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I wanted to love folding phones, but the news quickly got old



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Andrew Hoyle / CNET

Let’s face it, cell phones, even the best ones, are not that exciting anymore. They are absolutely more powerful than we really need, they all have smart multi-lens cameras, and they look pretty much the same. I really hoped that folding phones would provide a much needed shot of adrenaline to the industry, but well over a year after arrival, they have erupted like a damp firework and left me feeling disappointed.

I have worked for CNET for a decade, and most of the time I have specifically covered cell phones. I have seen a lot of coming and going. I’ve seen the rise and fall of BlackBerry, I’ve seen weird phone ideas like the Russian Yotafon with e-ink second screen and I saw the short trend of curved phones like LG G4 and Samsung’s Galaxy Round. But in recent years, it seems like real innovation has been put aside, with every company complaining about doing what could easily be revisions of the same product.

Think of these phrases: “A large, lively screen,” “A great camera setup behind the camera,” “An attractive design in metal and glass.” Can you think of many phones that these feelings could not be used on? The result is that all the phones are pretty good, but that means they are just as boring. Each year’s update adds a few megapixels to the camera, or an extra bit of screen size. Or a small adaptation to a design that is basically just a rectangular plate.

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The LG G5 came apart. And so did LG’s mobile business.

James Martin / CNET

I understand. Innovation is expensive, and spending millions of dollars researching a new idea means you need a guarantee that it will sell well. LG found this out to the cost of phones like the nice, modular G5, which did not sell well, and now the company seems to sell off their telephone business.

So when it came to folding phones, I was encouraged. Here was innovation. Here was this new technology that really took me back when I saw it in person for the first time and left me excited again for the possibilities of what phones can become. I know I’m not the only one who loved the idea of ​​the phone that you use on your wrist like a watch and fold it out when you need the bigger screen. But where is it?

Collapsible things we have are … fine. The Galaxy Z Flip and Moto Razr’s clamshell design is neat in that it makes a large screen phone more pocket-friendly by folding it in half, while Galaxy Fold 2 and Huawei Mate X are actually tablets that are folded in half to become phones, which is also good.

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Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X are both essentially tablets that can be folded into phones.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

But beyond the bending screen, they have not really pushed any boundaries. They have not changed the way we use our phones or brought about a revolution that is so groundbreaking that it completely changes the face of the mobile phone. They use the same version of Android, with only a few minor tweaks to some apps to provide a little extra functionality, but a little beyond that. Really, they are the same phone as before, but you can fold them in half. I think it’s very telling that I have Galaxy Fold and Z Flip in my house, but they are in a drawer among other previous phones, and I have no great desire to get them out again.

And you pay handsomely for that unfolding feature, as all folding phones cost significantly more than their respective manufacturers’ regular flagships. This in turn means that adoption is low, which gives these companies – or third-party developers – little incentive to think of new and creative ways to use this technology. Over time, folding phones can easily be thrown in the pile with other gimmicks, along with banana phones, Samsung camera / phone hybrid and 3D phone screenshots.

But I do not hope so. I hope it sticks and develops into something useful and exciting. Honestly, I hope Apple takes up the matter, as it tends to only adopt new technology when they can use it for really useful use, but maybe not always (I’m looking at you, 3D Touch).

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The original Galaxy Fold was interesting, but it had its problems.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

But most of all, I hope that every mobile company is not afraid to try to innovate and do something a little different. Phones used to be fun, and phone launch events were really exciting to see what amazing new technology was presented this time.

That excitement is not where it used to be. There’s a glow flickering at the bottom of the fireplace now, with each generic phone launch threatening to be the bucket of sand that can extinguish it completely. There’s a chance that folding phones can still be the ignition that makes the glow back to a roaring hell, but I’m not crossing my fingers.


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