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Why foldable phones are still so expensive, according to analysts

With the announcement of the new Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Z Fold 5, it's clear that foldables aren't getting cheaper. ZDNET asked analysts why.
Written by Allison Murray, Staff Writer
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Z Fold 5
June Wan/ZDNET

Some of us can remember when the flip phone first came out. In fact, this writer's first cell phone ever was a flip phone. Back then, they were small and compact and could easily fit in your pocket (something we can't necessarily say about today's devices).

Also: Every product announced at Samsung Unpacked: Z Flip 5, Z Fold 5, more

Like all trends, even technology is reverting to the nostalgia of the 90s and early 2000s, and flip phones (or foldables, as they are now known) have been steadily making a comeback with brands like Samsung, Motorola, and Google debuting foldable devices.

Samsung just announced new generations of its two foldable devices during its Unpacked event: the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and the Galaxy Z Fold 5. These devices have come a long way since the Galaxy Fold was announced in 2019. 

However, the original Fold debuted at $1,980, a remarkably high price that many reasoned was due to it being an innovative first-gen product and the complex nature of its parts. There was also a belief that the product would get more mature over time (and, in turn, cheaper).

Person holding the original Samsung Galaxy Fold

The original Galaxy Fold was the start of Samsung's phone-to-tablet aspirations.

Cho Mu-Hyun/ZDNET

But here we are four years later, and the new Galaxy Z Fold 5 is just shy of its original $2,000 price point, making it one of the most expensive phones on the market today. For comparison, the most expensive iPhone, the iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at $1,099, while the new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 starts at $1,799.

Also: Samsung's Z Flip 5 has a new screen layering design, and it's a big deal

So why the expensive price tag on a phone with multiple generations of models? According to Senior Analyst at Counterpoint Research, Jene Park, foldables' parts are still to blame.

"Foldable smartphones generally have one more sub-display, and in the case of the main display, the size is almost 1.2-1.5 times larger than that of a general bar-type display," Park told ZDNET. "In other words, Foldable products have a structure that is inevitably expensive compared to general bar types, even in terms of display alone."

fold-5-hinge-vs-fold-4-hinge

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 (right) has a gapless hinge design compared to the Z Fold 4 (left).

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

Even though there was a lot of buzz for Samsung's foldable phone concepts over the years, both the Fold and the Flip did not come without pain points for their designs, specifically in regard to the hinges leaving a gap between the two screens when the phones were closed shut.

"We estimate that some of the price increase of foldable products is due to [research and development] for optimization of [the] hinge," Park added.

Also: How to preorder Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 5, Flip 5, Tab S9, and more

For what it's worth, Samsung promises a better hinge design with the new Z Flip 5 and Z Fold 5, and the improvements are visible (as shown in the image above). Both devices fold completely shut, and the Z Fold 5 has a new gapless design with a hinge built with fewer moving parts.

And even though the price points are high, Avi Greengart, a consumer tech analyst at Techsponential, told ZDNET that pricing for foldables has remained relatively consistent across brands and that consumers expect performance and high-tech components to match that.

Google Pixel Fold on a table.

Google's latest Pixel Fold also costs $1,799, even though it uses a different design than Samsung's Z Fold.

June Wan/ZDNET

"A smartphone is something you use dozens or hundreds of times a day; if you can afford it, it is not hard to justify spending more for a more exciting fold-smaller device or a more productive and entertaining experience," Greengart said.

If you're looking to switch from the standard screen smartphone to a foldable, expect to pay more for the time being. But as more generations of devices debut in the future, these foldables will just get better and better, even if the price doesn't change.

"Foldable products are smartphones with many areas to be continuously improved in the future, such as weight and thickness, display creases, waterproof and dustproof, and durability," Park said. "And foldable products are expected to be smartphones that are highly likely to provide certain benefits to users."

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