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CES 2020: Foldable devices, the next big trend in handheld technology

Foldable devices were all the rage at CES 2020, the Consumer Technology Association's annual technology and media trade show.

Currently, the only foldable widely available in the U.S. is Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s Galaxy Fold, with a 4.6-inch screen, which opens up like a book to form a 7.3-inch screen. This is set to change this year, as several major phone developers and hardware companies enter this new category with their own products. Microsoft Corp., for instance, in October announced a pair of dual-screen, foldable devices that are set to launch in the 2020 holiday season: the Surface Neo tablet and the Surface Duo smartphone.

SNL ImageSamsung's Galaxy Fold device
Source: Samsung

Although Microsoft's devices were not at CES, the company's Windows 10 is set to run on the foldable devices that generated the most buzz at the trade show, such as the ThinkPad X1 Fold, which manufacturer Lenovo Group Ltd. called the world's first foldable PC. Launching in mid-2020 at a starting price of $2,499, the X1 Fold features a 13.3-inch OLED panel that folds in half, much like the Galaxy Fold. Microsoft's foldable devices differ in that they offer two separate side-by-side screens, so there is not a continuous image that runs across both displays like with the X1 Fold and Galaxy Fold.

The X1 Fold can bend and fold into several different configurations, which in turn causes the content displayed on the screen to change in tandem. In one configuration, the device can fold in half width-wise to resemble a mini laptop, with an onscreen keyboard popping up on the lower half of the screen for typing purposes. In another, the device can be unfolded to its full 13.3-inch size and connected to a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to form a mini PC.

SNL Image

Dell unveiling new foldable device prototypes at CES 2020
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

Dell Technologies Inc., meanwhile, unveiled two foldable concepts of its own: the Duet and the Ori. The Duet is similar to Microsoft's Surface Neo and has two screens connected by a hinge instead of a single screen. The Ori, however, has a truly foldable OLED screen that folds upon itself, similar to the X1 Fold.

Dell showed off both devices at a press event for journalists, but did not allow hands-on access, with staff on the show floor issuing reminders that the devices were conceptual at this stage and not to be handled. The company did not share the official device measurements with media. However, on closer inspection, the screens for both devices appeared to be just over 13 inches. The Duet's screens looked larger than the Ori, while the Ori's foldable panel had a noticeable crease in the middle, similar to the one found in other foldable devices, including the Galaxy Fold and X1 Fold.

Intel Corp. also showed off a foldable prototype with a computer code-named "Horseshoe Bend." The device unfolds diagonally into a 17.3-inch OLED screen — significantly larger than the X1 fold — and runs on Intel's new Tiger Lake mobile processor. Like the X1 Fold, the Bend can also be used with a wireless keyboard that can be magnetically attached to the bottom half of the screen. Intel did not disclose when it plans to launch its foldable computer.

Both Dell and Intel signaled that there are still kinks in the designs of their respective devices that need to be ironed out before they can exit the conceptual stage. No doubt, they are hoping to avoid the backlash Samsung faced when it was forced to delay the launch of the Galaxy Fold by several months due to flaws in the phone's folding screen.