All phones currently follow the same mold – candy bar design, few moving parts, as much screen as possible. Yes, there's tons of new camera tricks, lots of different approaches to notches and fitting as much screen in as possible, but they fundamentally have the same design.
The next generation of phones could be very different, and this year is as all about ushering in a new era of devices. Samsung is helping to lead this charge, and the Galaxy Fold is the first of – what we hope will be – many foldable phones.
Samsung announced the Galaxy Fold two months ago, and now, after months of it being shrouded in mystery, we've been able to check out Samsung's new inspirational device. And it's gorgeous. It's only a first-generation product – and these are usually clunky at best – but the Galaxy Fold feels like a mostly refined product, at least based on our very short hands on.
Check out MrMobile's first impressions of the Galaxy Fold in the video above.
The Galaxy Fold until now
We've heard for years that Samsung was working on flexible displays. We first saw their attempt with the Note Edge, which curved on the right edge. Then followed the mainstream design in the Galaxy S and Note devices, with all of them starting to adopt a dual curved edge display.
At the Samsung Developer Conference in November last year, the company revealed its new range of Infinity Flex displays and confirmed it would launch a foldable phone early this year. It did so alongside the Galaxy S10 family in February, also announcing that it would cost $1,980 and launch on April 26. A few days later, Huawei took to the stage to announce the more-expensive Huawei Mate X which will launch in July.
These two devices take two different approaches to a foldable phone concept. Huawei has opted to wrap the main display around the outside of the phone, whereas Samsung has gone for an "innie" design with the larger display on the inside.
The main screen is a 7.3-inch panel with 4:3 aspect ratio, while the front panel is a 4.6-inch panel. The front panel has so many bezels and considering Samsung has recently launched a flagship phone with no bezels and a cut out for the camera, it's strange to see just how large the bezels are.
I get it: it's perfect to use in one hand. That's the whole point of the front screen – it's for those moments when you don't want to unfurl the big screen. But the screen is quite cramped, and it would have been nicer to see it be around 5-inches or so.
Both screens are paired together with a hinge and it's really nice. The hinge feels sturdy and uses magnets to allow both sides to open and close with only a little bit of effort. There's a really satisfying click when you do close it, but you definitely need to use two hands to open it. You can't open it without prying it apart with both hands, and it feels like you'll drop it if you do use one hand.
The front and back panels are glass, offering all the same benefits of a regular smartphone. However, because glass doesn't bend, the inner display is a flexible plastic OLED screen. Herein also lies what may present a long-term problem.
There is a slight crease in the inner display which is noticeable. At an off-axis angle, it's more noticeable than when you look at it straight on. When you swipe across it, such as when you're scrolling or selecting multiple images in the gallery, there's a slight dip where the fold is. The crease is noticeable, and might be a concern going forward, but it's so damn cool nonetheless.
The design of the hinge also means that it doesn't quite close flat, instead forming a small wedge shape when closed. Added to the camera bump, this means it's not quite as sleek or flush as Huawei's Mate X, although that's largely down to the innie vs outie design of foldable phones..
One thing I did notice is that the touch response on the inner display isn't as smooth as a regular smartphone. As noticed by Dan Bader over at Android Central, the two sides of the screen also refresh at different speeds leading to an unmistakeable jankiness.
Hardware-wise, the Galaxy Fold has all the flagship specs you need, with a few unfortunate trade-offs. It's powered by the Snapdragon 855, has a massive 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which can't be expanded.
The phone has six cameras in total. The three cameras on the back are the same as the ones from the Galaxy S10 Plus – that's a 12MP wide-angle, 12MP telephoto and 16MP ultra-wide sensor – alongside a front 10MP sensor. When unfurled, there's another 10MP selfie camera with a secondary 8MP depth sensor for better selfies. The big screen also makes for a surprisingly nice viewfinder.
The innovations in the Galaxy Fold don't stop at the display though, as Samsung has had to work some magic on the inside as well. One of the biggest problems with flexible devices? Batteries. How do you make a battery that is safe yet doesn't interfere with the operation of the device?
Samsung's approach is to use two batteries, with a resulting capacity of 4,380mAh. That's actually smaller than the Galaxy S10 5G which only has one display to power, and we're concerned that it might not be enough to power the Galaxy Fold for a whole day. Samsung says it will last a full day on a single charge, and we'll see how it pans out in our full review.
There's also fast wireless charging and 15W wired charging, which is slower than the 25W wired charging found in the Galaxy S10 5G, and Samsung's most recent mid-range phone, the Galaxy A80. Why Samsung couldn't get the fastest charging solution into a device like this is beyond us, but it will likely take a few hours to charge this up from empty.
The strangest thing about the Galaxy Fold? No, not the crease. No, not the folding bits. The fingerprint sensor, which is in the Bixby button, underneath the power button. First, unless you have long fingers, you won't be able to wrap your index finger around the back of the fold. If you pick one up, you'll definitely want to register your right hand.
More pertinently, Samsung missed a beat with the fingerprint sensor. As it is built-in to the Bixby button, you'll activate Bixby way more than you want to. More importantly, by default you can't unlock it without first pressing the power button. Although you can turn it on in the settings, it's not easy to find and it's mind-boggling that this is an option, and not the default state. Consider that the Galaxy S10e has a fingerprint sensor built into the power button and it works flawlessly, it's hard to see Samsung's logic here.
Using the Galaxy Fold
Great hardware is nothing without great software to go alongside it, and Samsung has a couple of neat software tricks here that really make the Galaxy Fold a versatile device.
First is App Continuity, which allows you to start using an app on the front screen, and then open the device and continue exactly where you left off. This is perfect when you want to see more of the app you're quickly browsing, but the front screen truncates text for apps that haven't been optimized, such as Instagram.
Samsung worked with Google to develop App Continuity, and it works as well as promised. For apps that haven't been optimized, the app just fills the center and you can force it to re-open in tablet view. Here's an example by Dan Bader again, showcasing exactly what it is like:
Here's my crudely shot video of how App Continuity works on devices that don't support it, like Twitter.— Daniel Bader (@journeydan) April 15, 2019
Tl;dr it's a window pic.twitter.com/u0x51mA9aP
Samsung has little control over the software experience, and without an added impetus from Google, there's likely to be no improvements to this crude solution. Yet, we've already heard that Google is bringing full support for foldable devices in Android Q, so we can hope that the core Android software will natively resize apps for different form factors. In the meantime, Instagram, Twitter and others all use a lot of wasted space.
The big tablet-like screen also means a lot more space for multi-tasking. One of the early reasons to buy a Galaxy Note was Samsung's Multi Window which is one of the best on Android. Then there was the Edge screen that allowed you to launch apps by sliding in from the side of the phone, although there was no need to do launch them this way.
With the Galaxy Fold, it feels like the reason Samsung launched all these features over the years. The Edge screen wasn't useful on regular phones, but with the screen unfolded, it's how you'll launch more than one app. Slide in from the right and you can add a second or third window that stack to the right of the main window. You can then launch further apps in pop-up windows, up to a maximum of eight apps at once. Would you need to launch 8 apps at once? No, but as an iPad Pro user, it's nice that you can do so.
Aside from that, it's Samsung's One UI throughout the Galaxy Fold experience and it's great for the most part. The large screen is great as a camera viewfinder. Samsung's built in keyboard splits to either side of the crease so it's thumb-friendly. The phone absolutely flies thanks to the incredible internals.
So far so good, and then there's the not-so-good things. The large offset notch on the internal screen means it cuts into some full-screen apps, such as YouTube. You also can't scroll down on the notch to access your notifications, which just feels strange as it's the most natural place to scroll down.
Whether it's the mismatched refresh rate, or the lack of OS-level support, there was also some noticeable jitteriness while playing a game. I quickly downloaded one of my favorite relaxing games – International Snooker Pro – and it was noticeably bad. It was borderline unplayable, with the touch response slow and the game lagging behind my intended movements. Then, I saw the below video from Booredatwork which suggests it may have been an issue with that particular game only, even though it works fine on every other Android device.
Should you buy the Galaxy Fold?
So that's a lot to process from just 30 minutes with Samsung's latest innovation. Here's my key takeaways:
The Samsung Galaxy Fold feels solid. It's beautiful to hold and a throwback to the old days where a bulky device gave you a reassuring feel in the hand. The Galaxy Fold is no ordinary device though, the inside display measures a whopping 7.3-inches. Think – that's almost iPad Mini size, and bigger than the first Nexus tablet.
It doesn't feel big though, and that's the key thing. A device with an almost-8-inch screen is often too big to carry in your pocket, yet the Galaxy Fold feels no larger than any other device. It's almost the same size as the Galaxy S10 Plus but about twice as thicker; it's almost like stacking two Galaxy S10 Plus' together.
The small screen is great, but I already feel like I would only use it for quick tasks and instead opt for the bigger display where possible. App Continuity is a great idea and works pretty well, although I hope app developers get on-board sooner rather than later. Samsung is one of the best at multi-tasking, and after years of not needing to use it, Multi Window now feels incredibly natural.
The Galaxy Fold is not a perfect product, and like any first-generation product it has its drawbacks. The tablet screen doesn't feel as smooth as any of Samsung's other displays. The front screen is small considering the size of the phone. The transition from outie to innie display is a bit janky, especially with apps that haven't been updated. The two screens don't lay perfectly flat like an outie product.
I want a Galaxy Fold. Why? I don't know, and it doesn't matter.
Considering this is the first mainstream foldable phone to launch, these are welcome growing pains. Like anyone who invests in crowdfunding, if you invest in buying the Galaxy Fold, you're investing in the growing pains, in being there as Samsung ushers in a new era of technology.
Personally, I had low expectations going into my short time with the Galaxy Fold. I didn't expect a product that's as polished as it is. I've used almost every flagship phone released over the past nine years, and this is one of the more impressive first-generation products I've ever used.
I want one. Why? I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I want to jump in feet-first and buy into the foldable phone hype. It's not a perfect product but from first glance, it feels like a great phone, and a great Android tablet. If you can afford to buy one, the Galaxy Fold is a device like no other and considering its price tag, not many people will have one either.
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