I’m Still Not Sold on the Samsung Galaxy Fold
In one of the more unexpected occurrences during my time in Berlin for IFA 2019 earlier this month, I was able to get a hands-on demo with the Samsung Galaxy Fold in the City Cube building where the Korean manufacturer set up shop for the week. Immediately following Samsung’s press conference on Friday morning, I decided to stroll over to the Galaxy corner where, to my surprise, there was a queue set up for the Galaxy Fold.
You already know the backstory with this device: It was shipped out to reviewers in mid-April, but almost immediately there were reports of some serious flaws with the phone. Some reviewers inadvertently peeled off the protective layer of film that looked like a screen protector but was actually an integral part of the phone’s design. Other’s experienced dust getting under their screen, which resulted in malfunctioning displays. And still more were reporting random instances of screens just not working at all. All in all, Samsung decided to delay the launch of the phone, which was scheduled for the end of April, while it worked to correct those issues.
Then, in late July, Samsung announced that it had fixed those issues and would plan to bring the phone to market sometime in December—perfectly timed for something to happen at IFA. The fixes included extending that protective film beyond the bezel of the phone, reinforcing the hinges with extra plastic material in order to prevent dust from getting in, additional metal layers were put under the screen for added reinforcement to extend the life of the display, and more.
All of that said, after my hands-on demo with the product, I’m still not a fan of this first-gen foldable phone.
Three things stand out about this phone that make it just unfathomable why any consumer would want to adopt such a new, unproven technology at this point: the fold itself, the usability of the device, and the cost.
Starting with the latter, this is a $2,000 piece of equipment. In an era where consumers are balking at phones with price tags that are half that high, Samsung somehow believes that adding this magical folding screen will convince people to drop another cool grand for a phone that they’re just going to trade in in a year or two. For half that price, you could get another Samsung phone in the Galaxy Note 10 Plus that has comparable overall specs and an always-unfolded screen that’s just half an inch smaller.
Diving deeper into the design of the phone, I just can’t get over how bad this thing looks when it’s folded up. The gap between the two sides of the phone closest to the hinge makes the design feel sloppy. It’s an OCD type of nightmare. And it only gets worse when you actually unfold the phone, which is how Samsung really wants you to use this device. When unfolded, the crease in the screen is very noticeable—and I’m not the only one who would tell you that. A recent review on CNET reported that, when watching videos on the device, the crease could sometimes be a distraction. The reviewer went on to explain that it was more noticeable under strong lighting conditions and when watching dark videos. So, if you just make sure to watch bright videos and movies in completely dark rooms you’re fine…
Even worse, though, in my own hands on experience with the Galaxy Fold, when looking at the screen, it almost appeared like there were ripples running across the surface when the phone was hit by light at certain angles. It was a little off putting and certainly not something I’d want to experience, no matter what the lighting conditions, when I’m spending $2,000 on a phone.
Another aspect of the design aesthetic that I can’t get over is the tall and slim design of the phone when it’s folded up, and that tiny outer screen. The same CNET reviewer noted that it was really not convenient to use that screen for anything other than checking notifications, changing your music, or taking phone calls. The smaller screen offers a worse representation of whatever photos you’re trying to take with the rear tri-camera system, but it may be better to take those with the phone folded up rather than looking like a goober trying to take photos with a 7-inch tablet.
The whole purpose of this device is to give the consumer the ability to unfold their otherwise normal-sized smartphone into this gorgeous large-screen tablet. But imagine using this thing while on the go. Do you anticipate walking the streets holding an open tablet? Or are you more likely to pull it out of your pocket or bag in order to check something quickly on the go, and then stow it away again? Placing greater emphasis on a stronger closed-up user experience should’ve been a must for Samsung. Instead, the smaller display seems like something of an afterthought, pushing the consumer to have to open the device, which might not be the most convenient thing to do in certain instances.
I understand the push to get foldable displays into the market, and there may eventually be some designs that work well for this concept in the smartphone form factor. But the Galaxy Fold isn’t it. It feels like more of a concept phone that was never really meant for a full-scale launch.
That said, the Samsung Galaxy Fold is already available in other global markets and will hit retail shelves in the U.S. on September 27.