Samsung has been a leader in the foldable segment for a long time. For years, Samsung dominated the foldable landscape with little to no competition. But this changed in 2023.
While the company worked to improve the Galaxy Z Flip 5 with a larger cover display, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 remained an afterthought. Fortunately, other smartphone manufacturers have started introducing more foldable phones globally this year, and now, Samsung is no longer the popular choice. There is finally healthy competition and alternatives to folding phones, and I’m here for it.
Finally, some real competition
Samsung faced criticism from Google in June with the rollout of the Google Pixel Fold. It introduced a new form factor with a wide cover display and a horizontal aspect ratio on the inside. In my opinion, it’s not an ideal form factor, especially with the weight and no vertical display on the inside. But it brought real competition to the foldable phone market in the US – a very important task.
Honor showcased the thinnest and lightest foldable ever with the Honor Magic V2 in September, and it was a turning point for me. In terms of form factor, it is between the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and the Pixel Fold. This solved major design issues that were a norm for book-style foldables.
The Honor Magic V2 is closer to a slab phone in many ways. It’s thin enough to feel like a regular slab phone and weighs less than my then-primary phone, the iPhone 14 Pro Max. Actually, Honor has created a brand new slim 5,000mAh battery for its foldable. Plus, it has less creases than the other two Folds and packs a 20:9 cover screen, which is closer to the screen you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra or the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Although global availability of the Honor Magic V2 has not been announced, it is slated to launch in the first quarter of 2024. It showed what a book-style foldable could be and became a benchmark for design – at least for me. And it remains one even after the launch of OnePlus Open (more on that below).
Additionally, we saw the return of the Motorola Razr with the Motorola Razr (2023) and Motorola Razr Plus. The latter was arguably better than the Galaxy Z Flip 5, with a larger cover screen and better battery life. Globally, Oppo had already launched the Find N2 Flip, which introduced a new vertical cover screen on the outside.
Samsung made a good comeback in Q3 with the Galaxy Z Flip 5, which brought a solid hinge and new cover screen but with the same dual camera setup and gutter-like crease in the middle. The Oppo Find N3 Flip addressed both concerns with a triple rear camera setup, which included a dedicated telephoto lens for the first time on a flip phone. Also, the crease position was much better than Samsung’s phones.
One phone beats Samsung at its own game
Had the Honor Magic V2 been released outside China, it would have been my recommendation for a book-style foldable. But OnePlus did what Honor couldn’t with its first big foldable, the OnePlus Open. It not only challenged Samsung but beat it in almost every way – despite the price cut.
Similar to the Honor Magic V2, the OnePlus Open has a 20:9 aspect ratio, which I consider ideal for a foldable of this type. As a result of the slab-like cover screen, apps don’t misbehave, which is a problem on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Pixel Fold – whether it’s with black borders or apps not being comfortable and displaying zoomed-in text at irregular intervals. Ho aspect ratio. But the OnePlus Open did two other things that no other folding phone has done yet.
First, it offered a camera setup that’s better and more versatile than any big foldable phone. At launch, it had some issues with tuning the new Sony sensor, but it has gotten better with updates. Plus, the 6x zoom feels straight out of a more traditional flagship phone.
Second, the crease is almost negligible. You can still feel it, but it’s much less than Samsung, Google, Honor or Tecno foldables. You can’t see it 99% of the time, and for that 1%, you have to see it from a specific angle. This is not an issue.
OnePlus Open took multitasking to the next level with its Open Canvas feature. For the first time, you can now have three apps on your screen at once, with each interaction just a tap away. When you use it, you realize how much you can accomplish on the larger internal display. I can plan my next story or my next trip with Chrome, YouTube, and Google Keep all open at once.
The OnePlus Open is my favorite phone of this year that is available globally.
2023 did something else for foldables
It’s no secret that folding phones come at an expensive price, and many times, it’s that price that stops consumers from jumping on the foldable bandwagon. But Tecno democratized the market by launching book-style foldable and flip phones at incredible prices.
The Tecno Phantom V Fold was launched at 79,999 Indian Rupees (INR), which is $960 less than most regular flagship phones. YouTuber Michael Fisher famously called it “a fold at the price of a flip” – which Tecno used at its launch event.
The Phantom V Fold is not a bad foldable by any means. It offers a more usable cover screen and less creases on the interior screen than the Galaxy Z Fold 5. Obviously there were instances where Techno had to cut corners. For example, the hinge is flat at either 90 degrees or 180 degrees, and the cameras aren’t anything to boast about, but they’re serviceable.
As if that wasn’t enough, Tecno also launched a flip phone for 49,999 INR ($600), which brings it into a mid-range phone category similar to the Motorola Razr launch price in the US. It is selling for Rs 54,999 ($660) and still remains the cheapest flip phone on the market, slightly cheaper than the $700 Motorola Razr.
You may not get the fastest display or best cameras on these two flip phones, but they are democratizing foldables, which have long been a novelty. In 2023, folding phones aren’t something you have to spend money on, and that’s a big win for the form factor.
Folding phones are here to stay
In short, 2023 was an excellent year for folding phones.
Samsung faced more competition than ever before, which exposed its lazy approach with the Fold 5. Google entered this field. Honor showed that you can make a foldable as thin and light as a slab phone. OnePlus pioneered the form factor with great cameras, nearly-creaseless displays, and next-level multitasking. Oppo introduced a dedicated telephoto camera on a flip phone for the first time. Motorola and Techno brought foldable to the masses.
This is more activity in the global foldable market than in the last four years – since the launch of the first Galaxy Fold in 2019. I’m still amazed at having a 7.6-inch tablet-like display inside my pocket. It enables me to do a lot more than a regular, non-folding phone.
I expect 2024 to be amazing for foldables and that Samsung will push itself to make the Galaxy Z Fold 6 more than an iterative upgrade. This is the best year ever for foldable phones, and I can’t wait to see where it heads in the next year.