Well, it’s now been almost three years since that rocky first foldable phone, and such tech has come a long way. We now have reliable enough and very practical foldables, like the Oppo Find N and the Galaxy Z Fold 3.
I personally always thought that foldable phones are just a phase and not the future of smartphones. I see the future smartphone being rollable, extending its screen size from its sides while staying relatively slim and light.
But now that we have good foldable devices, I had to ask myself: are foldable phones now good enough to fulfill their original purpose? Can the most advanced (in my opinion) foldable phone replace both my tablet and smartphone? Well, let’s take a look at what I’ve stumbled upon over the last couple of weeks of using the Oppo Find N instead of my iPhone and iPad.
Why did I pick the Oppo Find N?
The Oppo Find N (left) next to the Galaxy Z Fold 3
I have to admit, I had no previous experience, at least not a big one with foldable phones prior to this experiment, so this is a fresh perspective on the matter. When I had the idea for this article, I knew I was looking for a device that’s both advanced, but also practical and intuitive. So I did what any other PhoneArena writer would do. I went to our office and played with all the foldable devices we have. Some didn’t really make sense for me to take. These were the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and the Huawei P50 Pocket. The clamshell-style foldable phone.
These are very good-looking but felt more like a trade-off compared to my iPhone 13 mini, as in actuality, they were less pocketable and pleasant to use due to that very tall screen and big crease. They were also not nearly as comfortable as a regular phone.
That’s when I knew I would probably like the foldable with the least irritating crease. This was the Oppo Find N. I held this phone in one hand, and Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 in the other. For me, the Oppo felt superior in terms of design and technology. It is more pocketable, the crease is almost non-existent, and compared to the Z Fold 3, it also feels lighter.
I knew the risks, the Oppo comes from the Chinese market, which means it has Chinese software that’s not the most suitable for Europe and the USA. Samsung has none of these issues. However, for some reason, I didn’t see an advantage in terms of usability and practicality due to its bigger size.
That’s why I chose the Oppo Find N. This is a wonderful phone in every aspect. It has a nice camera setup, a fast processor, and a premium build. But was it good enough to replace both my tablet and phone?
Foldable phones are weird
Damn boy, he thicc boi.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Foldable phones look weird, especially when they are folded. The same applies to the Oppo Find N too. It looks as if you have two phones on top of each other. One might even think you’re acting like Paris Hilton in the 2000s when she was carrying multiple BlackBerry phones to further strengthen her ‘rich aesthetics’.
Truth is, foldable phones are bulky. Even though the Oppo is the best in terms of design, it is still way too thick and heavy. At first, you even have to get used to which part houses the charging port, and which the power and volume buttons, as these are actually separated by the foldable screen. I often mistake the power button, which is also a fingerprint scanner, for the volume buttons, and vice versa. This gets annoying pretty quickly.
Also, there is so much space on the rails of this phone, and Oppo couldn’t include a headphone jack or a microSD slot? That’s a bummer.
I have to admit that when unfolded, the Oppo Find N makes more sense. It looks less like two phones and more like a strange small tablet someone bought from eBay in 2012. Of course, that’s not a look that everyone will like. Also, while the crease on this phone might be one of the smallest there is, its foldable screen still feels very plasticky, which could be a problem to some considering how expensive of a device this is. Especially for people with long nails.
What’s good about foldable phones
Of course, there are advantages to having a foldable device. For example, if you travel a lot via public transport, this form factor is more than perfect. It is practical when you want it to be, but also a decent size when you want to read an article or watch a video. This way you don’t need to carry two devices. The battery performance is also surprisingly good.Foldable phones do well in other scenarios too. For example, any friend of yours would find them interesting. When going somewhere public, people often stare at your phone, which is something that hasn’t happened to me in a long time, as regular smartphones have gotten so alike.
This phone receives plenty of attention when you put it on a restaurant table. Trust me, most people express a desire to play with your foldable phone. Of course, this interest only lasts a couple of minutes, but it’s still something non-foldable devices can dream of achieving.
The almost square form factor of the foldable screen could be useful too. When you multitask, apps appear less weird opened side by side. They have a more natural aspect ratio than you get on a 4:3 tablet screen or a 20:9 phone display.
I was never a fan of more than one app on the screen at a time, but the foldable phone experience is superior, and much more intuitive and user-friendly compared to other devices, at least for me.
Foldable phones are also said to hold their value better. Of course, this isn’t a fact that I’m stating, but you have to admit that the rarer and more expensive a type of device is, the better it usually holds its value over the years. This makes foldable phones a good investment.
You have to be rich to afford a foldable phone
That’s money, honey.
I know this sounds pretty controversial, especially now that foldable phones have gotten cheaper, but hear me out. Even though prices of foldable tech have fallen, the least money you can spend on a foldable phone is $1,000 retail. That’s still a lot if you ask me. Many regular phones cost the same, but these aren’t as fragile. See, even though foldable phones have come a long way in terms of reliability, they still feel very fragile, and one is scared almost to death not to drop one. This limited my usability of the ~$1,600 Oppo Find N compared to my iPhone.
I often second-guessed whether I should bring my phone to another, more scary place, like the bathroom. I was also very anxious about taking it out of the house, putting it in my car’s storage places instead of my pocket. This made me want to use the phone less, and I became impatient to go back to my regular non-folding devices.
For me, in order to overcome this fear, I have to feel very comfortable financially to take such risks. I bet most of you aren’t filthy with money either. So yes, you have to be rich to enjoy a foldable phone, at least for now.
Finally, are foldable phones good enough to replace both my regular phone and tablet
The Galaxy S21 Ultra (left) and the Z Fold 3 (looking very user-unfriendly)
It is quite unfortunate what conclusion I made after this experiment, but the answer at the end of the day is no. See, the Oppo Find N, like most other phones, wasn’t able to replace my iPhone 13 mini.
The biggest reason for that is its feel. This phone is both slippery and heavy. This is a disastrous combination for someone with butterfingers like me. I am someone who often drops their phone, and with its curved display (on one side), the Oppo makes the task of carrying it safely very hard. And have you tried carrying one in your pocket? If you don’t have a belt, your pants are falling off for sure.
The outer screen of the Oppo Find N also isn’t nearly as bright as my iPhone’s. When you are in your house it’s okay, but the minute you go out, one struggles to read the display, especially considering how reflective the glass is.
Give me back my tablet
I’ve been using a tablet for a decade now and have been through many iPads and Android tablets.
I also love video calling on a tablet. I know that the camera on some of the tablets isn’t centered, but I don’t care. In the end, I’m looking at the others, not at myself, and a tablet is perfect for that. Tablets also often have better front cameras than a laptop, and if you want to share something in front of you, you have the option to switch to your back camera.
So on paper, a Galaxy Z Fold-style foldable phone should do the same job, right? Well, as it turns out, it doesn’t. For my needs, this close to 1:1 aspect ratio of the Oppo Find N is atrocious. Video is small, almost as small as on a regular big phone like the Motorola Edge Plus (2022) and the iPhone 13 Pro Max. So what’s the point?
I have a universal stand for my tablet, which I’ve been using for years now. Yes, it also works with the Oppo, but it eats a bit of its display out, as the Oppo has smaller bezels.
The screen itself is not only square but also only 7.1-inch. My tablets have always been around 10-inch, which makes the Oppo’s screen way too small to suit me. Even with video calls, I now see fewer people than I used to on my iPad and the experience is more similar to the one on a phone than the one you get on a tablet.
I have to say though, the Oppo Find N’s battery life impressed me. At first, I had concerns that by replacing two devices, its battery won’t get me through the day, but it was actually fine, and I even had about 20% left before I turned the lights out. Kudos to Oppo for the software/hardware optimization.
A foldable iPhone could make a difference
That’s the Oppo, but what if Apple released this type of device?
I missed iOS. There, I said it. It’s not like Oppo’s ColorOS based on Android is bad, it’s not. It is almost bug-free on the Find N and has plenty of features. Still, some apps were not optimized properly for this screen ratio, like Instagram and some third-party messaging apps.
Also, while the phone itself is fast, it isn’t nearly as fluid as the one on an iPad or an iPhone. The 60Hz outer display was noticeably more sluggish than the foldable 120Hz one. If both were at, let’s say 90Hz, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference, but that’s not the case.
If Apple were to make a foldable iPhone, everything could be different. I am almost certain that an iPhone Fold will be both slimmer and lighter. Also, it will probably keep the 4:3 screen ratio of the iPad for its foldable screen, or Apple could even go for a single outer folding screen type of device, like the Huawei Mate X3.
I actually find more sense in Huawei’s design than in Samsung’s. It gives you only one screen to worry about, the bezels when the screen is folded are slimmer, and when you unfold it, you can have a wider aspect ratio, especially if Apple combines it with rollable technology, but that could be a long shot on my side. Still, I opted for the Oppo instead of a Huawei because of its compact size and lack of deep crease.
A screen that both folds and rolls out can give you a 3-in-1 device. This could be awesome. Also, Apple is well known for its almost perfect execution of new products, unlike other manufacturers, so if such an iPhone hits the shelves, you can be sure that it’s ready.
It will also be easier and faster for developers to optimize their apps and games for the new device. Historically, when Apple makes big changes to its iPhone, app makers are very quick to update and optimize their products for the new hardware.
Still, I don’t wanna take everything from Android devices, as per usual they paved the way for foldable smartphones, just like they did with so many groundbreaking technologies in the past. Lately, Apple is one to follow trends, not to set them. While playing it safe might not be the most exciting thing, you have to admit it is pretty smart to see what sticks and what doesn’t before you invest yourself in a new project.
Foldable phones aren’t the future
I really hoped my opinions on foldable phones changed at the end of this experience. I really hoped that I was wrong in saying that spending billions on developing foldable display technology is like pouring saltwater into the Sahara desert to make it green, it is simply an idea that isn’t going to work.
As impressive as foldable screens have gotten, I still don’t see the foldable smartphone bringing anything significant to the table for most consumers. These devices are still expensive, still very fragile, still not as good as a flagship, and they don’t get big enough to replace a tablet.
While some might be fine carrying their phones in purses, I’m not. So I am certainly not compelled to carry a fat piece of metal and glass in my already tight pocket. And if I drop it, as I will certainly do at some point, my other pocket will suffer greatly as well.
A foldable phone costs about the same as a good smartphone and a mid-range tablet, but with the latter option, you can only break one device at a time, and it will cost you much less to repair or replace. You will also get the full smartphone and tablet experience, rather than sacrifice this and that just to be on the cutting edge of technology.
I’m all about new stuff, but that’s not it mate. Still, I’m pumped for rollable phones, and I’m pumped for what else the future will bring. Now’s the time for a silent prayer that goes to hardware developers, please, give us something good that will improve our experience, rather than compromise it for the sake of constant innovation.