Foldable Phones Are Here. Do We Really Want Them?

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To make gadgets bend, you have to sacrifice some hardness. The flexible displays of foldables are generally covered by a plastic layer, which can be scratched up or penetrated more easily than the tough glass protecting traditional phone displays. (Samsung said its Z Flip uses an ultrathin, foldable glass that would let you fold and unfold your phone 200,000 times.)

“If you take a ballpoint pen and you push really hard on the iPhone screen, it’ll be fine,” said Kyle Wiens, the chief executive of iFixit, a company that provides instructions and parts to repair gadgets. “If you do the same thing on the foldable displays, you’ll kill it.”

In theory, the clamshell designs of the Z Flip and the Razr offer a partial solution to the durability problem. That’s because the main screens are not exposed when folded up. Yet if you drop the phones while using them — say, when you are walking and texting and trip over something — you will have a problem.

“There’s no protecting the foldable display in a real-world environment the way that consumers treat their smartphones,” said Raymond Soneira, the founder of DisplayMate, who advises tech companies on screen technology.

Foldables also have a design flaw. In general, when they are unfolded, the screen has a visible crease — an eyesore compared with the seamless displays on our smartphones and tablets.

Last but not least, it remains to be seen whether the mechanical hinges of folding phones will survive the test of time. There are early reports of potential problems with the hinge on the Razr: Some reviewers said the hinge is extremely tight, making it cumbersome to fold and flip open the phone. CNET, the tech reviews site, said the hinge of its Razr test unit broke after 27,000 cycles using a robot.

Motorola said in a statement that it was confident in the durability of Razr, adding that CNET’s test method put undue stress on the hinge.

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