Patents filed by Chinese phone manufacturer ZTE show the company is testing designs for a foldable phone, which it could bring to markets in the near future.
Filed on March 5 and discovered by Letsgodigital, the patents show a foldable clamshell design, in which the phone folds in half horizontally like a flip-phone, with the display inside the shell when folded. As the top and bottom part of the screen are different sizes there’s a prominent lip when folded, where part of the lower screen is still visible.
We can make out a lot about the device from the sketches, as they all seem to be of the same device – it has a USB-C port, power button and volume rocker on the left of the device, and no side or rear-mounted fingerprint sensor – so either it has an in-screen scanner, or it doesn’t use fingerprint ID.
The camera setup suggested by the images appears confusing – when folded, the phone has a dual-lens camera on each side, but when unfolded both these setups face the same way, and there’s no indication of a front-facing selfie-cam in this state.
As these cameras would presumably be pointing at slightly different angles when the device is unfolded, we’d be surprised to see them on the final device, and it could be that ZTE is just testing where they’d fit best – images in patents tend to be very early-stage renderings, so the camera setup could change substantially before we see a working device.
This isn’t the first time ZTE has experimented with foldable phones, as the ZTE Axon M was technically two phones you could fold into a tablet, but it didn’t have a flexible screen of the kind expected on the latest foldables like the Samsung Galaxy Fold or Huawei Mate X.
The most interesting part of the patent is the use of a clamshell design – while all the foldables announced so far have opened from smartphones to tablets, clamshells fold down to roughly half their opened size. Samsung, Apple and Motorola are all reportedly working on clamshell foldables, so we’d expect to see one or more of these hit the market in the near future.