Smartphones with foldable displays will hit the market in 2019 after years of speculation and anticipation. Some say these folding phones will revolutionize the stagnant mobile world. Others expect nothing more than an expensive gimmick.
Whatever foldable phones will become, one thing they certainly are not, is new. In fact, Samsung has been releasing expensive folding smartphones for many years.
Though they’re generally sold only in China, long-time Android Authority followers will already know about Samsung’s W series. These clamshell phones don’t feature folding displays, but they are in many ways the precursor to the upcoming Galaxy F, and could offer a glimpse of what’s to come.
Unfolding the specs
Samsung has been making W-series flip phones for the Chinese market since 2006, and it’s a line it continues to pursue in the present day.
W-branded smartphones offer high-end specs like you would find in Samsung flagship Note and S series, including the latest chipsets, multiple cameras, and lots of RAM. Last year’s Samsung W2019 has dual 12MP rear cameras, a Snapdragon 845 chip, 6GB RAM, and 128GB or 256GB storage.
Like phones in the W series, Samsung’s upcoming folding phone is expected to offer premium specs inside an unconventional form factor. The current rumors suggest it will ship with the Snapdragon 855 chipset (the latest and greatest from Qualcomm) and two batteries.
The W series evolved from a single-display smartphone to include two displays, like the Galaxy F will. The W2019 has a 4.2-inch outward-facing display and a 4.2-inch display inside — almost the same setup as the folding Galaxy prototype Samsung showed off last November. Only, instead of opening up to reveal a small screen, partition, and a keyboard, you’ll just have one tablet-sized display to admire once unfolded, like in the image below.
The Samsung W2019’s specs and design reveal Samsung’s familiarity, and willingness, to chase the premium end of foldable smartphones, but it has also revealed their viability.
There appears to be no great desire for premium clamshell phones in the West or else Samsung would probably already sell the W series here — most people would probably think it’s a little dated. However, this range’s continued existence in China shows there is a market for niche phones with uncommon designs.
The Samsung W2019 isn’t a one-off product sold in limited quantities. It’s a major line with yearly additions. Why the lineup has proved popular, according to a 2014 Samsung blog post, relates to China’s cultural history.
“Generally, the concept of ‘premium’ refers to a trendy product of superior quality. In China, it refers to something more. The Chinese base their concept of ‘Premium’ on the thousands of years of their unchanged ideology and respect for the arts; it reflects China’s distinctive cultural identity,” wrote Samsung.
If the W2019 thrives in China because it acknowledges the market’s concept of premium, perhaps the Galaxy F will bear fruit in the markets hungering for technology’s bleeding edge.
Apple regular finds itself around the top of the leaderboard in yearly smartphone shipments, though it has traditionally focused on the premium segment alone. A $1,500 phone with an unprecedented screen technology — as the Galaxy F is tipped to be — seems like a sensible gamble in the markets where such devices have proven successful.
Samsung’s luxury flip phones have even given it a chance to test such high price tags. The latest W phone, the W2019 released last year, cost 18,999 yuan (~$2,800) — far more than what expected with the Galaxy F. The phone’s predecessor, the W2018, was priced at 15,999 yuan (~$2,360). The series’ pricing has actually increased every year.
These are surprisingly expensive phones, yet they have an audience even with their antiquated design because they fit their market. Though nobody can be certain of this yet, it appears increasingly likely that phones with folding glass displays will carve a niche in markets craving innovative tech.
Knowledge and experience
Samsung’s W series has reduced the commercial risk of its upcoming folding device in several key ways. It’s not just market observations based on similar folding devices in China, Samsung has also gained valuable experience just by creating these products.
Samsung has for years had to consider the technological implications of two displays, things like durability (which we know has been a chief concern in the folding phone’s development), the physical constraints of the body (like how to fit the components around the folding mechanism), as well as how the Android software will integrate with two displays.
A smartphone with a folding display is a different beast, of course, but it’s more like a dual display clamshell phone than a traditional flagships like the Galaxy S series.
What Samsung’s learned from clamshells will undoubtedly help it in the folding display field, and give it an edge on manufacturers who’ve only ever developed for single screens.
Some of those OEMs will be hard at work readying their own folding phones, of course. Samsung faces competition from major OEMs like Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo, and potentially Motorola, which is said to gunning for a Razr series revival.
Samsung is already aware people will pay big prices for its high-powered flip phones — it’s produced many. As much of a technological leap as the Galaxy F may be, it’s only a small step away from a luxury flip phone. For Samsung, that can only be a good thing.