The Samsung Galaxy Fold Is A Flawed Start To Something Amazing

Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo

In a lot of ways, doing a traditional review of the Samsung Galaxy Fold is pointless. Anyone who buys one isn’t doing so because it’s a good value or a sound purchasing decision. It’s not. They’re buying one because it’s new, innovative, and exciting.

Besides, pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold have already sold out in the U.S, so even if you want one, it’s probably too late. And yet, for a product with many flaws, even in its current state, the Galaxy Fold presents a vision that makes a ton of sense, and it’s one of only a handful of gadgets that you can call a game changer and mean it.

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The Galaxy Fold by the numbers

The Fold is truly an outrageous gadget. Weighing in at 263.65g and measuring just over 17 millimetres thick, the Galaxy Fold is almost twice as heavy and more than double the thickness of a standard Galaxy S10.

Galaxy Fold

WHAT IS IT?

A dual-screen phone with a hinge and a large, folding display

PRICE

$2,813

LIKE

Making a device with a 7.3-inch screen that still fits in a pocket, ludicrously good battery life, blazing performance, tons of storage

Sure, it might fit in your pocket, but you’re never going to forget it’s there, and if your pants are loose or you forgot to wear a belt, you’re going to be at risk of randomly dropping trou throughout the day. You can’t stash the Fold in a breast pocket either without looking like you’re trying to smuggle a bar of gold out of Fort Knox.

But the real sticking point for most people is Fold’s $US2,000 ($2,842) price tag. For the same money, you could almost buy four OnePlus 6Ts, a phone that can generally do the same stuff the Galaxy Fold can. Or you could buy everyone in a family of five plus weird Uncle Jerry their own Nintendo Switch, and still have some cash left over.

On the flip side, the Galaxy Fold is a spec monster boasting six cameras, 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and two displays: a 4.6-inch “cover screen” on the outside, and a flexible 7.3-inch screen on the inside. Compare that to an iPhone XS Max which has a screen that tops out at just 6.5-inches and costs $US1,450 ($2,060) when kitted out with the same 512GB of storage. Suddenly, the Galaxy Fold’s price doesn’t seem quite as preposterous. And that’s before you consider the Fold comes with a pair of Galaxy Buds and a Kevlar-like case included.

Then there’s the Fold’s 4,380 mAh battery that delivers incredible longevity on a charge: Using its big folding screen, on our video rundown test, the Galaxy Fold lasted 17 hours and 6 minutes, which is the longest runtime we’ve ever seen on a phone.

There’s no getting around the fact that the Fold is just a big-honkin’ phone. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)


What’s the point of that big ‘ole screen?

Aside from all the trouble people have wrapping their heads around Galaxy Fold’s price, the other main question I get about the Galaxy Fold is: What the hell are you supposed to do with a screen that big? It’s a fair question, especially considering apps like Twitter, Instagram, and others don’t function any differently on the Fold than they do on other phones. Things just look bigger, similar to what you’d get if you were using a tablet. Phrased like that, the screen’s an underwhelming gimmick.

The Fold makes me question if I need a Kindle anymore. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

But if you’ll allow me to generalise for a bit, you know who loves tablets? Grandparents. For them, the bigger screen makes it easier to tap icons and read text, while the ability to fold the thing in half means you can take the Fold places a tablet might not usually go. Forget that abstraction, though, because that’s not what I love about the Galaxy Fold. To me, the Fold’s big, bendy screen means it can consolidate multiple devices into a single gadget. It’s tech simplification at its finest.

The Galaxy Fold’s display is perfect for reading comics. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

Instead of using a tablet to read comic books, the Galaxy Fold delivers an experience that’s just as good or maybe better. Same goes for ebooks. By installing the Kindle app and setting the background colour to black, I can turn the Fold into a high-quality reading device. That’s two entire devices I no longer have to worry about again. How’s that for savings?

That big screen is useful for everyday stuff too, whether it’s watching videos on the train, looking for nearby attractions in Google Maps, or playing mobile games like PUBG or Auto Chess. With that much real estate, getting a wider view of all your units is more engaging, and hitting headshots is legitimately easier too. And if you like watching stuff while you work out, the Galaxy Fold’s screen is nearly as big and a lot damn sharper than any screen built into an exercise machine not made by Peloton.

The Galaxy Fold’s main display is better than almost anything you’ll find at a gym. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

When you put all of these functions together and then add the ability to multitask by having three or more apps all open at once, while other handsets have tried in the past, the Galaxy Fold feels like the first real phone for power users.


A combination of high tech and nifty software

The way the Fold goes about all of this is also pretty slick. Using what Samsung calls App Continuity, the Fold can switch seamlessly between apps on the cover screen and apps on the inside display. Just flick the Fold open, and that’s it. Not every single app works perfectly, but Samsung has worked with Google to make sure all the first-party Samsung apps and essential Google apps work as expected.

And despite full support for flexible screens built into Android (which isn’t scheduled to arrive until Android Q), even less popular apps usually don’t run into problems.

There’s probably a solution coming, but right now, there’s no way to prevent the notch from eating a tiny section of videos in the YouTube app. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

One of the few exceptions to this is YouTube. Instead of being able to crop in to fill the screen or stick with the video’s native aspect ratio, YouTube videos almost always default to 16:9. In landscape, this leaves letterboxes at the top and bottom, which are fine, but not ideal. The bigger problem is that no matter which way you hold it, there will always be a cutout for the Galaxy Fold’s cameras. What makes this even stranger, is that this doesn’t happen in YouTube TV or other video players.

Six cameras might be too much

Speaking of cameras, the Galaxy Fold’s six shooters are probably a bit much. I know why Samsung does it, as the cameras on the front and inside are mostly reserved for taking selfies and face unlock. But at the same time, I would be totally happy if there weren’t any cameras on the inside of the Fold at all—though with the sheer number of selfies people take nowadays, that’s probably not going to happen. At the very least, positioning the two inside cameras vertically (in portrait mode) instead of horizontally would let Samsung hide the cameras inside the letterboxed portion of the screen.

As for the Fold’s triple rear cameras, they appear to be the same sensors and optics you get on a standard S10. There’s a 12-MP primary lens, a 12-MP 2x telephoto lens, and a 16-MP ultra-wide angle lens. There are no real surprises here. All of them are quite sharp, but in a pure image quality face-off, Samsung’s cameras are still often edged out by what you can get from a Pixel 3. However, since the Fold has two extra lenses that the Pixel 3 can’t match, the comparison is basically even.


A bent beginning

By almost any metric, the Galaxy Fold’s early days have been troubled. Samsung should have told reviewers not to peel off the Fold’s polymer layer. The Galaxy Fold box reviewers received is different from standard retail packaging, which contains explicit instructions not to go digging your fingernails into the Fold’s delicate gadgetry.

If you do get a Galaxy Fold, please don’t peel away its polymer film. It’s more than just a simple screen protector. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

Regardless, you can’t go back in time, so those stumbles are things Samsung has to live with. To Samsung’s credit, the company recently issued a statement saying it’s delaying the Galaxy Fold’s launch to address early concerns about the phone’s durability.


More pressing issues

The first thing most people point out about the Galaxy Fold is its crease. You can see it, you can feel it, and it can be distracting, but after using the Fold almost non-stop for a week, the crease is really just the Fold’s fourth or fifth biggest problem.

The crease is obvious but usually disappears when the Fold is viewed head-on. It’s not as big a deal as it initially appears. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

To me, the Fold’s greatest shortcoming is the size of its 4.6-inch cover screen. It’s just too small. It’s fine for quickly scrolling through texts or emails, but the second you start typing a reply, the frustration begins. Due to the cover screen’s extra tall aspect ratio, there’s not much room for a keyboard, which makes things feel exceedingly cramped.

The cover screen is just too small, especially if you’re trying to type on it. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

Furthermore, when you think back on how much work Samsung has done to eliminate bezels on previous Galaxy phones, the cover screen appears even more awkward. With that much-wasted space around the outside, the cover screen looks like a guy wearing a t-shirt three sizes too small.

Then there are the obvious concerns about the Fold’s durability. Samsung says its flexible screen should be able to handle thousands of bends, but the real answer right now is that we just don’t know. One reviewer encountered issues after something got stuck under the Fold’s screen and caused the display to malfunction, while at least one other Fold bugged out for seemingly no reason.

That said, even though our review unit is a European model, the Fold has functioned without issue since we received it, and that includes surviving a two-foot fall onto hardwood without a case. Still, considering the Galaxy Fold’s price, any bugs or defects feel even worse than they might on a regularly priced device.

I also have questions about a potential point of weakness on the Galaxy Fold: the intersections at the top and bottom of the flexible screen where the display meets the hinge. There’s a small gap that seems like a possible vector where the Fold might collect small debris that could eventually cause some damage. Or maybe I’m just overly cautious. Once again, we don’t know.

There’s also the Fold’s overall weight and thickness. It’s manageable, but not ideal. It’s something Samsung will almost assuredly improve in future generations, but if anyone said the Fold’s size was a deal breaker right now, it’s completely understandable.

The Fold’s flexible screen is still a work in progress too. Samsung’s flexible displays don’t quite live up to the industry-leading screens found on other phones equipped with Samsung display. The Fold’s screen is without a doubt bright and vibrant, but with a 2,152 by 1,536 resolution that has to span 7.3 inches of screen, the Galaxy Fold’s pixel density is almost 30-percent lower than what you get on an S10+. That means if you pixel peep, you can sometimes see text that doesn’t look as sharp as it would on a typical high-end phone.

The Fold also suffers from a slight wobble or unevenness while scrolling, where the left side the screen moves just barely ahead of the right side. It’s very subtle and something most people probably wouldn’t notice unless it was pointed out to them, but it’s there.

Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo

All told, Samsung has work to do for the second-gen Fold. As daunting as they may sound, none of these problems stopped me from enjoying the hell out of the Fold. It’s thick, but it also feels substantial. The magnets hidden inside the screens deliver a reassuring snap every time you close the phone, while that big screen makes everything on it more enjoyable.


So should you get one?

In almost all every scenario, the answer is no. Are you someone searching for an affordable phone? Then don’t buy the Galaxy Fold. Do you want something durable? Don’t buy the Fold. (Unlike the IP68 rating for water and dust resistance that’s become standard on almost every flagship handset, the Galaxy Fold has nothing.) Do you not see the point of having a huge screen on a phone? The Galaxy Fold is not for you. Do you hate reading instructions, researching a device, or testing out something experimental? Then definitely don’t get the Galaxy Fold. The Galaxy Fold is undoubtedly an impressive piece of tech, but it hasn’t been perfected, and to expect immaculate performance out the gate is a bit unrealistic. If the Galaxy Fold doesn’t interest you, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Don’t buy one.

The Galaxy Fold’s big screen is the perfect size for playing Auto Chess and a lot of other mobile games. (Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo)

This might sound damning, but that’s the way things go for revolutionary gadgets. The original iPhone opened eyes and minds, but the iPhone 3G was actually the one you wanted to buy. It was a similar situation for the first Surface. The blueprint for an entirely new class of laptop was there, but the keyboard and the OS didn’t really feel complete until the Surface Pro 3. And that’s probably how it will go for the Galaxy Fold.

If you‘re intrigued by the idea of a big bendy screen that still fits in a pocket or clutch but are scared of first-gen tech, just wait. In a couple of years when the Galaxy Fold 2 or 3 comes out, many of Samsung’s growing pains could be distant memories. Right now, the Galaxy Fold is for people who can handle some rough edges in exchange for trying out a gadget that’s unlike anything else on the market.


The Flexible Future

With a price this high and ambitions this big, a lot of people are positioning the Galaxy Fold as the phone of tomorrow. But that’s only partially correct. The Galaxy Fold isn’t the future, it’s just one branch of it. The Galaxy Fold can coexist with traditional phones, it’s not a bendy screen assassin, at least not yet.

Photo: Sam Rutherford, Gizmodo

However, despite all of its caveats, there’s one thing I found telling. Anytime I had to put the Fold down to run a test or perform some other hands-off activity, more than any other phone in recent memory, I couldn’t wait to ditch my daily driver so that I could use the Galaxy Fold again. The Galaxy Fold won’t strike everyone the same way, but for the people who get it, it hits really hard. The Galaxy Fold is a device that’s hard to appreciate until it’s actually in your hands, and while Samsung has work to do, even this early, folding is believing.

README

  • It might seem like a gimmick, but having a phone with a screen that big has the power to make secondary devices like a tablet or e-reader obsolete.

  • Unlike most modern Samsung phones, the Galaxy Fold doesn’t have water-resistance or a headphone jack, and its long-term durability is questionable.

  • If you have any concerns at all about the Galaxy Fold’s tech, its durability, or its price tag, don’t buy it.

  • Despite its flaws, the Galaxy Fold remains an incredibly engaging device.

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