Samsung is finally ready to relaunch its ambitious Galaxy Fold, nearly five months after catastrophic problems encountered by early reviewers forced the company to cancel the launch of its most ambitious smartphone ever. Thanks to fundamental design flaws and the sheer amount of hype surrounding the Galaxy Fold’s introduction, the company has had to deal with some very high-profile embarrassment. All of this means that the stakes are incredibly high for Samsung, but the company is confident enough to let attendees at the IFA 2019 exhibition touch and use the phone themselves. We braved long lines and massive crowds in order to spend some hands-on time with the new re-engineered Samsung Galaxy Fold, and here are our thoughts.
Nearly all flagship smartphones today rely on the same increasingly generic design, no matter how slick they are. That makes it pretty hard to be impressed when something new comes up. The Samsung Galaxy Fold does not suffer from that problem at all – it is on an entirely new level. Holding it and flipping it open to reveal its internal screen for the first time is immensely satisfying.
The entire outer surface of the Galaxy Fold is glossy and highly reflective. This does make it feel a little futuristic, but it picks up fingerprints pretty much everywhere. The device we were able to use was constantly being wiped by an attendant in white gloves, and that makes us feel that this would be a high-maintenance phone to live with, especially since everyone you meet will want to play with it.
That said, the build quality is absolutely top-notch and this does feel like a luxury device. There is still a gap between the two halves when the device is folded but nothing about the mechanism feels loose or imprecise. We tried lightly bending and flexing the device when open, and it didn’t seem like it would be damaged easily.
So what exactly has Samsung done to fix the issues with the original design? We were told that first of all, there’s a rim around the interior surface protecting the large, folding screen and covering the edges of the outermost layer that people previously tried peeling off. The outer surface of the hinge has also been reinforced, and there are now protective stoppers at the top and bottom of the hinge barrel to prevent small particles from making their way into the mechanism.
We couldn’t help but be reminded of Nokia’s iconic 9000-series Communicator devices. The Galaxy Fold can be used when closed, but it’s obviously not the ideal shape or size for a smartphone. The 4.6-inch 21:9 outer screen is extremely tall and narrow, and fills nowhere near the entire surface. There are cameras on the front and back as well as the inside – a total of six of them, so you can use the phone as usual when folded or unfolded.
There are speakers on the top and bottom, which means you can get stereo sound if you rotate the device – the internal screen is almost square shaped with a 4.2:3 aspect ratio, so there isn’t much other distinction between portrait and landscape. There’s also a USB Type-C port but no 3.5mm audio socket. You’ll find the power and volume buttons on the right, along with a fingerprint sensor that doubles as a Bixby button.
Samsung has worked hard on customising Android to support multiple screens. You can open an app while the phone is closed and it will seamlessly transition to the bigger screen when you flip the device open. You can tile up to three apps and drag the borders between them to resize them, or swap them between panels. This really gives multitasking on a smartphone new meaning.
The hinge feels like it’s spring-loaded, and pops open immediately when you push the two halves apart with even one finger. One-handed use is awkward, since you have to push the two halves a little to make them lie fully flat. We also accidentally got our palm pinched between the outer hinge panels more than once in our very brief time with this phone, which was the only unpleasant part of our experience.
So how is it to actually use the Samsung Galaxy Fold? We were most curious to see how the crease in the centre of the big screen would affect us, and unfortunately, it is very visible most of the time. You might try using the tablet in portrait or landscape, depending on what you’re doing, which could help avoid this. However, there were also times, such as when reading websites with white backgrounds, when we couldn’t really see the seam at all.
The corner notch on the inside definitely does make its presence felt, and like with most smartphones, you’ll notice that software is used cleverly in some places, such as making the title bars of apps very thick. We would really have liked an S-Pen, and the use cases for it are obvious, but sadly there isn’t space for one.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Fold is very much a first-generation device. For the price you’d have to pay for one if you choose to, you’d be getting a completely unique experience and the undeniable appeal of a 7.3-inch tablet in your pocket, but we can’t yet weigh in on how practical this device will be for everyday use. We weren’t able to feel how it fits into a pocket, but at 17.1mm thick folded, it won’t be convenient. At 276g, it is also far heavier than your average smartphone.
Had this product launch gone smoothly, Samsung would have earned tremendous credit for its foldable OLED panels, its engineering and design skill, and simply for its imagination, not to mention outdoing Apple when it comes to truly innovative and inventive products. Still, people should be excited about the Galaxy Fold and there will undoubtedly be many early adopters and enthusiasts who buy one. With no solid news of Huawei’s Mate X, the Galaxy Fold is for now the ultimate device for those who want to show off or just enjoy something incredibly cool.