Samsung's new Galaxy Fold had a rough start but gets a second chance with factory fixes. The new version is sturdier but still costs nearly $2,000.
Samsung's much-anticipated Galaxy Fold had a difficult start. Design flaws caused serious issues with the screen, but the new version may bring Samsung back into the lead spot of tech giants.
The Galaxy Fold isn't the first foldable phone released, but it's the smartest. Although, its price tag firmly places it in the luxury market.
The unique device stands out in the Samsung portfolio--but the downside is, it's almost $2,000.
What is the Samsung Galaxy Fold?
The Galaxy Fold serves as a hybrid phone and tablet. When folded, it fits in the palm of your hand and can still be used to send a message or make a call. When unfolded, it serves as a tablet for a big screen and fuller canvas.
It has a 7.3-inch dynamic AMOLED Infinity Flex Display that folds in two for a 4.6-inch 840 x 1960 cover display.
The Galaxy Fold allows for three apps to be simultaneously displayed on the screen when unfolded, and it optimizes apps such as Microsoft Office. The Galaxy Fold supports Universal Flash Storage 3.0, which is the first time it's been available on a mobile device. It has 12GB of RAM and 512GB of onboard memory. It has a 7 nanometer processor.
There are six cameras on the Galaxy Fold. There are three camera lenses on the rear, two on the inside, and one on the front. This is intended to allow it to capture action at any angle.
It's a luxury device with a luxury price tag, with both the LTE and 5G versions starting at $1,980. It is on the market in Singapore and Korea, and it's being released around most of the world on Sept. 18. It is rumored to be released in the US in late September, though Samsung has scrapped plans to release a 5G version in the US. It comes in two colors: Cosmos Black and Space Silver--other colors were ditched by Samsung for the US market.
It can be paired with Samsung DeX for a PC-like experience. Bixby is supported with AI, such as Bixby Routines, and it's secured through Samsung Knox. It also supports purchases through Samsung Pay and it's tied into Samsung Health.
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How is the Galaxy Fold designed?
Samsung had to create new ways to design, engineer, and manufacture a device to develop the Galaxy Fold, according to Justin Denison, product executive for Samsung.
"One of the biggest challenges was building the backbone of the device. Something that can hold strong even after hundreds of thousands of holds to non-holds. So we invented a sophisticated hinge system that allows you to open and close the Galaxy Fold smoothly and naturally. And the beauty of it is, you don't even see it. The hinge's multiple interlocking gears are hidden giving the device a seamless, elegant look," Denison said at Unpacked.
The Galaxy Fold has two screens: One is 4.6 inches and is what you see when the device is closed like a book, and the other is a 7.3-inch display that you see when you open it up and use it more like a tablet. Each screen works on its own, but they also work together for a seamless multi-screen experience of what Samsung calls App Continuity, so that you can switch between screens without missing a beat.
The interior screen is one of the first examples of Samsung's Infinity Flex Display, which is an ultra thin polymer that attaches with a new adhesive that laminates the phone's display layers to allow them to flex and fold without breaking.
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Who is the target audience for the Galaxy Fold?
The Galaxy Fold is aimed at early adopters who want to be among the first to own new technology. It's a luxury device at a luxury price point. The range of multi-tasking tools that Samsung revealed at Unpacked show that they're targeting a business user who wants something that easily tucks into a pocket, but can serve double duty as a laptop or tablet.
Samsung worked with Google and the Android developer community to optimize apps and services such as WhatsApp and Microsoft Office for the device's unique dual displays. Samsung also worked with YouTube for access to YouTube Premium.
"With a $2,000 price tag, this is going to be for those technology aficionados and the techcognicenti who can appreciate, and most likely use, a foldable display as Samsung intended it to be used," said Ramon Llamas, research director with the International Data Corporation's Devices and Displays team.
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What operating system will it use?
The Galaxy Fold uses Android 9.0 with Samsung's new One UI. This ties into Google's support for foldable Android devices, which was announced in late 2018.
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How many cameras does it have?
There are a total of six cameras on the Galaxy Fold. There are three in the back, two on the inside and one on the cover. These are the same sensors as on the Galaxy S10 5G, which came out during the second quarter of 2019, although the configuration is different. Multitasking extends to the camera, so that other apps can be used during a video call.
"The Fold will always be ready to capture the moment, no matter which way you hold it or you fold it," Denison said at Unpacked.
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What is the battery like?
The Galaxy Fold has two batteries that work in conjunction to power the device. There is one on each side of the device. The energy from both batteries work together to form a single power source of 4,380mAh. It is also capable of charging itself, and a second device simultaneously, via Wireless PowerShare, while connected to a regular charger, so you can leave your second charger at home.
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Is the new Galaxy Fold durable?
Early reviews say that Samsung has learned from its initial mistakes.
Tuong Nguyen, senior principal analyst for Gartner, said in early 2019 he hoped that it would be durable with a robust screen because every time someone has to look at a cracked screen on their own phone, "it's a constant reminder that you failed yourself."Of course the cost of repairing a larger screen, such as on the Galaxy Fold, will be more eye-watering than with smaller devices.
The first iteration saw lots of issues with the screen. It came with a plastic, adhesive screen protector that easily peeled off, destroying the screen. The new version has the edges of this protector hidden to prevent removal.
Another issue was that debris found its way inside the phone through the open hinge, which damaged the screen from the inside. That has been fixed with new hinge protectors, keeping the internal workings dust-free.
An extra layer of metal was added behind the screen to help make the screen stronger and help the hinge crease in the screen less prominent.
Samsung also added Galaxy Fold Premier Service, which gives the user direct access to Samsung experts via phone 24 hours a day.
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What does this mean to the smartphone market?
It means that foldable phones are not ready for the mainstream market, but they have arrived.
Competitors such as Xiaomi, Huawei, Alcatel, and Motorola have been busy working on foldable phone designs. Apple has filed patent applications for a foldable iPhone design.
Analysts such as Nguyen say that foldable phones are the wave of the future and that the Galaxy Fold serves as an aspiration device within the Samsung line and will make customers who opt for less expensive Samsung phones still feel like they're part of a technologically advanced family of devices. "It will lock them in to be a loyal Samsung user, similar to how Apple does with their user base," Nguyen said.
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Llamas said the approach that Samsung is taking is not to create a foldable screen for the sake of making it foldable, but instead, to allow for a better user experience to improve productivity and multimedia consumption. It will give a user a similar experience to a PC by being able to use multiple apps at once.
While the current device isn't intended for the mass market, it is the foundation for the future of Samsung, Llamas said.
"What I'm really curious about is something DJ Koh [Samsung mobile chief] said. He said, 'We are laying down the foundation for the next 10 years.' If that be true, could the Galaxy Fold technology eventually make its way out to the mass market? Maybe not this year or next year or the year after that, but perhaps in several years it could happen. Samsung has done that with phablets, edge displays, and the Galaxy Note. When you put that all together, Samsung could be charting out for the next several years," Llamas said.
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Where can I buy it?
The Galaxy Fold is expected to sell in the US through AT&T and T-Mobile in late September, though Samsung hasn't announced an official US release date. The US price will start at $1,980. There will be a 4G LTE version, but no 5G version.
A 5G version of the Galaxy Fold is now available in South Korea.
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What are the specs?
- Display: Main display: 7.3" QXGA+ Dynamic AMOLED (4.2:3); Cover display: 4.6 " HD+ Super AMOLED (21:9)
- OS: Android 9.0
- Memory: 12GB RAM(LPDDR4x), 512GB (UFS3.0)
- Cameras: Cover camera: 10MP Selfie Camera, F2.2; Rear triple camera: 16MP Ultra Wide Camera, F2.2; 12MP Wide-angle Camera, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, F1.5/F2.4; 12MP Telephoto Camera, PDAF, OIS, F2.4, 2X optical zoom; Front dual camera: 10MP Selfie Camera, F2.2; 8MP RGB Depth Camera, F1.9
- Batteries: Two batteries for a combined 4,380mAh; Fast Charging compatible on wired and wireless; Wired charging compatible with QC2.0 and AFC; Wireless charging compatible with WPC and PMA
- AP: 7nm 64-bit Octa-core processor
- Colors: Cosmos Black or Space Silver
Editor's note: This article was updated on Sept. 9, 2019 by Lisa Hornung.