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How cheap should a foldable product be?

How cheap should a foldable product be?

Foldable devices are becoming more widely available as the technology improves, and with that comes an inevitable wave of more affordable devices. The Blackview Hero 10 was announced earlier this year as one of the first of a wave of cheaper foldable devices, and I think it answers an important question about foldables.

The Blackview Hero 10 is a foldable flip phone, much like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip and the Motorola Razr. It’s a great form factor, and from a hardware perspective the Hero 10 is pretty solid. The metal frame feels strong and the hinge doesn’t have a lot of play from side to side, which I’ve noticed is pretty common on cheaper foldable phones. The textured casing is also very grippy, and the Hero 10 actually feels great to hold in your hand and despite a case being included in the box, I didn’t find I really needed it.

But things start to hurt immediately when you actually fold and unfold this device. The hinge is a disaster, to say the least. It’s way too tight, making it nearly impossible to open and close the Hero 10 one-handed (though at least it can hold its position). When you open it quickly, the hinge sounds almost like grinding metal, and even when you go slowly, it makes a rather squeaky sound. That’s something I’ve never noticed before on a foldable device.

That contributes to my biggest concern, which is how this foldable phone will hold up over time. If the hinge sounds like this now, I’m really worried about how it’ll hold up after even a few months of daily use. Foldable phones, as far as they’ve come, are also still more prone to breakage than a traditional smartphone. And even with this one being so much cheaper than the rest, I’m worried about what the warranty and repair options will look like for the devices that inevitably break unexpectedly.

That said, I’m fairly happy with the overall fit and finish of the hardware. Once opened, the display is vibrant and surprisingly bright. The creases in the display are also fairly minimal, about on par with something like the Motorola Razr. The coating on the display is also quite sturdy and feels like you’re using it like traditional glass.

The biggest gripe I had with the display was simply that it’s a 60Hz panel. While I’m not against opting for 60Hz as a cost-saving measure, I don’t think it was necessary at this price point – more on that later.

What about the software?

Out of the box, the Blackview Hero 10 runs Android 13 with the company’s “DokeOS” skin overlaid on it. That skin is reasonably light, but also a little clunky. Elements like the Quick Settings feel oddly bare, the status bar is unnecessarily filled (from the left side) with Bluetooth and vibration icons, animations are often choppy in places where Blackview has made changes, and there are some rough English translations scattered throughout. Blackview promises three years of Android updates, but I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for frequent security patches or timely major updates.

The software experience as a whole is just rough and unpolished. It’s perfectly usable, but that’s about it. I will say that part of the unfinished experience can probably be attributed to the mediocre performance. While the Hero 10 has 12GB of RAM (and the ability to triple that using parts of the 256GB of storage), the MediaTek Helio G99 chip just can’t keep up with more than the bare basics.

As for battery life, it’s respectable for a flip phone. The 4,000mAh battery lives up to expectations, but it’s no endurance champion. It’s an all-day device as you’ll get around 3-4 hours of screen-on time. Charging is fast at up to 45W, but I did find that standby time isn’t great as I often saw a big drop in battery when leaving it off the charger overnight.

Then there are the cameras. The main camera is a 108MP sensor, supported by an 8MP ultra-wide angle. And it’s… fine. In good lighting, the camera can take a sharp and pleasing photo. In low light, it can quickly get bogged down by movement, but that’s acceptable. The bigger issue, I think, is the processing, as the photos just feel like they don’t have much character. The autofocus isn’t very reliable either. The inner selfie camera is the same 32MP sensor used on the so much phones lately. It’s perfectly acceptable, but nothing to write home about. I do have to note one thing: a software bug where photos wouldn’t save properly if I quit the camera app too quickly. It didn’t happen every time, but it was enough to cause me to lose a few photos while using the device. Hopefully that gets patched soon.

What is missing?

Oh, we still have to talk about the outer display.

On the outside of the Hero 10 is a small display next to the cameras. I’ve neglected to mention it until now, to be honest, because I’ve practically never used it. The small display can show the time, and has widgets for the weather, media playback, and camera (as well as a fitness tile, which I disabled). These all work fine, but the functionality on the outer display is incredibly limited. More importantly, the small size makes using this display for notifications an absolute no-go. Blackview has increased the density of information on the outer display, but it just makes reading more than a few words cumbersome and frustrating.

At its core, I think the Blackview Hero 10 is trying to do something right. It’s trying to be a super cheap foldable by cutting corners where, let’s be honest, cut corners can be made, at least for the right customer. But I think this is approaching, and to some extent, pushing, the boundaries of how cheap a foldable can be these days. The concerning hinge alone gives me pause.

Even if you look purely at value, the Hero 10 seems questionable at best. I think there are better options out there, like the Motorola Razr. The Razr is more powerful, has a better track record of support (both hardware and software), and has a more functional device coming out in 2024, including a full-size cover display. That device, which we got our hands on in June, costs $699. That’s the same price Blackview wants for the Hero 10. That comes with the caveat that Blackview has near-permanent sales. At the time of writing this review, the Hero 10 has a $120 off Amazon coupon, bringing the price down to $580. That’s a much better deal, but honestly I’d still go for the Razr, which has easily been found for $499 in recent months.

If the Blackview Hero 10 were always $499, I’d say it’s a fair price. Its flaws wouldn’t be as noticeable. But when you’re paying the same price as something as polished as the Motorola Razr, the bar is high to reach. The Hero 10 just doesn’t meet that bar.

But even then, I’m not sure a $499 foldable should even exist. Foldables still aren’t perfect. They’re still a little too unpredictably fragile and a little too hard to repair. I’m just not sure we’ll be ready for a foldable that cheap in 2024. Like it or not, this device helps usher in a new wave of foldables that are far cheaper than they’ve ever been, and I’m certainly excited to see where that goes.

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