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Bet. Check. Fold?

Some of us, the lucky ones arguably, are old enough to remember when ending a phone call on our mobile device was facilitated with a satisfying snap. It’s just not the same, thumbing the red “end call” button on the delicate pieces of glass we carry around now. Instead of fidget spinners, we had fidget phones. The great thing is however, they’re making a comeback! So long as you’re not an Apple user, there are now options for smart, foldable, snappy closing phones which do everything we expect from our modern devices. But are they any more than a gimmick? What magic have they used to create foldable screens in the first place?

On the surface, foldable smart devices do solve the problem of increasing screen sizes. More screen real estate is almost always a more desirable feature, but the law of diminishing returns pops up pretty quickly as soon as you consider that these devices still need to be portable. I personally have moved away from the “Max” sized iPhones, as I grew so tired of having a phone so large it peeked out from the pocket of my jeans. Being that the thickness of the device is a little less of a concern when it comes to pocket space, it folding in half for storage appears to be a neat solution. That is, if all of the folding devices weren’t Android flavored. For my sins, I once again pay my Apple tax.

It’s actually developments in screen technology itself which has enabled the resurgence of our folding companions. For many years, the displays in our phones (and televisions, monitors, cars…) utilized a thin piece of glass on which to place the components that make something a display in the first place. This piece of glass, to varying degrees, is quite fragile. Starting around 2013 though, curved displays started to hit the market utilizing a different process of manufacture, leading up to 2018 when the first folding phones hit the market. These foldable screens use a flexible, plastic-like material to replace the rigid glass, meaning a whole new world of design options for the all-screen devices we’re nowadays used to using.

Now, having all but conquered the engineering problems; they’re a pretty staple part of Samsung’s lineup. You can also, happily for those of us who’re suitably aged, relive the hype of the Motorola Razr, but as a modern smartphone with the Razr Flip. Rather excitingly, a flexible display doesn’t just enable a traditional flip phone as we think of it. Bifold, or even screens which unroll are coming down the pipeline, free from the constraints of fragility and conventional design. Those with shallow jean pockets, rejoice!

As with anything, there are a few drawbacks here. Chiefly with a folding design which has the screen folding inwards, you do have a crease to contend with. This will, over the life of the phone, become more apparent. There’s active development on lessening its appearance, but we aren’t there yet. Another rather surprising issue is actually durability. While a flexible display is better equipped to survive a drop, debris poses a real challenge. Pocket fuzz being squashed between the two screen halves is one thing, but once we get into grit, change and keys being caught; it can mean game over for your folding friend. Would I pay extra for an iPhone: Flip? With a sigh, for I am weak, I reply “Probably.”


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