Samsung gets competition in foldables from a $1,720 phone from China

Oppo's Find N (above) sports a 7.1-inch inner display and an exterior 5.5-inch screen.

DONGGUAN (BLOOMBERG) - Oppo took the wraps off a foldable smartphone that is more than S$500 cheaper than Samsung Electronics's Galaxy Fold, launching its maiden attempt to stake out a spot in the nascent category.

The Oppo Find N sports a 7.1-inch inner display co-developed with its Korean rival and an exterior 5.5-inch screen. It will start at 7,999 yuan (S$1,720) in China from Dec 23, undercutting the S$2,398 Galaxy Z Fold 3 (Singapore price).

Like the latest iPhones, the inner display of the Find N has an adaptable refresh rate, speeding up when necessary and slowing with static images to preserve battery. Oppo says it has almost no crease in the inner fold, a big distinction from its pricier competitor.

Consumers have been slow to adopt foldable phones, one of the industry's biggest innovations of past years, in part because of high price tags and variable quality.

Apple has so far avoided the category while Samsung and Huawei Technologies have offered devices as far back as 2019. Lenovo Group's Motorola joined the race in 2020 with a foldable version of its classic Razr, but it too showed signs of being premature. Xiaomi launched its first offering earlier this year.

In 2021, Samsung scored robust sales with the more affordable S$1,398 Galaxy Z Flip 3, encouraging rivals and potentially heralding a wave of devices next year.

"Rival device makers appear hopeful they can build on Samsung's market-making efforts with its Z-Flip and Z-Fold models," said Mr Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight. "We'll see a slew of folding smartphones in 2022."

Price, durability and production capacity have been the key hurdles suppressing foldables demand, but Samsung's push below the S$1,400 mark has lowered the entry barrier.

Oppo said it custom-designed its hinges to avoid the sort of pitfalls Samsung encountered with its first-generation Fold, promising the Find N can withstand getting opened and closed more than 200,000 times.

Like Xiaomi and Vivo, Oppo is investing heavily to fill the void left by Huawei, which has all but retreated from the market after United States sanctions choked off its supply of American components vital to smartphone production. Oppo now ranks second in China and tied with Vivo for fourth globally among the most prolific smartphone makers, according to IDC data.

Its Find N is priced in line with premium smartphones and it compromises little in the way of specifications: it has the usual bevy of cameras, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, wireless charging, up to 512GB of storage and Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 chipset.

"Foldables will become a must-have for the premium tier," said Mr Anshel Sag, mobile analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "It will become a fairly common form factor as durability and costs improve."

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