Technology

Samsung shows off foldable laptop, tablet, and smartphone concepts at CES

Samsung has been leading the shipment of foldable smartphones for nearly three years now, but the future of the company’s foldable ambitions has always been on display at trade shows, going back to 2008. With three versions of the Galaxy Z Fold (and two smaller Z Flips) Under the conglomerate’s belt, Samsung’s show division showed off to CES with a slew of prototypes detailing what it thinks the future of foldables will look like. For whatever reason, Samsung has produced official hands-on videos for these devices but doesn’t host them anywhere, but there are some mirrors on YouTube from Abhijeet Mishra (1, 2, 3, 4).

These are not from the “Galaxy” section (which would be Samsung Mobile), and they are not full-featured devices. But Samsung Display technology was a catalyst behind the Galaxy Fold range of devices. Now, the display department wants to tackle the larger and more complex form factors.

“Flex S” and “Flex G” tri-fold concepts

If there was a single fold that worked on the Galaxy Z Fold, two folds would surely be better. The first concept, the ‘Flex S’, folds into an ‘S’ shape (it’s more like the letter ‘Z’ but the ‘S’ has better synergy with the Samsung brand). This gives you a visible front screen when the device is closed and an aspect ratio when open. Flex S comes in phone and tablet versions. The commercial Galaxy Fold needs a completely separate screen to have a front screen, while the Flex S needs only one. The Huawei Mate X experimented with a single-screen design with only one fold, but that meant that the entire device was a screen when closed, and there was no “safe” side to put on the table. Flex S solves this problem with the second fold.

The tablet opens with an aspect ratio of about 16:10, which seems a good match for video content, tablet apps, or three phone apps side by side. When closed, the tablet takes the form of a phone, but it looks like this prototype will be one of the biggest “phones” on the market.

This device looks and feels just like the Galaxy Z Fold Extended. There is a raised plastic frame around the flexible OLED display, which keeps the panel attached to the phone. Like the fold, the edges of the screen are exposed around the hinge area, with a “T” shaped guard that hopefully prevents anything from falling under the delicate screen.

The phone version of the Flex S has appeared in other trade fairs before. It shrinks in the same way as the tri-fold design, down to what looks like a device in the 4-inch range. Closed, you get a small one-handed phone design, which you can then slot into a larger device for multimedia use. Scaling up a small phone is a great idea, and it seems to be more efficient than the Galaxy Z Flip, which is just a regular phone that folds in half.

Unlike the tablet, the Flex S has a reasonable camera setup, thanks to the camera bump on the front left side of the device. It hasn’t been shown, but I imagine this could act as a front and back camera by folding the first part of the screen and using the other half of the screen as a scene selector.

The right panel of the device is a bit weird. Samsung chose not to extend the offer until the end of the phone. Instead, the phone becomes just a plain plastic block. When you fold the phone, there is now the main screen on the front and a transparent plastic strip that shows a bit of the screen on the back, where you can show a message or something.

The Flex G hardware is the same idea, but everything folds inward, so there’s no screen on the outside. These features protect the screen a lot when you’re in your pocket, but you won’t have any sort of quick view of notifications, which we’ve found to limit other foldable devices. Once again, there’s a dead zone on the right side of the phone, but this time, Samsung is filling it in with the S-Pen mount. There is a front camera, but there is no rear camera on this prototype.

The large tablet version is all screen. There are no cameras, and I’m not sure if it has a charging port.

Samsung also showed off a phone with a flexible foldable screen. This is similar to designs we’ve already seen from LG, Oppo, and TCL. In phone mode, the flexible screen wraps around one side of the phone with an additional, unused screen on the back. When it’s time to go into tablet mode, a set of actuators expand the body of the device, pulling more of the flexible screen from the back to the front, causing the screen to “grow.” Several companies offered this design, but no one has yet marketed it.

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