This was supposed to be the summer of foldable phones. Roughly half a year ago, Samsung and Huawei—the world’s top two phone brands by market share—each announced a device with the cutting-edge tech, and if things had gone their way, both the Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X would already be in the hands of gadget enthusiasts right now.
But alas, things did not go their way. Samsung was forced to indefinitely delay the original May launch of the Galaxy Fold when multiple review units of the device began malfunctioning in the hands of journalists after less than three days of use.
Huawei’s Mate X, meanwhile, was supposed to go on sale in June, but the Chinese company also delayed the launch recently. Huawei told CNBC the decision was not due to the recent troubles with the U.S., but merely a precaution after seeing Samsung’s fiasco. “We don’t want to launch a product [that would] destroy our reputation,” a Huawei rep told CNBC.
Considering the indefinite delays, it’s fair to wonder if the tech behind a cutting-edge concept of a single screen that bends in half isn’t quite ready for wide use yet? Maybe right now, the best foldable option is still the conventional method of putting two screens side-by-side?
That’s what LG had in mind when it built the V50 Dual Screen. Technically speaking, it’s nowhere near as ambitious or advanced as the Galaxy Fold or Mate X, because it’s really just a phone attached to an accessory with another screen on it. But after testing a unit for the past week, I’m convinced it brings enough of the benefits that Samsung’s and Huawei’s devices were supposed to bring, just at a much lower price point and built from proven technology that won’t go haywire.
Let’s start with the LG V50 by itself. Launched just five months after the V40 hit the market, the V50 recycles most of the hardware components and form factor of the predecessor. Sure, the chipset has been upgraded to the Snapdragon 855; the phone can support 5G; and the camera module has been shoved underneath the glass for an almost entirely smooth back, but the triple camera set-up and overall look and feel is nearly identical to the LG V40. The sizable notch is also looking very dated, like something from an early 2018 phone. In another industry, a one-year-old design is probably fine; in the smartphone space, it feels dated.
If I were to review the V50 as a standalone device, it’d be hard to give it a great score, as it’s too similar to last year’s V40. But I think LG knows this. That’s why it made the second screen attachment.
Officially named LG Dual Screen, this plasticky accessory looks like one of those phone cases with a cover flap that protects the screen when not in use. To set-up the dual screen action is simple; just snap the V50 into the case and the pogo pins on the back of the V50 automatically connects with the pins on the case. From then on, a floating software button can be seen on the main phone, and one tap turns on the secondary screen that resides on the inside of the cover flap.
Here are some basic usage scenarios of the second screen. The device can run two apps side-by-side, including two instances of the same app. This came in very handy a few days ago when I needed to review a document that had been edited and condensed by someone else. I had the original copy on one screen and the new version on the other, which made reviewing a lot easier. It’s also enjoyable to be able to have a YouTube video playing on one screen, while I’m browsing through Twitter on the other. The 4,000 mAh battery inside the phone powers both screens, so battery life does take a hit. On average, if the V50 is used with the second screen regularly, do not expect the phone to last all day on one charge.
The second screen can also double as a virtual gamepad, which significantly improves the gaming experience of certain genres (fighting games and side-scrollers benefit the most). In other genres, such as first-person shooters, I found the virtual gamepad to be unable to recreate the precision of a real controller. Plus not having shoulder buttons make aiming and shooting difficult, even on a virtual joypad.
The entire V50 Dual Screen package does make the phone a bit thicker and heavier, but not too much so. It can still fit in my pocket with ease, and when stacked with an iPhone XS Max with a case on, the thickness of LG’s device doesn’t look too out of proportion.
Since the V50 Dual Screen is just two screens attached together running side by side instead of one large screen that bends like Samsung’s and Huawei’s, the V50 Dual Screen can’t become one larger, tablet-sized screen the way the other two phones can. That is the one shortcoming that still leaves me craving to test the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X, because the idea of being able to watch videos on a tablet-sized screen on a device that can otherwise fit in my pocket sounds very appealing.
Still, given the high prices of the the “true” foldables–the Samsung Galaxy Fold has a planned price tag of $2,000 and Huawei’s Mate X will likely sell for $2,500, then the LG V50 Dual Screen, whose whole set costs roughly half as much depending on the region, is not only the more affordable alternative, but perhaps the more durable one, too.