Aside from the new iPhones and Google Nexus handsets, 2016's releases are pretty much wrapped up, meaning we're now looking to 2017 for all the juicy rumours and gossip of what's to come in the new year. Next year promises to be quite a BIG year in many ways; tech firms will no doubt build on the momentum of VR as an emerging medium, with new hardware and games; Apple is poised to completely revamp the iPhone line in Q4 with an all-glass build and the implementation of AMOLED displays; and, the subject of this article, the Samsung Galaxy X, will emerge as the first phone with a truly, fully flexible and folding Super AMOLED display packed in a unique form factor.
All of these things will change the face of the market, but while VR will forge its own path tangentially from the mobile industry, the introduction of genuinely folding displays will utterly change the smartphone and tablet space. Amongst other things, expect the two form factors to merge; tablets as we know them will probably disappear in favour of phones which unfold into tablets as a secondary function.
But I digress, that stuff is for later. What we'll be greeted with during the first half of 2017 via the Samsung Galaxy X is apparently very much designed as a smartphone and a smartphone alone, if the rumours are true. Below is a break-down of what I expect to see aboard the Galaxy X based on the rumours so far, meshed together with my own knowledge and observations of Samsung's habits for its existing products, and industry trends. I'll also probably throw in a few tentative theories and hopeful ideas of specs and features.
Samsung Galaxy X Design & Display: Clamshell Flip-Phone
So far the rumours we've seen have repeatedly stated that the Galaxy X will feature a folding flexible Super AMOLED display; this will allow the handset to be a full-size smartphone, which can then be folded up into a more compact form factor. Essentially, what this sounds like, and what a few Samsung design patents would also suggest, is a return to the 90's flip-phone clam-shell design but with a folding touch display. And rest assured, this won't be a step backwards; the classic flip-phones had small, low-resolution, non-touch displays embedded in one half, attached via a hinge to a traditional dial-pad on the other half. This isn't so for the Galaxy X, from what we can gather, it will feature a single continuous touchscreen across the two segments of the phone - the display will fold in the middle via a unique hinge mechanism, and this will not impact the display's structural integrity, image quality, or touch capability. It will also be a decent quality Super AMOLED panel - Samsung's speciality as king of displays right now.
What about the specifics of the resolution though? Well there are a few possible options; firstly, Samsung has demonstrated working prototypes of its flexible, folding Super AMOLED panels running at Full HD 1080p, so we can take that as a bare minimum baseline (again, this is already way above old flip-phones). At the other end of the spectrum, there have been rumours that the Galaxy X would feature a 4K display panel - it wouldn't be the first 4K phone on the market, but this is a very high resolution seen only in a few recent flagships and it may sap battery life more than Samsung and its customers would like. A middle ground would be adopting the same resolution as the current Galaxy S7 flagships with a QHD 2560 x 1440 pixel setup, which would be more than adequate for nicely sharp visuals.
Back on the design front, we've not heard any further rumours of how the Galaxy X might look, but I broadly expect a similar metal-frame design language as the current Galaxy S7 series as Samsung will likely want to ensure it is cohesive with the rest of the portfolio. Samsung has also now proven that its customers enjoy the premium build aesthetic and feel. Other things are completely open to speculation - so let's speculate!
We've seen multiple phone-makers including Samsung incorporate Always-On display elements in recent devices, an acknowledgement that users like to be able to glance at their sleeping handset and still see basic info like the time and date at a minimum. Naturally it would be possible to integrate this into the folding Super AMOLED display when open, with the user perhaps being able to prop the phone in its "open" position on the nightstand like an alarm clock. Alternatively, a small, low-power display panel mounted on the back panel might be able to convey basic info in sleep mode when the handset is closed.
We've also seen Samsung reintroduce IP-rated water and dust proofing to the metal and glass build of the Galaxy S7 series, so again, clearly it has acknowledged that this is something its customers would rather have. Could this be incorporated into the Galaxy X's folding form factor? We've seen no evidence on this front, but theoretically I see no reason why it could not. The only likely spanner in the works might be the hinge mechanism if it cannot be made waterproof, but seeing as the Galaxy S7 had wide-open ports with waterproof nano-coatings on the internal components we can see there are possible workarounds.
Samsung Galaxy X Hardware: CPU, RAM, Battery
What kind of processor hardware the Galaxy X will be packing will depend, at least to some extent, on when during the year it is launched. It's thought that Samsung will, as per its usual habits, launch new flagships in the days ahead of MWC 2017 in late February/early March, including the Samsung Galaxy S8, but it isn't clear if the Galaxy X will be amongst these devices or if it will be saved for later. If it does arrive circa MWC then expecting it to have next-gen processor technology might be a bit of a stretch, as info is only just starting to creep out NOW regarding the Qualcomm Snapdragon 830 and Exynos 8995 next-gen processors, meaning they're nowhere near production ready, and any device hitting the market around March would already need to be gearing up for production by around Christmas at the very latest.
My expectation, admittedly based on nothing but a hunch, is that Samsung will save the Galaxy X for later in the year and it will come with the aforementioned next-gen processors, which according to recent leaks and reports are shaping up to be fairly comparable in terms of power and capabilities. However, we don't yet know the full extent of those capabilities - new processors are adding funky little tweaks and features every generation; better support for higher capacity memory, faster LTE modems, and more advanced camera tech, to name but a few possible enhancements. We can also safely expect 4GB of RAM at a minimum based on current trends, but with Samsung launching a 6GB RAM Galaxy Note 7 (only in China, mind you) there is scope for a 6GB RAM Galaxy X too.
My one major concern on the Galaxy X and its adventurous new form factor is the battery issue; it goes without saying that when handsets are made thinner, more compact, or forced to adapt their shape and size in some way for new technology and features, that the space for a battery can be reduced, and a smaller battery means less juice! Samsung's now much better than it was at squeezing more efficient battery life out of its handsets these days, but still, it'd be nice to think a decent sized cell will be fitted in this new model. Can we be optimistic and say the same 3,000mAh cell from the Galaxy S7? Let's hope so.
Lastly on the subject of hardware, I think it's pretty likely Samsung will include at least the same fingerprint scanner as the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy Note 7, but will it include the Galaxy Note 7's iris scanner? Well, it's quite a small sensor in the front panel of the device, so...maybe.
Samsung Galaxy X Camera
As mentioned in the hardware section, the camera capabilities do, to an extent, depend upon what clever jiggery-pokery the processor SoC is capable of; things like 4K video, for example. So, it remains to be seen what the next-gen chips are capable of. Frankly, Samsung doesn't have to do too much to impress me considering that if it implements the very same 12MP, f/1.7, 1/2.5" size sensor and other bits, and bobs from the Galaxy S7 such as the OIS module, it will already be onto a winner. Over-engineering what is already a brilliant camera setup would be the wrong route to take in my view.