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How foldable phones like Samsung’s newest handset work

Prototypes and patents reveal designs from Samsung, Huawei, Apple and many others

This article originally appeared on ABACUS
Smartphone displays are becoming larger than ever. But there’s a limit to how big a device can get before it can’t fit in your pocket anymore. One way manufacturers are trying to get around that is to fold a screen in half.

Seven years after Samsung first revealed it’s working on a foldable smartphone, the company finally unveiled its widely anticipated device this week. It works like a tiny book: The front cover features a regular screen, and the entire handset folds out to reveal a tablet-sized display.

Samsung is calling the technology Infinity Flex Display. It runs the One UI -- an Android variant optimized for bendable usage, created in collaboration with Google. Samsung says its device will enter mass production in the coming months.

But Samsung isn’t the first to introduce a foldable smartphone.

ZTE, for example, launched the Axon M handset early this year that also folds like a book. Unlike Samsung’s bendable display though, the Axon M features two separate 5.2-inch screens -- with a black seam sitting glaringly in the middle.

Dual-screen smartphone: ZTE Axon M review

Then last week, a little-known Chinese company called Royole created a bit of a storm when it showed off a flexible phablet that bends like a blanket -- though it looked like the software was still pretty buggy.
Lenovo also teased a bendy prototype a few weeks earlier. 

Patent filings have revealed yet more possible designs from other phone makers. Huawei’s sketch, for instance, shows a device that also folds together like a book -- while Apple’s submission points to a device that rolls together like an ancient scroll.

Of course, patents don’t always lead to products. Tech companies often apply for patents just to secure the rights to a design, regardless of whether they’ll bring the feature to the market. But with Samsung’s latest entry, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see more manufacturers jumping on the bendable bandwagon.

“It looks like a menstrual pad”: Netizens slam ZTE’s wearable smartphone

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.