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Samsung Galaxy Fold review: Futuristic, but compromised

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Samsung Galaxy Fold: Futuristic, but compromised

Foldable displays just aren’t ready yet.

Review by Raymond Wong

Samsung Galaxy Fold: Futuristic, but compromised

Foldable displays just aren’t ready yet.

Review by Raymond Wong

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is one of the most ambitious devices I’ve ever used. Think about it: a phone that opens up into a tablet. Or if you prefer: a tablet that folds up into a phone.

The $ 1,980 foldable device is finally launching — for real this time — after broken review units forced Samsung to scrap its release in the spring to improve critical design flaws involving the hinge and display.

I’ve been using the revamped Galaxy Fold as my daily driver for the last week and as cool as it looks, the device just isn’t ready for prime time. Even if you have money to burn, you should wait until the hardware and software kinks are worked out. Which could be years or never.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

  • The screen folds!
  • Solid cameras
  • Comes with free Galaxy Buds in the box
  • Extremely pricey
  • Software needs more work
  • Super thick folded up
  • The crease is still visible
The Bottom Line

Samsung’s Galaxy’s Fold is an ambitious push into new mobile territory, but it’s still very much a dressed-up prototype.

Mashable Score3

Cool Factor5

Learning Curve3

Performance3

Bang for the Buck1

The most elegant hinge on a foldable device (so far).

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

For a first stab, the Galaxy Fold is shockingly not flimsy. The glass back and metal construction feels really solid. On my third day using it, the Galaxy Fold slipped out of my back pocket on the subway and landed on the floor with a loud thud, but wasn’t damaged at all.

The Galaxy Fold is thick and heavy. It’s as thick as two phones stacked on top of each other. It bulged outta my front jeans pocket in a very unflattering way.

The glass picks up fingerprints very easily.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

The hinge on the fixed Folds won’t let as much dust inside.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

The device is also not water-resistant, which sucks because a $ 2,000 phone absolutely should be.

The volume and power buttons are all on one side, but I’m confused as to why the side-mounted fingerprint reader is separate from the power button. On the Galaxy S10e, the power button is also the fingerprint reader, so why isn’t it the same on the Galaxy Fold?

The gap needs to be closed in future versions.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

The fingerprint reader is separate from the power button.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

I also don’t like the gap when the Galaxy Fold is closed. It’s just asking for dirt and debris to get inside and damage the display.

On the bright side, you do get a snap-on case and wireless Galaxy Buds, which can be charged via the Galaxy Fold’s Wireless PowerShare feature.

Can you see the crease?

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Bending screen

OK, let’s talk about the screens because that’s what you’re really here for.

First, the screen on the outside. The 4.6-inch (1,680 x 720 resolution) AMOLED display’s 21:9 aspect ratio is too small and too narrow. And because it’s got super thick bezels above and below it, it’s not so easy to use with one hand — you have to grip the phone in the middle, which is very awkward.

The screen’s fine for answering a call or sending out a short text, but don’t expect to use it very often. It’s just too skinny to display enough content and too uncomfortable to use.

The skinny cover screen isn’t very useful.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Open up the Galaxy Fold and you get an almost iPad mini-sized 7.3-inch AMOLED display (2,152 x 1,536 resolution). This foldable screen is made of plastic and extremely fragile. There are explicit instructions inside of the Galaxy Fold’s packaging that tells you not to poke too hard on the screen with your fingernails or put it near coins or keys or magnets.

Following the scrapped spring launch, Samsung reinforced the backside of the display with a sheet of metal and added small T-shaped caps to the top and bottom of the hinge to prevent particles from getting inside and underneath the screen. The plastic film that covers the screen was also extended to underneath the frame so that you can’t accidentally peel it off and destroy the display like early reviewers did.

These were necessary hardware tweaks to make the Galaxy Fold more durable, but one thing Samsung didn’t improve was the crease. It’s most visible on black or dark backgrounds and at side angles, and not as noticeable with white backgrounds like web pages.

The crease is sometimes very visible, sometimes not so much.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

These T-shaped caps on the hinge protect particles from getting underneath the display.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

The crease isn’t as bad as it looks in photos and it’s definitely better than most other foldable displays, but I never stopped noticing it. Not because I couldn’t ignore it (I did), but because I felt it every single time I swiped my finger across it. Touching the crease constantly reminded me of the Galaxy Fold’s imperfection — the compromises you have to accept to get a tablet that folds in half.

But is a larger screen worth enduring a crease and bulkier device? It don’t think so. While I enjoyed reading, watching videos, and playing games on the Galaxy Fold’s larger screen, I didn’t feel it was significantly better than the same experiences on big phones like the iPhone 11 Pro Max and Galaxy Note 10+.

What typing is like on the Fold.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Three apps at once is kind of a cramped experience.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

The Galaxy Fold’s big magic trick is a feature called “App Continuity.” Load up an app on the small skinny screen and then open up the Fold and the content expands instantly.

It’s cool at first, but I stopped using it after the first day mainly because I didn’t use the small screen very often. Kinda pointless to make an app transition from the small screen to the big one if you mostly use the big one anyway. Which you’re going to do because that’s the whole point of the Galaxy Fold.

Same goes for multi-window support, which lets you open up to three apps at once. It can be useful to have, say, Google Keep and YouTube open at the same time. But again, you can already open two apps at once on Android phones, and three apps simultaneously on the Galaxy Fold is a very cramped experience.

The Galaxy Fold can play 3D games very well.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

All the specs (on paper)

The Galaxy Fold is not lacking in performance. Like the Galaxy S10 and Note 10 (and every other flagship Android phone of the year), the Galaxy Fold is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chip. It’s also got tons of RAM (12GB) and storage (512GB). No, there’s no microSD card slot for adding more storage.

Geekbench 5 puts the Galaxy Fold’s CPU on par with the Note 10, but still in the rearview mirror of the A13 Bionic chip that powers the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max.

The Galaxy Fold and Android 9 with Samsung’s One UI works fine for regular phone things like web browsing, watching videos, and playing games. I wish it shipped with Android 10, though; the gestures work way better.

But even with so much RAM, I experienced a good number of glitches. Apps like Feedly and Twitter frequently froze and and required a force quit. And many apps just aren’t optimized for the Galaxy Fold’s flexible screen so they end up looking stretched out or buttons are cut off.

The Galaxy Fold’s battery life is also pretty average. Despite having a 4,380 mAh capacity from two batteries, the Galaxy Fold sucks quite a bit of power. Constantly opening and closing the Galaxy Fold drained its battery quickly. I found myself always needing to charge it up before leaving the office around 5:30 p.m. or else it wouldn’t last the hour-long train ride home.

The Galaxy Fold has six cameras (three shown here).

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Remember when phones used to have one camera and then it became two? On the Galaxy Fold, there are six cameras.

There’s three on the rear: a 12-megapixel wide lens with variable f/1.5-2.4 aperture, a 12-megapixel 2x telephoto lens with f/2.4 aperture, and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide lens with 123-degree field of view and f/2.2 aperture. These are the exact same shooters as on the Galaxy S10 (the Note 10 has a slightly better-performing telephoto lens with f/2.1 aperture).

Taking pics with the bigger screen isn’t as dumb as it looks.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

There is one on the cover: a 10-megapixel selfie camera with f/2.2 aperture.

And two in the upper right corner of the larger display: a 10-megapixel selfie camera with f/2.2 aperture and an 8-megapixel depth camera with f/1.9 aperture.

Selfie camera on the cover.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Two more selfie cameras on the inside.

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Camera specs aside, the Galaxy Fold’s cameras perform virtually the same as the Galaxy S10’s, which means they take very good photos. But it also means they’ve got the same weaknesses: inconsistent white balance between the three rear cameras and greater color saturation and softer ultra-wide details compared to the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro.

Ultra wide

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

Wide

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Raymond Wong / Mashable

2x telephoto

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

Ultra wide

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

Wide

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Raymond Wong / Mashable

2x telephoto

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

Ultra wide

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

Wide

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

2x telephoto

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

While taking photos with the Galaxy Fold’s skinny screen is not fun at all — I kept accidentally hitting the home button just next to the shutter button — I really liked using the larger interior display to frame shots. Yes, taking photo with a tablet-sized screen still looks silly, but it’s not as dorky because you can quickly fold it up and get on with your life.

For in-depth comparisons of how Samsung’s phone cameras compare to the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P30 Pro, and OnePlus 7 Pro, go check our reviews and swap Galaxy Fold for all Galaxy S10+ and Note 10 shots, because they’re basically the same.

Find me on Instagram @sourlemons or Twitter @raywongy if you want to know more about how the cameras perform under specific situations.

Below, a gallery of unedited Galaxy Fold photos.

(Click for full size)

Raymond Wong / Mashable

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Raymond Wong / Mashable

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Raymond Wong / Mashable

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Raymond Wong / Mashable

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Raymond Wong / Mashable

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Raymond Wong / Mashable

Is a foldable phone really necessary?

Zlata Ivleva / Mashable

Still a dressed up prototype

It’s very clear to me the Galaxy Fold is a 1.0 product. Samsung dressed up the device really well and packed it with very good specs and cameras, but the foldable screen and the multitasking features it’s pitching as the key selling points still need a lot more work.

Many people are cutting Samsung slack for the crease and the device fragility — iteration will make it better! — but this feels different than when Samsung made curved phone screen edges a thing.

I just don’t see how Samsung will be able to tighten the display fold so that there’s no gap and no crease, slim down the phone so it’s nowhere near as thick, and also pack in a big battery. These are big challenges to overcome and it’s no doubt exciting to see Samsung and other tech companies attempt new form factors, but is this necessary? Is this even what people really want?

Foldable devices like the Galaxy Fold remind me of the rush to put 3D in everything. During 3D’s resurgence a decade ago, every company piled on to include 3D despite how crappy the experience was. Everyone thought 3D’s technical shortcomings would be quickly resolved with aggressive iteration. Well, they were all wrong. Like the Galaxy Fold, 3D was expensive, compromised, and not necessary for watching movies or playing video games.

Would it be nice to have a tablet that folds in half into a phone? Sure. But would I rather have one that’s half-baked than a mature and nearly perfected regular phone? Absolutely not. I’ll take an iPhone or Galaxy that doesn’t need to be babied over the unproven Galaxy Fold any day.

  • Written by Senior Tech Correspondent

    Raymond Wong

  • Edited by Tech Editor

    Keith Wagstaff

  • Photography by

    Zlata Ivleva

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