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Here's Why a $600 Samsung Clamshell Foldable Isn't Here Yet

The Samsung Z Flip 4 starts at $1,000, and the price will stay high until foldables become more mainstream.

The Samsung Z Flip 4 folded halfway with a purple background.
The Samsung Z Flip 4, the company's newest clamshell foldable.
Screenshot/CNET

At Samsung Unpacked earlier this month, the company revealed its new, cheaper foldable, the Galaxy Z Flip 4. Aside from a few durability improvements and a slimmer body that will likely make it one of the best foldables you can buy, it's largely similar to its predecessor and is still as pricey as a flagship iPhone 13 or Galaxy S22. Samsung hasn't dropped the price for several reasons, meaning we won't get a more affordable clamshell foldable this year -- and probably not for some time.

Foldables remain pricey because their hinges and folding displays make them more complex to produce than typical flat-bodied smartphones, said Jene Park, senior research analyst at Counterpoint Research. Because inflation has raised production costs for all devices, the lack of a price drop still results in a discount of sorts. "This price freeze is Samsung's effort to lower the price," Park said. 

While the $1,800 Z Fold 4 is intentionally expensive to preserve its exclusivity, the Z Flip 4 is a more affordable entry point to foldables and more popular with consumers: Samsung noted that its Z Flip series made up seven of every 10 foldables the company sold. At Unpacked, Samsung CEO T.M. Roh said he wanted foldables to become more mainstream, and it's clear that the Z Flip devices will be the gateway for curious consumers to buy and see if they're ready for a foldable. 

It's tough to sell consumers on clamshell foldables, though. Folding them up into the size of a makeup compact is charming, but they cost as much as a flagship phone and have more limited cameras and no extra display space, unlike book-style foldables. More consumers would likely try foldables if they were cheap enough to compete with the $600 midrange phones that people buy when they can't afford flagship devices. 

Foldable prices aren't likely to drop until the prices of components come down, and that won't happen until they're produced at scale. More consumers are buying foldables: Counterpoint's Park estimates 16 million will be shipped in 2022, up from 9 million last year. But even if that skyrocketed past expectations, the supply chain for foldable parts and displays might not be able to ramp up to meet that demand. That's partially why Apple hasn't rushed out its own foldable, said Technalysis Research analyst Bob O'Donnell.

"[Foldable] screens are hard to make in quantity, and if Apple were to do one, somebody would have to crank out, you know, a hundred million of these screens. They're just not ready to do that yet," O'Donnell said. 

There are some promising signs that the industry is working toward cheaper clamshell foldables, which have gotten more affordable since the $1,450 Motorola Razr debuted in 2019. TCL wouldn't even release its nearly finished Chicago Project clamshell foldable last September because it couldn't get the price down to a price point around $700. At the time, TCL said it would wait 12 to 18 months before trying to release its first foldable, which will be a revamped product -- and probably a more affordable one. 

Not a lot of phone makers are still in the foldables race, but if anyone's at the forefront, it's Samsung, which is now at its fourth generation of folding devices. Samsung is likely to be the first with a $600 foldable, Counterpoint's Park said, especially since the company had announced plans for a foldable phone in its midrange A-series lineup. He speculates it could launch in 2024 at the earliest. 

"Considering that the highest price of the A series is in the $600 range, it is expected to be the cheapest foldable product ever," Park said.