androidcentral: A (brief) history of the folding phone

Foldable Phone Histoty

Source: Nirave Gondhia / Android Central
Source: Nirave Gondhia / Android Central

“Smartphones are boring.” That’s a sentiment that we’ve been hearing for a while.


With devices like the Galaxy S20, Pixel 4, and iPhone 11, you can understand why some people might feel that way. A lot of devices on the market these days are subtle refinements of existing handsets, resulting in phones that are better than ever while lacking an overwhelming sense of excitement.

In the last couple of years, that’s changed dramatically thanks to the rise of folding phones. We’ve been talking and dreaming of folding phones for years, but just recently, they finally went from being a pipe-dream to a very real reality.

The history of the foldable phone is still young, but even so, there’s already plenty to talk about. If you want to understand where folding phones started and how we got to where we are today, this is the article for you.


Although 2018 was a brief year for foldables, this is technically where things got started. 2019 and 2020 are when the gears for the foldable market really got cranking, but we needed these two developments in 2018 to get there.

The Royole FlexPai breaks cover as the world’s first folding phone October 31, 2018

Royole FlexPai

Source: Android Central

Before any mainstream tech company was ready to show off a folding phone, we had the Royole FlexPai. Royole is a Chinese electronics brand that was founded in 2012, and while you may not have ever heard of the company, it’s noteworthy for the fact that the FlexPai was the world’s first folding smartphone.

Royole opened pre-orders for the FlexPai on October 31 in China, allowing interested shoppers to get their hands on the brand new folding wonder.

You can actually still buy the FlexPai if you live in China and are interested in the phone, with prices starting at ¥8,999 for the model with 6GB of RAM + 128GB storage. However, as we soon learned that following January, being first doesn’t mean you’re the best.

Samsung shows off its Infinity Flex Display concept November 8, 2018

Samsung Infinity Flex display concept

Source: Android Central

The second and only other highlight from 2018 was arguably more important. During Samsung’s annual developer conference, the company unveiled its Infinity Flex Display — a screen technology that could be folded in half.

Samsung showed off a working prototype during the conference, revealing a phone with a large inner display that could be folded up to show a secondary display on the front. The design of the phone was hidden behind a large black case, but as we all know now, that’s what went on to become the Galaxy Fold.

Samsung touted that it would be ready to mass-produce its Infinity Flex Display in a “matter of months,” and while the company stuck to that promise, it didn’t go as smoothly as expected (more on that later).


Our first hands-on with the FlexPai is … disappointing January 8, 2019

Although pre-orders for the Royole FlexPai began in October 2018, we weren’t able to go hands-on with the phone until January 2019. Royole brought the FlexPai to CES that year for everyone to try out for themselves, and that’s when we learned all of the shortcomings of the device.

While the FlexPai certainly was a phone that you could fold, that’s about where the positives end. As noted in our hands-on below, the FlexPai had uneven bezels, clunky software, and overall questionable build quality.

If you look at the FlexPai, it was essentially two 16:9 displays with an accordion-like hinge connecting them. This resulted in the phone being incredibly wide when opened up and with there being a huge bulk when the phone was closed.

Royole does deserve credit for getting a foldable phone on the market so early on, but as devices like the Galaxy Fold and Z Flip proved, sometimes it’s better to wait a little while than jump the gun. More