That being the case, we can look forward within a year or so to large handsets that fold neatly into your pocket, for not much more than £200.
Samsung, the world’s biggest provider of smartphones with some 315m handsets shifted last year, is due to announce this week that “affordable” foldable phones will form the backbone of its 2022 range. The UK prices have yet to be revealed but Samsung promises that they will be part of its mainstream offering, and substantially cheaper than the experimental models it has been selling to early adopters.
Its virtual press conference from its global headquarters south of Seoul will have the effect of firing a starting pistol that will be heard across the Yellow Sea in China where Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi have a combined market share almost double that of Samsung. These firms compete for every last dollar, and are unlikely to be left behind in the race to put the new kind of folding stuff in your pocket.
Phones that fold in half have, of course, been around for years but Samsung’s new models are a long way from the American Motorola flip-phones of the 1990s. This time, the screen itself concertinas, allowing a tablet-like display without compromising portability.
The first of the line, the Galaxy Fold, came along two years ago and cost nearly £2,000. Its successor last year was around £500 less, but the two models due to be announced this week are expected to carry more realistic price tags, reflecting cheaper production costs and a reluctance among consumers to spend as much as before the pandemic.
As ever, a scaling-up of production will bring prices down further, and that’s where the Chinese manufacturers will step in.
But if the advantages of a big screen that folds in two are plain, what about the practicalities? Will it fall to bits after a few months of use, and, just as importantly, will you be able to see the join?
That depends on the build quality of individual models that have yet to be designed, but initial impressions from Samsung’s experimental models are that the fold will be about as noticeable as in the centrespread of a magazine, minus the staples. The image will be uninterrupted but there may be a loss of contrast along the gutter – to which your eyes will soon adjust. The effect is achieved by coating a very thin layer of glass with a layer of polymer, and the unfolded result is a screen wide enough to display web pages as they would appear on a laptop, rather than a conventional phone. That makes them much more productive although also harder to use one-handed.
The weak point is likely to be the hinge. It’s invisible in normal use but some users of Samsung’s 2019 model have reported that it tended to loosen over time.
It’s pointless speculating in detail about the new models when an official announcement is so close, but the Samsung range is expected to take in a Galaxy Z Fold 3 and an updated Z Flip 3. The first of these will feature a front-facing selfie camera embedded beneath the screen, and support for using a pen to write or draw directly onto the display.
Samsung’s unveiling on Wednesday is open to the public, so you can see for yourself how much else they’ve been able to squeeze in. But no matter how hard you look at the fine details, you can be fairly sure that the Chinese will be looking harder.
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