Flip it shut, snap it open – smartphones with flexible touch displays look like gadgets plucked from the future. As foldable handsets of yesteryear peter out, flagship brands usher in a new era of bendable mobile phones. Some fold out to give you an even bigger screen real estate, while others fold in to help you pocket the device wherever you go. From prominent releases, like Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 and Microsoft Surface Duo, check out which foldable phone is calling your name. But, first, let’s unpack what makes a flexible display so surreal.
How do foldable screens work?
Our traditional hinge-free smartphones carry a glass screen. Foldable phones had to take a different route. “These phones don’t use a regular screen; it’s actually plastic, so the display doesn’t sustain cracks when you fold and unfold it,” said Ahmed Naisam, service head at FixSquad LLC, a gadget repair company based in Dubai.
In fact, both Samsung and Apple have been using plastic polymers for smartphones with curved edges, for a while now. "Foldable phones have been around since 2018. The technology uses polymers, which are a sort of plastic and offer great flexibility, but they do sustain scratches easily compared to glass," said Dr Anand Kumar, dean of engineering and architecture at Amity University in Dubai.
And so, in 2020, Samsung upgraded its Galaxy Z series with actual folding glass on the display. “It’s called the Ultra Thin Glass layer, made from a similar material used in glass-based screen protectors by [American technology company] Corning,” explained Naisam. The technology creates a glass so thin that it measures one-third the thickness of human hair, but – as Naisam puts it – “can only withstand N-number of folds in its lifetime”.
The key driver behind the foldable technology is the OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display, according to Dr Kumar. Since OLED screens emit their own light, without the help of a backlight, they can be made very thin. We see OLED displays in foldables by Samsung and Oppo. But, Dr Kumar says, the challenge for manufacturers is still the wear and tear associated with these screens.
Which foldable phone is the best for me?
Folding smartphones made their debut in 2018, which is why they’re rapidly evolving with every brand launch. From better battery life to more durable screens, the race is on for tech giants to perfect the formula. Some forms sit between a phone and tablet, acting like your mini personal computer, on the go.
“Foldables are great for multitasking, especially for business people, who want to take notes but don’t want to carry a tablet or a laptop with them,” said Mohammed Rafeeque, owner of FixSquad LLC, with 12 years of industry experience.
“Samsung has the highest market share in foldable phones, so the Z Fold3 is worth mentioning,” added Mohammed, also stating that its newer model (Z Fold4) sees minimal upgrades. He finds a screen that folds outwards a better value for money, since the crease in the middle of the display would be less visible.
Still, you'd be exposing your screen to the external elements at all times, when the form factor doesn't fold inwards. "Though Samsung seems to be pricey, I'd say their foldable phones are worth looking into because they've been continuously improving on the technology," added Dr Kumar. "While durability is still a question mark, some might find that the advantages gained from portability and a larger screen can outweigh that wear and tear."
Whether you’re on the hunt for a stylish, compact foldable or a large phablet for work, we’ve listed them all out below, based on expert recommendations. If you sign up for Prime, you can save more with free, next-day delivery.
1. Best Overall: SAMSUNG Galaxy Z Fold4
- Has a solid five-camera system, including under-display camera
- Compatible with S Pen Fold
- Use three apps simultaneously
- Impressive 12GB RAM
- IPX8 water resistance rating, which withstands submersion
- Under-display camera is just 4MP
If you’d feel more at ease with a display that folds inwards, then consider the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4. The smartphone is built for both one- and two-hand functionality. It carries a 6.2-inch cover screen in the front that opens up to a 7.6-inch phablet-like display. But you have a hands-free option, as well. Simply set it up at an angle to take video calls, stream TV shows or type up a work email. Add an S Pen for Fold here. Speaking of video calls, you can do this unfolded via its clever under-display front camera, while another selfie camera sits on the cover screen. Let’s not forget the triple lenses on the back, with the telephoto camera boasting the Fold series’ best zoom yet. Plus, a bigger screen estate means you can multitask on three apps at the same time. In terms of display, the Fold4 does lose out on resolution and weight when compared to our best overall pick. Otherwise, ecstatic reviewers proclaim it as a productive user’s best companion.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh439.67 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh312, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh522, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh666.
2. Best Value for Phablet: Microsoft Surface Duo
- Dual-screen display for multitasking
- Large 8.1-inch merged screen
- Lightweight at 250 grams
- Optimised for Microsoft apps
- Good battery life
- One 11MP camera for both rear and selfie
Looking for a dedicated phablet that folds both inwards and outwards? Microsoft Surface Duo is another productivity-centred mobile device. Its 360-degree hinge gives you access to two separate 5.6-inch screens, like a two-in-one smartphone. Say, you have your emails open on the right and an ongoing work meeting on the left; it also allows the full 8.1-inch fusion display. “There’s no chance of cracking the Microsoft Surface Duo because it’s not a single folding screen, rather the phone has a visible hinge in the centre, so there’s less likelihood of damage,” said Naisam. Its description paints a bulky picture, but in reality, the smartphone only weighs 250 grams and fits smartly in the palm for calls. Reviews say the battery lasts them all day and makes notetaking a breeze for businesses. Add a Surface Slim Pen here.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh186.18 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh142, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh238, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh303.
3. Best Compact Foldable: SAMSUNG Galaxy Z Flip4 Smartphone
- Runs on Qualcomm’s fastest chipset to date
- Super compact
- Several options for personalisation
- Take selfies using rear cameras
- Crease is still visible
- No significant upgrades to its 12MP cameras
Admittedly, Galaxy Z Flip3 has seen its fair share of screen repair requests, says Naisam, but the same is yet to be said of its latest model Flip4. Samsung states that this variant is more durable, tougher and sleeker. Modelled after traditional flip phones, the Z Flip4 is a compact device that can be tossed into the bag and slipped into pockets. Enjoy a 6.7-inch AMOLED screen, which folds in half to reveal a 1.9-inch cover screen that can be decked out with personalised GIFs and videos. In the flex cam mode, use the phone’s lower half as a kickstand to click stable shots, hands-free. Despite the speedy Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chip and stunning form factor, Samsung still reminds users that its Ultra Thin Glass screen only withstands more than 200,000 folds. Naisam says this can be anywhere from two to three years of use.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh266.20 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh199, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh332, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh424.
4. Best Design: Motorola Razr 2022
- Cover screen for checking notifications and taking selfies
- High-spec cameras
- Dolby Atmos speakers
- Runs on Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1
- Slightly more expensive than Motorola's listed price
- Only 3,500mAh battery size
Carrying another clamshell design is the Motorola Razr, which slips into the pocket, undetected. Motorola's premium smartphone has a 6.7-inch OLED screen with a speedy 144Hz refresh rate and features a mini 2.7-inch touch display on the cover. Much like the Z Flip4, this foldable device lets you capture rear camera selfies and quickly swipe through notifications on the cover screen. From the main 50MP lens to 32MP front camera, the Razr promises excellent low-light photography using its Ultra Pixel technology. All of this and more is powered through the powerful Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset. You can prop up your phone and split the screen to browse two different apps at the same time. It even acts like a remote web camera for conference calls, when you've linked the handset to a bigger display.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh466.58 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh341, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh569, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh726.
Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.