Foldable phones are back. Or are they?

Credit: Chris Velazco, Engadget

About a year ago, I wrote an article called “The Foldable Phone Fiasco.” Let’s face it, 2019 was not a great year for foldable phones. The first one “to market” was from a company called Royole. That phone never hit US shores in any quantity. The phone that did, the Galaxy Fold, was an unmitigated disaster. Review units broke almost instantly. The overall quality was poor. The price was astronomical. It seemed for a moment that foldables were dead even before they were born.

2020: More of the same?

In late 2019 Motorola showed a concept version of a foldable based on the RAZR design. This phone debuted not long ago, and the reviews were simply not good.  It was followed almost immediately with Samsung’s second try, called the Galaxy Flip. While this phone was certainly far more applause-worthy than last year’s Galaxy Fold, it’s still an overpriced and underpowered phone with questionable reliability.

That phone was followed by an updated version of Huawei’s foldable Mate X. It’s a more “traditional” foldable meaning it’s more like last year’s phones. Unfortunately it’s also about $2,700 and it doesn’t run any app you really want. Google will not allow its software on Huawei phones for security reasons.

So what’s the problem with foldables? Why is this so hard?

Obviously doing a foldable screen is going to be a big challenge. You’re talking about something delicate and impossibly thin and you’re subjecting it to repeated stresses. We just don’t know how to do that. We ask our phones to be incredibly thin and yet incredibly strong. Asking them to fold might just be a bit too hard.

The cost issue is also certainly part of it. There’s a strong economy producing smartphone screens, as long as COVID-19 isn’t disrupting it. We know how to make LED, LCD, and OLED screens and there are factories all over the world doing it. This makes the cost of producing these touchscreens quite a bit lower than it once was. When it comes to folding screens, though, the technology is too new to rely on economies of scale. Folding screens, even bad ones, are a lot more expensive.

But really I come back to what I said last year. The problem with foldables right now is the difference between dreams and reality.

This is what people want.

I showed you this image last year when I wrote about foldables. It’s from the HBO series Westworld which returns this year. This is the kind of foldable we want and Westworld makes it seem totally possible. But, it isn’t. Even putting aside the foldability thing, there’s no room for a battery in that device. That’s its biggest problem.

We won’t get the foldable we really want until someone solves the battery problem. I told you before that battery development has lagged behind every other innovation for decades. If we could improve batteries as quickly as we’ve increased processor speeds or download speeds, we’d have batteries the size of a pin head that could power a car. And then we could get skinny transparent phones. But until that happens, forget about the foldable you really want.

In the meantime, though, you might want to look for a new phone by calling the fine folks at Signal Connect at 866-726-4182. They can get you started with a modern, reliable phone. It might not fold, but it still might be just what you want.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.