Are you ready to fork out more than a couple grand for the hottest tech gadget commanding the attention of media and early adoptors?
The foldable phone/tablet is here, with pre-orders just months away. Many devices are showing at the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona this week. Should you buy the first one or wait for more choices? How do you pick the right one? Will you actually use it or abandon it after the novelty wears off?
Foldable smartphones convert to medium-sized tablets. They use sharp, bright flexible screens that magically double your mobile phone's screen real estate, and can run several apps at once, akin to a desktop PC. Then, they magically fold back into a phone for easier transport and greater portability. It's impressive, even to hardcore tech writers like myself.
It's still too early to recommend which foldable phone to buy. Samsung's Galaxy Fold, which was shown from a distance at the company's launch event in San Francisco last week already has confirmed pricing of US$1,920 (Canadian pricing TBD) and pre-orders will be available soon. But it wasn't even available for members of the media who were in attendance to get a closer look, featured behind a glass casing. Sure, it looked ready, with multiple apps running in tablet mode in the impressive live demos. But we only saw it 50 metres away and on huge screens. Once the techie adrenaline rush is over, a serious week-long sit down will reveal much more about how well this still growing technology actually works.
Huawei Mate X
Lots of questions remain. Like how flat and seamless is the screen in phone or tablet mode? Foldables use paper-thin flexible OLED screens that generate their own light. Bright screens in carefully shot ads cover screen surface discrepancies. After viewing dozens of publicly shown videos in slow motion and following other media reports, slight imperfections pop up, especially when screens are viewed from the side.
The key factor in flex foldable screens is how flat they will be in tablet mode after prolonged use. Huawei and Samsung have taken opposite paths in their design. The Galaxy Fold stretches the screen by default in tablet mode, like the inside of an open book that stretches the seams. In phone mode, the Fold uses a flat glass screen. In comparison, the Huawei Mate X in tablet mode is like a book that uses the outside cover for a screen, which, in books, causes an upward seam pressure to form a ridge. By using a 100-part patented hinge, Huawei appears to keep the screen surface remarkably flat and evenly lit.
By default, foldable phones are thicker than plain smartphones, but remarkably thin in tablet mode. Most have 4,000+mAh batteries split in the two halves of the tablet screen, which would presumably offer up to nine hours of video viewing, if it remains in line with other 7" tablets currently on the market.
Samsung Galaxy Fold
Designs and functionality vary from model to model, and will affect how you use and protect your foldable phone. Samsung's Galaxy Fold phone mode protects the tablet screen between the front and the rear. Huawei's Mate X exposes the screen in open tablet or folded phone mode, but offers advantages like a usable front and rear phone face. Which one wins? One can argue that neither phone is likely to break or crack the flexible tablet screen, unlike can happen with glass screens. But softer flexible screens can be subject to scratches and wear.
Personally, I would go with the foldable phone that has the best hardware features, including being future-proof via features like a 5G modem. In my eyes, that's the Mate X, but let's see its final version.
Secondary players like Royole's FlexPai (who beat out all competitors with a store ready China-only model) is similar to the Mate X in design, but with a much thicker binder-like hinge that makes it unsuitable for pockets. The Xiaomi ‘Dual Flex,' meanwhile, which you can see a prototype of online, also uses one tablet size screen, with edges that fold backwards from both sides leaving a narrower phone mode, with no rear screen.
Xiaomi Dual Flex
Expect foldables from Motorola and LG, both of which have thrown out hints that they might be launching something soon, including being granted foldable patents. Even Apple has dabbled with foldable patent designs, but most observers don't expect a foldable iPhone this year.
As it stands, 2019 will be a duel between the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X as the leader in foldable phones. Let's compare features and specs:
Samsung Galaxy Fold
In phone mode, it has a 4.58" 1,960 x 820 Super AMOLED screen with three rear cameras 12MP wide, 16MP ultrawide, 12MP telephoto and a 10MP selfie and 8MP depth sensor. It unfolds to a 7.3" 414 ppi 2,152 x 1,536 16:10 ratio Infinity Flex AMOLED capacitive touchscreen. It runs on Qualcomm SDM855, Android 9 Pie, and Samsung's app continuity feature which reopens say, Google Maps, from small phone mode instantly to a larger window in tablet mode. The 512GB internal memory will have to do as there is no expansion, nor is the phone 5G-ready. There's no headphone slot as well. It, as mentioned, offers 18W charging, and has a small phone screen. It can run three windowed apps. It supports the Samsung DeX desktop experience too. The Galaxy Fold will go on sale in the U.S. on April 26 for US$1,980, and will launch on May 3 in Europe.
Huawei Mate X
The Mate has better hardware, larger screens, and is futureproof with a 5G Balong multi-mode modem, which is a huge advantage over competitors. When folded in phone mode, it features an 11mm thin 6.6" AMOLED, with 1,148 x 2,480 pixels (19.5:9) and optional rear screen view. T It runs on Huawei's own battery efficient Kirin Octa-core chip with dedicated frequencies for large or small tasks. Cameras include a 40MP wide, 16MP ultrawide and 8MP telephoto. And dig this: when shooting someone in phone mode, you can optionally see the photo on the phone's "rear" side as you shoot. It unfolds to an 8" 441 ppi 2,200 x 2,480 pixels AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, and a noticeably thinner 5.4mm thickness. Huawei grouped all its cameras in one narrow, easy-to-hold thicker edge bar. A 4,500mAh battery supports Huawei Super Charge, which charges to 85% capacity in 30 minutes using the included 55W charger. The Mate X is available Q2 for US$2,600. But it remains to be seen how the final UI looks with multi window support, which wasn't shown at launch.
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