fold 2's display is far more fragile than that of a traditional tablet, and it doesn't support Samsung's S Pen — that's a problem for graphic designers as well as users who simply need the precise touch input of a stylus. On the bright side, it's already been confirmed that Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S21 line will support the S Pen, and rumors suggest that the Z Fold 3 will, as well. This is great news, and could enable some tablet users to make the jump to a (slightly) smaller screen after all, but size will still be a trade-off for those who are after the most real estate they can get.

Even if the Z Fold 3 supports the S Pen, pricing will be yet another issue. We're expecting to see as many as four new foldables from Samsung in 2021, consisting of at least one more affordable Z Fold-like device, but if the Z lineup is anything like Samsung's S line, the S Pen will be reserved for only the highest-end model. Based on past releases, that'll likely be somewhere in the ballpark of $2,000 — about double the cost of even the priciest Android tablets out there.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 multitasking

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Until that price comes down, even the tablet users who are okay with downsizing could have a hard time justifying the cost of something like a Z Fold 3 versus having free range of the best Android tablets and one of the best Android phones separately.

One day, we could finally see tablets replaced by more pocketable devices like foldables, or even see them augmented by foldable tech to give you a full-sized tablet that folds into something smaller for packing (remember the Sony VAIO laptops?). Until that day comes, though, I think tablets are going to be just fine.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

23 Comments
  • Sometimes, you just want a screen that's bigger than your phone, but smaller and lighter than your laptop. Tablets have been my go-to for reading and social media pretty much since they came out. A foldable really strikes me more as something you use at lunch rather than a tablet replacement. Yeah, it's a bit of a niche, but when my Tab S3 is still going strong almost four years later, it was an investment that more than paid off.
  • "Sometimes, you just want a screen that's bigger than your phone, but smaller and lighter than your laptop." Yes! But... Enough to own three devices? Often not enough!
  • It won't be running Android like the Duo, but the soon to be released Surface Neo is a folding tablet with stylus support.
  • A product like Samsung's Fold comes in very handy for business ppl who do alot of travelling like on th plane /train. You have a regular sized phone but when you need a bigger screen for media, productivity stuff, multi tasking open it up to give you a tablet size screen. If it's not already gaining popularity it will especially when Apple launches it's Foldable phone lol.
  • How did galaxy fold sales compare to iPad sales?
  • How did Apple sales compare with Pear sales?
  • I thought the compearison was Apple's and oranges?
  • Since i purchased my Galaxy Tab s6, i almost never use my phone at home. now my phone goes on wireless charging pad and I pick up my tab for browsing, reading, games, movies, etc. The extra screen real estate makes it way better for content consumption. With Google Messages on the web, i can even send/receive texts. I used to have tablets and was always frustrated at their awful performance. That isn't the case anymore. Also, i can take it with me to the Gym and use it on the eliptical....it's way better than the integrated TV's and I can watch whatever I want. I guess I see my phone more as a utility/communication device and it's nice to sperate my entertainment usage to something dedicated like a tablet.
  • Same here. Still too many issues with foldables and I am happy with dedicated devices.
  • No...too chunky, who the heck want's to carry around one of those things all day?
  • Guess we are just ignoring iPads here. Understandable i guess. Android tablet makers likely wish they didn't exist.
  • Android tablets are on the brink of death, but iPad sales are doing just fine
  • LOL, fanboy. While the iPad is the #1 selling table, 70% of the tablets sold are NOT iPads. And iPads are not running away from Android tablets. Tablet sales increased by 24.9% overall in Q3 2020. However, sales only increased 17.4% for iPad. On the other hand, Samsung tablet sales jumped 89.2%. https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS46973520
  • You really need to take a math class. If you sell a million and sell 174,000 more, that's 17.4%. If you sell 100,000 and sell 89,400 more, that's 89.4%. The former is still over twice the more than the latter, with significantly lower percentages. You could also say the former is a modest increase, while the second nearly doubled sales. Still way more people with the first than the second. Only reason to buy an Android tablet over an iPad is an irrational aversion to Apple, or Fire tablets are what your budget can handle.
  • Only reason to buy an iPad over anything else is because you have your head so far up Crapple's ass. Apple is a joke and the people who droll over their products use them like a Gucci purse. More worried about being able to say they own an Apple than what they really are. It's embarrassing.
  • Actually, there are several reasons for wanting an iPad over anything else. The two main factors are hardware and software. Nobody comes close to those.
    Sounds like someone has their own head up their ass and can't see it. Hmmmm.....
  • Yes... Yes you do
  • I sold my Tab S6 when I got the Z Fold 2 and for my daily purposes I made the right choice. I don't miss my tablet at this point.
  • I enjoy using my Fold2, however I have an iPad... it serves as my main "computer." My iPad is irreplaceable, but can't say that about the Fold2. But it's the most fun device I had the pleasure of using.
  • In my experience, tablets have been more like portable TV's. We have one Amazon tablet that gets passed around the house when someone wants to watch streaming services. Maybe the occasional game. We also have HP 2 in 1 detachables that are far more functional for everyday use and it's what I prefer to carry when I'm out of the house. I would say I use my detachable for everything except phone calls. The Amazon tablet never leaves the house. Typing on a tablet is probably the worst part of a tablet. They're just too clunky to hold and type on. We generally use our phones for social media, texting and making phone calls. Watching streaming services on a tiny phone is not worth the effort.
  • Even iPad felt done when large screen phones came alone. Why? We all still consider laptops more important than tablets (all of them).
  • No mention of the Surface Pro line. We all agree they're not a full tablet but they're no more comprised than a Galaxy Note. The Surface Pro X is an iPad in weight and design, and whilst not having a tablet operating system it is just as good as an iPad for media watching. Attach the keyboard and you have a bonafide laptop. I also own a ChromeOS tablet (Lenovo duet) but this is more due to not wanting to take the expensive Surface Pro X abroad more than anything. As soon as large screen phones and Surface Pros came along the case for iPads and Android tablets greatly diminished. Apple fans love to own three devices especially Apple has decided you need three devices. As the article points out Apple is supplying a negative though not a plus. The Surface Pro X for browsing and media comes damn close to being a tablet and laptop. For other tablety things my phone is good enough. Same battery life as an iPad too.
  • As Galaxy Fold 2 owner, I love the experience on this thing. It's like having a pocketable tablet with me at all times. Games on it are unreal and I barely touch my iPad Pro 10.5. I don't regret the purchase at all. I've had zero issues and if I do, I pay for the protection plan. I really don't need my iPad anymore.