Samsung has been leading the charge toward foldable smartphones for almost three years now, but the future of the company’s foldable ambitions have always been on display at trade shows, going all the way back to 2008. With three versions of the Galaxy Z Fold (and two smaller Z Flips) under the conglomerate’s belt, Samsung’s Display division has shown up to CES with a plethora of prototypes detailing what it thinks the future of foldables will look like. For whatever reason, Samsung produced official hands-on videos of these devices but isn’t hosting them anywhere, but there are some mirrors on YouTube from Abhijeet Mishra (1, 2, 3, 4).
These aren’t from the “Galaxy” division (that would be Samsung Mobile), and they aren’t fully featured devices. But Samsung Display’s technology has been a driving enabler behind the Galaxy Fold line of devices. Now, the display division wants to tackle even bigger and more complicated form factors.
The tri-fold “Flex S” and “Flex G” concepts
If one fold works on the Galaxy Z Fold, then surely two folds will be even better. The first concept, the “Flex S,” folds up in an “S” shape (It’s more like a “Z” but “S” has way better Samsung branding synergy). This gives you a visible front display when the device is closed and a wide aspect ratio when open. The Flex S comes in phone and tablet versions. The commercial Galaxy Fold needs a totally separate screen to have a front display, while the Flex S only needs a single screen. The Huawei Mate X tried a single-screen design with only one fold, but that meant the entire device was a display when closed, and there was no “safe” side to place on the table. The Flex S works around that problem with the second fold.
The tablet opens up to around a 16:10 aspect ratio, which seems like a good match for video content, tablet apps, or three side-by-side phone apps. When closed, the tablet takes on the shape of the phone, but this prototype looks like it would be one of the biggest “phones” on the market.
This device looks like it’s constructed exactly like a scaled-up Galaxy Z Fold. There’s a raised plastic bezel around the flexible OLED display, keeping the panel attached to the phone. Like the Fold, the display edges are exposed around the hinge area, with a “T” shaped guard hopefully stopping anything from getting under the delicate display.
The phone version of the Flex S has popped up at other trade shows before. It shrinks the same tri-fold design way, way down to what looks like a device in the 4-inch range. When closed you get a small, one-handed phone design, which you can then open into a bigger device for multimedia usage. Making a small phone bigger is a cool idea, and it seems more functional than the Galaxy Z Flip, which is just a normal phone that folds in half.
Unlike the tablet, the phone Flex S has a plausible camera setup, thanks to the camera bump on the front left side of the device. It’s not demoed, but I would imagine this could work as both a front and rear camera by just folding the first chunk of the screen over and using the other half of the display as a viewfinder.
The right panel of the device is a bit odd. Samsung chose to not extend the display all the way to the end of the phone. Instead, the phone just becomes a clear block of plastic. When you fold up the phone, There’s now the main display on the front and a clear strip of plastic exposing a bit of the display on the back, where you can show a message or something.
The Flex G devices are the same idea, but everything folds inward, so there’s no screen on the outside. These protect the screen a lot more when it’s in your pocket, but you won’t have any kind of quick display for notifications, which we’ve found to be limiting on other foldables. Again, there is a dead zone on the right side of the phone, but this time, Samsung fills it with an S-Pen holder. There’s a front camera, but no rear camera on this prototype.
The big tablet version is just all screen. There are no cameras, and I’m not even sure it has a charging port.
Samsung also showed off a phone with a rollable flexible display. This is similar to the designs we’ve already seen from LG, Oppo, and TCL. In phone mode, the flexible display wraps around one side of the phone with additional, unused display on the back. When it’s time to jump into tablet mode, a set of motors expands the body of the device, which pulls more of the flexible display from the back to the front, making the display “grow.” A multitude of companies have shown off this design, but no one has commercialized it yet.