It’s safe to say the era of foldable phones is now upon us. Android 10, the latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, builds in support for foldable devices.

By Jesus Diaz

The Galaxy Fold finally arrived in the U.S. last September after a delayed ship date while Samsung worked through issues with the device’s screen, and now Motorola’s  foldable Razr is about to go on sale as well.

In fact, everything seems to be folding these days. Lenovo now has a foldable PC, the $2,499 ThinkPad X1, while LG wowed crowds at this year’s CES with both a roll-down OLED TV and a model that bends.

But foldable phones got here first, and more are scheduled to join their ranks this year (including, possibly, a rumored device from Apple). It’s a new form factor that promises the convenience of extreme portability when shut and a larger screen whenever you need to get things done.

The appeal of foldable phones is clear: you get the productivity-boosting powers of a big screen that can fold up for maximum portability. But the risks are apparent, too — look at the delayed launches of both the Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X, as Samsung and Huawei struggled to make sure their first foldable devices were durable enough to survive the rigors of everyday use.

Here’s a look at the flexible phones that have been announced so far, and what we could eventually see. And for all the other non-foldable handsets we’re looking forward to, check out our list of our most anticipated smartphones of 2020.

Foldable phones you can buy right now

  • Samsung Galaxy Fold
  • Royole FlexPai
  • Huawei Mate X (China only)
  • Motorola Razr (pre-orders start Jan. 26)

Samsung Galaxy Fold

After a longer wait than Samsung probably cared for, the company started shipping the $1,980 Galaxy Fold this past September. And after spending some time with the phone, which has been redesigned since getting a sneak peek earlier this year, we found that the Galaxy Fold is an innovative device that still feels a little impractical at this point for everyday use.

Nevertheless, Samsung is treating the launch as a success. A Samsung executive told the audience at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin that 1 million Galaxy Fold smartphones have been sold, though the company subsequently backed off of that claim.

The Galaxy Fold’s backstory didn’t suggest it would be a hit. Samsung planned to launch the $1,980 phone at the end of April 2019, but that launch was put on hold, after some review units released by the company exhibited problems with the screen. The Galaxy Fold had also seen its share of lackluster reviews based on that pre-release unit. Samsung mobile boss DJ Koh called the Fold launch “embarrassing,” and said in an interview that he pushed for the phone’s release “before it was ready.”

Two big problems popped with the Fold’s screen. Some reviewers removed a protective layer that needed to remain in place. In another case, some debris got between the Fold’s hinge and its display, rendering the screen inoperable.

Samsung says it addressed those issues in advance of the rescheduled September launch. The protective layer now extends past the bezel, which Samsung expects will prevent people from trying to remove it. Protective caps have been added to the hinge’s ends, and there’s less space between the hinge and the phone’s body in the revamped design.

The Fold uses the Infinity Flex display Samsung introduced last year. When unfolded, the display expands to 7.3 inches. Samsung’s App Continuity feature lets you resume using the app you had open on the folded-up 4.6-inch display in tablet mode. And multitasking supports lets you run three apps at once.

The batteries are split into two, one on each side, for a combined power pack of 4,380 mAh. (The Fold lasted a little more than 10 hours on our battery test, which we ran using the device’s 7.3-inch screen.) The 7-nanometer processor powering the device is aided by 12GB of RAM. And the Galaxy Fold offers six cameras total — three on the back panel, two inside, and one up front.

You can get the Galaxy Fold through Samsung, Best Buy and AT&T. We’d recommend the unlocked route, as the AT&T version comes with a lot of preinstalled bloatware.

While Samsung presses ahead with the Fold, the company is entertaining other foldable phone designs for future devices. One report suggests a design that folds outward like Huawei’s Mate X (see below). Other reports suggest that a future version of the Galaxy Fold planned for this year will feature an 8-inch screen and a Galaxy Note-like S Pen, or that Samsung will come out with a folding clamshell-style device, similar in concept to Motorola’s flexible Razr. (Samsung teased a flip-style foldable at its annual developer conference last October.)

We could find out soon enough what Samsung has planned on the folding phone front. The company is holding a press event on Feb. 11 where it’s expected to show off the Galaxy S20, the latest addition to its flagship Galaxy S lineup. But as with last year’s Galaxy S10 launch which gave us our first look at the Galaxy Fold, we could be in for a foldable phone debut, too.

That would be the Galaxy Z Flip, the rumored name for the follow-up to the Galaxy Fold. This Samsung foldable is expected to have a clamshell design that reveals a 6.7-inch display and a lower price tag than the Fold.

Motorola Razr

The iconic Razr has returned for its second act — and this time, the 2020 Motorola Razr is a foldable smartphone. Motorola has shoehorned a 6.2-inch flexible OLED panel into a body similar in proportions to its classic clamshell, complete with a secondary display on the outside for quickly responding to notifications and snapping selfies without opening the device.

Motorola and Lenovo developed 26 prototypes over a period of four years before settling on the final design of the Razr’s foldable screen and hinge. They claim the new Razr won’t be tarnished by the same fragility that soured the Galaxy Fold’s highly-anticipated launch. In fact, the Razr’s hinge feels so strong and sturdy, it makes the device somewhat tough to flip open with your thumb alone.

Because most of Motorola’s attention has seemingly gone into making the Razr durable, the handset is decidedly less impressive in terms of specs. Inside beats a Snapdragon 710 chipset, not the best-in-class 855 silicon that powers most flagship models. Additionally, the Razr’s single 15-megapixel external camera didn’t seem to rival Apple’s or Google’s imaging prowess in our brief hands-on testing, though we look to put that lens through its paces more extensively in our upcoming review.

By Jesus Diaz