Technology

A brief history of foldable and flippable smartphones

Until you return to the gadget trend after a decade, you don’t realize how cyclical life is. When I locked my Motorola Razr back in the naughty, it felt like the last time I was flirting with that form factor, as candy bar-style smartphones were now taking over the usual gadget zeitgeist.

Then, I reviewed the Galaxy Z Flip 3 last year. And I realized that folding smartphones have a future. Just overnight, Samsung introduced its fourth generation of the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold. We felt there was no better time than now to reflect on the journey that has brought us here.

Samsung may be the manufacturer that popularized folding smartphones, but others have introduced their own versions that deserve attention. Here’s a brief look at the history of folding smartphones over the past decade.

thanks, old time flip phone

First, we have to give a shout out to good old phones for paving the way. If it weren’t for Samsung’s flip phone or the Motorola Razr (later tried to be rebranded as a foldable), we wouldn’t believe the phone could be condensed into a pocketable size.

Isn’t a foldable e-reader just a book?

Screenshot: GSMArena / YouTube

Screenshot: GSMArena / YouTube

Before Samsung came out with its foldable AMOLED display, a few other companies tried to foray within the industry. In 2006, Polymer Vision showed off a rollable concept and a foldable device called the Readius, which functioned mostly as an e-reader rather than a full-blown mobile device.

It’s time to convert! Nokia shows off its Morphe concept

A brief history of foldable and flippable smartphones

In 2008, Nokia showed a concept video of a foldable display that could be molded into different form factors. The original teaser showed a slim tablet that is essentially a slab of glass that can then triple down and latch onto your wrist like a slap bracelet. The novel nature of Morph made it appear that the technology was ahead of its time.

Samsung teases us with the foldable AMOLED

A brief history of foldable and flippable smartphones

The first indication that Samsung was working on a foldable display was in 2011, when the company showed off a concept tablet that used a fully flexible AMOLED display. The display can tilt, fold and roll-up. It was a bit too much to look at.

Kyocera was on to something

Image: GSMArena

Image: GSMArena

At the same time as Samsung started teasing us with its foldable AMOLED, Kyocera released a dual-touchscreen Android phone called the Echo. It had dual 3.5-inch displays that folded into each other, plus software tweaks to allow you to run two apps at once. Then again, it’s a case of another manufacturer being ahead of its time. The version of Android it was running on did not yet support split-screen mode.

The three-screen ZTE Axon M just doesn’t quite cut it

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Samsung may have the technology to fold smartphone displays, but it will take some time to build a phone with that particular form factor. Until that time, if you were considering a foldable smartphone, you were probably looking at something with a dual-screen like the Kyocera Echo.

ZTE launched the Axon M in the US in 2017 through AT&T. i still have my original review The unit floating somewhere in my gadget closet. The phone had a total of three screens: a 5.2-inch front screen and two 5.2-inch displays on the inside that translate into a larger 6.8-inch tablet-style display. The Axon M was certainly good, but the lack of proper software optimization, as well as the physical bezel separating the two displays, didn’t quite impact the experience.

Royale Flexpie was a royal meltdown

Photo: Matthew Reyes/Gizmodo

Photo: Matthew Reyes/Gizmodo

Technically, the first bendable smartphone in the market was the Royole FlexPai, which was launched a few days before Samsung showed off its updated flexible display. The Chinese electronics brand immediately made it available for a little over $1,800, though early impressions of the device didn’t seem like it was worth the trouble of buying one from overseas.

Samsung officially debuts with Galaxy Fold

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Samsung launched its first consumer-ready foldable smartphone in 2019. The device was teased constantly, however when it launched, it landed with a smack. The Fold, which started out as a device with a 4.6-inch display, opened like a book to reveal the 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED from the inside. It also had a protective plastic film on the internal display, which some reviewers inadvertently pulled off. Samsung took them back again review Units and Folds were relaunched a few months later with a fix.

It’s Still Too Bad Huawei Is Banned Elsewhere

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Huawei isn’t a brand you can buy to use in the US anymore, but it did move around APAC with the foldable Mate X. The expensive bendable phone stole the spotlight from the Galaxy Fold after a wave of mishaps with Samsung’s initials. review Device. Huawei is still making folding phones.

The Mate X was a bonafide, all-screen folding smartphone. But it folds back into a candy bar-sized phone on its own like a book. It featured a 6.8-inch front display and a 6.38-inch display at the rear, which also housed rear-facing cameras. To open the Mate X, you can press a button, turning the phone into an 8-inch slate device. Huawei made progress with this design, specifically making sure that the bezels on the available screens weren’t overloading.

Xiaomi unearthed folding phone

Screenshot: Xiaomi

Screenshot: Xiaomi

Xiaomi is also waving the flag of the folding smartphone around the field. China’s largest smartphone maker has joined hands with Samsung and Huawei to make flexible phones. The company once teased a triangular design, but its first launch was actually the Mi Mix Fold in 2021.

Motorola reimagines the Razr as a folding flip phone

Image: Verizon

Image: Verizon

Motorola did its best to revive the Razr brand in 2019 as a folding smartphone. And I mean, it really tried. The 6.2-inch P-OLED foldable, which resembled Motorola’s original Razer Flip phone, had a “Quick View” display on the front, a 2.7-inch OLED. But the phone faced weak reviews, and its exclusive deal with Verizon in the US meant it was only available to a small group of users.

Samsung’s Galaxy Flip did what Motorola couldn’t

Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Samsung’s first Z Flip model arrived at just the right time. This comes after the company got some time to find out about its almost disastrous Galaxy Fold launch. It followed Motorola’s struggle to capitalize on the nostalgia of its hit flip phone from its early days. The Galaxy Z Flip has endured more iterations since then, and the fourth one looks badass.

TCL has tried a few foldables too

Image: CNET

Image: CNET

TCL is generally known for its affordable smartphones and TVs, though it also played with the folding form factor. The company showed off a foldable concept device at CES 2020. Then, a month later, it teased a slide-out smartphone that managed to attract more people thanks to its relatively creative way of folding inside.

Microsoft Surface Duo: Hey, It Folds Up!

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Microsoft Surface Duo is not foldable in the current sense. It doesn’t have a screen that bends in the middle, though it does have two internal displays that fold up into an 8.1-inch device. It also features several software tweaks to make it the ultimate productivity tool. Unfortunately, even with the second generation Duo 2, Microsoft failed to impress users.

We can’t forget Oppo’s bold efforts

Image: GSMArena

Image: GSMArena

We wouldn’t want to mention OnePlus’ parent company, Oppo, for its first flagship foldable, the Find N. Although it is not available in the US market, its existence has helped normalize the form factor as a significant part of any manufacturer’s device portfolio. , To its credit, Oppo has a history of trying on different smartphone styles to stand out from the saturated sea of ​​competition in the Android space.

Will Google ever have a folding smartphone?

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

We’ve reached the end of our folding smartphone journey, though there’s a lot more to look forward to, including rumors about stretchy displays and other Samsung experiments. Microsoft may also have another form factor up its sleeve, though it’s uncertain whether it will be in the smartphone space given the Duo’s reception.

However, the only company we’re looking forward to is Google, which has its Pixel lineup of smartphones. We’ve been following the rumors for the past few years in a wish-they-won’t-they way. It seems that currently, they will not. The last thing we heard was that Google’s foldable Pixel was delayed a second time, and we won’t hear much until at least the end of the year.

This article has been updated since it was first published.

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