Asus Zenbook Fold 17 reminds me why I love folding phones

I’m a huge proponent of folding smartphones, I think the futuristic design provides truly meaningful benefits and using one continues to be a very special experience. Therefore when I was given the chance to live with the Asus Zenbook Fold 17, a folding laptop, it was an opportunity too good to pass by.

However, the Zenbook Fold 17 isn’t all that good. But rather than put me off the idea of folding laptops, it made me even more excited about them, because, for a start, folding smartphones weren’t very good either.

Why isn’t it very good?

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Asus Zenbook Fold 17 is like a Galaxy Fold on steroids, and everything that frustrated about Samsung’s first attempt at a folding phone has been repeated, just on a larger scale. It’s a device filled with compromises and concerns, and just like the Fold, you’ll have to accept, forgive, and overcome them the best you can if you want to live on the cutting-edge of laptop design.

Like what? I use a laptop for work and that means typing on it, a lot. I’m typing on the Zenbook 17 Fold right now, but not with the touchscreen keyboard. Not that it’s bad, it’s just not the fastest way. Asus packages a Bluetooth keyboard accessory that magnetically attaches to the lower portion of the screen, and it’s really well sized so I can type quickly, but that’s only after I’ve gotten used to the flex. It sits slightly proud of the screen under it due to the massive bezels and bounces up and down as you prod the keys.

Because it connects to the laptop using Bluetooth it can be used separately so you can unfold the screen and make use of the clever stand on the back, but it’s still not that stable. Plus you’ve got to carry the keyboard around with you, and like the Galaxy Fold, the Zenbook Fold 17 is not small or light. In fact, it’s as thick as at least two, perhaps even three, MacBook Airs when closed.

The Asus Zenbook Fold 17 with its Bluetooth keyboard attached.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Just like the original Samsung Fold, the Asus folding laptop is big, unwieldy, and a bit annoying to type on. These are huge compromises when you consider a non-folding laptop doesn’t usually have these issues, and if it did, you wouldn’t dream of buying it. That’s not good news for the Zenbook Fold 17. However, don’t write it off yet.

All about the screen

Unfolding the Zenbook Fold 17 to its full, 17-inch glory is amazing. It’s by far my favorite part, as I get to watch videos on a giant screen without the inconvenience of the device taking up a giant amount of space when I’m done. It has effectively replaced my 11-inch iPad Pro for casual viewing. Unsurprisingly, it’s the same reason watching videos and playing games on a folding smartphone is so joyous, and it’s something the Galaxy Fold got right immediately too.

The Asus Zenbook Fold 17 with the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Fold.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Staying with the screen, the crease is visible but not that noticeable when you run your finger over it, but far worse, just like the original Fold, is the screen isn’t covered in glass, but a not-very-slidey plastic that’s probably quite durable, but unpleasant to touch. The screen doesn’t get very bright, the surface is irritatingly reflective, and the viewing angles aren’t great either. Once more, I put up with all these same things to use the original Galaxy Fold for a year after its release.

The software has been solid although my demands aren’t high, and it seems to adapt acceptably enough to being folded and unfolded, switching from laptop to tablet. However, the sensitivity of the screen and its touch responsiveness is all over the place.

The original Fold was the same, especially at the edge of the screen where it was potluck if it would recognize your input or not. Repeatedly pressing on-screen buttons to get them to work was an everyday occurrence with the Fold, and touch latency problems plague the Zenbook Fold 17 too.

The Asus Zenbook Fold 17 with the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Fold.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Finally, there’s the hinge. The problems encountered with the Fold’s hinge are well-documented and forced the company to halt its release while the mechanism was redesigned. The Zenbook Fold 17’s hinge doesn’t look anywhere near as complicated mostly because it’s covered up by a sliding panel on the back, and while I’m sure it’s very well designed, the open sides and panel gaps appear worryingly ready to be filled with all kinds of detritus over time. It’s probably fine, but having seen what happened with the Galaxy Fold, it does make me a little wary.

So bad it’s good?

It doesn’t sound good at all, does it? Here’s where it gets complicated, because, after all that, I really like the Zenbook Fold 17. It’s flawed, very expensive, and nowhere near as good as my Macbook Air as a laptop, but the Galaxy Fold was also flawed, expensive, and nowhere near as good as the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Yet I took the Fold around the world with me and it was brilliant, but only because I worked around its issues, and forgave its shortcomings.

I’m so glad I did because it helped me appreciate the work that has gone into making the Galaxy Z Fold 4 the first folding smartphone I recommend you buy. The design of the phone has been improved, the typing experience is better, the hinge is much more durable, it’s lighter, and the software has been greatly refined. It’s the reason I look at the Zenbook Fold 17 so favorably because for all its first-generation niggles and issues, I know it’s just the beginning.

Yes, the keyboard is annoying, but when I take it off and it becomes a 17-inch tablet, I forget about it pretty quickly. There’s a chance the hinge may cause problems down the road, but I’ll take the risk because using the Zenbook Fold 17 feels so damn cool. With a few slight variations, this is exactly the same way I felt about the Galaxy Fold.

If you buy the Zenbook Fold 17 you’re going to both love it and hate it, in equal measure, at different times. But just like the Galaxy Fold, it’s a genesis, and the beginning of something very special. Using it will feel transformative, exciting, and truly unique. If it’s your entry point into the world of foldable screens, I think it will turn you into a true believer, just like the Galaxy Fold did for me.

Editors’ Choice

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Samsung patent shows off a folding smartphone with a rotating camera

A new patent filed by Samsung has turned up at the WIPO, and it shows an interesting folding smartphone with a new feature. Samsung has built smartphones in the past with rotating front camera modules, but the patent shows the first time a rotating camera has been combined with a folding device. The patent is titled, “FOLDABLE ELECTRONIC DEVICE HAVING ROTATABLE CAMERA AND METHOD FOR CAPTURING IMAGES THEREBY.”

The patent outlines a folding smartphone with a rotatable camera and a photographing method that relies on that rotating camera. Samsung wrote in the patent that conventional electronic devices are built with the direction the camera lens faces being fixed. To obtain images from other views, the user has to change the direction of the smartphone itself.

To solve the dilemma of users having to change the orientation of their smartphone to take pictures at various angles, the patent outlines a rotatable camera allowing the smartphone to be held in the same orientation but allowing photographs to be taken from varying angles. As with most patents, some of the wording is confusing.

Essentially, Samsung is saying that the folding smartphone with the rotatable camera can check the folding angle of the housings and the posture of the housing to predict the user’s intentions when taking a photograph. The lens would be adjusted in the direction of the rotatable camera, so the shooting direction matches the shooting intention of the user.

The patent talks about a motion sensor module for detecting the posture of the foldable device and a folding angle sensor module to predict the angle of the first housing structure and the second housing structure. It sounds as if the camera module might rotate itself automatically.

Samsung writes that when a photograph request is received by the sensors in the camera, the processor checks information related to the device’s posture detected from the motion sensor and information about the folding angle from the folding angle sensor module. It would adjust the lens direction of the rotatable camera based on that information. It’s worth noting that a patent is no guarantee the technology will ever show up on a retail product.

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This old, rare wooden folding chair sold at auction for $8.5 million

Christie’s Hong Kong recently announced the results from multiple auctions, including one for a unique folding chair made of wood that was crafted and used in China during the 17th century. According to the auction house, the item sold at an amount several times higher than anticipated, ultimately going to the highest bidder for the equivalent of $8.5 million.

The auction was titled “A Magnificent and Exceedingly Rare Huanghuali Folding Horseshoe-Back Armchair, Jiaoyi, Late Ming-Early Qing Dynasty, 17th Century” and, according to Christie’s Hong Kong, it sold for more than 5.5 times the high estimate that had been made before the auction. The bidder purchased the 17th-century chair for $65,975,000 HK, which is the equivalent of about $8.5 million USD.

With the auction completed, this is officially the highest-ever bid for a huanghuali folding armchair. Christie’s Hong Kong says the auction battle took place over 10 ‘intense’ minutes spent in a bidding war over the phone. What makes the chair so special? The jiaoyi were a type of folding chair, but not all of these folding chairs were made the same.

While an average-use jiaoyi featured a straight back and no arms, the version made with a rounded ‘horse shoe’ back and arms were used exclusively by the imperial family. The folding nature of these chairs made it possible to transport them on long journeys, including on hunting excursions involving the emperor.

This particular chair is one of a very limited number of similar round-back jiaoyi made for the highest-ranking officials during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. The rarity of it has made this chair the highest-valued of its kind thus far sold at auction, eclipsing the previous record auction bid of around $3.9 million.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 leaks with more confidence in folding

The newest in foldable phones leaked this week as the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3. This device has a slightly more refined look than its predecessor, coming with flatter sides and a better understanding of its hinge. This new device will have a display size nearly identical to the Z Flip 2, but here Samsung’s handling of the finer bits make for a more solid final product.

According to Ice Universe, the next Samsung foldable phone will look a lot like what you see above. Below you’ll see the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 2 on the left, and the Z Flip 3 on the right. Note that both devices are being shown as renders, not actual product photos. It’s also quite likely that the Z Flip 3 is a mockup made by Ice Universe, not Samsung.

In general, Ice Universe has provided some rather on-point details on this sort of device before. It’s not out of character for this leaker to deliver key details about a device with imagery that’s mocked up as we see here, near real-deal imagery from Samsung. In this case, it would appear that the Galaxy Z Flip 3 design is getting more in-tune with the design of Samsung’s recently successful tablet line, the Samsung Galaxy Tab (as shown in these preview images in the Tab S7 FE.) This is different from the original Z Flip, and all the round edges in the world.

The Galaxy Tab S7 line has flat sides a single-width bezel around its display. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 as Ice Universe sees it retains its single front-facing camera, volume rocker, and side-mounted fingerprint scanner. This new device also seems to have a more confident handle on its display – note the bezel edge reaching right out beyond the hinge, where the Z Flip 2 has a very clear point of bending. This might also just be Ice Universe’s idealization of the hinge with respect to the bezel – it could just as easily have a less elegant look in the real release.

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Apple analyst predicts an 8-inch folding iPhone will arrive in 2023

Ming-Chi Kuo, the usually-reliable Apple analyst, is at it again with another prediction years in advance. According to Kuo, Apple may be planning to release its foldable iPhone in 2023.

As reported by MacRumors, Kuo claims that the foldable iPhone might sport an “8-inch QHD+ flexible OLED display.” Kuo estimates that the company expects to sell 15-20 million folding units in 2023 “based on Apple’s requested capacity plan.”

Interestingly, Kuo notes that he expects Apple will adopt a fancier “silver nanowire” touchscreen because existing capacitive technology does not support more than one fold or rollable designs (Apple actually already used this technology in the HomePod).

This suggests Apple might be working on a phone with a flexible display that doesn’t just fold at the middle like the majority of existing folding devices. But then, that isn’t terribly surprising, since Apple tends to like to do things differently.

If the rumors pan out, we’d be curious to see how Apple could entice users to buy foldable phones. Folding phones have so far only really captured the enthusiast market; durability concerns and astronomical price tags are likely to blame.

Then again, people will buy anything with an Apple logo on it. And folding phones do feel like they will be the norm in the future, even if the technology isn’t totally there yet. Here’s hoping the next couple of years lead to enough advances in material science that we don’t have to worry about scratching an expensive folding phone with a fingernail.

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Brompton folding electric bikes recalled over risky software bug

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has announced a new recall involving Brompton Bicycle’s electric folding bicycles over a software bug. Though Brompton is a UK manufacturer, the CPSC notes that a number of these electric bikes were sold in the US at the company’s store in New York, as well as through authorized dealers in other states.

Brompton’s folding e-bike is exactly what it sounds like: a bicycle that can be folded when not in use, one that features an electric motor powering a pedal-assist feature. The pedal assist functionality is controlled by software and designed to engage when the user is actively pedaling the bike, reducing the effort needed to get around.

According to a new recall notice from the US CPSC, around 600 Brompton folding electric bicycles have been recalled in the US due to a “software malfunction.” The bug, it seems, may result in the motor providing pedal assistance even when the user has stopped pedaling, meaning the bike may continue to propel itself forward when the rider anticipates it will slow down.

This, the recall advisory notes, may result in the user falling off the bicycle or suffering an injury. The recall was announced on April 21 with repair as the listed remedy for the problem. Brompton says that its folding e-bike customers should stop using the product until they’re able to contact their nearest authorized dealer to get the software update.

The update will fix the bug, after which point the issue should disappear and users can safely resume riding the e-bikes. The company says that while it has received a single report of one of these bikes continuing to provide pedal assist after the rider stopped pedaling, there haven’t been any reports of related injuries.

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Samsung trademark tips “Armor Frame” likely for folding devices

Samsung smartphone fans are looking forward to the summer when Samsung is expected to launch new folding smartphones. In the summer, Samsung is rumored to launch the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3 at the same time. Samsung already has several folding smartphones to its credit.

A new trademark has surfaced in Korea for something called the “Armor Frame” that is expected to be used on the coming folding smartphones. It’s unclear if both of the folding models will have the new frame or if the frame might only be used on one of the devices. It certainly also possible that Armor Frame will be used on neither of the rumored folding phones.

Samsung filed for the trademark on April 13, 2021. That same day, a trademark for Armor Frame was also filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Organization. The name would seemingly indicate the frame is designed to be extra strong and rigid.

Smartphone manufacturers are always looking for improved ways to make their devices more durable. Durability is essential for folding devices that will be opened and closed multiple times each day throughout their lifetime. Lots of rumors have circulated about the new folding devices expected this summer.

Some rumors suggest that the screens of the new folders will have thinner bezels indicating the frame and hinge might have to be revised. As for exactly what the Armor Frame is made of, that is unknown at this time. Typically, frames for smartphones and mobile devices are made from aluminum, but there’s always the chance of more exotic materials such as carbon or titanium. The downside to using carbon or titanium is more cost, and high-end smartphones are already expensive enough.

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Microsoft’s Surface Neo is a folding PC with Windows 10X and a 2020 ship date

With Microsoft’s Surface Neo, the company looks ahead to a future that’s foldable. At its Surface event in New York on Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled a prototype Surface Neo that will feature a next-gen Lakefield CPU, the thinnest LCD ever made, and a new vision for mobile productivity. It won’t actually ship until late next year, but what Microsoft showed gives all the other companies trying folding devices a lot to think about. 

The Surface Neo features two opposing screens that fold on a geared 360-degree hinge. That hinge allows the Neo to be used as a large tablet, as a book-shaped reader, or as a small tablet when the screens are folded back-to-back.

Microsoft / Surface Neo Microsoft

The new Microsoft Surface Neo will be far easier to hold when using it on a train in its book mode.

Microsoft knows productivity matters whatever the mode, so it’s cleverly designed a magnetic wireless keyboard that attaches to the back of the screen or sits on top of one of the screens, so the Neo can be used like a traditional clamshell device. 

A new version of Windows that will ship with the laptop, called Windows 10X, makes the keyboard even more versatile by adjusting features based on its location. If the keyboard is pushed toward the hinge, Windows will automatically configure the screen so the uncovered portion functions as a trackpad.

Microsoft / Surface Neo Microsoft

When you need a traditional clamshell, the magnetic wireless keyboard allows for that, with the second screen turning into a small trackpad.

If the keyboard is attached near the front edge, the OS reconfigures the screen to create a large touch area that Microsoft calls “Wonder Bar.” Think of Apple’s dismal Touch Bar, but perhaps more useful and with more support. In one demonstration, Microsoft showed the Surface Neo automatically docking a Netflix video to the Wonder Bar, keeping the main screen clear for productivity tasks.

Microsoft / Surface Neo Microsoft

Did Microsoft just troll Apple with its Wonder Bar on the new Surface Neo? Only app support will tell.

As a Surface there is, of course, pen support. The pen appears to be same flat, wireless charging Slim pen as the one that comes with the new Surface Pro X. Microsoft didn’t say whether the pen charges in its storage position on the tablet’s back (see below), but we hope it does.

Microsoft / Surface Neo Microsoft

The Surface Neo features a newly designed pen that magnetically attaches to the Surface. Although not confirmed, we suspect it also charges in that position too.

The Neo offers a large tablet surface (albeit with a bezel splitting it), a small tablet mode, a book mode, and two different clamshell modes. As the keyboard is wireless, you can detach it and set the screen on a table to use both screens.

It’s not clear how the tablet would stand on its own. Sure, you can fold the screen a little so it stands straight up and down, but that’s not exactly an optimal way to use it. You can see just how awkward this mode would be below.

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The new Motorola razr preys on your 2004 nostalgia (and 2019 FOMO) with a $1,500 folding clamshell

In a year that brought thousand-dollar creases, ”holeless” handsets, and waterfall displays, it’s only natural that the final phone of the year would be the craziest of all. Meet the new Motorola razr.

That’s right, the iconic RAZR V3—the phone everyone wanted before the iPhone changed the world—is back with an updated design, edgier (non) capitalization, and a whole new philosophy. The original ultra-thin design that gave the phone its name is nowhere to be seen—the new one measures a whopping 14mm when closed—but it still opens like the flip phones of old and retains its hefty chin. And because it’s 2019 and every phone needs a headline-grabbing gimmick, it has a folding screen.

Motorola could have gone with two screens akin to the LG G8X to still deliver a cool retro phone, but it clearly wanted to make a statement with the razr. And that means you’re going to be paying $1,500 for a slice of 2005 nostalgia.

But aside from its flexible screen, the Motorola razr is by no means a flagship phone:

  • Display (inside): 6.2-inch HD pOLED 2142×876
  • Display (outside): 2.7-inch HD gOLED 600×800
  • Processor: Snapdragon 710
  • RAM: 6GB
  • Storage: 128GB
  • Camera (rear): 16MP, f/1.7
  • Camera (front): 5MP, f/2.0
  • Battery: 2510mAh
  • OS: Android 9 Pie

The Snapdragon 710 isn’t a bad chip by any stretch, but it’s targeted at mid-range phones that cost $300 to $400, not thousand-dollar flagships. And the battery seems insanely small to power a 6.2-inch screen for a whole day, even if it is only 720p. And don’t get me started on a $1,500 Android phone that doesn’t run Android 10, especially one that isn’t going on sale until 2020.

It’s also a Verizon exclusive, with no plans to bring it to any other carrier, but doesn’t have 5G networking on board. I’m the last person to push for 5G in phones, but after Verizon has been pushing its next-gen network, it’s odd for a high-priced exclusive handset to launch without it.

All about that hinge

But even with low-end specs and an outrageous price tag, the Motorola razr is definitely an interesting handset. It’s small enough to comfortably fit in a pocket or a bag, and the hinge mechanism allows it to fully shut with a satisfying snap. Motorola says the hinge is designed in a way to prevent creasing, but only time will tell if that’s the case. But Motorola seems to have learned from Samsung’s mistakes with the Galaxy Fold and designed a thoughtful, functional hinge.

motorola razr hinge Motorola

Motorola designed the razr’s hinge to be more flexible and less creasy that the Galaxy Fold.

However, because this is new tech, no one’s really sure of just how reliable it will be, so Motorola is giving users a little peace of mind for their $1,500. In the U.S., Motorola will offer 24/7 chat support and 14hr/day agent direct access with device analytics, as well as 24-hour turnaround and free advanced exchange support with free next day delivery. That doesn’t exactly scream confidence, but at least Motorola will quickly make things right in the event of a display issue, which are almost certain to crop up.

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Apple needs to get into the folding game and save us from years of bad phones

When I first heard that Samsung was making a folding phone, I was excited. The idea that a phone could turn into a tablet intrigued me, and I closely followed the development of Samsung’s display technology leading up to the launch of the Galaxy Fold.

Then I saw the Fold, and, well, my excitement waned. After dreams of giant screens opening to gianter screens, the Galaxy Fold has some clear first-gen compromises. The outside display is only 4.6-inches, which is laughably small for a 2019 smartphone (sorry iPhone SE lovers). It opens to a 7.6-inch screen that has a giant notch on the right side for the cameras. And it looks like it’s thicker than two iPhones stacked on top of each other.

A few days after the Galaxy Fold’s introduction, Huawei took the wraps off its own folding phone concept and it’s quite different. It’s only 11mm thick, has a 6-inch outside screen, and opens to a full 8-inch tablet with no notch. The controls, buttons, and USB-C port are on a stationary bar that doubles as a sort of handle and acts as a locking mechanism for the screen when folded.

huawei mate x closedAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Mate X measures 11mm thick when closed, plenty thin enough to fit in your pocket.

I eventually got to handle a Mate X for a few minutes and I walked away impressed. While I would never consider spending upwards of $2,500 on a phone—even a cool new futuristic concept like this—I can see what Huawei was trying to do with the Mate X.

Rather than assemble a prototype that doesn’t consider usability or design like Royole with the FlexPai, it’s easy to see that Huawei has put serious effort into designing a folding phone that’s both unique and familiar. The outside screen is as big as a normal smartphone, all three displays have clear purposes, and pocketability and holdability have carefully been considered. I even like the outside fold better than I thought I would. There are issues—such as the low-tech push button that ejects the case when folded—but for the most part, the Mate X is a really good first-gen device.

But all the while time I thought, “What would Apple do?” While Huawei’s and Samsung’s first efforts are definitely better than, say, the crop of smartphones that were available when Apple launched the original iPhone, the Mate X and Galaxy Fold are definitely starting from a better place. But like the iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods, and just about everything else coming out of Cupertino, we’re not going to know how great a folding phone can be until Apple makes one.

The screen is not what it seams

The weirdest thing about folding screens is their texture. Since they’re not glass, they feel a little plasticky and cheap compared to the premium Gorilla Glass-encased phones. While I touching the screens, I was afraid that if I pushed too hard I’d dent it, and there was definite rippling at the hinge and a visible seam down the middle.

huawei mate x browserAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Mate X’s screen isn’t like any smartphone I’ve ever used.

Quality isn’t an issue that only plagues the Mate X. During the demo, a clear seam could be seen down the center of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and the Mate X also had a line that you could see at certain angles. It’s a visual flaw that will be tough to unsee, and I have to assume it will only get worse over time.

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