If you’re still doubting the need or practicality of the foldable phone, it may be time to reconsider. Recent foldable offerings from Samsung and Huawei have improved drastically over the first generation, and there are even reliable sources that say Apple will jump on the foldable bandwagon in just two years’ time.
While 2021 has seen some excellent slab smartphones, there’s a very good chance that the future of mobile is foldable. If you want in right now, the good news is there are already some very capable and polished devices out, and there will be several more to come in the future. We here at XDA have tested every foldable phone so far — including those hard-to-find ones that are only sold in China — so this is our expert guide on the best foldable phones you can buy right now. And of course, if you want to stick with a slab phone, we have a guide on the best Android phones to consider too.
Best overall foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
Samsung is the innovator of the foldable phone, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is still the best overall foldable, despite it being older than most phones on this list. Several of us at XDA (and our sister site PocketNow) own one and are still in love with it eight months later.
The Galaxy Z Fold 2, when folded, is a relatively small, candy-bar-shaped device that can be used with one hand easily. Open it up, and you get a 7.6-inch, 120Hz bendable OLED display that doubles as a mini-tablet. Samsung’s software is polished enough that the phone works great in both forms — barring the occasional scaling issues that affect mostly Instagram.
But what sets the Galaxy Z Fold 2 apart from rival foldables on this list is that it can stay open halfway — or as Samsung calls it, “Flex Mode.”
Flex Mode essentially allows the Z Fold 2 to stand on its own and shoot pictures or videos with either the selfie or the main cameras without the need for a tripod or other props. I’ve used it to do hands-free video calls, film myself at the gym, and capture time-lapse on a whim. It’s truly an ingenious design and a feature I miss when I use other rival foldables.
As the Galaxy Z Fold 2 has been out longer than most phones on this list, some of the components are also slightly inferior. For example, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is running on a 2020 SoC (Snapdragon 865+); its triple 12MP cameras are fine but not spectacular (the lack of a Periscope zoom lens is jarring in 2021); and the folding part of the screen leaves a slight crease.
In fact, the next phone on this list has superior hardware all around (other than the lack of Flex Mode), but the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is still considered the best foldable for most people because it’s got the most polished software and is the most readily available foldable for purchase anywhere in the world.
Best foldable hardware: Huawei Mate X2
The Huawei Mate X2 is not just the most cutting-edge foldable phone hardware right now. I’d argue it’s the most cutting-edge smartphone hardware — period. Like the Galaxy Z Fold 2, it is also a pocketable smartphone-shaped device that can open up to become a mini-tablet. But the Mate X2 improves on several of the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s shortcomings.
First, the Mate X2’s folding display hides the crease much better. It’s still there, but only visible at extreme side viewing angles and is much harder to feel by hand. Second, the Mate X2 folds completely flat, whereas the Galaxy Z Fold 2 still leaves a bit of a gap.
Finally, the Mate X2 crammed a flagship-level camera system including a Periscope zoom lens into a body that’s still thinner than the Galaxy Z Fold 2. The latter allows the Mate X2 to capture noticeably better 10x zoom images.
Unfortunately, there are two major obstacles that prevent the Mate X2 from being a viable purchase for most readers. The first is that due to the ongoing US sanctions, the Huawei Mate X2 cannot run Google Mobile Services. The second is the Mate X2 has a whopping retail price of $2,700 and is only sold in China.
But if you have the money to spare, the means to ship this out to you, and don’t mind not being able to run YouTube or Google Docs (among other Google apps), the Huawei Mate X2 is the best foldable hardware yet.
Best small foldable phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G
The reason phone brands are all in on a foldable future is that there are undeniable benefits to having a screen that can fold in half: you either have a mini-tablet that folds to become a phone-sized slab, or you can have a normal-sized phone that folds in half to become a petite, ultra-compact device — like the Galaxy Z Flip 5G.
The Galaxy Z Flip 5G is ideal for those who hate lugging around a bulky slab that bulges out of their pockets. Women, especially, tend to struggle with the size of recent smartphone slabs because their pant pockets tend to be smaller (and most dresses lack pockets entirely). The Galaxy Z Flip 5G gives them a much smaller package that can be stored in a purse or in small pockets yet still provide a large enough screen.
Although that 6.7-inch display refreshes at just 60Hz, it has punchy vibrant colors and is covered by a layer of thin glass that makes it feel more premium than some other foldable screens on this list. The dual-camera system comprising of a 12MP wide and 12MP ultra-wide is also serviceable but lags behind other phone cameras on this list.
The Galaxy Z Flip 5G also features the Flex Mode we talked about earlier, meaning half the phone can stay upright, allowing for easy video calls or hands-free selfies.
Best value foldable phone: Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold
The newest foldable phone on this list is also the lowest priced among its large screened peers. While the Huawei Mate X2 retails for a whopping $2,700 and Galaxy Z Fold 2 started at $2,000 before dropping to $1,800 recently, the Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold starts at about the equivalent of $1,500.
I say “equivalent of” because Xiaomi’s foldable is only sold officially in China, though importing one isn’t too hard (and unlike Huawei’s Mate X2, the Mi Mix Fold can run Google apps just fine). While not as technologically advanced as the Huawei Mate X2, the Mi Mix Fold still packs impressive hardware, including the world’s first “liquid lens,” which allows one camera sensor to double both as a 3x telephoto and as a macro sensor.
Powering the phone are all the latest 2021 components such as a Snapdragon 888, which gives it a leg up over Samsung’s foldables which are running on 2020 Qualcomm silicon.
When folded, the Mi Mix Fold is a bit awkward, with a 6.5-inch screen that stretches even taller and narrower than the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s. But unfolded, the Mi Mix Fold screen becomes 8-inches with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which I personally prefer over the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Mate X2’s wider aspect ratio. The narrower aspect ratio makes it easier to hold with one hand, and the on-screen keyboard doesn’t have to split just to offer a comfortable typing experience.
The Mi Mix Fold also packs a 108MP camera that produces natural bokeh and very sharp photos — even if color science tends to lag behind Samsung and Huawei. Another major selling point of the Mi Mix Fold is “PC Mode,” which turns the UI into one that resembles a desktop computer interface with support for resizable windows.
Best foldable for clamshell nostalgia: Motorola Razr 5G
If you’re older than say, 36, then chances are you have fond memories using cell phones before they became personal computers and selfie machines — when a phone was just used for calling people. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, cell phones came in all shapes and sizes, but one of the first phone models to really catch on as a status symbol and style icon was the Motorola Razr, a clamshell flip phone with metallic trims and an at-the-time impossibly thin design when unfolded.
For those of us who lined up to buy the original Razr in 2004, Motorola’s recent relaunch of the line — but as a foldable phone — likely resonated with our nostalgic side.
Like the original, the Motorola Razr 5G features a prominent chin, a thin body when unfolded, and a small outside screen that offers basic functionality like taking selfies or seeing notifications.
The Razr 5G’s 6.2-inch OLED screen isn’t the brightest or sharpest screen on this list, but it doesn’t have much sign of a crease thanks to some clever engineering. Motorola’s software is also a joy to use, with many useful shortcut gestures and the ability to interact with notifications while the device is folded, something that the Galaxy Z Flip cannot do.
There is however just one main camera, a 48MP shooter that is just serviceable, with an additional 20MP selfie camera on the inside of the phone that’s housed in a notch. The Snapdragon 765G here is not a flagship SoC, but performance hasn’t been an issue at all.
Most obscure foldable phone for collectors: Royole FlexPai 2
Most people should not buy the Royole FlexPai 2. It’s sold only in China, it’s made by a smaller company without the track record and reputation of a Huawei or Xiaomi, it’s got a more fragile design than everything else on this list, and the phone cannot run Google Mobile Services.
But if you’re a diehard tech enthusiast — let’s say you’re a collector, or maybe a foldable phone historian — the FlexPai 2 may be of interest because Royole actually beat Samsung and Huawei to the market with a foldable phone (the original FlexPai), and the company has said it will keep making foldable phones.
Plus, the FlexPai 2’s hardware isn’t bad at all. The phone utilizes an outside fold design in which the flexible OLED screen wraps around the device when folded, and the device folds completely flat and is noticeably thinner than the Galaxy Z Fold 2.
When unfolded, you get a 7.8-inch OLED display that looks good, but not great. It refreshes only at 60Hz and feels more plasticky than other foldables. The 64MP main camera does a surprisingly decent job, but the other cameras, including the 16MP ultra-wide and 8MP telephoto, fall apart in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. The cameras aren’t terrible per se, they’re just the worse on this list. Software is also below par, with a wonky split-screen mode, though the Snapdragon 865 keeps things running zippily.
I’m also not sure about the outside fold design that sees the screen exposed at all times. This is the route that Huawei went for a couple of years before completely backtracking and going with the inward-folding route. Still, the FlexPai 2 looks really cool — I like the silver aluminum metallic finish.
More foldables are coming soon — Here’s what to expect
As we said from the beginning, foldable phones are here to stay. The much-discussed supposedly fragility of foldable phones seems overblown. Both retail units of Galaxy Z Fold 2 owned by XDA team members are still fully functional with regular use. And I personally have used every foldable phone listed on here, some for months at a time, without encountering problems.
But there’s still room for foldables to improve, of course. I wish the big foldables were a bit thinner and lighter. I want the crease to be less noticeable, and I want a camera system that’s not compromised. So far, the Huawei Mate X2 comes closest to matching all of that. But I’m confident Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3 will likely deliver on all those points too.
And according to reliable rumors, we can expect more phone brands to enter the foldable market in 2021, including OPPO and Vivo. Xiaomi too will likely have more foldables coming in 2021, and even Apple is expected to jump in late in typical Apple fashion.
So if you want to keep up to date with the latest foldable devices and how the new ones fare against the ones on this list, be sure to check back here often.