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Foldable smartphones are nothing new, but for the past three years, one manufacturer and one manufacturer only has found success in building, refining, and most importantly, selling, its folding-display phones: Samsung. Last year, Samsung sold four times more foldables than it did in 2020, exceeding analyst predictions.
Starting off 2022, however, the excitement for foldables remains, but for ones made by other manufacturers. China-based Oppo and Honor (formerly a subsidiary of Huawei) have announced market-ready handhelds in the Find N and Magic V, respectively. The two are currently only available in China, but carry significance because they offer fresh takes on the book cover design that Samsung's Z Fold popularized. They also come with an arsenal of features that, in some cases, laps Samsung's best. Here's all you need to know about the two latest competitors in the foldable smartphone race and why they matter in the long run.
Oppo has been in the smartphone business for some time, but the name may only ring a bell if you're based in the UK, Europe, or Asia. For US folks like myself, we have to settle for OnePlus, Oppo's sister company, which to no surprise, offers rather similar hardware and software experiences.
Late last year, Oppo launched the Find N, a foldable smartphone that, according to its Chief Product Officer Pete Lau, presented a more practical design than the remote control-like figure of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. Instead of a taller aspect ratio, the Find N, when folded, looks and functions like a regular compact smartphone, with a screen that measures at just 5.49 inches diagonal. The smaller form factor alone may be enough to interest enthusiasts. When unfolded, the interior display spans 7.1 inches and is made with LTPO, meaning it can dynamically refresh between 1-120Hz.
There's no skimping on horsepower either; the Find N has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset, 8/12GB of LPDDR5 RAM, 256/512GB of storage, and a 4,500mAh battery. On the camera front, Oppo has equipped the device with a 50-megapixel Sony IMX 766 main sensor, a 16MP ultra-wide lens, and a 13MP telephoto lens -- a similar array to the Oppo Find X3 Pro that we reviewed last year. Thanks to the exterior display when unfolded, it doubles as a viewfinder for selfie pictures using the back-facing camera setup.
Besides the smaller and more palm-friendly form factor, a feature that sets the Oppo Find N apart from the Z Fold 3 is the "Flexion Hinge." Based on the same premise as the Motorola Razr's folding display, Oppo's Flexion Hinge causes the glass screen to fold at a wider angle and with a buffer when it does (see picture below). This results in a less-pronounced crease, solving a pain point that has disgruntled Z Fold users for the past three years. The Flexion Hinge also eliminates the gap when the device is folded, which should help keep dust and water from seeping in. I say "should" because the Find N is not officially certified for water resistance, unlike the Z Fold 3.
The Oppo Find N is currently a China-only product, with a starting price of 7,699 yuan (about $1,200) for the 8GB of RAM and 256GB of memory model. Figuratively speaking, that puts the phone at nearly $600 less than Samsung's Z Fold 3, which retailed at $1,799, and in a price range that is more approachable for mainstream consumers.
Why does this phone matter to non-China users? While we can't buy and use the phone to its full potential, it brings to light the question of whether current-gen foldables cost too much. Samsung dialed down the Z Fold 3's pricing this year, selling it for $200 less than the Z Fold 2, and with phones like the Oppo Find N in the market now, I'd hope to see Samsung taking the next step down. Likewise, the Find N paves the way for more phone-to-tablet foldables that are compact and crease-free. And while Oppo has stated that there won't be a global release of the Find N, its continuous merging with OnePlus leaves us with a glimmer of hope for a OnePlus foldable for the masses.
Another foldable that's looking to bite a piece of Samsung's pie is Honor's just-announced Magic V. The smartphone, which comes in a slate of classy colors, takes a bigger approach to the existing book cover design, literally. When closed, the curve-edged display spans 6.45 inches from corner to corner. And when it's unfolded, the display measures at 7.9 inches, putting both at larger footprints than the Z Fold 3's 6.2- and 7.6-inch displays.
But, a few decimals of inches isn't the reason why the Honor Magic V is the better of the two. Honor has managed to cram in Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, 12GB of RAM, 256/512GB of storage, a dual-cell 4,750mAh battery that supports 66-watt fast charging, and a triple camera setup comprised of 50-megapixel lenses (main, ultra-wide, spectrum-enhanced). We're expecting this year's Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 to bring similar specs, but for the time being, the Magic V stands ahead of the pack.
Like the Oppo Find N, the Honor Magic V utilizes a rain-drop hinge design to reduce the creasing of the folding display and to create a gap-less figure when the device is shut. The phone's outer screen also features a curved "nanocrystal glass" which Honor CEO George Zhao suggested is "five times stronger" during the keynote yesterday. Five times stronger than what? We don't know. What is evident, though, is the improved durability. During the keynote, Zhao dropped the Magic V from shoulder height -- twice, with no cracks or dents in sight. Longevity has always been a question for foldables so this was reassuring to see.
The Honor Magic V goes on sale on January 18 with a starting price of 9,999 yuan (about $1,569) and like the Oppo Find N, will only be available in China for the time being. Again, why does this region-locked device matter to the rest of the world? While the price isn't undercutting Samsung's Z Fold 3 significantly, the phone, in general, becomes another option in the ever-growing landscape of consumer-facing foldables. In the Magic V, Honor has managed to cram in flagship features, including Qualcomm's 2022 chipset, fast-charging that laps the technology of the Z Fold 3, and a build design that takes durability to new (shoulder) heights.
While the Oppo Find N and Honor Magic V bring competitive feature sets, there is one stone left unturned here: software. Due to hands-on limitations and the newness of these devices, there is no definitive stance on how the two perform beneath the surface. We've seen Samsung face issues with app optimizations and sizing on the original Galaxy Fold, but OneUI and Android have come a long way since. Oppo and Honor, however, are first-timers in the sector, but if they've managed to nail the software experience on the first try, I would be very surprised.
What do you think about these two new foldable smartphones? Let us know in the comments below.
Read more of ZDNet's coverage on all things foldables: