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 Huawei Mate Xs 2, 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 Huawei. 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. “I do think the Huawei Mate Xs 2 is a better phablet because it folds outwards. The crease in the middle of the screen is less visible, but its only con is that it doesn’t have Google support.”
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. Flexible displays are quite expensive, so hop on the Mobile Mania sale on Amazon to get up to 40 per cent off on select models. If you sign up for Prime, you can save more with free, next-day delivery.
1. Best Overall: HUAWEI Mate Xs 2
- Large 7.8-inch display
- Lightweight for its form factor at 255g
- Less noticeable crease and a more durable screen, per experts
- High display resolution at 2,480 by 2,200 pixels
- 50MP main camera
- Only carries 4G mobile network
- No Google Services support
Boasting a massive 7.8-inch phablet display, the Mate Xs 2 offers a nearly crease-free screen. Thanks to its falcon wing hinges, you can use the smartphone even when it’s ‘shut’. In other words, you’re not left folding and unfolding the device just for a quick text or call. You still enjoy a 6.5-inch OLED display in its folded state; however, do note that, by design, both screens are always exposed to external elements. Huawei’s lab-tested composite screen structure and hinge are drop-, impact-, and crush-resistant. There’s a triple camera system fixed to the edge of the phone, including 50MP main and 8MP telephoto cameras. The device is also surprisingly light, weighing 255 grams only. Though it operates on a snappy Snapdragon 888 chipset, the phone doesn’t offer 5G connectivity. You can check out the best 5G smartphones here.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh583.25 for 12 months with select banks.
2. Best for Productivity: 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. Like the Mate Xs 2, 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Best Design: HUAWEI P50 Pocket Premium Edtion
- Designed in collaboration with a fashion designer
- Cover screen for checking notifications and taking selfies
- High-spec cameras
- Sunscreen detector
- Folding enables privacy mode
- No Google services support
- Gets fairly warm when in use, per reviews
Carrying another similar form factor is the foldable Huawei P50 Pocket, which is currently 25 per cent off its market price. Huawei’s premium smartphone has a 6.9-inch OLED screen and features a circular 1.04-inch display on the cover. Its glamorous golden shell was, in fact, designed in collaboration with the Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen. 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 40MP lens to the low-light 32MP camera, the P50 Pocket promises excellent photography. Once the privacy mode is enabled, you can turn off your mic, camera and location as soon as you flip the phone close. A bonus feature that sets the P50 Pocket apart from the rest is its sunscreen detector. Take a sunscreen test using the UV (ultraviolet) sensor at the back of the phone to help you with a thorough application.
Bonus: Buy with 0% instalments and pay Dh391.68 for 12 months with select banks.
Warranty: Amazon offers a one-year extended warranty for Dh284, a one-year accidental damage protection for Dh475, and a two-year damage protection plus one-year extended warranty for Dh605.
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.