2023’s newest folding phone is already putting Samsung to sh…

Hinge view of the OnePlus Open foldable phone.
Nadeem Sarwar/

OnePlus’s first foldable smartphone – the OnePlus Open – has been a lot smoother than Samsung’s debut. Of course, OnePlus relied heavily on sister company Oppo’s foldable experience to deliver a knockout device. The final product feels significantly more refined from an aesthetic perspective and raw camera prowess than Samsung’s latest offering.

But getting the hardware is only half the job when it comes to foldable devices. Surprisingly, the OnePlus Open offers a much more refined UI experience than I expected. I’ve been working on this device for the past few weeks, and more than the neat tricks, I’m amazed by the extreme fluidity of the OxygenOS experience on it. This experience is particularly beneficial for app multitasking, and notably, it involves fewer interruptions than the service Samsung provides with One UI 6.

An incredible multitasking experience

OnePlus in Emerald Dusk showing split screen with Chrome and Gmail on an open internal display.
Christine Romero-Chan/

OnePlus has a name for the whole approach. The company calls it “Open Canvas.” It’s an apt name, albeit unintentionally misleading. When running more than two apps simultaneously, the phone slots the active app window beyond the OLED screen. Naturally, the entire process relies on drag-and-drop gestures, but there’s a slightly different approach to how one interacts with an app.

Yes, running apps in a 1+2 grid is nice, but it’s also undeniably cramped. OnePlus has come up with a really cool way to solve the problem. You can run three apps simultaneously in full vertical view. The app window is slightly smaller than the normal 1:1 split, but doing so leaves room to show a section of the third app pushed to the periphery. It’s a thoughtful feature, original in execution and a joy to handle.

OnePlus also borrows the two-finger swipe gesture to launch the open split-screen mode. All you have to do is swipe down from the top edge and select an app from the drawer to proceed. It’s fun to implement but it won’t add the slightest convenience to your life. Where you really get a rewarding experience is how OnePlus handles the open multi-app view.

The internal foldable panel attempts to emulate your desktop experience with an app dock at the bottom, which you can choose to lock in place or hide behind a long-press gesture. Samsung also offers that feature, but OnePlus Open adds some extra niceties here. The Dock is filled with currently active apps and those you’ve manually added there for quick access, separated by a vertical bar.

The real gem here is a dedicated file picker that gives you access to the latest files on your phone. All of them are neatly organized into three categories, including Pictures, Documents, and Other. As convenient as it sounds, the implementation is better. Instead of opening files in a full-blown app view, it opens in a small anchored window while retaining all the functional bells and whistles.

Think of it as a Glance window where you can take a quick look at a file and then get back to your work without having to readjust your active app window. Another thoughtful addition is support for drag-and-drop gestures. For example, you can insert an image into the email composer in Gmail by simply dragging the desired file. I also like the fact that if you accidentally select the wrong file, you can put it back on the shelf with the same drag action.

It’s the little things that matter

OnePlus showing the rear in tent mode in Open Emerald Dusk.
Christine Romero-Chan/

Speaking of Gmail, I quite like the space-conscious approach. For example, when Gmail is running in full view, Composer takes up the entire screen. This is both good and bad. On one hand, you get a larger canvas to handle your email. On the other hand, having Composer take up one half of the screen while the email list is still open in the other half would have been an ideal solution. Android already does this with native software like the Settings app.

But the OnePlus Open compensates for that when you’re running Gmail in split-screen mode. In its half-screen version, the email composer appears in its own floating window that can be placed anywhere and supports drag-and-drop to insert attachments. You don’t get that feature on Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold series phones. For power users, this feature is extremely essential.

Similarly, the Dock also has an app drawer button that opens a library of installed apps, but it also opens in a bounded window format rather than occupying half or the entire screen. There’s another cool feature that may seem gimmicky at first but turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

Triple app multitasking on OnePlus Open.
Nadeem Sarwar/

When you tap the white slider separating two app windows, you’ll see an option called Top-Bottom Split. As the name suggests, it switches the split-screen view of two apps from a vertical view to a horizontal format. How does it help? Well, there are occasions when a certain app or website does not scale well for window adjustments.

For such scenarios, this trick instantly gives you more horizontal space to view content. Conversely, you can also go from horizontal-first split-view to a horizontal format. This works well for social media apps where you’re essentially scrolling on a vertical feed dominated by portrait videos like Instagram Reels and text-based posts.

tax your hands less

Split View Settings on OnePlus Open
Nadeem Sarwar/

OnePlus has also addressed the dexterity aspect with the swap side system. Using the foldable phone’s large panel in tablet view one-handed mode isn’t the most comfortable experience. I hate it when my thumb can’t reach a UI element in the upper half or upper corners of the screen. I either have to awkwardly readjust the phone or use my other hand.

Let’s say you’re writing a note on one half of the screen and referencing an article on a web browser on the other half. If you’re experiencing reachability issues, OnePlus Open lets you swap app windows so your thumb doesn’t have to move beyond the comfortable half of the screen.

Next, Open Canvas also reduces friction when it comes to closing an app and launching another in split-screen mode. Instead of having to deal with dragging the edges or reaching for the “X” icon in the corner, you can simply use switch app Create the tool and replace the active app with another app from the drawer. These tools may not seem dramatically innovative, but they make a difference in everyday use.

If you’re used to regularly running multiple apps together in Split View mode, you can save an app pair with a single tap. Or even a trio of apps. Open Canvas also lets you launch apps in floating or split-screen mode from the multi-task (or app switcher) view. Talking about multi-task view, it has some tricks of its own.

For example, you can tap hide content Option to change the preview to a blank screen. It’s a neat privacy-focused tool that appears to be inspired by the blurry look of incognito mode tabs in some web browsers. There’s another thoughtful feature hidden in the Settings app called Share via floating window It works as advertised.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 Multitasking with Split Screen Multi View.
Split-view multi-tasking on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. Tushar Mehta/

Maximum On Android phones, when you tap an app’s icon in the Share sheet, the app launches in full-screen format, and you’re essentially stuck where the sharing flow began. But if you enable the above system, the destination app opens in a floating window format, meaning your view of the running task is not obscured.

One UI on Samsung foldables also lets you run apps in floating view and even allows you to adjust window transparency. It’s a subjectively useful feature with a very specific application, but at least Samsung thought of it. So, give credit where it’s due. But OnePlus Open adds some docking tricks here that make handling the floating window a pleasure.

Taking a page from Apple’s book

The OnePlus Open in Emerald Dusk reveals an open canvas with two split screens and a floating window.
Christine Romero-Chan/

Running floating windows in Oxygen OS 13.2 follows the same fundamental approach as One UI 6 on Samsung foldables. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. You need to drag the corners to adjust the size, but once again, the OnePlus Canvas offers a few tricks of its own. A five-finger pinch instantly turns a full-screen app into a floating window.

You can tap the mini-window to maximize it or double-tap the app to open it in full-screen mode. OnePlus also took some inspiration from Apple and its slide-over system on iPadOS. When running an app in floating window view, you can drag and dock it to the left/right edge of the screen to hide it. To restore it, simply tap the arrow icon.

OnePlus also offers the Open Sidebar feature, which features a similar formula to the Edge panel on Samsung devices and is one of my favorite productivity features. OnePlus’s implementation isn’t as versatile as Samsung’s in terms of customization and the variety of tools at your disposal, but it covers all the basic points.

Open Canvas, by default, gives you access to some frequently used tools like screenshots and screen captures, translating on-screen content, taking quick notes, and starting a recording, etc. Then there are app shortcuts, which you can select from the entire app gallery. Finally, there’s a dedicated shortcut to the entire library and a Recent Files option at the top.

There’s another aspect about the OnePlus Open that I absolutely love, and that’s how easy it is to switch an app. Both Samsung and OnePlus let you choose whether an app opens in its native portrait format or stretched across the entire screen. You can do this on a per-app basis on any device. But let’s say you want to quickly adjust to the stretched UI in scenarios like watching a video, reading, or simply engaging in split-screen multi-tasking and want the app to return to its natural aspect ratio.

OnePlus Open back cover in black color.
Nadeem Sarwar/

In One UI 5.1 or 6, you need to go to the Settings section to change the scaling privileges. With the OnePlus open, you simply swipe up to launch the App Switcher and tap the Shrink option. For example, if Twitter defaults to a garish full-screen expanded view, the Shrink option will immediately force the UI to a more natural portrait view closer to the 16:9 format, with letter-boxing on each side.

Of course, there are still some limitations. For example, not all apps open in dual-window mode. But then again, the responsibility of dynamic scaling also falls on the shoulders of the developer. Not all apps support floating window mode, so there’s that. The inconsistency is somewhat surprising. However, overall, I’m quite impressed with OnePlus’ approach to OpenGL in the early days and I expect that, going forward, software updates will further refine the experience.

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