Alluring Foldable Phones Might Be Your Next Tablet, Too

Alluring Foldable Phones Might Be Your Next Tablet, Too

spinner image

two black flip phones on display - one vertically and one horizontally

If even the largest smartphone feels too small for all that you want to see on your handset, you may be ready for your first foldable phone.

Samsung, a pioneer in foldables that dominates the category, has just unveiled the Galaxy Z Fold5, available in August. The bendy-screen device morphs into a small tablet that opens like a book.

With a lofty $1,799.99 starting price, it costs the same as Google’s first foldable, the Pixel Fold, which the search giant revealed in May. Samsung also announced the Galaxy Z Flip5 that costs about $1,000 and has a more compact clamshell design. The Flip basically unfolds into a typical smartphone rather than a tablet.

This new version of the Flip has a 3.4-inch outer display, or in Samsung-speak a Flex Window, that is far larger than prior models and potentially more useful for displaying widgets, seeing notifications and capturing selfies without having to open the device.

However, a look at those price tags hammers home that this niche is a splurge.

Foldables are gaining momentum

Foldable phones, which boast features older adults may come to appreciate, appear to have genuine momentum. Anyone can shove a closed hybrid phone/tablet in a pocket or purse just like a regular smartphone.

Right now, the number of foldable phone users in the United States is small, about 4.7 million units in 2022, according to a report from Hong Kong-based Counterpoint Research market analysts. That’s about 1.5 percent of U.S. smartphone owners, who numbered 307 million in 2022, as indicated in a research report from another market research firm, Statista.

But 28 percent of U.S. smartphone users that Counterpoint surveyed indicated that they are “highly likely” to go for a foldable as their next purchase. Counterpoint estimates global foldable smartphone shipments will exceed 100 million by 2027.

International Data Corp. recently forecast the global foldables market to reach 48.1 million shipments in 2027, growing by more than a quarter for each year until then. Since a Chinese manufacturer introduced the first foldable smartphone in 2018, the screens have become more durable and the build more sleek. The launch of Samsung’s first Galaxy Fold had to be postponed by several months in 2019 after some early reviewers reported problems with the folding screen.

“Foldable phones remain the one positive talking point in a [smartphone] market that declined more than 11 percent in 2022,” IDC says.

This year, Lenovo-owned Motorola came out with a $1,000 razr+ flip phone that earned high marks from reviewers for its 3.6-inch cover display, more of a rival to Samsung’s Z Flip than Z Fold. Razr’s internal screen is 6.9 inches. Microsoft, with its Surface Duos, as well as lesser-known overseas brands such as Oppo and Honor, also have a presence in foldables. But few of them have made much of a mark in the U.S.

Where’s a foldable iPhone?

If you’re a fan of iPhones and intrigued with the idea of a smartphone that can fold up like the once-popular flip phones, you’re out of luck. Apple is a holdout. Pundits expect the company to jump in with a foldable iPhone eventually, but when or even if is a matter of conjecture. Apple typically unveils its latest iPhone lineup in September, but no one expects that a foldable model is imminent.

See more Health & Wellness offers >

That may be just fine for many older adults. More than half of the smartphone owners surveyed in AARP’s 2023 Tech Trends and Adults 50+ had Androids, which start at a lower price than iPhones. Fewer than 2 in 5 had iPhones, though the numbers of Apple vs. Android tablet users were closer.

“They launch something when it is near perfect,” telecom analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics in Dedham, Massachusetts, says of Apple. “A lot of the technological innovations that Apple brings to market it simply takes from Android devices.”

Though foldable phones snap closed like some inexpensive flip phones, the Galaxy Z Fold, Pixel Fold and other premium devices in its class don’t resemble them in design, functionality or cost.

“Foldables absolutely can mean skipping a separate tablet, and there can be some unique benefits to that arrangement,” says Avi Greengart of the Techsponential research and advisory firm in New Jersey. He uses his own Z Fold4 on flights as a tablet but also employs it as a phone on planes via Wi-Fi.

Entner also applauds the flexibility. “You have a far larger screen in the same footprint and weight as a traditional phone. … When something has a large screen, everything is easier. If you have the money, by all means go for it.” 

What’s in the Galaxy Z Fold5

Samsung’s new foldable opens up to a 7.6-inch active matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) display that the company says matches the brightness of the screen on its flagship, and more conventional, Galaxy S23 Ultra phone. The Z Fold5 is lighter than prior models, and the crease where the phone folds, though still visible to the user, is less distracting.

One big improvement: Samsung has redesigned the hinge where the device folds, letting it lay flat without a gap. An outer display measures 6.2 inches.

The Android phone, which is water-resistant, has a 10-megapixel (MP) selfie camera, rear 12MP ultrawide camera and a 12MP wide-angle camera. A megapixel is 1 million pixels, the dots that make up an image. 

It is also compatible with Samsung’s custom S Pen stylus, which you can use to take handwritten notes, annotate PDFs, write memos, draw and more. Despite the high price of the phone, the S Pen costs extra.

What’s in the Pixel Fold

When folded in half, the Pixel Fold is a half-inch-thin candy bar-shaped device with a 5.8-inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display that looks like the silhouette of other Pixel smartphones. You’ll find OLED displays in some ultrathin TVs, too.

The Pixel Fold’s rear triple camera system includes a 10.8-megapixel ultrawide lens, a 48-megapixel main lens and a 5x folded telephoto lens. Two additional cameras — one on the outside, another on the interior — are also on board.

It includes artificial intelligence-driven features found on other Pixels. One lets you easily remove photo bombers and other unwelcome objects in the background of the pictures you shoot. Another can automatically sharpen blurry images.

The inside screen is the tablet-sized 7.6-inch OLED panel. As with the Galaxy Fold, you might notice a visible crease on that inner display, though some reviewers didn’t seem bothered.

Everyone cares about battery life, which Google claims will exceed 24 hours. Everyone cares about longevity, too, especially when shelling out the big bucks.

“How long will that fold work?” Entner asks. “That’s a mechanical failure point.”

Google says it has extensively tested the multi-alloy steel hinge you’ll inevitably put through the wringer when opening and closing the device, calling it the most durable on a foldable. Samsung’s newly improved hinge on the Z Fold also promises to be more durable.

Android software changes to accommodate

Recent iterations of Android operating systems have been tailored to take advantage of tablets and foldables. When one is opened like a book and in split-screen mode, you can drag a pair of apps from a task bar to use them side by side.

If you’re watching a video on the outer screen and open the phone, the video will instantly expand to appear on the larger inner screen. When the device is propped up in tabletop mode and folded at a right angle, you can watch video on the top and have playback controls on the bottom.

The software on the Z Fold5 lets folks easily switch among up to four recently used apps. Samsung says someone might watch a movie full screen while chatting with friends in a floating pop-up on the side.

A notable feature coming with an Android 14 update in the fall for the Pixel should resonate with older adults visiting other countries. It’s called interpreter mode and leverages both the inner and outer displays so the screen you and the other person are seeing shows a real-time translation of what the other is saying.

If you’re a frequent foreign traveler, perhaps that will get you into the fold.

This story, originally published May 11, 2023, has been updated to reflect the launch of the latest foldable models.

Edward C. Baig covers technology and other consumer topics. He previously worked for USA Today, BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report and Fortune, and is author of Macs for Dummies and coauthor of iPhone for Dummies and iPad for Dummies. Follow him on LinkedIn, Threads and Twitter.

Members Only Access. Log in to continue.

Gain access to celebrity interviews, smart advice, recipes, novels, Pilates, and AARP digital magazines. With content arriving every day, there is always something new and exciting to discover with AARP Members Only Access.


Login

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *