Foldable devices are going to be an exciting part of our future, but if 2019 has proven anything, it’s that they’re not yet ready to be part of our present.
By Vlad Savov
Royole’s was terrible, Samsung’s has proven defective, Huawei’s is behind schedule, and Xiaomi and Oppo’s alternatives are merely social media video teases for now. Even LG, the company that doesn’t know how to say “no” to an outlandish idea, demurred on foldables this spring, saying it can’t yet come up with a compelling one. I think LG’s right in its candor because I believe everyone who’s shown anything foldable so far is going about it the wrong way.
None of them are getting the shape of the thing right.
Most companies are starting with a smartphone as their default folded shape, and the most natural unfolded state for such a slab inevitably leads to a squarish aspect ratio. However, I’ve had my hands on the Huawei Mate X, Royole FlexPai, and a selection of TCL foldable prototypes so far, and my conclusion from those experiences is that the unfolded device, no matter its size, should have a widescreen aspect ratio.
It’s more important what a foldable is like when it’s unfolded than folded — or, at the very least, that form is the one that should be taken as the starting point.
The occasions when I find the size of my phone’s screen inadequate these days are few, but they’re almost always the same: watching videos, browsing photos, and looking at websites designed for the desktop. Each of those benefits from a widescreen display. Even things that phones are already good at, such as browsing bottomless social media feeds or mobile gaming, also get a boost from an elongated display.
My colleague Dieter Bohn reviewed Sony’s Xperia 1 this week, and the thing he most appreciated and enjoyed about it was the “tall boy” 21:9 display. Ever since phones started breaking away from the common 16:9 aspect ratio and toward more elongated shapes in 2017, mobile apps, games, and services have been gradually altering their interfaces to better match that design trend.
No one is coding bespoke software for square screens right now, and back at MWC in February, I was struck by just how wasteful it was to play a YouTube video on the unfolded Huawei Mate X. The empty black space above and below the moving images was almost as tall as the video itself. I loved the design, refinement, and apparent robustness of the device I had before me, but I couldn’t escape the sense that it was taking almost no regard of how people would use a gadget of that kind.
Make it 16:9 in its unfolded state, and a foldable will look and feel tailor-made for YouTube and the vast majority of streaming content and games.
With the advent of 5G, especially next year, the variety and availability of streaming services are only going to expand — and whether you’re playing on Google Stadia or binging the latest HBO Max offering, a widescreen device will be your perfect mobile companion. More