Foldable phones vs. rollable phones: what’s the future?

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We’re just getting used to the idea of ​​foldable phones that open up to reveal a bigger screen inside. But it increasingly looks like phone makers are going to introduce a new kind of design that challenges the best foldable phones to deliver a productivity-boosting design. Several phone makers are reportedly working on rollable or scrollable phones — think devices with screens that enlarge — with new models arriving as early as this year.

Samsung, which is already leading the way with foldable phones like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, may have a rollable phone in the works. Tentatively titled Galaxy Z Roll, this new device would let you press a button to expand the phone-sized screen into a more tablet-like display. If you believe the rumours, the Galaxy Z Roll would join the rumored Fold and Flip updates we expect to appear in the second half.

The upcoming arrival of rollable phones invites inevitable comparisons with their foldable counterparts. What are the differences between these two form factors and which one will help you do more when you’re on the go? We won’t know all the answers until a device like the Galaxy Z Roll appears alongside the Galaxy Z Fold 4 or Galaxy Z Flip 4. But for now, our comparison between foldable phones and phones rollable phones can look at what these two types of big-screen phones have in common and where they differ.

Foldable vs Rollable Phones: How They Work

Now, the concept of foldable phones is no longer a mystery. The device is highlighted by a screen that folds, although how you fold this display varies from device to device.

In the case of the Galaxy Z Fold 3, for example, you open the phone like a book, revealing the 7.6-inch screen inside. When not in use, this screen folds in half, leaving you with a 6.2-inch cover screen on the outside of the Fold.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 (Image credit: future)

The Galaxy Z Flip 3, on the other hand, reuses the flip phone design that was common in the pre-smartphone era. In the case of the Flip, the lid opens to let you access the 6.7-inch interior screen. When folded, the phone’s exterior offers a 1.9-inch panel that can display notifications and act as a viewfinder when taking photos with the Flip’s exterior cameras. The Motorola Razr works much the same, although not as popular as the Galaxy Z Flip models.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3

Samsung Galaxy ZFlip 3 (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Both Galaxy foldables are centered around a hinge that handles all that folding and unfolding. Samsung said the Fold and Flip hinges can withstand 200,000 openings and closings. The phone maker has also taken steps to keep dust out of the moving parts of its foldables to extend their durability.

Rollable or scrollable phones take a different approach, rolling out the screen like a window shade, with the rolled up portion hidden from view. We’re not sure exactly how this will work with an unannounced product like the Galaxy Z Roll – some rumors suggest the top of the screen will extend. But we can look at a phone like the LG Rollable, which the electronics giant introduced in 2021 before choosing to ditch the phone business altogether.

The LG Rollable was the size of a standard smartphone. When you wanted more screen to work with, you could extend one side, revealing more display space. In one of the LG Rollable’s on-stage demonstrations, a company executive held the phone in landscape orientation while the top of the screen expanded and contracted.

rollable LG

(Image credit: LG)

We’d assume the general premise is the same with the Galaxy Z Roll, or any other rollable device that comes along. You’ll be carrying around a full-size smartphone until it’s time to switch to tablet mode. This, presumably by pressing a button, will cause the screen to extend in one direction; when not in use, the additional display will be hidden.

Foldable phones and rollable phones share a common goal: to give people a bigger screen to work on while keeping the device compact enough to carry around. Smartphones have become more powerful while mobile apps are now more feature rich. There’s a desire to move tasks you’d normally do on a computer to a handheld mobile device, especially with more of us on the go. Yet editing, drawing, and other productivity-focused tasks require a larger workspace than a traditional phone screen. Hence the desire to expand that phone screen into a device that can still fit in a pocket or purse.

With foldables and rollables taking different paths to achieve this goal, it begs the question of whether one device has an advantage over the other. And in the case of rollable phones, there’s clearly a way this new design could improve on what foldables can do.

Even with Samsung introducing later advancements to the screen of each new Galaxy Fold model, one flaw has remained constant – there’s a visible crease where the screen bends in half. The same goes for the Galaxy Z Flip, although it’s a bit less noticeable. Objections to the bend are largely cosmetic, but when you’ve paid $1799 for a phone, you don’t want one where a flaw is prominently visible every time you look at the screen unfolded, especially when the screen displays a white background.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The visible crease of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Some foldables managed to hide the crease. The Oppo Find N’s crease is hard to feel and is only visible in certain lighting conditions. But this phone is only available in China at the moment. So it’s up to the rollable devices to find another way to solve this problem.

From what we’ve seen of rollables, the solution seems to be that you won’t get a crease if the screen never folds. And that’s essentially what a scrolling phone offers, with the screen rolling down to extend outward. We’ll have to see this in action to confirm, but you’d imagine there wouldn’t be any creases or dips in a rollable display because it never really folds in half like the panel of a Galaxy Z Fold 3, for example.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

A closed Galaxy Z Fold 3 (Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Foldable phones are also still quite bulky when closed. An unfolded Galaxy Z Fold 3, for example, is 0.62 inches thick, nearly double the size of a conventional phone. Presumably a rollable phone can reduce that thickness somewhat, although we’ll have to see a finished phone to confirm that.

Rollable phones: unanswered questions

How thin a rollable phone can be compared to its foldable counterpart is just one of the questions we expect to be answered with the arrival of a Galaxy Z Roll-like device. It’s also unclear how durable such a phone will be.

A scrolling phone may like the hinge required to fold a screen, but there will always be moving parts needed to roll up and down the phone screen. Moving parts degrade over time, so it’ll be up to Samsung — or any other phone maker with a rollable device on the market — to detail how tough the stretchable screen is.

Samsung Galaxy Scroll concept image

Samsung roll-up concept design (Image credit: Techconfigurations)

Foldables may be a new kind of device, but phone makers have already discovered ways to use that extra screen. It’s much easier to multitask on foldable phones, running multiple devices on different sections of the extended display. The Galaxy Z Fold 3, for example, can run three apps at once. And both Galaxy foldables offer a Flex mode where you can open the device to a 90-degree angle, turning the bottom half of the screen into a control panel.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Flex Mode

Flex mode on a Galaxy Z Fold 3 (Image credit: future)

Besides the extra screen real estate, rollable phones have yet to present this type of device-specific use case. Patents filed by Samsung for a rollable phone suggest the extended screen could be opaque, making it ideal for augmented reality applications. But it’s unclear exactly how it would work or even if such a phone is close to development.

Foldable vs Rollable Phones: Outlook

We’re still in the early days of foldable phones, with only a handful of devices offering the kind of functionality and affordability you expect from a smartphone. Rollable phones are even less successful. It will therefore take some time to see which type of device is best suited for which task. Still, it should be interesting to see what phone makers come up with in the very near future.

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