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Samsung's folding phones have an unexpected benefit that might just win you over

Why folding phones may fix a problem that challenges us all.
steve-ranger
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director on
Galaxy Z Flip4 opened
June Wan/ZDNet

Smartphones are great for many things, and one thing they are especially excellent at is ruining what's meant to be quality time with your friends and family.

We probably all have a friend like this: the one who sits down and places their phone, face up, on the table when you meet them.

To me it's a very clear statement, and a challenge.

Whether they mean it to or not, to me it's a move that turns what should be a relaxed chat between friends into an exam invigilated by a slab of glass and plastic -- one that will start flashing if I become too dull.

In this context it's hard to come up with entertaining anecdotes based on my essentially humdrum life when I'm very aware that the entire internet is sitting there on the table, just waiting to burst into life.

(For some people, discreetly checking smartwatch notifications is a less obvious way of keeping up to date, although for me this is even worse: not only are they not paying attention to you, it looks like they are checking how much longer they need to hang around before making their excuses and leaving.)

But does smartphone technology now have the answer for the problem that smartphone technology has created?

Perhaps.

I was interested to see how the launch of Samsung's latest folding phones -- the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and the Galaxy Z Flip 4 -- mentioned several times how a folding phone can be less intrusive.

The way we're using our smartphones has been changing, it argues. And foldable phones are part of changing our behaviour, allowing us to better signal when we are paying attention -- or not.

"Many of us are trying to manage our phone usage so we can connect more with the world. The act of closing your Flip sends a message to those around you that you're ready to fully engage in conversation," said Samsung's Dillon Hesse during the launch.

Check your message, close the phone, pay attention to the world around you.

Of course, it's a neat spin for Samsung, even if there's a big caveat there too: you can still check your notifications on the device's cover screen. Samsung says you can do this "without interrupting the moment." I guess that will depend on how observant your friends are.

Instinctively I like the idea because the physical action of closing the device has air of finality to it. Also, it means opening the phone up again is a slightly bigger deal than just poking your smartphone's screen into life.

Adding that small bit of friction into the process of connecting with the digital world (when you should be paying attention to the real one) is, to me, welcome. So for the sake of your social life, even if you don't plan to buy a folding phone for yourself, perhaps you should hope that your friends do.

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