Techilicious by Rajiv Makhni: Two sides of the folding phone war

The future has unfolded. Strangely, it’s folded out in two different directions. Our dream device – something that has an actual folding display and can be unfolded into a bigger screen – came true about a year back, with the Samsung Fold. Now the Samsung Fold2 has appeared and it’s a huge leap in making sure that folding phones will be our future. But Microsoft threw its hat into the folding ring too, with the Microsoft Surface Duo phone. It’s a folding phone but uses a different way of getting there. It’ll be interesting to see which of these technologies will finally win the folding war. Let me introduce you to both devices.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2

The Samsung Fold was the most coveted device of 2019. The Fold2 is making sure that the legacy continues. The first big and critical change is the massive 6.2-inch Super AMOLED Infinity Flex Display. The previous version had this rather disappointing small, little, unusable screen on the outer front, which more or less made sure that you had to open your phone and use the bigger screen for just about anything. The outer body is stunning, material and workmanship is top-notch, the triple cameras at the back will remind you of the Note 20 camera array, the fingerprint scanner is mounted on the side of the phone and the phone exudes a certain character and personality. It screams innovation and sophistication. Specs are all top notch, with no compromises.

Now let’s come to the part that gives it the name and the aura. Unfold the phone and get a 7.6-inch full-HD+ display with a 120Hz refresh rate that has no interruptions (the previous Fold was marred by a solid notch blob to house the cameras). This time there is just one punch hole and the screen is fantastic. The hinge is a thing of beauty and solid engineering and can be opened and stopped at any point and any angle, plus the feeling of opening and closing it is crisper and more robust. Overall, the Fold2 is a testament to what great innovation is all about.

Microsoft Surface Duo

The Surface Duo is thin, really thin. In fact, it is so thin that it’s not possible for you to let that go unnoticed. At 4.8mm when it’s open, this is the thinnest phone that there can be. Yet it’s built like a tank, with some really good engineering involved, plus great finish and fitting. And yes, this phone also folds and unfolds. But with very different technology achieving this magic.

There are two 5.6-inch AMOLED displays that have a hinge in between that make this happen. And the hinge is a thin little sliver that literally disappears when you unfold it, thus giving you a massive screen. Once again, the hinge has radical innovation and can be opened to any point and angle. Some of the specs aren’t very 2020 (Snapdragon 855 processor is a dead giveaway), but that isn’t the point. What Microsoft does well is software and that truly shines within this device. You can use the entire screen in span mode, open apps that take on half of the screen, pair apps and always open them together, fold the screen all the way back to make a call or take a photo, have a video chat on one screen and check your presentation on the other, open One Note on one screen and type on the other, have your mail list on one side and read the content of each email on the other – the possibilities are endless. Thus, the Surface Duo is a showcase of what happens when you build a device that marries software and hardware.

The shocking thing is that there isn’t much of a price advantage here. Both phones are priced very high and are still only for tech-first movers and premium phone buyers.

Thus, there are now two rival factions in the folding domain. One that has a screen that actually folds and the other where two screens and a disappearing hinge come together to fold and unfold. Both the technologies will be adapted by multiple other brands (Huaweii and Motorola already make folding screen phones and LG already uses a cruder version of the two-hinge screen). But eventually only one will become the de facto standard. Which kind of folding screen do you have in your future? That secret will unfold very soon.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, September 13, 2020

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