IMAGE: Huawei

You know what the problem with folding smartphones is?

Folding smartphones were the star attraction at last month’s MWC, with Samsung, Huawei, LG, Xiaomi and others all unveiling their versions. The idea is certainly appealing: a screen almost the size of a tablet with many more space available for manufacturers to play with, as well as room for larger batteries or other components that can add value.

The question is whether folding phones will change the game, or soon be forgotten as a fad. There are a number of factors to bear in mind, starting with the price: a dissuasive $2,000 dollars for the Samsung and up to $2,600 for the Huawei, buyers need to be thinking of more than just impressing their friends or business colleagues. They’re also bulky, and given that we don’t really know how to use it, some critics might argue that it makes more sense simply to buy a cheaper, smaller computer.

And then there’s the matter of what they’re made of: in order to bend and create a seamless screen, manufacturers have gone for plastic. Not surprising, given weight issues, but the things just don’t feel nice, and what’s more, they don’t seem like they’re going to last very long; they’re not very tough. Manufacturers were careful at MWC to prevent people from actually handling their folding smartphones, either locking them away under glass or demonstrating them via videos. In all likelihood, this was so that we wouldn’t realize that they were very likely to get scratched when put to daily use and would soon lose their glossy, lightweight appeal, particularly bearing in mind their hefty price tag. This would be a real problem for devices where the folding screen is on the outside, specifically the Huawei Mate X. The Samsung Fold uses a conventional glass screen on the outside and limits the use of plastic to the internal main screen, which would remain relatively protected when closed.

Some analysts have recommended that anybody captivated by the idea of a folding smartphone wait until Corning, creator of the legendary Gorilla Glass and supplier to, among others, Apple, comes up with flexible glass capable of bending in a radius of five millimeters more than 200,000 times, and that would be as hard as current high-end smartphones. This would leave the terminals unveiled at the MWC as prototypes to be used for demonstration purposes rather than to expected to withstand the daily battering most smartphones have to endure.

If you are captivated by the idea of a folding smartphone, taking your time sounds like good advice. Assuming you’re prepared to shell out more than two grand, probably better to give the manufacturers the opportunity to move from the design phase to dealing with the realities of a product that will have its work cut out in persuading us to move on from the current generation of smartphone.


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