The foldable smartphone has been strange sort of white whale for the mobile industry. You could fill a Raiders of the Lost Ark-sized warehouse will all of the attempts to bring the technology to the market. At the very least, ZTE’s new Axon M has one key advantage over many of its predecessors: it’s actually going on sale. And it’s coming to the US, no less.
It’s understandable that so many companies have chased the idea for so long. There’s a lot to be said for a tablet-sized device you can fold up and stick in your pocket — but certain practical problems of engineering and physics tend to get in the way. ZTE’s solution is pretty simple: stick two displays on a device and separate them with a hinge.
The concept is pretty similar to what you get with a lot of convertible tablets. You can swivel the two 5.2-inch displays to make up one big one, or use one as a stand for hands free viewing, tent mode style (with one display propping up the other). The system takes advantage of the multi-window viewing that arrived on Android with Nougat, so you can multitask with a different app on each.
Placed together, the two screens make up a 6.75-inch display that can be used to watch a video or play games in “Extended Mode.” Of course, as with every convertible product there are certain tradeoffs. In spite of years of hype around flexible displays and electronics, we’re not there yet, so, among other things, there’s a gap you’re going to have to deal with between displays that may make you wish you’d just opted for a proper phablet in the first place.
Still, it’s always nice to see a company trying something wacky, and ZTE’s pretty well positioned to bring it market. The company has little brand name recognition in the States, but its low cost Android handsets have the company duking it out with LG for third place in the U.S. market. It also has a good relationship with carriers here, meaning, unsurprisingly, that it’s going to be an AT&T exclusive when it arrives next month.