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Best foldable phone in 2021: Samsung leads the pack

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Decades ago when mobile phones started appearing in the hands of average consumers, a dominant form factor was the flip phone. It was handy to close your phone to end a call and also shut the display to protect the screen when you threw your phone in your pocket or bag. We’ve seen technology advance so far that devices we used to see in science fiction movies are now available for everyday use by all consumers.

Foldable displays are an engineering marvel and while Royole was first out of the gate with the FlexPai in late 2018, Samsung has been the dominant player in foldable phones. LG demonstrated its foldable display technology, but with its recent exit from the smartphone sector, we can only imagine what might have been. TCL recently showed its foldable and rollable device, which looks to be a productivity workhorse of the future.

While the future looks flexible and use cases for foldable phones are still being developed, let’s look at the best foldable phones that are available now.


The best is close to perfect

image-3.jpg

(Image: CNET)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus | Main Display: 7.6-inches, 2208×1768 pixels | Cover Display: 6.2-inches, 720×1680 pixels | RAM/Storage: 12GB/256GB | Cameras: Three rear 12MP, 10MP front, 10MP selfie | Battery: 4,500mAh | Price: $1,599.99 


Samsung conducted market research and performed surveys after last year’s Galaxy Fold release. It found that 34% of Fold users were using two apps at once compared to just 4% doing so with other typical smartphones. Fold users increased their video consumption by 71% compared to usage on their previous phones. This level of multitasking and video consumption shows that people were using the Fold in a manner similar to tablet users. 

The Z Fold 2 is the best foldable currently available today, and we have seen software updates since its release that have improved usability for split-screen and foldable views. Samsung refined the engineering with this model and there is nothing really lacking in this device.

Pros:

  • Stunning achievement in engineering
  • High-quality materials, fit, and finish
  • 5G and excellent RF performance
  • Optimized cover and inside displays
  • Improved software for multitasking

Cons:

  • No dust/water resistance
  • Expensive


$1,800 at Samsung


$1,800 at Best Buy


$1,995 at Walmart


Fold to make it more pocketable

best-foldable-phone-2.jpg

(Image: CNET)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus | Main Display: 6.7-inches, 1080×2636 pixels | Cover Display: 1.1-inches, 112×300 pixels | RAM/Storage: 8GB/256GB | Cameras: Two rear 12MP, 10MP selfie | Battery: 3,300mAh | Price: $1,199.99 


Samsung also offers a cool foldable in a clamshell form factor, the Galaxy Z Flip 5G. This phone is designed to be your pocketable companion that then opens up into a large display smartphone. The focus is clearly on providing a small phone that can be big when you need to use it, but its effectiveness for productivity is a bit questionable.

The Z Flip 5G improves on the original Z Flip with 5G radio support and slight improvements to the hinge mechanism. It is a very well-constructed device, but the battery life won’t get you through a day.

Pros:

  • High-quality materials, fit, and finish
  • 5G and excellent RF performance
  • Folds into a pocketable form factor

Cons:

  • No dust/water resistance
  • Expensive
  • Barely acceptable battery life


$1,200 at Samsung


Second generation of an iconic design

best-foldable-phone-3.jpg

(Image: CNET)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G | Main Display: 6.2-inches, 2142×876 pixels | Cover Display: 2.7-inches, 800×600 pixels | RAM/Storage: 8GB/256GB | Cameras: One rear/back 48MP quad-pixel with OIS and 20MP selfie camera | Battery: 2,800mAh | Price: $1,199.99 


Motorola’s first attempt at a foldable phone using its iconic design influence was fairly disastrous, and I thought we would not see a second generation. The original’s battery life was terrible, the hinge loosened quickly, and there were many reports of the display falling apart.

Like Samsung, Motorola incorporated design improvements, and in late 2020, released the Motorola Razr (2020) that also brought in support for 5G networks.

Pros:

  • Sleek, compact form factor
  • Can be used with display closed
  • Water repellent features

Cons:

  • Back glass easily scuffs
  • Expensive


$1,400 at Amazon


$1,400 at Best Buy


World’s first foldable brand launches a successor

best-foldable-phone-4.jpg

(Image: CNET/Royole/YouTube)

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 | Main Display: 7.8-inches, 1920×1440 pixels | Cover Display: 6.2-inches, 720×1680 pixels | RAM/Storage: 8GB/256GB or 12GB/512GB | Cameras: 64MP main, 16MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto and 32MP selfie | Battery: 4,450mAh | Price: $1710 (approximate) 


Royole launched the world’s first available foldable display phone in late 2018 as the Royole FlexPai. In late 2020, the FlexPai 2 was revealed. Royole took the opposite approach as Samsung with the foldable display on the outside so the viewable area is always exposed. Unfortunately, it is only available in China, so we cannot test or purchase the phone.

The Royole FlexPai 2 may not be considered much of a smartphone with its large size and is really more of a foldable tablet. The four cameras are arranged along the left side in the bezel area so the viewfinder appears on the back of the device when pointing the cameras at your subject. Royole has a split-screen system, similar to Samsung’s Fold 2 approach so productivity can be optimized with the big screen.

Pros:

  • Big display
  • Capable triple camera system
  • Software for multi-app usage

Cons:

  • No dust/water resistance
  • Not available outside of China


$1,710 at Royole (China only)

Our process

Given that foldable display technology is still fairly new, there are not many options available for foldable phones. We tested the second two Samsung Galaxy Fold models, the first generation Galaxy Z Flip, and the first-generation Motorola Razr. In addition to including these models in our list, we included the second-generation Z Flip 5G and second-generation Royole FlexPai 2.

As foldable display technology continues to evolve over the years, we will consider the design, durability, software capabilities, and more in our process to consider phones for this best list.

How to choose  

As shown in the list above, a couple of foldable phones offer a phone and mini-tablet experience while the others offer a big phone/small phone experience. The first decision you must make is what else do you want, in addition to a standard phone form factor.

The choices are fairly straightforward after deciding what your primary desire is for a foldable phone. Samsung’s models are second or third generation so are very refined and trusted options. Given the high price of foldable phones, I highly recommend a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 or Z Flip 5G.

Also worth considering

The foldable phones in this article are centered on folding display technology. There are other unique options where two displays fold onto each other that offer a foldable device, but without a foldable display. Options for foldable devices include:

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