do foldable smartphones have less battery than others?

Do foldable models with larger screens than conventional smartphones suffer from reduced battery life compared to traditional models?

Le Point Tech is your new monthly meeting Pathfinder. Accompanied by an expert from the lab, each month we’ll explore a challenging topic related to smartphones, computers, and even connected speakers to help you better understand the technology.

For this first look, we chose to focus on foldable smartphones. Does their large screen diagonal and hybrid design affect the overall durability of these products?

A point about foldable smartphones today

Today, the foldable smartphone market is largely monopolized by Samsung, and since 2020 it has been working on perfecting a formula that works for it. But we know very well that this market is developing rapidly, the competition is gradually organized and follows it.

Several brands have yet released a model in France. With the exception of Huawei, which is a bit of a special case because of the very delicate situation the company finds itself in, no one has yet dared to take this step other than Microsoft and its funky Surface Duo. On the other hand, very attractive models such as Oppo Find N or Xiaomi Mi Mix Fold are already available in China.

In 2023, other manufacturers should finally launch their foldable smartphones in France. Here is the Honor Magic Vs.©Pierre Crochart / L’Éclaireur Fnac

And 2023 should shake things up a bit. A few weeks ago, Pathfinder We were especially invited to discover the Honor Magic Vs, the second foldable smartphone from the manufacturer, which will arrive in France. We’re also looking forward to the Google Pixel Fold, which should be out of the box this year as well.

Anyway, today the market is divided into two types of devices:

  • hybrid folding smartphones with a narrow display on the front and a large internal display revealed by opening the device;
  • only clamshell smartphones with a screen that can be folded in on itself to take up less space.

The autonomy of folding smartphones was investigated

The laboratory has already provided us with data that allows us to be confident: in most cases, the difference in autonomy between a folded smartphone and an unfolded smartphone is not significant – but it certainly exists.

As a bigger screen requires more power to power it, it’s only natural that the stamina drops when using the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4’s 7.6” internal screen. However, according to measurements carried out by the Lab (which uses an internal protocol aimed at simulating real-world phone usage with a screen brightness between 180 and 220 cd/m)2), in the case of Samsung’s latest flagship, the difference would be only 48 minutes. With the screen on, its autonomy reaches 10:42, and when closed, it reaches 11:30, and only the 6.7-inch front screen is activated.

Foldable smartphone screen sizes
Different screen sizes of foldable smartphones tested by Lab.©Lab Fnac

Delta is more important in Galaxy Z Fold 3. From 9:06 am to 10:50 am we go using only the front slab. The difference should be attributed to a more energy-efficient chip (Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1), as well as a more optimized software overlay than a year ago.

Microsoft, for its part, is once a very weak student in terms of autonomy. Folded or unfolded, the Surface Duo 2 was singled out by the Lab for poor service life: open, it lasted just 3:10. Off, he gains 2h21 to place himself at 5h31.

Finally, our initial impressions about folding “shell” smartphones are confirmed. In their case, there’s really no argument, as it’s nothing more and nothing less than a traditional smartphone that folds up to take up less space. So the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 was on at 9:52 AM and off at 10:30 AM against the lab protocol (the protocol was then running in the background).

Autonomous folding smartphones
Differences in autonomy between open and closed folding smartphones.©Lab Fnac

As we can see, the difference in autonomy depending on whether the foldable smartphone is used outdoors or not has a rather small effect on the overall endurance of the mobile. This is due to several factors: the pixel density of the screen, its refresh rate (often dynamic), the thermal envelope of the processor and, of course, the optimization of the program.

Therefore, we can wonder if a folding smartphone has less overall autonomy than a traditional model. Unfortunately, it is difficult to make a coherent comparison that is not tantamount to comparing cabbage to carrots. However, we can try to follow the exercise on several fairly similar references.

Take the Xiaomi 12T Pro for example. Priced at €799, it has the same processor as the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 (Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1), a 6.7-inch 446 dpi AMOLED display at 120 Hz, and a built-in battery. 5000mAh. The specs aren’t quite the same as Samsung’s flagship foldable smartphone, but it’s still pretty close.

Putting the Lab tests of these two products side-by-side, we see that the Xiaomi smartphone claims about four hours of extra battery life.

Labo Fnac comparison
It’s undeniable, the Xiaomi 12T Pro has better battery life than Samsung’s foldable smartphones.©Lab Fnac

It is also interesting to do the same test with the last “classic” smartphone of the South Korean manufacturer, Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra. According to laboratory measurements, the last protocol was only 10:56 resistant. Not enough to nail a folding smartphone to a pole! Especially since the Fold 4 has a smaller battery capacity and a 7.6-inch screen compared to the 6.8-inch for the S22 Ultra.

What should we conclude from this?

Finally, the simple reasoning to say that a smartphone with multiple screens necessarily has less autonomy is wrong. Many parameters come into play to draw such a hasty conclusion. Admittedly, in the above cases, Samsung’s folding models have less autonomy than conventional smartphones, but not to such an extent that the potential interest for these devices can be questioned.

It’s also worth noting that Samsung doesn’t have the best history on the market in terms of autonomy in its high-end smartphones. It will be interesting to update this article once other references to the French market arrive.

Meanwhile, to sum up: no, folding smartphones do not have less autonomy than Samsung’s other high-end smartphones. This is perhaps a small subtlety that should be considered when buying.

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