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The Galaxy Fold is now available in the U.S, shortly after selling out in Korea during its initial debut.
It brings a new smartphone experience centered on what Samsung calls “a new dawn in display technology.” The company pitches the Fold as being “phone and tablet” in one device.
It is the first significant foldable display handset to hit the market (the actual first foldable handset was a terrible product), and I spent one month using it as my primary phone: here’s the complete review.
A Unique, pleasing and productive user experience
When closed, holding it feels surprisingly nice
For most people, there is a lot of curiosity about how the phone fits in the hand when closed. Generally, there’s an apprehension about the unusual thickness of the device. For everyone I handed this device too, this turned out not to be what people thought, and the first comment is often: “oh wow, it’s better than I imagined.”
The “candy bar” shape makes the overall grip relatively comfortable, just like you can comfortably hold a tennis racket or a Galaxy S10 phone. Thickness is important, but it is not everything.
Is it the perfect form-factor? It’s not, and Samsung will probably improve it in the future, but it works well. A lot better than its look might suggest.
An entirely usable phone in the closed position
Many people ask if they need to open the phone all the time to use it. The short answer is “no,” but we need to have more nuance.
It’s true that you can do absolutely everything with the small 4.6″ display. However, its small size makes it a bit uncomfortable. It can be challenging to read small text, and typing is significantly slower than on a 5.3”+ display.
Keep in mind that the original iPhone had a 3.5″ display, so it’s all relative.
Unlocking the handset in the closed position with the fingerprint reader fails often enough to be annoying (I have registered several fingers to cover all situations). Face Unlock is less-secure, but can help, so I would recommend using both for a smoother experience.
Placing the fingerprint in the “back” near the camera module would be a better location (in my opinion) for both closed and open positions.
Once Opened, The Galaxy Fold shows its real power
Upon unfolding the handset that the true nature of the Samsung Galaxy Fold is revealed, and there’s no other phone remotely like it on the market.
Other prototypes have been shown and demonstrated, but there’s a big difference between having something in the lab and shipping it to the public. Let’s wait and see.
Unlike phones with a display glass protector, the Galaxy Fold’s OLED is almost flat, but not perfectly flat.
In most situations, it is not apparent and when looking straight-on, there aren’t any visual distractions that interfere with the content. That’s particularly true if the content is bright or white as reflections are not visible.
Looking from the side, it’s easy to spot the irregularities where the display folds.
There are exceptions: if you have a dark screen with bright light sources around you, you might see that reflections aren’t perfectly flat. To be fair, even on a flat screen, strong reflections are annoying, and in general, I didn’t find this to be much more of an issue on the Fold.
A true tablet-like experience
The claim that the Galaxy Fold provides a tablet-like experience is entirely valid. In fact, it feels very much like using a supercharged iPad mini: that’s the association that most non-tech people make when I let them play with the Fold.
Multimedia experiences (including Comics!) are vastly better, not only because of the 7.3-inch diagonal but, more importantly, because of the aspect ratio, which is less elongated than standard phones.
“INSTAGRAM LITERALLY FEELS 4X BETTER ON THE FOLD”
For example, Facebook and Instagram posts are much more beautiful, with larger pictures. To me, Instagram literally feels 4x better on the fold. YouTube and video playback is obviously a lot better than on smartphones, just because of the sheer size.
Text-based applications such as browsing, email, and chat apps show more information, or you can opt to use larger fonts for additional visual comfort.
It is so lovely to use the Galaxy Fold’s large screen that by the end of the first day, the Galaxy Note 10+ screen seemed a bit small…
Multiple keyboard choices
For my hands, the width of the Galaxy Fold is small enough that I don’t need to use the “accordion” keyboard, and I type with a regular keyboard, located at the center of the screen. It is possible to tweak the width and height of the keyboard to find the optimum size.
I wish that the accordion keyboard design had a tweakable center space separation as it may be the ideal keyboard. Perhaps the One UI team can consider it, but they have done a great job with the keyboard options.
Multi-task like a pro
Samsung introduced split-screen multitasking a while ago, but I rarely use it even with a 6.8” screen because the display shows two square app areas, and if you want to use the keyboard, space becomes too tight.
On the Galaxy Fold, things are very different: the display is wide and high enough to comfortably run two apps plus the keyboard at the bottom. A maximum of three apps can be run at the same time in separate zones.
The gestures to open and close multitasking areas are simple and make sense. The Samsung One UI team has nailed it. Essentially, you swipe Left-to-Right to add another multi-window app and move the separating line to any border to close an app.
There is one downside to the multitasking feature: not every app is compatible with it. Generally, system apps will work well, but if there’s a specific app that you want, you might have to double-check.
Application continuity from small to large display (and back!)
When you find interesting content from the small screen, you can unfold the phone to switch over to the large display at the same app location. In the real world, I do that the most with emails and social media.
Samsung calls it “application continuity,” and it should make its way from Samsung’s One UI into Android 10 going forward. One UI 2 was just announced last week at SDC 2019.
App continuity is a great feature, but it is not guaranteed to work with all current apps. Very popular apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Chrome, and most of the preloaded apps support continuity.
Some apps, such as Smartnews, need to be restarted every time you swap screens. With Android 10 coming, it is likely that developers will roll the feature into their apps. It’s not very difficult.
The industrial design of the Samsung Galaxy Fold is high-quality, but at first glance, it does look like two short Galaxy S10+ sandwiched together.
However, it is also a pragmatic design that is functional and achieves all the requirements for size, screen protection (screen on the inside), battery capacity, and foldability.
This pragmatism, associated with leading-edge manufacturing capabilities, is the reason why Fold is first to market.
The initial “summer” launch was delayed because Samsung has slightly modified the design to prevent (as much as possible) dust and dirt to get inside the phone, and under the screen.
Although the new design seems much more dust-resistant, it is not certified with an IP Rating to be dust-proof or watertight, so keep it away from dust and water.
During the past month, it’s been in my pockets, backpacks, and we haven’t seen any issues, so it can easily withstand a relatively nomadic lifestyle.
Foldable screens are totally different from Dual-Screen
Many people asked if a dual-screen setup like the LG G8x or the LG V50 Dual Screen could offer an alternative to the Galaxy Fold.
From a multi-tasking point of view, yes, they can offer a partial answer to the Galaxy Fold but in a limited way, because the keyboard integration isn’t as good when using dual-screen apps and the physical visual bezel separation drastically changes the experience.
From a visual experience standpoint, dual-screen cannot be equivalent to one large screen, just like having two 27” monitors with large bezels isn’t as good as a single 43” monitor. Dual-screen has a place, and we’ll review some very soon, but they aren’t a replacement for foldable displays.
Galaxy Fold Display(s)
The small 4.6” AMOLED display is nothing much to report about, with a 1680×720 (720P) resolution. It has a utilitarian role to make the phone functional when closed. Technically speaking, and if you took it apart, you could see that it is an ultrathin design. Impressive, in a nerdy way.
The main 7.3” AMOLED screen is much more interesting. It is indeed flexible and has a very high color gamut, like the Galaxy S10 series displays. The colors are excellent, and we measured a maximum brightness close to 1000 NIT, which is best for outdoor use.
At 362 PPI, the pixel density isn’t huge, but still higher than the iPhone’s original “Retina” display and offers an outstanding user experience. Without a doubt, we expect this number to climb in future generations.
- 4.6” AMOLED, 1680×720, 550 NITs of brightness
- 7.3” AMOLED, 2152×1536, 985 NITs of brightness
Since there’s no protective glass, the screen isn’t as resistant to scratches as other phone screens in that price range. On the other hand, it won’t shatter. I didn’t need to be particularly careful, but small particles/objects and unwanted pressure on the screen should be avoided, according to Samsung.
The 7.3” display selfie camera is quite large and is technically identical to the Galaxy S10+ dual-camera, which got high praises.
In my opinion, the selfie camera size is a bit overkill, and it even gets in the way when I want to swipe down to show the notification tray. I could swipe-down from anywhere on the homepage, but within apps, you still need to swipe from the top.
Samsung will likely move to a v-notch or punch-hole design for future handsets. Right now, making the flexible display work was probably hard enough without starting poking holes in the OLED matrix.
No-compromise camera experience
The Galaxy Fold has a 3-camera primary system in the back, another camera system in the front (closed), and a 2-camera selfie setup above the large display for a total of six cameras. That way, camera usage for selfies/video conference always feel natural.
The two selfie camera systems are comparable to those found in the Galaxy S10 (1-camera) and S10+ (2-cameras), which offer very excellent image quality.
The primary camera system is also identical to the Galaxy S10+, and every shot we took behaves the same way, so there’s no surprise there: the photo quality is excellent. Just look at the photo samples below:
Quality score aside, Samsung’s camera has the particularity of being excellent at preserving the color hues, particularly in low-light and for food photos. Other cameras may capture good details and see things your eyes can’t even notice, but either apply too many filters or have a white balance that is a bit off.
You can read our complete Galaxy S10+ camera review to see how capable the Galaxy Fold camera is. The Galaxy Note 10 camera system is nearly identical but has slightly better night-photo software tuning in Ultrawide mode. That explains the slightly higher score.
Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 platform, the Galaxy Fold offers the same kind of performance you would expect from a high-end Android phone in 2019.
You can read our Galaxy S10+ phone review for more performance details, the two are comparable, but the Galaxy Fold is always just a bit slower, perhaps for cooling reasons.
The overall app speed and graphics (gaming) performance fall within expectations, and you won’t be limited in any way when compared to a classic high-end phone.
Storage-wise, the Galaxy Fold comes with 512GB of storage and 12GB of RAM. The extra memory could be great to keep things speedy if you have a lot of apps and want to push back the “performance cliff” that many phones suffer from as you add more and more stuff.
A 4380 mAh battery capacity is quite large in the smartphone industry. However, it has to power a much larger display area: +60% when compared to Galaxy S10+, which is already quite large!
As a result, the on-time screen with the 7.3” display will consume more power, and you can expect to have a shorter battery life than an S10+ or Note 10, for example. It’s not unexpected, and we expect all foldable phones to bump into the same problem.
I took the Galaxy Fold for a couple of business trips, and I could generally make it to the end of the day on one charge, but I clearly had to be more mindful of my battery status than if I had a Note 10, for example.
Using the PCMark Work 2.0 battery test, we got 7 hours and 32 minutes of continuous use with a brightness of 200 NITs. For comparison, the Galaxy S10+ got 12h25mn, and the Note 10+ got 10h44mn. That’s a significant difference.
When you need to charge, the Galaxy Fold can replenish its battery at a speed of 50 mAh/mn, which is on-par with the S10 or iPhone 11 Pro, but far below the Galaxy Note 10 80 mAh/mn or the P30 Pro 100 mAh/mn.
Of course, the Fold features both fast Wireless charging and reverse-wireless charging as well to charge accessories.
Things that could be better
Being innovative doesn’t mean being perfect, and there are potential points of friction that could be improved.
- Form-factor: Tweaks on the hinge, thinness and overall internal volume utilization will lead to a more streamlined design
- Weight: At 263g (9.3Oz), the Galaxy Fold would gain to be lighter. I think that Samsung started out with an extremely sturdy hinge, but will learn to make things lighter along the way.
- Fingerprint sensor: should be moved to the back, near the camera. The location to the side is too prone to misreadings.
- Larger front-display: the 4.3” display is usable, but a bit small. Ideally, the phone should work like a “normal” phone (think S10e) when closed.
- Battery life: With a 60% larger screen area than Galaxy S10+, it’s legitimate to use more power, but users don’t want to worry about running out.
- Faster charging: bringing the charging speed (from 50) to 80 or 100 mAh/mn would go a long way to help with battery life.
Galaxy Fold Premier Service
Given the premium positioning of the Galaxy Fold, Samsung has introduced a Premier Service in which all Fold customers are automatically enrolled.
Part of this service includes a live onboarding during which help can be provided to switch over from another phone or learn how to use / set up the new phone.
Customers can get support via phone or via the Samsung Members app, 24/7. Video chat is also available, but only during office hours in US Eastern Time.
To put customers’ minds at ease, and if anything was to happen to the primary 7.3” screen, Samsung would replace it for $149. There are fine prints, but it seems like a sensible option.
I’ve used the Galaxy Fold as my primary handset for ~4 weeks in and out of the country. The Samsung Galaxy Fold is the first major mobile device to deliver on the promise of foldable OLED displays: a pocketable tablet-like experience. Once the stuff of science fiction, the Galaxy Fold is now a real product.
Its design makes no compromises when it comes to processor speed and camera performance, with both being world-class in today’s technology landscape.
The 7.3” AMOLED display elevates the smartphone visual experience to new levels and becomes a de-facto benchmark for future foldable handsets.
This is an entirely new phone experience, and if you often use your phone with two hands, you should be completely at ease. I don’t expect people who primarily want a one-hand experience to like this device.
“ONCE THE STUFF OF SCIENCE FICTION, THE GALAXY FOLD IS NOW A REAL PRODUCT”
Across multiple countries, I’ve shown this phone to a great many people, both in and out of the (electronics) industry: the response (to the concept) was overwhelmingly positive, except for the price.
$1980 is a high-price, and the Fold is undoubtedly a handset designed for power-users and early adopters, but there are competing 512GB phones selling for ~$1500 that do not offer anywhere near what the Fold does. I recommend checking it out in a store before getting it.
The Galaxy Fold proves that foldable displays do work, and have enormous value. Perhaps someday, all smartphones will be foldable phones, just like today’s smartphones are nearly all “large-display phones,” a category ignited by the original 5.3-inch Samsung Galaxy Note in 2011.
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