2021 may well decline as the year of foldable phones has ceased to be an expensive proof of concept and has finally become mainstream.
This was the year execution began to match this immense futuristic promise, and significant improvements in quality of life and lower prices finally brought them within the grasp of ordinary consumers.
Although I count myself among these “ordinary consumers”, however, I would not count myself among the foldable converts. There are still too many rough edges, annoyances and open questions surrounding this cutting edge section of the market.
I have been keeping a close eye on the foldables market in 2021, both out of personal interest (I really like shiny new gadgets) and out of a sense of professional duty.
As a freelance tech writer I have had to research and write about the latest foldable phones for countless news and features. But my current take on foldable phones didn’t really take shape until August, when I received the two top examples of the format to test.
the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 arrived together, packed in a large shiny black box. They made an immediate and largely positive impression on me.
If there is an archetypal foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is definitely this one. Essentially an 8-inch foldable tablet with the added bonus of “normal” phone functionality when closed, it certainly follows the same foldable design path that Huawei, Oppo, and Honor have or will soon follow.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a little less familiar – a flip-flop device that basically serves as a regular phone folded in half. It’s decidedly cute, with a pointy style that screams fashion accessory. It also reminds me a bit of the Game Boy Advance SP, which is never a bad thing.
Perhaps best of all, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 has finally brought the price of a foldable phone down to less than (roughly) £ 1,000. Here is the first device of its kind that you could recommend to a mainstream audience.
TechToSee’s official opinion on both phones is positive. They’re both great handsets, with the Galaxy Fold 3 taking half a star as’ best foldable phone yet ‘and’ the first foldable phone we recommend to people who would normally be called early adopters. “.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3, on the other hand, is “the best foldable flip you can buy.” I agree with each of these statements. But I still wouldn’t buy any phones myself.
During my own extended testing period, I found that I like to use the Flip 3 more than the Fold 3 on a daily basis. The more compact form factor of the flip phone just made it more enjoyable to use like a real phone. The Galaxy Fold 3 turned out to be excessively thick and heavy.
The Fold 3 weighs 271g and is between 14.4mm and 16mm thick when closed. For the context, the Xiaomi mi 11 ultra – a 2021 non-foldable flagship phone that has been universally designed for its heaviness – weighs 234g and is around 12mm when you factor in the gigantic camera module.
If the Flip 3 is more practical than its big brother, I’m still not sure what it is for. While the Fold 3 truly justifies its bulky form factor every time I play Slay the Spire (the Fold being the only series of phones that does this wonderful roguelike game justice) or look at a spreadsheet, I don’t. have never found a single practical justification for the foldable nature of the Flip.
Sure, it fits well in a pocket, but not much better than my iPhone 13 Pro. I can imagine there is a case for those who have tiny pockets to pull something out of, or for those who carry their phone in tiny purses. But in my experience, the Flip 3’s form factor is a gimmick.
Not to mention the glaring flaws that place the two phones well behind equivalent “normal” phones. While Samsung has dramatically improved the ruggedness of both, making them the two most rugged and best-designed foldable phones yet, they still only get an IPX8 rating. This means that they are waterproof but not dustproof.
In addition, both phones are equipped with camera systems, the nuances of which are disappointing. While the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s system is the better of the two, it still falls far short of the iPhone 13 Pro which I ultimately invested my money in.
Granted, that compares these phones to the best in the business, but we’re talking about a £ 1,600 smartphone. It takes photos inferior to both the iPhone 13 and the OnePlus 9 Pro, both of which cost around half that price.
Look to the future
I’m also not sure that the immediate future of the foldables market will solve any of my main issues. The Oppo Find N seems to be the closest. It has a similar but more compact design to the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and a superior set of cameras that come much closer to the flagship standard.
Meanwhile, the Huawei P50 Pocket looks like a dual Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3. It looks just as cute and stylish, and just as unnecessary. It also won’t have much of an impact outside of China with US sanctions still in place.
Any follow-up Motorola Razr 2020 would surely have their hands full matching the very first Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, not to mention beating the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3.
As of this writing, it remains to be seen what the Honor Magic V has to offer. Reports suggest another Galaxy Z Fold 3-a-like, which means it’s likely to be another great phone when you’re sitting on your couch or on a train, and extremely impractical anywhere else.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope future foldable phones can convince me. However, they need to be more than just a proof of concept or a bulky foldable tablet.
The market for regular and non-foldable smartphones is now mature, which means your average flagship phone has pretty much hit all the basics. If I’m going to invest a lot of money in a foldable phone, it has to at least be the best in all of these areas, and also offer something beyond looking cool. And it has to do it while still being easy to lug around and not much more expensive than a high-end flagship.
Tell me, smartphone makers: am I asking too much to get on the foldable train? If so, I think I’ll just have to go to bed for another year. Or rather, no.