Samsung Galaxy Fold review: Show Off
The expensive, foldable smartphone of the future finally arrives
- Versatile and unique form-factor
- Great specs and performance
- Makes you think about how you use your phone
- Ridiculously expensive
- Inconsistent app continuity
- Limited durability
The Fold is innately compelling, truly innovative and impossibly expensive.
Design - Look, Feel, Features and Camera
The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a phone that does what no other phone can: it folds.
There are two screens to talk about here. A smaller 4.6-inch HD+ Super AMOLED outer display and a larger 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display on the inside. Under the hood, the Galaxy Flex is powered by a Snapdragon 855 processor, 12GBs of RAM, 512GB of storage and Android Pie.
There’s no Micro SD slot or headphone jack here. Instead, the Fold features a single USB Type-C at the base that’s used for charging the device, an optical fingerprint sensor on the side and a total of six cameras spread across its various configurations.
The Galaxy Fold supports 15W wired charging, 15W wireless charging and Samsung PowerShare reverse wireless charging. The device also comes bundled with a free set of Galaxy Buds and an aramid fibre case that snaps onto the body of the device.
To hold and handle, the Fold feels predictably premium in a way that only a Samsung or Apple flagship can. It’s definitely bulkier and heavier than most flagships but it’s not heavy enough that I felt like it offset or outweighed the appeal of having a screen that’s able to change between being as little or big as I need it to be.
This conceit is arguably the most interesting thing about the Fold. As someone who likes the extra specs and battery life that a bigger handset offers but prefers the smaller and slimmer form-factor of stuff like the iPhone 11 Pro and the Pixel 3a, Samsung’s first foldable is the first handset to achieve the impossible and deliver on both fronts at the same time.
During my time with the Fold, I found myself gravitating towards different screens for different things. Checking a notification? That’s a small screen task. Sending an email? That’s a job for the big screen.
If you’re looking at the display off-center, you will notice the crease in the center of the display. However, using the device as intended, you forget it’s there pretty fast.
Still, in spite of its comically large bezels and crease-ridden inner display, the Galaxy Fold made me reconsider the way I used my phone on a day-to-day basis in a way that no other phone I’ve reviewed this year has managed.
Of course, the reality is that - due to its unique design - the Fold is still fundamentally more prone to breakage than a non-foldable phone is.
Between now and the original Fold’s launch, Samsung has taken measures to try and mitigate this. They’ve reduced the space between the hinge and the body of the device. They’ve made several durability improvements such as extending the protective film on the display beyond the bezels and adding a set of protective caps that should help prevent detritus from getting underneath the screen.
All up, the situation now is much better than it was back in April. And given how comprehensively Samsung responded to the Note 7’s exploding batteries, I wouldn’t be shocked if the company’s efforts to improve the Fold leave it looking like the more durable foldable even as other manufacturers move into the space in the next twelve months.
Despite all this, it remains hard to argue against the notion that the Fold still has more points of failure than a normal phone does. This is a phone you can’t take to the beach.
While that’s just one example, it does demonstrate how the Galaxy Fold forces you to think about and consider durability in a way that’s become somewhat assumed in less-bendy smartphones.
Specifically, it forces you to consider what’s an acceptable level of potential breakage for a device that costs $2999 and does things that no other device on the market can. It’s one thing to livestream the Fold breaking after 120,000 folds but, at a certain point, you have to ask yourself whether that’s number - which Samsung says is equivalent to 3-4 years of regular usage - is an acceptable one.
Hypothetically - if the display on your current phone started to give out after 3-4 years of regular usage, how strongly would you hold that against the manufacturer? There’s no real precedent for what expected real-world performance looks like in a foldable smartphone. That makes it inherently difficult to truly assess or critique whether the Fold delivers what most people would call a reasonable lifetime of regular usage.
What’s more, some parts of the Fold are going to age better than others.
Going into reviewing the Galaxy Fold, the camera side of the equation was one area where I really expected to be disappointed. The photography kit featured in the Samsung’s S10 and Note 10 series devices this year has hardly been poor but the South Korean manufacturer simply don’t dominate here in the way that they once did.
Still, I can’t say they aren’t trying. The Galaxy Fold comes equipped with six cameras in total. You’ve got cameras pretty much everywhere you’d want to have cameras. There's a 10-megapixel cover camera, a dual-lens selfie cam and a triple lens configuration on the back.
Coming away from this year’s PAX Australia, I’m convinced that I could get by without a DSLR next year and rely on a smartphone camera instead. The Galaxy Fold’s camera is good-to-great but the results it produces are simply not consistent or crisp enough for me to consider using it for something like that.
Of course, if you’re spending this much on a phone, a sub-par camera is a compromise you don’t really want to be making. If you’re spending this much on a phone, you want something that’s probably at least top three - and the Samsung Galaxy Fold just isn’t that. It’s great - but it can’t produce the exceptional quality images that the iPhone 11 Pro, Huawei P30 Pro or Google Pixel 4 can.
Then, I realised something. The Galaxy Fold is the first Samsung flagship in some time where there’s no Exynos variant. All regions are getting a phone that runs on the same Snapdragon 855 processor.
And, if the Fold runs on a Snapdragon 855 processor, that means you can theoretically side-load the Pixel 4’s camera app onto it. Does the possibility of being able to use Pixel’s Night Sight, Portrait Mode and Super Res Zoom features on the Fold take some of the sting out of the high-end price-tag? I think it just might.
Testing this out via a somewhat buggy port of the Google Camera app, I found the difference in the quality of photos I took using the Fold quite noticeable.
Of course, for all that the Fold’s $2999 price-tag gets you, there are a few flagship perks you miss out on. You don’t get a headphone jack, you don’t get an in-screen fingerprint sensor or 3D Face Unlock, you don’t get expandable storage and you definitely won’t get water resistance.
The other key omission here in terms of future-proofing is 5G connectivity. Samsung are offering a 5G Fold in other markets but Australia is only getting 4G model. Given the price-tag involved, this does sting a little - as you’re probably not going to want to replace this thing for a few years.
That being said, 4G connectivity probably ends up being a net positive on the battery-life side of things - which is something that’ll affect your everyday experience with the Fold right now, rather than theoretically in a few years time.
If you’re expecting Samsung’s first stab at a mass-market foldable to get everything right, you’re probably going to be disappointed here. Putting the durability of the thing aside for a minute, the Fold is sketched through with compromises. It’s a small-and-big phone but it’s hard to make the argument that the Fold is all that exceptionally good at either use case.
It’s the best thing Samsung could make right now but the Fold still feels a little bit too much like a work-in-progress. Even at a glance, it’s easy to think of ways in which it could be better.
Right now, the Galaxy Fold is as futuristic and cool as it is flawed and compromised. It’s genuinely exciting because it’s genuinely different. And although it seems destined to inspire a legion of imitators, the odds are that it won’t take that long for future foldables to cast new light on its glaring flaws.
Next Page: Performance and The Bottom Line
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