The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) conference in Barcelona has just wrapped up, and this year all the headlines were about folding phones. Samsung launched the butterfly-like Galaxy Fold, Huawei launched the outward-folding Mate X and lots of other brands made a splash with their take on the folding trend. Except one.
Admittedly, it's hardly a big player in the smartphone world, but Energizer – yes, of the bunnies and batteries – shows off interesting handset designs every year, and every year we focus on the wrong ones.
This time, the brand exhibited a series of smartphones with, as you might expect, humongous battery packs. But Energizer also showed off a folding phone of its own, and it almost entirely flew under the radar despite being easily one of the most interesting devices of the conference.
Energizer stole its own thunder
One big reason Energizer's folding phone didn't grab the limelight is that the same brand also makes a really gimmicky "how-big-a-battery-can-we-fit-in-a-phone" handset every year, and 2019's design was so completely ridiculous that the tech media couldn't help reporting on it, with its other more realistic phones relegated to footnotes. In other words, Energizer stole its own thunder.
Undoubtedly, the P18K Pop, as the mega-battery phone is called, is very talkable. It has an 18,000 mAh battery (a standard top-end handset has somewhere in the region of 3000 mAh), a selfie camera that pops out of the top (making the phone pleasingly battery-like in appearance – good branding), and promises to play videos non-stop for two entire days before running out of juice. All that power comes at a cost, of course, which in this case is that the phone is over an inch thick and presumably takes lifetimes to recharge.
However, Energizer's folding phone also has an impressive battery, 10,000 mAh, and does not suffer from the appearance of a house brick. It also has some very tempting specs, an intriguing design, and – crucially – a shot at being something people would actually buy.
Like the P18K Pop, Energizer's foldable has an instantly forgettable name: the Power Max P8100S. But that's the only unremarkable thing about it.
First off, it's 5G capable. For the uninitiated, that's pretty much what it sounds like: the next step up from 4G, which promises to give us blistering better-than-WiFi speeds everywhere, all the time. Since no carriers have 5G services widely available yet, most phone companies have only made prototype 5G devices, but here's one combined with the other big trend of 2019: folding.
Like the Galaxy Fold, the P8100S has two screens. Some folding designs like Huawei's consist of one giant screen that folds outwards to become the smaller screen, while this and the Fold use a separate, smaller screen on the outside, then open like a book into a tablet.
I'm not exaggerating when I say that's better than many people's laptops
With Energizer's design, both screens are surprisingly big. On the outside, you get a six-inch display, which is the size of many people's current phones. By contrast, the outer screen on the Samsung Galaxy Fold is only 4.6 inches, like a smartphone from years past, and with the giant bezels too.
On the inside, the P8100S again trumps the Galaxy Fold with an enormous 8.1-inch flexible screen – that's approaching tablet dimensions. It has a 4:3 aspect ratio, like an old-style TV screen (before they started turning into letterboxes) and a resolution of FHD+ (full HD plus – ie slightly better than full 1080 pixel HD). The outer screen is also FHD+.
On the inside, the specs are if anything, even more eyebrow-raising. The Power Max P8100S runs on the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 octa-core chipset with a massive 256GB of onboard storage and 8GB of RAM. I'm not exaggerating when I say that's better than many people's laptops, although it is bested by the Samsung Galaxy Fold's ridiculous 512GB of storage (half a terabyte!) and 12GB RAM. Phones these days are insane.
Like Samsung and Huawei, Energizer's foldable has a strong focus on camera performance, with dual 48MP and 12MP rear cameras as well as a 24MP front-facing, which should give anyone selfies worth sharing. The phone is dual-SIM, so you can use it for work and pleasure at the same time, takes a microSD card for even more storage, and has that epic 10K battery – likely more than three times bigger than your current phone.
On top of that (yes, there's more, and no, I'm not being paid by Energizer), the phone offers a lifetime warranty, which allays some of the fears raised about how expensive it's going to be to repair or replace the new breed of foldable phones.
If this phone is so impressive, why wasn't it the talk of the show?
But where the Power Max P8100S really boggles the mind is its price tag: it's set for a late 2019 launch, priced at €899. Both Samsung and Huawei's headline-stealing foldables are pushing two grand.
OK, but if this phone is so impressive, why wasn't it the talk of the show?
Well, for starters, Energizer isn't taken seriously as a phone manufacturer. Like Nokia, Alcatel and BlackBerry, the brand is licensed to a third-party manufacturer (Paris-based Avenir Telecom in this case), and unlike two of those three brands, has never had a popular phone on the global stage (sorry, Alcatel, but it's true).
There's also the issue of launching at MWC, where the tech press sees a bajillion phone concepts, many of which never come to market. Though a date and price was announced, which is unusual for concept phones that aren't intended to be manufactured, it can be hard to get excited about the 500th phone you've seen that day. Especially when it's from a gimmicky brand and could be seen as just trying to jump on the foldable bandwagon.
And then there's the brick phone next to it on Energizer's stand. Guaranteed clicks, plus the ability to write meme-y articles about MWC's "thicc AF" "chonky boi" smartphone.
Finally, there's the issue that no one's had any hands-on time with the phone. It didn't get a sparkly launch like the big brand phones, where we got to see exactly how it folds and unfolds, and how the software deals with this shapeshifting.
Most of the other foldables at MWC were also kept under glass because they're not ready yet, but they'll all get proper launches, and the brands made up for it with elaborate stage demonstrations and glossy videos.
Perhaps when you get the Power Max P8100S out of the cabinet, it's an ugly design, or a bad software experience. Perhaps it'll never even make it to market. But at a show full of bizarre designs and ambitious proofs-of-concept, this intriguing piece of hardware design deserved a lot more love. As for whether we'll get to buy one, we'll just have to wait for the future to unfold.