Royole FlexPai 2 vs Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2: Battle of the Foldables
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 has garnered plenty of praise lately, but it’s not the only big-screen foldable in town. Royole, the company behind the very first commercially released foldable called the Royole FlexPai, is back with a sequel device of its own too, FlexPai 2. Since I have both devices on me right now, I figured might as well do a comparison — even if the scope of these products are worlds apart.
Samsung and Royole may have had the same idea — a tablet that bends in half to become a smaller smartphone — but they have taken opposing approaches to the idea. The Galaxy Z Fold 2’s screen folds inwards, closing like a book; the FlexPai 2’s display bends backwards, wrapping around the folded device like a skin — the latter is the same idea Huawei adopted with the Huawei Mate X and Huawei Mate XS.
Personally, I prefer Samsung’s philosophy because the folding screen is protected when not in use. But there are some in tech media who believe Huawei’s (and by extension, Royole’s too) method is better.
Royole’s hinge looks more impressive because it folds completely flat, while the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s hinge still leaves a small gap. Both hinges can stay in place at various angles, but Samsung’s hinge feels sturdier, with absolutely no creaking when folding and unfolding. In contrast, the FlexPai 2’s hinge makes a sound every now and then. Samsung also placed mini brushes inside the hinge that helps keep out small particles like dust, and a test video by popular YouTuber JerryRigEverything showed the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s hinge successfully survived being covered by a pile of pebbles and fine dust. The FlexPai 2 hasn’t been put through the same test yet, but I know Royole sent one to him for the same test too, so Royole seems confident its hardware can at least hold up to rigorous testing.
The foldable screens
This is a landslide win for Samsung. The Galaxy Z Fold 2’s main screen has a higher refresh rate (120Hz), more pixels (1768 x 2208), firmer, almost glass-like texture, and higher max brightness than the FlexPai’s 60Hz, 1920 x 1440, clearly plastic screen.
But Royole’s screen has less of a visible crease due to its different folding method, and its slightly larger (7.8-inch), 4:3 aspect ratio is more suitable for split-screen text-heavy apps (like, say, Twitter and Chrome). Because the FlexPai 2’s screen is more rectangular shaped, when it’s held vertically, there’s plenty of room to display content even with a full keyboard at the bottom. The same set-up on the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a bit more cramped due to its almost square shape. But still, the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s screen is just flat out superior tech.
The Galaxy Z Fold 2 packs five cameras, consisting of a main triple camera system and two selfie cameras, one for each screen. The FlexPai 2 has a single quad-camera module that doubles as both, the main camera system and the selfie system.
The Galaxy Z Fold 2 will be much easier to use for most people jumping over to a foldable for the first time, because the camera UI and how you shoot behaves like any other slab Samsung phone. The FlexPai 2, however, requires you to flip the phone over for selfies.
As for photo quality, I think it goes without saying the company with far more resources and years of experience making smartphones would have a more capable camera — the question was really by how much Samsung wins.
Looking at the samples, I think the main 64MP camera of the FlexPai 2 produces photos that can be classified as solid or even above-average. But when placed side-by-side against Samsung’s main 12MP camera, Royole’s color science is duller, with less dynamic range.
At night, the gap between the two phone widens slightly.
But the FlexPai 2 wins at selfies, because it has a dedicated 32MP portrait lens that’s part of the main camera module, while the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s 10MP selfie cameras is a tiny lens in a hole-punch. In the samples below, the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s selfie appears a bit soft compared to the FlexPai’s.
The first thing to note is that the FlexPai 2 doesn’t fully support GMS, mainly because it appears to be a China-only device at the moment. I’ve tried sideloading Google Play Services a few times and could not get the Play Store to load properly. Curiously, YouTube, and Google Maps do work fine on the FlexPai 2, which implies there’s some semblance of Google Services framework inside the software.
This no-Google fact alone should give the immediate win to the Galaxy Z Fold 2. But let’s take a look at what each brand offers anyway. Samsung’s software for the Galaxy Z Fold 2 works quite well, with the apps jumping from the smaller screen to the larger screen seamlessly more often than not. It’s even added letterboxing on the larger screen for apps that must be in rectangular form (like Instagram), so it doesn’t have any of the formatting issues of the Fold 1.
The FlexPai 2’s UI, named WaterOS, is surprisingly smooth. The UI changes from a smaller smartphone form to a larger tablet form without much delay or hiccups, and most apps load fine too, although some apps like Instagram must load in portrait orientation on the FlexPai 2.
Both phones handle multi-tasking similarly, with a pull-over menu that allows you to launch a second app in split-screen mode right away, and the option for a third. Samsung’s One UI for the Galaxy Z Fold 2 lets you open a fourth (or fifth or sixth) app but they must be in floating window mode; the FlexPai 2 maxes out at a trio of apps at once.
General use as a real-world device
Since the FlexPai 2 can’t run many Google apps, it’s easy to just write off the device as unusable. But I’ve been forced to use Google-less phones quite a bit last year (the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro, Huawe Mate XS) and I’ve realized that, for me, not having core GMS is a hassle, but not a complete dealbreaker. Gmail and Google Calendar can be synced with a third-party client like Microsoft Outlook, and other key apps I must use, such as WhatsApp, WeChat, Slack, Instagram, Twitter, all work on non-GMS devices.
Plus, unlike Huawei, Royole’s lack of GMS seems to be a choice, not a mandate by the US government. This means if Royole wants to sell this outside China, it should be able to get Google apps on there just fine. Their drawback is on the decision and choice, and not an inherent limitation.
But having said all that, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is still far easier to use. It’s shaped like a candy bar (or remote control) when folded, so it’s a very one-hand friendly device. The FlexPai 2, meanwhile, is wide even when folded up, making for a bit of a reach. I’m also nervous about having the plastic flexible screen exposed at all times. Then throw in the better camera and brighter screen, it’s another lopsided affair in favor of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 and Royole FlexPai 2 chase different goals
To be honest, I knew going into writing this article that the Galaxy Z Fold 2 was going to win most categories, some by a landslide too. But it’s worth mentioning that these two phones have different goals and ambitions. Samsung is the world’s largest phone brand by units sold, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 aims to be a mainstream product, sold worldwide. Royole is an unknown in the mobile scene, and the FlexPai 2 so far only sells in China, and is meant to be a showcase of the company’s display tech more than an attempt to be a mainstream phone.
When you consider the scale of the two companies, and the scope of these projects, it’s almost a David vs Goliath matchup, and I think despite falling short, Royole put up a good show.