Apple needs to get into the folding game and save us from years of bad phones

When I first heard that Samsung was making a folding phone, I was excited. The idea that a phone could turn into a tablet intrigued me, and I closely followed the development of Samsung’s display technology leading up to the launch of the Galaxy Fold.

Then I saw the Fold, and, well, my excitement waned. After dreams of giant screens opening to gianter screens, the Galaxy Fold has some clear first-gen compromises. The outside display is only 4.6-inches, which is laughably small for a 2019 smartphone (sorry iPhone SE lovers). It opens to a 7.6-inch screen that has a giant notch on the right side for the cameras. And it looks like it’s thicker than two iPhones stacked on top of each other.

A few days after the Galaxy Fold’s introduction, Huawei took the wraps off its own folding phone concept and it’s quite different. It’s only 11mm thick, has a 6-inch outside screen, and opens to a full 8-inch tablet with no notch. The controls, buttons, and USB-C port are on a stationary bar that doubles as a sort of handle and acts as a locking mechanism for the screen when folded.

huawei mate x closedAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Mate X measures 11mm thick when closed, plenty thin enough to fit in your pocket.

I eventually got to handle a Mate X for a few minutes and I walked away impressed. While I would never consider spending upwards of $2,500 on a phone—even a cool new futuristic concept like this—I can see what Huawei was trying to do with the Mate X.

Rather than assemble a prototype that doesn’t consider usability or design like Royole with the FlexPai, it’s easy to see that Huawei has put serious effort into designing a folding phone that’s both unique and familiar. The outside screen is as big as a normal smartphone, all three displays have clear purposes, and pocketability and holdability have carefully been considered. I even like the outside fold better than I thought I would. There are issues—such as the low-tech push button that ejects the case when folded—but for the most part, the Mate X is a really good first-gen device.

But all the while time I thought, “What would Apple do?” While Huawei’s and Samsung’s first efforts are definitely better than, say, the crop of smartphones that were available when Apple launched the original iPhone, the Mate X and Galaxy Fold are definitely starting from a better place. But like the iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods, and just about everything else coming out of Cupertino, we’re not going to know how great a folding phone can be until Apple makes one.

The screen is not what it seams

The weirdest thing about folding screens is their texture. Since they’re not glass, they feel a little plasticky and cheap compared to the premium Gorilla Glass-encased phones. While I touching the screens, I was afraid that if I pushed too hard I’d dent it, and there was definite rippling at the hinge and a visible seam down the middle.

huawei mate x browserAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Mate X’s screen isn’t like any smartphone I’ve ever used.

Quality isn’t an issue that only plagues the Mate X. During the demo, a clear seam could be seen down the center of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and the Mate X also had a line that you could see at certain angles. It’s a visual flaw that will be tough to unsee, and I have to assume it will only get worse over time.