Is It More Tablet or Smartphone?
Samsung Galaxy Fold Review: A Futuristic Phone That Made Me Nostalgic
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A version of this article originally appeared in Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “Samsung Galaxy Fold.” It has been updated to reflect the Galaxy Fold’s redesign and subsequent commercial release. Subscribe today
The Galaxy Fold made me nostalgic. Not because a folding phone is old-fashioned, but because it’s a novel design at a time when smartphones have become anything but — typically nothing more than the same functionalities ported to ever-thinner slabs of screen. But every time I pulled the Fold from my pocket on the subway and opened the already huge, bright screen to the size of a small tablet, I noticed more than a few double-takes. It’s been years since a new smartphone has been able to turn heads.
But if the Fold’s defining feature is an eye-popper, it’s also been a mitigated disaster. You’ve likely read the story: As soon as the $1,980 smartphone made its way into the world, its signature 7.3-inch folding screen, well, broke — either from over-eager prodding, the stresses of daily use or both. Those problems, though, aren’t universal; my Fold showed no signs of coming undone during the week I lived, commuted and worked with it. Nonetheless, Samsung recalled all review loaners early, pushed back the release date and offered refunds to pre-orderers. (Fortunately, it wasn’t literally dangerous, as with the company’s exploding Note 7.) In September, with a handful of minor design changes and reinforcements aimed at durability, the Fold finally made it to market.
Screen snafu or no, the Fold was always going to be a niche product. A foldable smartphone isn’t something everyone needs, or can afford. But the form factor has its appeal among inveterate multitaskers salivating at that truckload of RAM — and the expansive screen that lets you run three apps at once — as well as early adopters who want a conversation piece in their pocket.
The novelty is appealing. Yes, the Fold sports all the best features from Samsung’s flagship S10, but any amount of capability bows to the Fold’s originality. There’s never been a phone quite like this; my hands were drawn to playing with it, exploring the phone’s sheer usability, like being able to watch YouTube videos while perusing my Gmail inbox and Spotify playlist.
The ultimate multitasking potential, though, was limited by drawbacks, like only supporting one audio stream at a time. But that giant, beautiful OLED screen is meant for more than just multitasking. The Fold is essentially a tablet for your pocket: watching Game of Thrones was certainly an upgrade from viewing on an iPhone XS. And with over seven inches on which to play, the ever-more impressive roster of mobile games — especially battle royales like PUBG and Fortnite — have more room to unfold, with more space for on-screen controls that could give a (small) competitive advantage to players better than myself. Plus, the signature crease comes in handy when reading anything actually shaped like a book.
Screen snafu or no, the Fold was always going to be a niche product.
The Fold’s front screen is a bit lackluster compared to the full article, its main purpose seemingly to goad you into opening the full screen. But common apps like Gmail and Google Maps seamlessly jump from the front to the main screen when you unfold — wandering my way through Manhattan I was able to keep tabs on my general location with a glance at the front, while unfolding when necessary for greater context.
These features might seem like small change relative to the Fold’s exorbitant price, and for the most part that’s true — especially because the phone’s far from perfect. The crease down the center is still visible under some light, and it’s roughly twice the thickness of every other smartphone, which makes it a pain to slide into your pocket. Also, I was never really able to open the Fold one-handed; the magnets were too strong.
Despite the kinks and the price, my time with the Fold convinced me that the premise of a folding phone remains sound. Shrinking a tablet-sized screen down to smartphone dimensions, allowing it to fit in your pocket, is extremely cool. That’s why everyone is trying to get it right. Huawei’s Mate X, also scheduled for release this summer (trade wars notwithstanding), sports its main screen outside a clamshell fold, rather than inside; it’s an interesting alternative, but given the fragility of Samsung’s folding screen you’d be right to be nervous about shelling out for one just yet. There’s still a lot of experimenting to be done.
iPhone-level sales were never in the cards for the Galaxy Fold, even before the screen issues. It’s too expensive, and its flagship tricks aren’t quite life-changing enough to justify the price tag. But it looks and feels like a radical departure from the endless parade of identical smartphones. That’s key: the Fold itself might have stumbled, but the concept has promise. It’s just a question of who will execute it best.
Samsung provided this product for review.
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