As they enter a 4th generation, are foldable phones finally mature?

It's been four years since the first foldable smartphones arrived, giving us a fresh design in an industry that has been running out of innovation. Then reality hit, and fragile foldables failed to hold up in practice. Are they now finally ready for the real world? — Photo: Zacharie Scheurer/dpa

BERLIN: The basic idea of foldable smartphones is an attractive one: They offer a large screen area, even though the device itself is compact and fits in a pocket.

However, when Samsung and Huawei came out with the first foldable smartphones in 2019, the disadvantages quickly became apparent as the folding mechanism proved to be a major weak point.

The fourth generation of folding devices is now here and the manufacturers promise that the teething troubles have been overcome. We put three models to the test to see if the so-called foldables are worth their premium price.

We tested the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and the Motorola Razr 2022, both of which are clamshell models that fold horizontally and have a normal smartphone size when opened.

The third device was the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, which starts off as a standard smartphone that can be opened up like a book to form a tablet.

Hinge no longer a problem

For all three, the hinge's mechanical stability is not an issue. Unlike the folding devices of the first generation, the complicated mechanics are no longer fragile but enclosed in stable metal frames.

The Razr 2022 scores points in the looks department while both Samsung devices haven’t succeeded in getting rid of the wedge-shaped gap created when they’re folded.

The Razr 2022 with its larger outer display stands out a bit from the Flip 4. The Samsung device's small touchscreen with a diagonal of 1.9 inches and 260 x 512 pixels is very small while the Motorola has 2.7 inches and 800 by 573 pixels.

However, the outer displays when the phones are folded are practical on both devices. They show incoming calls and messages as well as the time and charging status.

You can access the smartphone's most important functions and, for example, start calls or control smart home devices without having to open the smartphones.

No top cameras

If you’re looking for the best smartphone for taking pictures, you probably shouldn’t get a Razr 2022 or a Flip 4. They do produce good pictures in good lighting conditions but they can’t keep up with the top class in darker situations.

The larger Fold 4 has three lenses at the back (main camera, ultra-wide-angle, and triple telephoto). The main camera takes very respectable pictures with up to 50-megapixels.

Image dynamics, sharpness, and details are particularly convincing. With a triple optical zoom, the Fold is at least in the same class as the new iPhone 14 when it comes to telephoto shots.

The foldable devices from Samsung and Motorola certainly have overcome their teething troubles. Even if they would not survive tough outdoor use, you no longer have to treat them like eggs and with their ultra-compact form factor, the two folding phones fit in any pocket.

The Galaxy Fold 4 on the other hand is quite bulky when folded and does not fit into a tight trouser pocket. However, the huge display is pleasing and there’s nothing to complain about in terms of working speed or camera quality.

The fact that neither Samsung's two foldable devices nor Motorola's Razr 2022 are at the top of the sales charts is probably mainly due to the fact that they are significantly more expensive than non-foldable devices.

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 costs between just under €1,800/US$1,963 (RM6,399 in Malaysia) for 256GB and €2,160 Euros/US$2,356 (RM8,299 in Malaysia) for 1TB while the Galaxy Z Flip 4 costs between under €1,100/US$1,200 (RM3,699 in Malaysia) for 128GB and €1280/US$1,396 (RM4,499) for 512GB. The Motorola Razr is available with 256 GB of storage for just under €1,200/US$1,309 (RM5,544). – dpa

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