Foldable Phones and PCs Are Just Tablets

Neither the Dell Concept Ori (left) or Concept Duet (right) are folding PCs.
Neither the Dell Concept Ori (left) or Concept Duet (right) are folding PCs.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

I will admit I’m partially to blame. I’ve edited a lot of Gizmodo stories about the new category of devices that look like a laptop or phone when closed, but open up into impressive-looking tablets. In the course of editing those stories, I have furthered the characterization of these devices as folding phones and PCs. The companies call them that, and we reporters refer to them as such for the sake of accuracy.

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But they’re folding tablets, and we all need to stop with these other corporate-approved names.

Calling the Galaxy Fold a “folding phone” makes zero sense. The original Razr was a folding phone. The new one is also a folding phone. The Galaxy Fold is not. It is a 4G-enabled tablet that can fold down to the size of a smartphone. Same goes for the Huawei Mate X and Royole FlexPai announced last year. Heck, same goes for the Microsoft Duo device teased last fall.

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Dell, Microsoft, and Lenovo have made things even more complicated with the introduction of larger devices intended to replace tablets, too. At CES this year, Lenovo is showing off the ThinkPad X1 Fold, the world’s first “folding PC” with a giant flexible OLED. It resembles a Surface Pro if made in 1995. It can be used while folded at a right angle as a laptop, with either the on-screen keyboard or an accompanying Bluetooth keyboard. But it’s also functional laid flat, at which point it resembles a tablet.

Because it’s a tablet.

Dell has something extremely similar, the Concept Ori. It does most of the same things as Lenovo’s device but lacks the ability to be purchased later this year. The Concept Ori is still, you know, a concept not intended for sale.

The Microsoft Neo is not a folding PC either.
The Microsoft Neo is not a folding PC either.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

As is Dell’s other tablet-called-laptop, the Concept Duet. It uses a design reminiscent of the Microsoft Neo announced late last year. Both the Duet and Neo look sort of like someone taped two iPads together. Two iPads taped together are just two tablets, so why would the Duet or Neo suddenly be a folding PC? No, they’re folding tablets that allow you to use them as one mega tablet, or as two smaller ones.

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My colleague Sam Rutherford disagrees with my belief that these devices should be called folding tablets. “I don’t agree,” he said very succinctly via Slack. “Foldable is a perfectly fine catch-all[.] Foldable phones, foldable laptops[.] Very clear what something’s intended purpose is[.]”

What he means is that even though “foldable phone” and “foldable PC” make zero sense for imparting the impressive magnitude of these devices, people can still intuit what we mean by them. But just because our brains can cycle through all the possible definitions of “foldable PC” before settling on the definition tech companies prefer doesn’t mean our brains should be tasked with the chore.

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Other solutions, like “dual-screen device” don’t feel particularly accurate either. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold and Dell Concept Ori are both really just one huge screen that’s flexible enough to be folded in half. Same goes for the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is also not a folding PC. It is a tablet!
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is also not a folding PC. It is a tablet!
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)
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“Folding tablet” just makes more sense. So why didn’t Lenovo or Samsung opt for the more accurate term? “My guess is that brands moved away from tablets as a category and people relate more to phones and PCs,” Carolina Milanesi, a principal analyst with Creative Strategies, told me via Twitter DM.

Basically, the term “tablet” is poison nowadays. Google got very close to making a perfect tablet with the Pixel Slate—and then promptly killed it and the idea of Google-made tablets a year later. Microsoft rarely calls the Surface Pro a tablet anymore, and the same goes for the companies making clones of it. The Samsung Galaxy Tab and Amazon Fire are among the few devices still getting new versions and still being called tablets.

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Well, apart from Apple and its iPad. The iPad is the best-known tablet and also kind of why “tablets” are dead as a category. Apple did a very good job of making the iPad. People like the iPad so much, it has a whopping 31.4-percent of the market share for the category in Q3 of 2019, according to IDC. But people also like the iPad so much they’re reluctant to upgrade. And the iPad still, frustratingly, can’t compete with a laptop or desktop computer when it comes to getting work done. The same can be said of the Galaxy Tab and Fire.

Tablets, as a category, are considered luxury devices that most people don’t need. That’s one reason why “productivity-focused” tablets like the Surface Pro and its ilk eschew the name.

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“Fundamentally, they can all be considered tablets,” Anshel Sag, chips and consumer analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, told me via Twitter DM when I asked him why all the folding devices weren’t being called tablets. “[B]ut I believe we’ve chosen to delineate based on processing, OS and display size.”

Basically we’re all being finicky as a way to differentiate between the tablets you can use to tackle processor-intensive work and the ones you use to dick around on Netflix.

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And it’s probably why brands are reaching for “foldable x” instead of “foldable tablet.” The baggage of “tablet” is holding us all back from using the right dang phrase.

But look, the word tablet, as used to define a slate-like computer, is a pretty new word. The original iPad is even 10 years old! (It launched April 3, 2010.) There is still so much time for the definition of the word to change. And we can all help it change if we just stop kowtowing to the fears of marketing execs at big tech companies. So what if the phrase “folding tablet” puts people off for a while. If the product is good enough, we’ll all still use the dang things.

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I mean, who thought “smartphone” sounded cool? No one back in 1990 when AT&T released the SmartPhone.

A screenshot of the November 1990 edition of Popular Science. Page 47.
A screenshot of the November 1990 edition of Popular Science. Page 47.
Screenshot: Google Books
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So why should we let a mere 10 years of iPads dictate the definition of a term? Stop calling them folding phones and folding PCs and start calling them what they are: folding tablets.

Editor’s note: Gizmodo will still be calling these devices “folding phones” and “folding PCs,” despite what Cranz says.

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Senior Consumer Tech Editor. Trained her dog to do fist bumps. Once wrote for Lifetime. Tips encouraged via Secure Drop, Proton Mail, or DM for Signal.

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DISCUSSION

dragon-breath
DragonBreath

Actually, it should be....

Unfoldable Phone

...but, I think we are going to need something else. The Galaxy Fold is a phone that unfolds to a tablet. It, and others like it (Duo, etc.), are phones, that is their primary function, or should be. Phones have gotten bigger and bigger to the point where you would either be talking on a tablet, or you need to fold it to use it as a phone.

Foldable PCs, like the X1 Fold, Duet or Neo, are a new category of device, but over all I agree they are foldable tablets. They are not going to replace your laptop or desktop for getting work done, though with a full-size keyboard, the Fold would come pretty close, if you use it fully unfolded with a stand. Add a keyboard and mouse and it becomes a PC.

But, I see another future for these devices, but mostly it will depend on new software.

More than 20 years ago, I had a paper planner, and I dreamed of an electronic device to replace it. Two screens that work as separate displays so that you can put up two different things at the same time. No keyboard, ever. You use a stylus to write and you tap on the screen for everything else. At the time I had a Windows CE PDA, and I conceived of it working like a dual screen PDA.

Now, with Windows 10, I think about it working a bit more like a PC, though I can also conceive of an Android device that does what I want. The Fold fails to meet my dream, because when you flatten it, it becomes one screen. At that point I would rather use my Acer Switch 3, even if it is only 12".

I am with you on not calling it a “folding PC” because I feel like we need to think about this device differently. I do not like “tablet” because it implies single. I am a history buff and I think of clay or wax tablets.

I think we should call them dual screen tablets, but then the Fold doesn’t really qualify, because it is not two screens, but I think this new category of device will be defined by being able to use it, like a book, partially folded, using two screens.