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Foldable tablets are more than a gimmick thanks to Samsung and LG

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Foldable phones are all the rage, with Samsung, Oppo and Motorola, releasing their own devices. Other companies, like Apple and Googleare reportedly working on versions of their flagships with foldable designs.

But to CES 2023, the foldable shelves are what piqued my curiosity. Samsung and LG, two of the biggest display makers in the world, both introduce tablet-like devices in different shapes and sizes that can bend, bend, slide, or do all three.

These concepts got me wondering if there’s a real future for foldable tablets, especially in a time when companies are struggling to sell traditional tablets. What’s clear, however, is that companies like Samsung and LG are thinking about it, as are PC makers like Lenovo and Acer.

The more I think about it, the more a foldable tablet starts to make sense – maybe even more than a foldable phone.

Samsung and LG’s foldable concepts at CES 2023

Both Samsung and LG have launched CES 2023 With announcements about their concept of foldable screens, many of which come in the form of tablets. The star of the show was Samsung Hybrid Flexa concept that you have to see to understand well.

Samsung showed off its concept displays at CES 2023.

David Katzmaier/CNET

It closes like a notebook and opens to reveal a tablet-like screen. But the real wow factor is that you can expand the screen size and even change its aspect ratio when unfolded. The right side of the screen slides out, extending the display size from 10.5 inches to 12.4 inches. During a demonstration at its booth at CES, Samsung showed how the display automatically adjusts to show more content when the screen is extended.

It’s not the first time that Samsung has presented concepts like this. In 2022, Samsung flaunted concertina displays and sliding screens, designs also present this year.

Samsung also has other ideas for transforming tablets. He also showed the Flex Slideable Duo Concept at CES, a screen that expands on both sides to provide more viewing area for playing games or watching movies. The screen measures 13 to 14 inches but can extend up to 17.3 inches, according to a Samsung press release. There’s also a version of this concept that can only extend its screen in one direction, a device Samsung aptly calls the Flex Slidable Solo.

LG's concept for a foldable 17-inch tablet-like display

LG’s concept for a foldable 17-inch tablet-like display.

David Katzmaier/CNET

LG had two main foldable tablet concepts to showcase at CES: an 8-inch tablet that folds and folds in both directions, and a 17-inch device that folds in half. LG affirms that the 17-inch display is almost entirely wrinkle-free, and the company positions it as either a giant tablet or a more portable external monitor for a laptop.

The gadgets presented at CES are far from the first foldable tablets. There are Lenovos Folding X1 and newer Foldable ThinkPad X1while Asus has the Foldable OLED Zenbook. LG’s 17-inch concept largely seems to be trying to achieve the same goal that Lenovo and Asus have already started exploring with these devices.

The big question is whether these companies can convince consumers that foldable tablets are even useful in the first place. Samsung is apparently trying to solve this conundrum by developing screens that can change shape and size to suit the way you use your device. Based on Samsung’s demo of the Flex Hybrid, it looks like you’ll be able to view content that wasn’t previously visible when expanding the sliding portion of the screen. The clip above appears to show a shopping website as an example, with more products displayed as the screen gets larger.

Lenovo already has some cool ideas on how to put the X1 Fold’s foldable screen for good use. When the screen is folded in half, you can place the Lenovo Bluetooth keyboard on the lower half of the screen so that it functions like a mini laptop.

Samsung isn’t the only company experimenting with displays that can expand by sliding and rolling, either. TCL and Motorola They both came up with similar concepts for smartphone design, though Samsung feels closer to an actual product given its experience with foldables. Samsung is also the largest in the world smartphone-manufacturer and second largest Tablet-maker, which makes its designs more impactful than those of TCL and Motorola. Although LG no longer has a presence in the mobile industry, it is a major display supplier and still manufactures own laptops.

Foldable tablets may have advantages over foldable phones

Having a phone that can fold in half to easily fit in your pocket can definitely come in handy. But a tablet that can do the same is even better, mainly for the simple reason that tablets are inherently larger than most phones.

There’s another benefit: foldable tablets may not face all of the same design challenges that foldable phones have encountered so far. For example, one of my biggest complaints about the Galaxy Z-Fold range was that it sometimes seems difficult to use when closed. The cover screen has improved considerably since the first Galaxy Fold arrived in 2019, but it still doesn’t look like a standard non-folding phone.

The Galaxy Z Fold also feels chunky when closed, as its thickness is essentially equivalent to two phones stacked on top of each other. When I saw Microsoft Surface Duo 2 In 2021, I struggled to find a comfortable way to hold it when taking photos with the main camera because you have to keep the phone unfolded to see what you’re shooting.

The Fold 4 hinge

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 is thicker steel than a regular phone.

Kevin Heinz/CBS

These disadvantages may not be as big of an issue with foldable tablets. Unlike phones, you probably won’t be using a tablet in one hand most of the time. An exterior screen on a foldable tablet, if there is even one, wouldn’t matter as much since you’ll likely be using the device unfolded. The foldable tablets I’ve seen so far don’t even have cover screens.

Aside from the selfie camera for video chats, camera quality isn’t as important on a tablet as it is on a phone. So the clumsiness issue I mentioned when taking photos with the Surface Duo 2 probably wouldn’t happen on a foldable tablet.

The main appeal behind foldable tablets from Samsung, LG, Lenovo and Acer – concept or not – is portability. Having a tablet that folds in half makes it easy to store in a backpack, suitcase, or purse on your next flight, commute, or trip to the beach. But the phones are already compact in their current form, which means the value proposition behind phones like the Galaxy Z Fold might be a little harder to sell.

That doesn’t mean foldable tablets are immune to design issues, as my colleague Dan Ackerman wrote when testing Lenovo and Acer devices. Creating larger screens that bend and bend likely presents its own set of technical challenges compared to foldable phones.

Foldable phones are also moving faster, according to market research IDC Forecast a 66.6% year-over-year increase in global shipments in 2022. So while foldable phones may have different hurdles to overcome, companies like Samsung have been able to address these issues across multiple generations of products so far.

Tablets need a refresh

Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Plus

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S8.

Josh Goldman/CNET

Tablet sales surged during the first phase of the pandemic as people socialized, worked and went to school virtually. But sales looked bleak last year. Global tablet shipments fell 8.8% year-over-year in the third quarter of 2022, marking the fifth consecutive quarter of decline. according to IDC. The drop was mainly due to economic headwinds as consumers look to spend less, the report said.

New tablets with shape-shifting screens may not be enough to change that, especially since foldable devices are usually expensive. But tablets are still long overdue for a refresh. Arguably the biggest tablet transformation since the launch of the first iPad has been the shift to laptop-tablet hybrid devices, a transition that began about a decade ago around the launch of Windows 8. But tablets haven’t fundamentally changed since then, aside from fitting larger screens and getting routine hardware upgrades.

It took years for these hybrid devices to resolve their issues and become mainstays of our lives. If foldable tablets catch on, the case will likely be the same, mostly due to high prices and software issues. But the concepts present at CES show that progress is definitely underway.

The goal of all tablets, foldable or not, is to provide a bigger screen for tasks your phone might not be ideal for, like gaming, watching movies, reading, and working. So finding creative ways to extend that screen size further, like Samsung did with the Flex Hybrid’s sliding screen, seems like a natural evolution.

Foldable phones always feel like they’re looking for a purpose, but foldable tablets may have already found one.

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