Making peace with a crease: hands on with Samsung’s Galaxy Fold
Any new technology is bound to have wrinkles. On Samsung's new Galaxy Fold, a phone that opens into a tablet, they include one prominent crease. It goes down the middle of the Fold's remarkable flexible screen, like a pleat on polyester pants.
I'm sure it will dominate discussion about this much-anticipated gadget, arriving in the US on April 26 (and some time shortly after in Australia). But after spending a few hours with the Fold, I made peace with the crease. You forget it's there, like the notch on an iPhone X.
Opening Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is a two-handed job, but closing it only takes one.Credit:Jhaan Elker
But there's more to iron out than the screen before the Fold is a phone for most of us. Its weight: three-quarters of a can of soup. Its functions: far better tablet than phone. And its astronomical price: at $US1980 (with equates to $2760, but exact Australian price has not been confirmed), only for first-adopters and the sorts of status-seekers who might also buy a phone studded with Swarovski crystals.
From my hands-on time, I got answers to some of the questions that have been building up ever since Samsung first teased the idea of a folding phone. Here's what I learned.
How does the Fold work as both a phone and a tablet?
Think of the Fold as a taco. Now lay the folded tortilla on its side. That's the front, or the "phone" part. It's a smidgen taller than a "plus"-size iPhone or Galaxy but only three-quarters as wide. The Fold's front screen fills only a fraction of that space, leaving unused space on the top and bottom.
Closed up in ‘phone’ mode, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is a little taller than other phones, but much thinner and easier to grip.Credit:Jhaan Elker
It's enough screen to make calls and look at very skinny versions of apps, but I can't picture using it as much more than a lock and notifications screen.
Now open up your taco to expose the yummy bits. On the Fold, that's where the "tablet" part is on a separate interior screen that's a little smaller than an iPad Mini. It's also the most functional part of the Fold, and the screen I kept returning to do almost everything. But typing on such a wide screen isn't really possible with one hand.
Can the Fold do anything you can't with a phone or tablet alone?
There's a very nicely executed experience that links the exterior phone screen and interior tablet screen. Launch an app on the front, and open up to find it on the full screen.
Beyond that, the Fold seems to be mostly about the convenience of having a tablet in your pocket. I'm just not sure that small tablet is sufficient to do much more than read, watch videos and do email. Opened up, the Fold has the ability to run three apps at once. But doing so makes two of the apps tiny squares.
Can it fit in your pocket?
The Fold is about as thick as a stack of two smartphones. My bigger concern is the weight: At around 260g, it's 68 percent heavier than Samsung's flagship Galaxy S10 phone (156g), and approaching the weight of a can of Campbell's soup.
It's a matter of perspective: If you're used to carrying around a phone and a tablet, the Fold feels like relief; but if you've been enjoying the thinner-and-lighter trend on other electronics, the Fold might be a burden.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold, right, is about as thick as two smartphones stacked on top of each other.Credit:Jhaan Elker
Does repeat folding ruin the Fold?
In one sprint, I tried opening and closing it 100 times, and couldn't detect any damage. Samsung says it's got a robot that has done that a few more times than me — 200,000, to be exact — and also hasn't had any problems. Stretched over three years, that would be more than 180 foldings per day.
Does it actually lie flat like a tablet?
Yes, the hinge on the back makes the phone stay at exactly 180 degrees. But when it phone closes up, there’s a slight interior gap, which could be a lint magnet.
Is it fragile?
I expected it to feel a bit janky, but it was as solid as a stiff glasses case (and needs two hands to open). It's possible the hinge on a Fold could loosen over time. One of the three models Samsung brought me had a slight give when I squished it like a stress toy.
The crease is visible, especially from the side, but it mostly disappears front-on when the screen is lit up.Credit:Jhaan Elker
What happens when you drop it is another question. The front screen is glass and could crack. The interior screen is, possibly, less likely to crack because it is made of plastic. But that same material might also be more inclined to scratches.
The biggest concern is that, like Gremlins, you cannot get the Fold wet. Water might get in through the hinge.
How do the cameras work?
There are six total: one for selfies on the front, three on the back for zoom, regular and wide shots, and two cut out from the screen on the inside for even more selfies.
In tablet mode, the back cameras are in the right spot for taking regular photos and give you that big lovely screen as a viewfinder. The shutter icon smartly moves to exactly where your finger needs it.
Taking photos in tablet mode on the Galaxy Fold is a joy, with lots of screen to frame your shot.Credit:Jhaan Elker
How does all that screen affect battery life?
We don't yet really know. Samsung built two batteries into the Fold, totaling an extraordinary 4380mAh. That's a larger battery than you'll find in almost any other phone. Samsung claims it should keep the phone going "all day," but it might depend on whether you use the Fold primarily as a phone or a tablet.
So do we need a folding phone?
To me, the Fold's usefulness as a one-handed phone seemed to take a back seat to its capabilities as a two-handed tablet. The question is: How many people really need an Android tablet with them at all times?
Samsung was right years ago about the trend toward larger-screen phones, which not that long ago we used to jokingly call "phablets." The Fold combats the distressing trend of people needing handles, like those stick-on circular PopSockets, just to firmly grip their phones. If it catches on, the Fold could be the beginning of an era where big phones really are just tablets.
Perhaps the lesson from the first folding phone will be about the value of making devices smaller. Instead of doing origami on a tablet, imagine folding in half the phone you already own. Welcome back, flip phones.
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