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.
Performance - Specs, Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
Processor: Snapdragon 855
Operating System: Android 9.1 + One UI
MicroSD slot: No
Headphone Jack: No
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, side-mounted
SIM: eSIM + Dual Sim
Connectivity: 4G + Wi-Fi 6 + Bluetooth 5 + NFC
Rear Camera: 16-megapixel f/2.2 + 12-megapixel f/1.5 & f/2.4 dual-aperture + 12-megapixel telephoto f/2.4 + ToF
Front-Facing Camera: 10-megapixel (f/2.2) wide-angle lens + an 8-megapixel (f/1.9) wide angle lens & 10-megapixel (f/2.2) cover camera
Dimensions: 160.9 x 62.9 x 15.5 mm
Weight: 263 g
The Galaxy Fold runs on Android 9.1 crossed with Samsung’s One UI. It looks super slick and it feels really responsive in action. For the most part, the software experience here isn’t that different from what you’ll get out of a Galaxy S10 or Note 10.
However, there are a few exceptions to this. Familiar looks come augmented by new functionality designed to help you get the most out of the Fold’s unique form-factor.
The first of these is app continuity. This refers to the ability to have apps seamlessly carry from one screen to another. For example, you take a photo with the folded Fold’s rear camera and then open up the inner display to see the results in higher resolution.
When this feature works, it works really well. The caveat here is that you do have to go into the settings menu to manually enable every single app you want to work this way and that, even then, not all apps are supported.
Overall, I’d say this situation is better than I expected but not quite as ubiquitous as I’d hope. Still, things can only get better over time.
The other neat software feature that the Fold offers is enhanced multitasking.
On top of the split-screen multitasking and picture-in-picture playback already available through Android, the Galaxy Fold can support three apps at once plus floating windows.
This experience is not as smooth or intuitive as I’d like it to be but it is something that you can’t really get out of other Android devices and it does make the Fold better suited to multitasking in a way that even the Note 10 can’t match.
The last thing to note here is that, while typing on the Fold’s outer display feels a bit cramped, the experience of typing on the larger display is second to none. Samsung’s native keyboard app does this neat trick where it splits the keyboard across both edges of the display, which makes it exceptionally ergonomic and intuitive to use.
At least, that’s been my experience. About half the people I’ve shown the Fold agree. The other half recoil in terror at the sight of the device’s split keyboard. Your mileage may vary. I dig it though.
The Galaxy Fold also supports Samsung’s DeX experience and, it turns out that DeX runs really, really well with 12GBs of RAM behind it.
My one complaint here is that the Galaxy Fold doesn’t offer the simple digital toggle for DeX that the recent Tab S6 does. You can only use it when it’s cabled into a monitor or laptop. You can’t just enable the DeX interface on the unfolded Galaxy Fold - which does stifle its potential as a tablet replacement somewhat.
As mentioned, one of the unique perks of choosing the Fold over Samsung’s other 2019 flagships is that it runs on the Snapdragon 855 processor. Ordinarily, Australians are stuck with the Exynos variant of each new Samsung device. This time around, you get the best.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the Galaxy Fold’s performance on this processor and the accompanying 12GBs of RAM was super-impressive. It cleanly beat out Google’s Pixel 4 XL and Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro for graphics performance.
It didn’t quite close that gap on other fronts but, as far as Android performance goes, the Galaxy Fold left a strong and positive impression.
Please note that, since we haven’t reviewed that many devices since Geekbench updated their software, we don’t have a huge pool of samples to compare the Galaxy Fold against. We plan to update this section once we have a bit more data to play with.
Jumping into titles like Call of Duty: Mobile, Hearthstone and Armello, the Fold ran 3D games smoothly in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mobile device manage.
Unfortunately, the flip-side of this performance is that very few titles seem to be optimised for the specific dimensions of the Fold’s inner display and even fewer support app continuity. My experience gaming on the Fold was plagued by a lot of black bars and weird sections of the screen that were obscured by the Fold's silly-looking shoulder-notch. I would love to see how more ambitious stuff like League of Legends: Wild Rift runs on this thing.
Still, games and videos looked mostly great on the Fold’s spacious inner display in indoor environments. Reading ebooks on the Fold is particularly compelling. It’s not the nicest display but it's still a pretty nice display. The situation is slightly less rosy when taken outdoors. In these sorts of situations, the glossy plastic screen becomes more problematic.
Treated as a tablet, the Fold is actually quite small. It's more akin to an iPad Mini than it is the recent Tab S6. That being said, I can't wait to see Samsung take this form-factor and build a dedicated Android tablet around it. Divorced from the demands and expectations of being a usable phone, it feels like Samsung's flexible display tech could thrive.
I doubt the Fold could replace my Nintendo Switch but if you put a gun to my head and asked me if the Fold offered a better gaming experience than the average flagship smartphone, I’d say yes.
The other gaming thing I’d love to talk about here is how Samsung’s PlayGalaxy Link app runs on the Fold. Regretfully, at the time of testing, the Fold is yet to be listed as a compatible device for the service. My dreams of playing Destiny 2 on a smartphone remain unfulfilled.
Since I only got to spend about four days messing with the Fold, my testing of the Fold’s battery life is a bit all over the place and has to be taken with a grain of salt. My review unit didn’t come fully charged and most of my first day with the device was spent downloading a ton of apps - which probably burned down my charge a lot faster than it would have otherwise.
My experience with the two-ish days of regular usage saw the 4380mAh battery deliver on even a really long day. Approaching midnight, I’d sometimes have between 30% and 40% charge remaining.
Depending on how frequently you use the device’s larger internal display, I could imagine getting pretty close to a second day of regular usage. I’ve anecdotally heard some journalists say that mostly relying on the smaller external display can get you about three days of usage per charge but I haven’t had the chance to properly test it for myself - so I can’t really vouch for it either way.
That being said, one thing I did notice was that the Fold’s 15W wired charging felt really slow compared to other modern flagships. I assume this is a product of the Fold’s unique dual-cell battery design but it did feel like a compromise and something that made using this device as my primary one a little bit worse.
The Bottom Line
Samsung gave me four days with the Galaxy Fold, so I’m gonna give you four concluding thoughts on the world’s first mainstream foldable.
Number #1: I feel cheated.
I stopped using my Huawei P30 Pro for about a month after I reviewed the Google Pixel 3a because the experience of using that device on a day-to-day basis was so delightful that I honestly didn’t care if I missed out on flagship features and 10x lossless zoom.
More than just limiting my time to actually test and use the device, having to hand my Galaxy Fold back after four days with it cheats me of truly or honestly knowing whether or not I really would recommend living with the caveats and going all in on Australia’s first foldable phone.
Number #2: The Fold Effect is real.
Back in April, reading overseas reviews of the original Fold, there was one intriguing idea that caught my attention. In my brain, I started thinking of it as The Fold Effect. When the (brief) opportunity to use the Fold as my daily-driver arrived, I was delighted to find the phenomena intact.
In subtle ways, the design of the Fold makes you want to use it less. But it also makes you think about the way you’re using your phone more. For all that the Fold gets wrong and right, this quality remains absolutely fascinating and utterly exclusive to it.
Number #3: The price.
There’s a lot I like about the Galaxy Fold but it’s so hard to separate it from how much it costs.
Price is always such a murky thing to write about because $2999 doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For some people, this is a straight-up crazy amount of money to spend on a phone. For others, the Fold expensive but it’s still something they can afford - be it through a monthly plan or a salary sacrifice arrangement with their employer.
Everyone’s financial situation is different, though the questions you have to ask yourself before buying the Fold remain the same. What price do you put on having a phone that’s genuinely different to everything else out there? How much are you willing to pay to beta test the phone of the future?
Finally, Number #4: This is what the future looks like.
Samsung, more than most other smartphone manufacturers, likes to play on this fantasy of convergence. The one device to rule them all. The Fold isn’t that. But it’s not difficult to see how it gets us to that in the near future.
Even as someone who has spent the last few days reckoning with the myriad caveats attached to to Galaxy Fold, the idea of having to carry one thing instead of two things is oh-so-simple but utterly intoxicating. Samsung's DeX mode tried to tackle this problem through software. The Fold tries to do it though hardware.
I’m a little on the fence about recommending people rush out to drop $2999 on a Fold of their own but I’m solidly convinced that better and cheaper versions of this product have a future in my life. It's good enough that I'm happy to make an exception when it comes to reviewing it but not so much so that I'd outright recommend it without making mention of the inescapable caveat that is the price.
I want a Fold but, after four days with it, I don’t know if I really want this Fold.
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