Competition for the best foldable phones had been heating up as a growing number of device makers try their hand at new and innovative smartphone designs. While the first foldable phones had their share of stumbles, the devices that have come out in the past year have come closer to delivering on the blend of productivity and portability that foldable designs promise. And even more phones are on their way.
Any newcomers will have a high bar to clear. Early devices from Samsung, Motorola and others have already helped establish foldable phones as an alternative to more conventional handsets. And even with LG exiting the smartphone business — abandoning a number of dual-screen phones in the process — foldable phones aren’t going anywhere.
We’ve tested a number of foldable phones to find out where they excel and where they still come up short. Here’s our look at the best foldable phones you can buy right now.
What are the best foldable phones?
The best foldable phone you can buy right now is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, which corrects many of the mistakes that dogged the original Fold when it launched in 2019. More importantly, Samsung has introduced improvements to multitasking that finally make the case for getting a foldable phone — you really can do more with the larger display.
Samsung delivers a one-two punch in the foldable space with the Galaxy Z Flip 5G, which features a clever flip phone-style design and a lower price tag than before. But the most innovative approach to dual-screen devices has to be the LG Wing, in which the second screen is hidden behind the main display. When you need the extra screen space, you just swivel the secondary panel into place. It sounds pretty weird, but the Wing proved its worth in our testing. LG plans to continue offering support for the Wing, even though it’s in the process of closing its smartphone business down.
The jury’s still out on the other major foldable phone release, the Motorola Razr 5G. While we certainly appreciate the blast-from-the-past design, the original Razr failed to live up to the hype. This new model, which introduces several key improvements while also adding 5G connectivity, just arrived in stores, so we’re waiting to review it still.
The best foldable phones
You won’t find any traces of the design flaws that marred the original Galaxy Fold’s launch. Samsung went back and redesigned its first foldable, making improvements to the hinge and the durability of the Galaxy Z Fold 2. The result is the best foldable phone available, and one that should help you get more done on the go.
As before, Samsung’s phone opens up to reveal a large display inside. But because the hinge now features a cam mechanism, you can open the Galaxy Z Fold 2 at different angles, enabling a new Flex mode feature that splits the display into viewing and action areas. Multitasking has also been improved, as you group together app pairs for launching three apps at once.
The exterior cover display on the Galaxy Z Fold 2 has expanded to 6.2 inches, giving you ample workspace without ever having to open up the phone. When you do, continuity mode means you can pick up where you left off on the now larger interior display.
Samsung’s likely to release a new Galaxy Fold later this year — possibly as soon as May. The new phone will reportedly add S Pen support, just like the Galaxy S21 Ultra did. But until that arrives, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 sets the standard for what a foldable phone is capable of, and it’s now $200 cheaper than before, thanks to a permanent price cut.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review.
If the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is all about getting work done, then the Galaxy Z Flip 5G focuses on style. Samsung repurposes the flip phone design that was popular nearly two decades ago, but outfits it with a foldable screen. The result is a compact device that fits neatly into your pocket with the ability to expand into a 6.7-inch screen when you flip the phone open.
There’s substance to this phone as well. Even before the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Z Flip introduced us to Flex mode and the ability to access different parts of an app on a split-screen. The small exterior screen may not be as useful as the full cover display on the Fold, but it can flash notifications and even serve as a viewfinder when you’re shooting a selfie and don’t want to flip open the phone.
We reviewed the original Galaxy Z Flip, but Samsung subsequently came out with a 5G version powered by a Snapdragon 865 Plus processor. (The original Flip used a Snapdragon 855 Plus chipset.) Apart from that and some improvements to multitasking features, the Galaxy Z Flip 5G is essentially the same phone as the Z Flip we tested. Samsung has cut the price on the Galaxy Z Flip 5G to $1,199, making it one of the more affordable foldable phones out there — and perhaps signaling that a new version is in the works for later this year.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Z Flip review.
The LG Wing is less a foldable phone and more like a rotating one. Instead of opening up to reveal a second screen, the second panel is there behind the main one, swiveling out when you need additional display real estate. If nothing else, give LG points for coming up with one of the more unique designs for phones that we’ve seen in the past year, even if it’s hard to recommend the phone now in light of LG’s decision to close its smartphone business.
The secondary screen is more than a gimmick, adjusting what you see on the displays based on how the phone is oriented. Watch a YouTube clip with the second screen deployed, for example, and the small 3.9-inch display houses playback controls. It can also become a control panel for certain games. We ran into a few problems with the Wing not orienting apps properly on a few occasions, but for the most part, we enjoyed the experience of having a secondary panel at the ready when we needed it.
That second screen makes the Wing thicker than most phones, and it’s nearly as heavy as the Galaxy Z Fold 2. You also may have a hard time paying top dollar for a phone but only getting a Snapdragon 765G processor and not a more powerful chipset in return. Still, this is a cleverly designed device, and we particularly appreciate the LG Wing’s gimbal camera for easy one-handed video capture.
Read our full LG Wing review.
Motorola is hoping it can pull off the same trick with the Motorola Razr 5G that Samsung did with its Galaxy Z Fold 2 — follow-up a lackluster product debut with a more successful sequel. We haven’t yet had a chance to review the Motorola Razr 5G, but having tested the original for our Motorola Razr (2019) review, the only direction Motorola can go in is up.
The original Razr was a sleek-looking phone that hearkens back to the flip phone designs of yesteryear. But the build quality didn’t impress, the camera disappointed, and the phone petered out after just 6 hours on our battery test. Motorola looks to have addressed some of those issues with the 5G version of the Razr, which introduces crucial design changes like a tapered chin, durable hinge and teardrop folded display that keeps the two sides of the phone flush when it’s shut. The exterior Quick View screen now supports gesture controls and you can use that screen to do more. A more powerful Snapdragon 765G processor should improve performance while adding 5G connectivity.
Will those changes help the Motorola Razr 5G live up to its $1,399 price? We’ll know for sure once we test the new version once and for all.
What to look for in a foldable phone
Before you buy a foldable phone, you’ll need to consider what that kind of device will be able to do for you that a standard phone can’t. Prices remain pretty lofty for foldable phones, so unless you really need the extra screen real estate, you may be better off with a phablet or one of the other best big phones that we’ve tested.
If you do think a foldable phone will help you get more done, though, be sure to pay attention to the device’s construction. Early foldable phones like the Galaxy Fold and original Motorola Razr had design quirks that led us to pan those handsets. With the Galaxy Z Fold 2, though, Samsung made some critical changes that made the $1,999 phone more likely to withstand everyday use. (Even then, it’s still not water resistant.) So research a foldable phone’s hinge and just how many times a phone maker says the device will open and close.
There are two screens to consider when buying a foldable phone — the larger internal display and a secondary screen, usually on the outside of the device. Find out just what you can do with that exterior screen — can you run full apps or is it just there for notifications and a few other features? And does the screen support something like Samsung’s continuity feature where the app you’re using on the cover screen is waiting for you when you open the device?
Apart from size — you’ll want to make sure a closed foldable phone is something you’re comfortable carrying around — you’re looking at a lot of the same criteria you’d use to judge conventional phones. That includes the processor, cameras and — especially — the battery life. After all, there are usually multiple screens to keep powered up on a foldable phone.
Be aware that foldable phones are a pretty new category in the world of smartphones, and we expect to see a lot of change come to this segment. Samsung is promising more affordable foldable devices in 2021, and it reportedly has new versions of the Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip in the works. In addition, Samsung is rumored to be working on a device with a scrollable screen called the Galaxy Scroll.
Other phone makers could be planning devices of their own. Rumors suggest that Apple is developing an iPhone Flip, though that phone is unlikely to appear this year. A rumored Google Pixel Fold could be in development, too, and that might be in line for a fall debut.
One phone we don’t expect to see any more is the LG Rollable. While LG had promised a release this year after teasing the phone during a CES 2021 keynote, the phone with the expandable screen appears to be a victim of LG’s shuttered phone business.
How we test foldable phones
We test for the best foldable phones the same way we review any smartphone. We conduct lab tests, including synthetic benchmarks as Geekbench 5 and 3DMark to measure graphics performance. We also run a real-world video transcoding test on each phone using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result.
To measure the quality of a phone’s display, we perform lab tests to determine the brightness of the panel (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure the color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and a score of 0 is perfect.
We run a custom battery test in which we have the phone surf the web over cellular with its screen set to 150 nits of brightness. We then time how long it takes the phone to run out of power. For foldable phones, we conduct this test on the phone’s main display.
We also test the cameras on each foldable phone, taking them out into the field to perform comparative shots, usually with another device that features comparable specs. In some cases, that’s a foldable phone or another device in the same price tier.