1 October 2021

FEATURE: Folding phones... worth it?

With the recent release of Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold and Flip phones, it seems that devices with folding screens are here to stay. With Samsung doubling down that foldables are the way to go, as well as other Asian heavyweights like Hauwei getting involved, is now the time to invest in one yourself? That's what we've spent the last month trying to decide...

Even before you think about screen size, weight of the phone, and what the cameras are like, most of us will be concerned with the price. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 can cost as much as £1500 in the UK, or on a quite frankly criminal monthly contract, with upfront amounts to pay on all providers. With internal specs and optics that can now be found on far cheaper alternatives from the likes of Oppo, is that large, folding screen really worth all that extra expense?

Well, it's been more than two years since Samsung release their first, experimental foldable, the Galaxy Fold 5G. That device is now in the realms of sensible money, with a new or refurbished devices setting you back around £600 at time of publication, if you shop around. That means that foldables are already becoming attainable for the average smartphone user, and that's where we've been living. 

Thanks to Vodafone, we've spent time using that exact device, the Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G, to see if a large, folding screen is really worth all the extra hassle that comes along with it. And we came to conclusion that is really is... kinda.

All current foldables, including the smaller Galaxy Flip(s), might be as thick as your average smartphone when folded out, but when folded up they are twice that. The Fold 5G feels in the hand like two modern smartphones back to back, which at first look seems ungainly and bulky. However... closed, the device (and this applies to the more recent versions of the Fold) is narrower than an average phone, meaning it is actually easier to grip in one hand when carrying it. You can get your fingers around the whole thing so it feels like you're holding a lightsaber hilt. Yes, nerdy reference, but stick with us.

In the pocket, it undoubtedly makes itself known, but it's a thickness that is balanced by a reduced width. Honestly, it took about a day to get used to it, and if you carry your phone in a bag, don't even worry about it.

That thickness is all for the good, however, as obviously the device is folded over. Open it up and you're greeted the pleasant sight of a 7.3 inch square (ish) display. The first time you open up a foldable is a strange experience. Even if you use a 7 inch plus tablet on a regular basis, the Fold 5G, and subsequent versions and similar devices, will give a rush of excitement. It feels ultra modern, like nothing you've ever used before. Despite being folded, when opened out that screen feels solid to the touch; it's resilient and operates just like any capacitive screen you've had before. But it folds, dammit!

Once you get over the initial excitement of the screen size, and the unique experience that is 'closing' your modern smartphone, it's still very much just your phone. We discovered that the experience of owning a foldable was one filled with ups and downs. Clearly the ups are using that larger screen to great effect. Web browser use was great, making sites easier to read and navigate. Videos, obviously, were easier to watch when larger, aided by the powerful stereo speakers on the Fold 5G.

But the real boost is when it comes to typing. Folded open, all keyboards, from G-Board to Swiftkey, are a real pleasure to use. A pleasure! We've never felt a pleasurable feeling from typing on a phone, ever. You can two-hand it, letting your thumbs get stuck in to large, easy to tap buttons, with far fewer typos and errors. This meant that long-form email composing was no longer something for whcih we reached for the laptop; you can do it very comfortably on a foldable phone for hours.

Other benefits lay in photography. Although the flagship foldables haven't typically been where you'll find the latest in camera tech, they do still support excellent optics. The Fold 5G was no exception, and now the Fold 2 and Fold Z 3 boast advancements in that particular area.

With the folding screen you can now take a selfie using the main 'rear' cameras, allowing the smaller front screen to be your view. Although trickier to hold when folded out, it does mean foldables could improve your selfie game - something important to some of us. Y'know, that lot.

However, here's the rub. We mentioned a double-handed grip being necessary for smooth typing while folded out, and it's that issue that caught us out a few times. Often, you simply can't use both hands to compose a message on your phone, potentially because you're gripping a cappuccino in the other hand. It's then that you'll have to rely on the smaller front screen, with just 4.6 inches of real estate. If that sounds entirely doable, and sub 5 inch screens harken back to the days of smartphones ten plus years ago, you might want to sit down.

Although the following two sequels to the Fold 5G have addressed this issue, the device's front screen is comically thin. It's vertical to the extreme, not at all using all the space on the front of the phone to best effect. This makes typing a uncomfortable, error-filled experience for all but slim-fingered users. Bear that in mind if you're an 'on the go' kind of user.

But, this whole ramble was to decide if now was the time for phone lovers to dive head in to the foldable revolution. Now that the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G is down to sensible prices, it is definitely a consideration... for the right person.

In our humble opinion, if you are the type of smartphone user who enjoys something of a more relax approach to their device, using it for work, for emails, for sit-down media consumption, then go for it. But if you need a device that is as slim and as compact as possible, where keyboards and screen size tend not to matter to you, stick with a traditional slab of glass.

Until our mates at Samsung, Hauwei, and all the rest can do something to make a foldable phone as slim as a standard phone while folded up, they'll never appeal to everyone. For now, however, if you have the cash and the inclination, we heartily recommend you at least get hands-on in a showroom, and Vodafone can certainly help you out there.

Big thanks to Vodafone for lending us a Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G to create this feature.

Check out their range of phones, foldable or not, at vodafone.co.uk

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