It’s the most heralded revolution in smartphone design for years, and our gadget guru Pat Pilcher got to play with Samsung’s Fold. He flipped.
Back in February, while at Mobile World Congress, I got up close to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. As the industry’s first smartphone form factor innovation in years, the excitement was palpable. Sadly, the Fold was inside a glass case. Pre-orders for the Fold in New Zealand start on the December the 9th, and it’ll hit retailer shelves on December the 18th, 2020. The big question is this: Will the public still be as hyped about the Fold as they were almost a year earlier?
A limited number of devices meant that Samsung could only lend me a Fold for a mere seven days. That isn’t enough time to work up a definitive review, so instead, here are my first impressions. Hopefully, Samsung will be able to get a long-term loaner over to Witchdoctor. That way we’ll be able to give you the good oil and more detail on this most intriguing widget.
So, will Joe and Joanne public fizz at the bung when the Galaxy Fold launches? I’d wager yes if the public reaction is anything to go by. While testing it in central Wellington, I had several people ask what it was. They were intrigued after seeing me opening it up and transforming it from a tall, skinny phone into a 7.3-inch, almost square tablet. It is kind of cool when you see an app running on its small front screen becoming bigger (and more usable) on its unfolded display. Even cooler still, you can run up to three apps at once on the 7.3-inch screen.
My excitement aside, I was also a little nervous that I was going to damage the Fold. My fears were somewhat justified. After early reports of damage by other reviewers, Samsung went back to the drawing board and tweaked the Galaxy Fold’s screen to make it more durable. Given it’s expected to retail for a whopping $3399, it isn’t hard to see why I was worried. My worries were unfounded. Samsung not only bundles the excellent wireless Galaxy Buds but also includes a protective silicon case.
So, who is the Galaxy Fold aimed at? Given its high-end price, the easy money would be well-off early adopters wanting some serious wow factor. I’d also suggest it’d be those wishing to carry a tablet without looking like they have a canoe on their pocket (or are incredibly pleased to see you). I personally can’t wait until foldable phones are sufficiently affordable that I can own one.
After some reviewers damaged their Fold by peeling off what they thought was a screen protector (it was part of the screen), Samsung went to work to improve durability. The refinements were many. They included placing the plastic film under a raised protective screen edge. Covers got placed over the hinges (so they didn’t get gummed up with pocket lint), metal was added under the screen (so it felt rigid). The tweaks worked, as the Fold didn’t miss a beat in the all too brief time I spent with it.
Using Gmail, Outlook, Chrome, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook and a bunch of other apps on the Fold’s 7.3-inch display felt considerably roomier than on my Note 10+. While I had the space to run three apps at once, I rarely did so, instead choosing to luxuriate in all the extra space that the unfolded screen gave me. Reading threaded emails was less of a chore, and everything had space to breathe. That said, when the Fold is closed, its 4.6-inch front screen almost felt tiny to the point of being unusable with information-heavy apps.
Interestingly, while the Fold felt thinner than the Note 10+ when unfolded (and chunkier when folded), its tall, rectangular design meant it was dead easy to slip into my pocket.
For those on a budget, the frustrating news is that the Galaxy Fold will probably be way out of reach. It is almost guaranteed to be one of the most expensive smartphones sold in the New Zealand market at roughly double the sticker-price of most top-end smartphones. So, will it sell? I’m guessing the numbers won’t be huge, but its sheer wow factor and the ability to pay it off as part of a mobile plan will probably help sales along.
Design aside, the feel of the Galaxy Fold also deserves special mention. In hand, it feels solid. Opening and closing it is silky smooth, thanks in part to the use of premium materials and a fancy dual-axis hinge. A giveaway of the fact the Fold isn’t a cheapie comes in its weight. The use of premium materials (I’m guessing machined unobtanium) means that It weighs a hefty 259.3g, or roughly double the weight of my Note 10 Plus. For long surfing sessions/calls, you’ll feel its heft, but for watching video content, the Fold does a decent job of sitting on your lap, a bench or table. I’d like to see a rear fold-out kickstand in future models, so it could be propped up.
Its front display is under a layer of gorilla glass. Still, as glass doesn’t bend super well, its unfolded screen is crafted out of flexible plastic. The button layout mightn’t be what I’d prefer, but it works. This sees the Fold equipped with a separate power button and a fingerprint scanner on its right-hand side. An integrated fingerprint reader and power button (along similar lines to what Sony did with the Xperia), would have made more sense. It would’ve allowed users to power up and unlock seamlessly. The Fold’s fingerprint sensor also does double duty as a programmable button for opening apps (it is set to Bixby by default).
While the Fold doesn’t have a headphone jack, Samsung has bundled wireless Galaxy Buds with it. Like other Samsung phones, the Fold also comes with Adapt sound baked in. Firing it up sees the Fold playing a series of tones in each ear, much like an impromptu hearing test. Based on what you indicate you can and can’t hear, it’ll apply custom equalisation and tweaks audio processing to deliver audio tailored to your hearing.
So, what of the Fold’s displays? The front screen is at best useful for notifications and applying quick tweaks. At just 4.6 inches, it feels tiny compared to most phones, and its narrow shape also made for tricky typing. That said, for changing music tracks, seeing what emails have arrived and so on, it worked. The exciting stuff happens with the 7.3-inch foldable display. It’s an AMOLED beast, so it’s both colourful and crisp. For media consumption and working on large documents, the extra screen real estate made things feel far less cramped. That said, there is a small crease in the middle of the display where it folds. To all intents and purposes, it went mostly unnoticed.
By default, the keyboard on the foldable screen has a split layout for fast typing. The limited-time I had with it meant it never got to learn my typing style or quirky grammar. Predictive text predictably scrambled tweets and emails into weird and wonderful haiku.
In the photography department, the Fold is well equipped. There are six cameras. These consist of three shooters around the back (a 12MP wide-angle camera, a 16MP ultra-wide lens and a 12MP telephoto lens). Around the front when folded, there’s a 10MP selfie shooter. Plus, another for use when the Fold is unfolded as well as an 8-MP depth camera for portraits.
Like other Samsung phones, you can double press the power button to snap a photo. Daylight photos were well saturated and delivered plenty of detail. The wide-angle camera captured good detail levels; some subtle barrel distortion was noticeable (if you looked hard enough).
Like the Note 10, there’s a bunch of Live Focus modes, and the manual mode also offers a lot of control over shooting while the night mode also delivers surprisingly good results. The front shooter, which is so often an afterthought on most phones, was remarkably good. Add to this the Fold’s ability to shoot 4K at 60 FPS along with image stabilisation, and you get a knockout video camera too.
Under the hood, there’s also plenty to like. The Fold is powered by Qualcomm’s successor to the 855, the Snapdragon 8150. It uses a big/little configuration consisting of 4 cores clocked at 1.7 GHz and 2.6 GHz in other 4 cores. This is significant as it is the first time for a while that Samsung hasn’t used in-house silicon for non-US markets. Given its ability to run 3 apps on its big screen, Samsung has unsurprisingly fitted it out with a whopping 12GB of RAM. The combination 7nm Snapdragon silicon and a generous helping of RAM played a crucial role in the Fold’s lag-free performance – even with as many as three apps all running simultaneously. Those with large media libraries and app collections will also like that the Fold comes with 512GB of non-expandable storage by default. Rounding things out on the spec front are two batteries (one in each side of the Fold’s screens) equating to 4,380 mAh. This generous battery spec is a good thing given the energy-hungry XXL sized folding-screen. The combo of a 7nm CPU and sizeable battery delivered just under 11 hours of moderate use.
The Galaxy Fold makes using apps on the go a joy thanks to its 7.3-inch screen. With it, I’d probably use a laptop a whole lot less. That said, the steep sticker price could place it firmly out of reach for me and many others. Considering it is a first-generation foldable smartphone, I’m impressed.
While this isn’t a fully-fledged review, I’m confident that Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is worthy of a 9 out of 10, at least.
Starting Price: $3399
OS: Android 9.9 with One UI
CPU: Snapdragon 855
External display: 4.6 – inches (HD+)
Foldable display: 7.3- inches (QXGA+)
Rear cameras: 12MP wide-angle (f/1.5 to f/2.4); 12MP telephoto (f/2.4); 16MP ultra-wide (f/2.2)
Front camera (closed): 10MP selfie (f/2.2)
Front camera (open): 10MP selfie (f/2.2); 8-MP RGB depth Sensor (f/1.9)
Battery: 4,380 mAh
Size: 62.9 x 160.9 x 17mm