Is it possible to recommend a folding phone yet?

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You'll be thinking by now on All About Mobile, "Where's Rafe Blandford?" Well, in part he's moonlighting(!) over on the 361 Degrees Podcast, where he, Ben Smith, and Ewan Macleod have been debating the pros and cons of folding smartphones, looking at robustness, form factors, and use cases. Interesting chat, even if it was recorded before last week's launch of the Microsoft Surface Duo 2, which I think might have had more of an impact on the final conclusions.

It's a good listen (though if you want to skip to the foldables bit, that's fine, fast forward ten minutes or so):

For obvious reasons, the Samsung flagship foldables are mentioned the most, but in fairness the disadvantages of these designs are also covered. As usual with Rafe and gang, the discussion is quite unbiased.

Foldables are fascinating to play with, but even laying aside their eye-watering prices, they do introduce compromises to the user experience, as many as the advantages they claim. For example, for the flagship Galaxy Z Fold 3:

  • When thinking about text entry, the external screen is overly narrow and restrictive, and the internal large flexible screen makes thumb typing awkward. We've become so use to fast and intuitive auto-corrected thumb typing on capacitive touch on glass that anything larger or smaller puts up barriers. Or at the very least having to re-train your hands and brain to work differently.
  • For 'normal' phone use (social networks, for example), most third party applications aren't optimised for such a 'large' phone UI, resulting in wasted space and - again - awkward gestures and controls.
  • Playing typical 18:9 media is thoroughly wasteful on the form factor, since the outer screen is roughly the right shape but too small, while the inner tablet display is the wrong aspect ratio. On the latter, the needed black bars top and bottom result in a useable video image - with a crease in the middle - that's no larger than on a traditional 6.5"/6.8" display smartphone - which has no compromises and no crease.

Time and time again, I want to like the transformer aspect of these new phones, but they always bring in more issues and compromises than problems they actually solve.

Your thoughts welcome. And do subscribe to the 361 Degrees podcast, it's always a fun listen and genuinely informative.