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Foldable phones at MWC 2019: just the beginning

Foldable phones at MWC 2019: just the beginning


– Once upon a time, phones
had no screens at all. – Hello, Ms. Jasper? – Then got black and white
screens, color screens, glass screens, curved
screens, bezel-less screens, and now, they have foldable screens. (upbeat electronic music) I can give you a quick
history of foldables, because really, there’s
only three of them so far. There’s been the Royole FlexPai, which has been unquestionably bad. There’s been the Samsung GalaxyFold, which is mostly questions, so we’ll call it questionably good. And then there’s been the Huawei Mate X, the big debutante here
at Mobile World Congress, which has the potential
to actually be great. The thing with foldables is that they’re a category of smartphone
that has to define itself. It has to define its
pricing, and its market. It has to define whether it
should fold one or even twice. It has to decide whether
the screen should be on the inside or on the outside. So, I tried out the Royole
FlexPai to start with, at CES a month ago, and it was a disaster. At the moment I’m looking
at it and it’s upside down, I don’t know why it’s upside down. I’m usually good with technology. I feel like my grandfather. In terms of construction, it
was really durable and rugged. But modern technology, and this is why I refer to smartphones, has to be slick, and it has to be elegant, and it has to be more or less perfect. It’s tough to make these, and I think the Royole FlexPai
demonstrates that difficulty. I have to say, I arrived
here in Barcelona for MWC, not a believer in foldables. Looking at the FlexPai and
looking at the Samsung, they just look like
really distant technology. They also look like a
whole bunch of compromise. With the Samsung GalaxyFold,
you essentially get two phones. Okay, let’s be straight about that. You get 12 gigabytes of
RAM, you get six cameras, so you get two phones’ worth of specs. You also get two phones’
worth of thickness, and you also get two
phones’ worth of price, because it’s $2,000. And I think a big reason why
Samsung isn’t showing off the GalaxyFold to
everybody from every angle is that you’re going to
have a gap when it’s folded, and it’s going to be quite
significant, I imagine. That’s the trouble with
putting the display on the inside of a foldable, you need a bigger radius around the hinge. When you put the screen on the outside, that radius is actually taken
up by the device itself, and that’s how Huawei achieves
basically a gapless phone with the Mate X. I got to handle the
Huawei Mate X for myself. I saw it up close and
personal, and I got to touch it and feel it, and the only
problem that I have with it is the hinge, which I’m
going to forgive for now, because it’s not going to
be released until June, and I imagine Huawei will
optimize it and you know, make it a bit smoother. Everything else about the Mate X is so positive and different. Once you open it up and unfold it, you get 5.4mm of thickness. There is no smartphone right
now that is 5.4mm thick. The Mate X also has this
extra handle/grip section, and that’s great because you can integrate the cameras into that. You have a thickness in
there to have good cameras as opposed to crappy teller cameras. And then at the same time, you have OPPO, which is a device that looked
a whole bunch like the Mate X. And Xiaomi, which is a
device with two folds. And what it says to me is that,
everybody who could possibly and potentially make one of these devices is fully invested into
making those a reality. (futuristic music) Now, let’s talk about a
few more of the challenges involved in coming up with foldables. One of them is the spine in the middle, basically the bit that folds. Every device that I’ve looked
at up close and personal has a little bit of a ridge,
a little bit of a bump, right there in the middle. In my experience with the Mate X, again I just feel like it’s so
far ahead of everything else, I wasn’t able to feel a
bump or any sort of ridge in the middle where the
fold actually happens. And as a user facing the screen, I wasn’t able to see any
imperfections in the screen. Can you improve that even further? Can you make it perfectly flat? I’m sure everybody’s working on that, but that’s a huge challenge. Another thing to consider, all of these displays
are going to be plastic. Phones used to have plastic displays back in the past as well,
we can live with them. Using plastic touchscreens, it
hasn’t been a problem for me, either with the FlexPai
or with the Mate X, so credit to those companies
for getting fundamentals, the technical fundamentals,
done correctly. But those things are ones that hardware companies are good at. Has Huawei ever shown us great software? Has Samsung? Has TCO or Royole or
any of these companies? The answer is no. And the biggest challenge
with foldables is how do you get the software
to behave correctly. How do you do multi-app
multi-tasking at the same time? You know, Samsung demoed that, Huawei showed its side-by-side
multi-app multi-tasking, but I haven’t tried it for myself, and that’s really the
incomplete part of this story. And it’s also going to
be about the form factor. We still need to decide where the big screen
should be in a foldable, and how many cameras do you actually need? Huawei says three, Samsung says six, I say you could get away with one, if you just do a good
foldable clean, clever design. And then the question is going to be, do you want it to fold around your wrist? Do you want a Moleskine that happens to actually be a phone on the inside? (techno music) So as I say, there’s
plenty of challenges ahead, plenty of questions still to be answered, plenty of companies that
haven’t even thrown their hats into the ring. And honestly, I’m not even
all that fazed by the pricing that Samsung and Huawei have introduced. This is early-adopter
pricing, this is what you get when it’s legitimately
cutting-edge technology that is as early as you
can possibly get it. As all of this happens,
as prices come down, as companies figure out what
it is that we as consumers are going to prefer, we’re
going to need to be patient. But at the same time, this
isn’t going to be boring. This is going to be exciting as hell. There’s plenty of potential, plenty of opportunity for
all of these companies, and just judging by the hype
that I’ve witnessed here at MWC if we see the same rate of
progression throughout the year, this is going to be an
extremely exciting year for smartphones, because of
this foldables development. So only in Barcelona for a few days, but it already feels like
it’s been a hell of a week, so to check out all of
our coverage of foldables, 5G, no 6G, sorry! You know where to find us. Youtube.com/theverge and www.theverge.com

16 thoughts on “Foldable phones at MWC 2019: just the beginning”

  1. I never looked at my phone and wished I could fold it.
    What I really want is a small and fast, very fast phone with great battery life.

    If we just could go back to 4" performance phones, that would be great

  2. Samsung was smart, hiding their large screen on the inside so it's plastic screen is protected. How long will those other screens hold up when they don't have the glass protection and that soft plastic screen cover is on the outside getting bombarded by keys and what not?

  3. The dream is total mobility….every science fiction film has a variation of this…"phones" stopped being just phones a long time ago…they are mobile computers!

  4. so sad that huawei didn't add pen support on their products. It would've been awesome but because of the invisible hinge on the center, you can't see it, but you can feel it when drawing

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