But just because 2019 will be the first year these futuristic designs will be available for public consumption, it doesn’t mean you should be one of the first to rush in.
In late February, we got a barrage of announcements from smartphone makers about their plans to release foldable smartphones in 2019.
Samsung went first at Unpacked 2019, surprising the crowd that was expecting to see the new Galaxy S10 phones by preceding that announcement with the new Galaxy Fold, a foldable smartphone that starts at $US1,980.
That same weekend, at Mobile World Congress, Huawei — the second largest smartphone maker in the world, next to Samsung — unveiled its foldable Mate X. That phone will cost a whopping $US2,600 when it becomes available later this year.
Several Chinese companies, including TCL and Oppo, showcased prototypes of foldable phones this year, with plans to release fully functional models in the future if there’s enough demand.
Foldable smartphones are exciting. We haven’t seen many new smartphone designs come along, so to see a new idea so fleshed out — a phone that can transform into a tablet so you can do more work, or play games more comfortably — is something a lot of people will happily pay for.
Still, it’s best you don’t buy a foldable smartphone in 2019. It makes sense to wait — for several reasons.
First of all, these phones are asking for a lot of money up front — roughly two to three times what you’d pay for a high-end smartphone. Keep in mind, all of these phones are running the same software underneath.
Secondly, we don’t know what the repair process will be like for these phones. Given the high cost of the phone to start, would you also be ok being phone-less, potentially for several weeks, as you ship your phone to the manufacturer and wait for it to return?
Repair costs are also likely to be high for these first-generation models. These phones are using brand-new components, so replacing them if something goes wrong will probably not come cheap.
Case in point: Samsung gave review units of the Galaxy Fold to critics in mid-April, but several of those reviewers said their screens broke within a day or two.
You need your phone to be reliable, and first-generation tech is prone to failures of all types. In the case of the new Galaxy Fold, it’s still unclear if that phone can even last a week of regular usage.
Smartphones are invaluable devices, so for something that costs so much, you want to limit the risk of something going wrong. But manufacturers typically learn a lot from first-generation models, especially in terms of what to do and what to avoid in the future.
Aside from the screen issues, it’s impossible to foresee what other kinds of problems these phones face. Maybe the hinge breaks, or one of its six cameras malfunctions — but do you want to be a guinea pig, especially given how much you’re paying?
Foldable smartphones are exciting, but it really makes the most sense to wait. Manufacturers will work out the kinks over time, and prices will lower to meet demand. Don’t rush in just to be part of the trend; it will likely cost you more than you think.