Should You Buy a Foldable Phone? The Biggest Questions to Ask – CNET

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Foldable phones have been available for almost half a decade, with the first models from Samsung and Huawei arriving in 2019. Their high prices, limited software functionality and fragile designs initially made them hard to recommend. 

Much has changed over the last four years, and 2023 turned out to be a promising year for foldable phones. Not only are there more options, but cheaper devices like Motorola’s $700 Razr (2023), which arrived in October, are starting to emerge. While there’s still plenty of room for the software experience to evolve and improve, companies like Samsung, Google and Motorola made strides in 2023. 

The larger outer screens on Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Motorola’s Razr Plus, for example, make it possible to actually use apps without opening your phone, rather than just checking notifications. Google’s Pixel Fold has a new language translation feature that leverages both the external and internal screens.

More foldables launched this year than ever before, with new devices from Samsung, Motorola, OnePlus, Google, and Oppo hitting the market. Sales of foldable phones are expected to increase this year, with the International Data Corporation reporting a 43.9% boost compared to 2022 and Counterpoint Research pointing to a 10% bump in the second quarter of 2023 alone. 

If you’re thinking about buying a foldable phone, consider your budget and how you intend to use your phone, among other factors. Check out CNET’s list of the best flip phones and best foldable phones to learn more about our top picks. 

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Watch this: Foldable Phones May Be the Future. In South Korea, They’re the Present

What’s your budget?

The most important question to ask is how much you’re willing to spend on a new phone. Even though foldable phones aren’t as expensive as they were back in 2019, they’re still significantly pricier than most standard phones. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Google Pixel Fold, for example, start at $1,800 without a trade-in, while the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Motorola Razr Plus cost $1,000. Motorola’s 2023 Razr is the cheapest of the bunch at $700, but you have to sacrifice that larger external screen in exchange.

Motorola Razr 2023

Motorola’s 2023 Razr is among the cheapest foldable phones out there.

James Martin/CNET

Book-style foldable phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 5, OnePlus Open ($1,700) and Pixel Fold are among the most expensive phones you can buy. Flip phones are priced around the same as premium non-folding devices like the iPhone 15 Pro and Pixel 8 Pro, both of which start at around $1,000. If you’re used to budgeting for a device in that price range, splurging on a flip phone won’t feel much different. 

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for discounts and trade-in deals to make those prices more palatable. Keep in mind that many of those deals usually ask that you meet some type of requirement, like opening a new line with a carrier or trading in a relatively recent phone. 

Are you careful with your phone?

Google's Pixel Fold phone

Google’s Pixel Fold

James Martin/CNET

While today’s foldables are sturdier than earlier models, the simple fact that they have hinges and bendable screens still makes them more delicate than regular phones. Shortly after Google launched the Pixel Fold in June, some Reddit users reported broken screens, for example. Most foldable phones aren’t dust resistant and have a lower water resistance rating than standard devices like the Pixel 8 and Galaxy S23 lineup. 

If you work outdoors, have a tendency to drop your phone or handle it roughly or prefer not to use a case, you’ll want to be careful when switching to a foldable phone. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with repair options from the device maker as well as third-party services. 

Is it the right time to buy a foldable phone?

Watching YouTube on the OnePlus Open

Watching YouTube on the OnePlus Open. 

Numi Prasarn/CNET

Like many electronics, foldable phones are often released on a seasonal basis. You’ll want to consider this to avoid spending $1,000 or more on a device that may soon feel outdated. While you can sometimes find compelling discounts on older models, it’s usually a good idea to opt for the latest version if you can. 

Companies only usually support their phones with new versions of Android for a few years. The Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Z Fold 5 will get four generations of OS upgrades, for example, while the Pixel Fold and Razr Plus get three years of Android platform updates. Buying the newest model ensures that your phone will continue to get software updates for as long as possible. 

Samsung typically releases its new foldable phones around August, although it introduced the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Z Fold 5 slightly earlier than usual this year in July. If Google releases new Pixel Fold devices on an annual pattern, we can expect the second-generation model in June. Motorola hasn’t followed an annual cycle with its Razr phones, but the high-end Razr Plus also arrived in June while the cheaper model debuted in the US in October. The OnePlus Open, which is the brand’s first foldable phone, also launched in October.

The Black Friday shopping weekend is also a great time to look out for deals on foldables, especially since new models for the year have already launched. Motorola’s Razr Plus, for example, saw a $300 discount on Amazon over the Black Friday weekend. 

What do you want from a new phone?

Samsung's new Galaxy Z Fold 5 phone

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 (top) and Galaxy Z Fold 4 (bottom)

James Martin/CNET

This is probably the most significant consideration aside from your budget. Foldable phones are expensive and have some shortcomings compared to regular phones. 

For example, they can sometimes feel bulky and awkward to use when closed thanks to their unconventional designs. The cameras on foldable phones often aren’t as advanced as the ones you’ll find on premium non-folding phones like the iPhone 15 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra and Pixel 8 Pro. A slight learning curve also comes with using a foldable phone for the first time, especially for larger book-style foldables. Most importantly, many of today’s foldables still have a visible crease that runs across the screen. 

Compromises can be worth it for the right buyer. If you watch videos and play games on your phone often, a phone-tablet hybrid like the Galaxy Z Fold or Pixel Fold could be worth it. When I switched to the Galaxy Z Fold 4 for several weeks earlier this year, I loved having a larger canvas for writing and reading emails. I even left my tablet at home during a flight and used my phone solely for watching Netflix on the plane. Think long and hard about whether you need a phone that can double as a tablet and are willing to pay a higher price for that benefit.

Flip phones are for those who want a regular-sized phone that can fit in pockets and purses more easily. Since phones like the Motorola Razr and Galaxy Z Flip essentially have a built-in kickstand, they’re also ideal for those who like to take selfies and group photos without finding someone else to take the picture. 

The Razr Plus half open on a green table

The Razr Plus almost feels like a miniature smart display when propped up like a tent.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Newer flip phones like the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Motorola Razr Plus also have cover screens that allow you to run full apps when the device is closed. Not only does this make it easier to quickly check Google Maps or Spotify from the palm of your hand, but I find that it can turn my phone into a mini smart display. When I tested the Razr Plus, for example, I enjoyed propping it open like a tent to play music, view album art and skip to the next song in my playlist while doing household chores.

With that in mind, flip phones are best for those who prioritize convenience and portability above almost everything else in a smartphone.

Overall, deciding whether to buy a foldable phone comes down to your budget and what you’re looking for in a new phone. Factors like durability and timing are also important to consider, but it all comes down to how much you’re willing to spend and what you’re hoping to get from your device. What is certain is that 2023 was a big year for foldable phones, and they’re likely to continue improving in subsequent years.

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