Best Foldable Phones: The Top Folding Smartphones that you can buy in September

Best Foldable Phones: The Top Folding Smartphones that you can buy in September

The foldable smartphone has seen its fair share of supporters and detractors, with the latter mostly bemoaning their high prices and supposed fragility. Samsung’s taken a major first step in addressing those concerns with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, two foldables that are priced lower than previous generations and more durable to boot — with official water resistance rating!

This means now may be a good time for skeptics to consider giving foldables a chance. For those who were already on board, Samsung’s recent releases only further confirm that the foldable form factor is here to stay.

But Samsung’s not the only one making foldables — Xiaomi, Motorola, Huawei, and even an obscure brand named Royole has functional foldables out on the market now. Granted, all but Motorola’s are officially sold in China only, but importing is possible. Besides, other brands such as Google, OPPO, OnePlus and Vivo will likely release foldables of their own soon.

The point is, while 2021 has given us some excellent slab smartphones, the industry all believes the future of mobile is foldable. If you’re interested in trying now, or considering it down the line, we here at XDA are here to help. We’ve tested every foldable released so far, and here’s our in-depth breakdown of what each foldable has to offer. Of course, if you want to stick with a slab phone, we have a guide on the best Android phones to consider too.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, and the Huawei Mate X2 together in folded form standing on a table

The three foldables phones from Xiaomi, Samsung and Huawei

Navigate this guide:

Best Overall Foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Galaxy Z Fold 3 with an S-Pen Pro

The brand new Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the best overall foldable phone money can buy right now because it takes everything great about the already excellent Galaxy Z Fold 2 and improves in several key areas. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is more durable, with stronger materials making up the frame and screen, IPX8 water resistance, a newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC, increased screen brightness, a bleeding-edge under-screen camera, and S-Pen support.

When folded, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a compact, TV-remote shaped (long and narrow) smartphone, but unfold it and you get a large 7.6 inch screen that looks stunning. You can simply do so much more with a larger screen.

Now there are other foldables on the market that offer the same “large screen in a pocketable package” use case, but no other foldable phone from rival brands can do what Samsung’s foldables can do — “Flex Mode”, a.k.a. the ability to leave the phone half folded, so its screen can stay upright on its own.

Flex Mode essentially allows the Galaxy Z Fold 3 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.

Galaxy Z Fold 3 folded halfway with an S-Pen Pro nearby

S-Pen support is also a potential game-changer, at least for people who like to sketch or jot notes. Note the S-Pen requires a separate purchase, however.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
    The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the culmination of Samsung's foldable efforts so far, bringing improved durability and S Pen support to the foldable lineup.
    S-Pen Fold Edition
    The S-Pen Fold Edition is specifically designed to work with the Z Fold 3.

Also Great Overall Foldable: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2

Samsung Galaxy Z fold 2 on glass table

If you really want to try the Galaxy Z Fold 3 but find the price a bit high, the one year-old Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a good alternative. Even though it lacks the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s water resistance and S-Pen support, it’s still a very capable and impressive piece of hardware, with a 120Hz, 7.6 inch inside folding screen and a 6.2 inch outside cover display. The processor here, a Snapdragon 865, isn’t the newest on the block but still very capable even in late 2021.

Truth be told, if you don’t need the water resistance rating or S-Pen support, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 will offer a very similar usage experience as the Galaxy Z Fold 3. So it really might be worth considering getting this and saving several hundred dollars.

    Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2
    The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is still a very capable foldable phone even if it's been replaced by a newer version.

Foldable Phone with the Best Camera: Huawei Mate X2

The Huawei Mate X2's screen unfolded

As great as the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is as an overall product, its camera system can’t match the one in the Huawei Mate X2. That’s because the latter features a 50MP large-sensor main camera and a Periscope zoom lens that can produce a 10x optical zoom image. The Galaxy Z Fold 3’s cameras are solid, but their sensor sizes are smaller and the zoom lens maxes out at 2x optical.

Mate X2's camera array

There are other areas in which the Mate X2 one-up’s the Galaxy Z Fold 3 too, including the fact the Mate X2 can fold completely flat without a noticeable gap. The screen hinge is also less noticeable.

But it comes down to the camera — the Mate X2’s system is in a class of its own in the foldable category.

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 can’t run Google Mobile Services. The second is the Mate X2 has a whopping retail price of $2,700 and is only sold in China.

The Huawei Mate X2 using the main camera system as a selfie camera

But if you have the money to spare, the means to ship it 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 foldable with the best camera around.

Best Compact Foldable Phone: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

While large foldables like the phones above are essentially tablets that can fold into a smaller smartphone-sized form factor, there are these clamshell ones that are smartphones that fold up into a compact little square no bigger than a stack of coasters or a wallet. If you find your pockets constantly cramped due to slab smartphones being too big, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 will be music to your ears.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 and iPhone 12 Pro Max with displays on

Measuring just 86.4 x 72.2 x 17.1 mm when folded, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 should fit into not just pants pockets (both men’s and women’s), but even the smaller breast pockets in jackets or button-down shirts. It’s also petite enough to fit into most women’s purses. Unfold the device and you have a vivid 6.7 inch OLED display with 120Hz refresh rate; close it up and the 1.9 inch screen allows you to keep up to date with notifications.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, folded, in all four colors

We adore the two-tone finish and find the Galaxy Z Flip 3 to be one of the best looking phones of the year so far. Of course, Flex Mode is here too for easy hands-free selfies.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G and Galaxy Z Flip 3 folded up with camera app open

    Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3
    The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is perfect for those who want a stylish foldable that won't take up much pocket space and has a wider mass-market appeal.

Best Value Foldable Phone: Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold

The Mi Mix Fold's outside screen

Xiaomi has always offered very similar spec’ed products as Samsung and Huawei but at lower prices, and its first foldable, the Mi Mix Fold, follows that strategy. While the Huawei Mate X2 retails for a whopping $2,700 and the 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, although 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 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.

Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold in folded form

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 Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold next to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the Huawei Mate X2 on top of a table in unfolded form

The Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold (left) and the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 (middle) and the Huawei Mate X2 (right).

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.

The Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold connected to a Bluetooth keyboard

Best Foldable for Clamshell Nostalgia: Motorola Razr 5G

An official product shot of the Motorola Razr

If you’re in your mid-30s or older, the 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.

The Motorola Razr

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.

Taking a selfie with the Motorola Razr's small outside screen

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 the Galaxy Z Flip can’t do.

the Motorola Razr in the middle of flipping open

There’s however just one main camera, a 48MP camera that’s just serviceable, with an additional 20MP selfie camera on the inside of the phone that’s housed in a notch. The Snapdragon 765G here isn’t a flagship SoC, but performance hasn’t been an issue at all.

    Motorola Razr 5G
    The Motorola Razr 5G brings retro vibes to a cutting-edge foldable device.

Most Obscure Foldable Phone for Collectors: Royole FlexPai 2

The Royole FlexPai 2 in hand

Most people shouldn’t 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 can’t 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.

Royole FlexPai 2 folded front side

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, the device folds completely flat, and is noticeably thinner than the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 vs Royole FlexPai 2 -- Hinge and Gap

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.

Royole FlexPai 2 back

I’m also not sure about the outside fold design that sees the screen exposed at all times. This is the route 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 at the beginning, foldables are the future of the mobile industry. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 do an excellent job of addressing some of those concerns from foldable skeptics.

Personally, we love both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, as well as the Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold. With Apple and other Android brands like OPPO rumored to be working on a foldable, we’ll only have more of these exciting devices to choose from. Check back here regularly for updates as we are always among the first to test the latest foldables.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.