At every technology trade show I’ve been to, there’s usually a standout innovation that takes the spotlight. For IFA 2022, it was undeniably foldable (or bendable) screens.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen manufacturers flaunt their bendy screens at a tradeshow. Lenovo launched the first iteration of its foldable PC – the ThinkPad X1 Fold – as far back as 2020.
But this is the first tradeshow where I’ve seen the technology adopted by numerous manufacturers, and within polished products rather than just a proof-of-concept prototype.
Asus kicked it off with the launch of the ZenBook 17 OLED Fold, which is a portable PC with a bendy screen that allows you to switch between tablet and laptop mode via a simple flick of the wrist. Lenovo also launched the second iteration of the ThinkPad X1 Fold, which has benefited from numerous upgrades compared to its predecessor.
And then we have the LG OLED Flex, which is a gaming TV with a bendy screen. Curved displays have been around for years now, but this is one of the very first televisions that can switch between a curved and flatscreen design. With a motor built into the stand, you can change the TV to one of 20 positions by just prodding a button on the remote.
Despite the launch of numerous bendy devices, I still sense a lot of scepticism about whether this is an innovation that’s here to stay or just a gimmick that will disappear within a couple of years. That’s understandable, as there are numerous examples of exciting technology trends that amounted to nothing.
We’ve seen 3D TVs flop, Google Glass scrapped, and crypto crash. The Metaverse looks like another technology concept destined for the scrap heap. With so many failed launches, there’s no wonder why people have doubts about foldable screens.
But with so many leading brands taking a leap of faith with foldable screens during IFA 2022, I’m starting to become more hopeful that this technology isn’t just a flash in the pan.
Importantly, I can see a practical use for the technology, beyond it simply looking cool. I recently reviewed the Asus ZenBook 17 Fold, and was impressed by its versatility. It was small enough to easily slip into a bag, while the huge 17-inch screen (when folded flat and propped up by the kickstand) provided me plenty of screen space to both boost my productivity and provide a more cinematic experience for Netflix.
There have been numerous attempts to create 2-in-1 laptops (using a 360-degree hinge or a detachable keyboard), but this was the first instance where I felt I had an uncompromised experience using the device as both a laptop and tablet.
I was also impressed with the LG OLED Flex when seeing it in person, and I can definitely see the merit in being able to switch between flat screen and curved forms. LG claims a flatscreen is best used for FPS games, making it easier to quickly spot an enemy for a swift dispatch. But a curved screen offers a greater level of immersion, which is ideal for blockbuster adventure games or racers.
The LG OLED Flex also allows for up to 20 different curved positions, so you can find the perfect position for your setup. Previous curved monitors would be stuck at one curvature, so it’s nice to have the flexibility with the Flex OLED.
Are bendy screens ready to flood the market? Not quite. There are still a few growing pains for the technology, with Asus admitting its foldable laptop screen is more prone to scratches than its flat panels. Foldable screens can also suffer ugly crease marks, which isn’t ideal for a device that costs so much money.
Speaking of money, that’s the biggest obstacle that foldable screens are facing right now. The Asus ZenBook 17 OLED Fold costs an astronomical £3299.99, which is double the price of laptops with otherwise similar specs.
LG has also been tight lipped about the price of the Flex OLED TV so far, which makes me worry that it’s going to have an extremely high price. This issue is largely out of the manufacturers’ hands, as bendable screens are so new and rare that it’s harder to produce them at a mass scale to make them more cost effective.
The cost will inevitably take a tumble a few years from now, but those who want to get their hands on the technology as soon as possible are going to have to pay an eye-watering fee.
Despite those limitations, I’m still confident that foldable screens aren’t just a fad. I’m very impressed with the first wave of products, and I believe there’s enough useful functionality here for them to remain popular in years to come.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focussed opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.