Reader, the age of the foldable smartphone has well and truly arrived.
First we went hands-on with the innovative-but-ultimately-a-bit-naff Royole Flexpai, then we accidentally ignored Huawei’s request not to fold its three-screened Mate X, and now we’ve had a good old play with Samsung’s first bendy offering, the Galaxy Fold.
Like the Mate X, this flexible flagship is so hilariously expensive that it’s hard to believe its maker envisions anyone actually buying one, but you only have to hold the thing in your hands for a few minutes to get excited about the future.
For all Samsung’s insistence that the Fold is a smartphone first, we think it’s better categorised as a tablet that can slip into your pocket and do phone stuff like messages, calls and news feed scrolling when unfolding it isn’t an option.
Think of it as the most portable tablet ever made and the Galaxy Fold is a gamechanger. What we’re not quite so convinced about is its mobile phone alter-ego.
Design: fold news
Folded up, the Galaxy Fold looks like a long and thin smartphone that has been carefully placed on top of another phone of identical proportions. Which is to say, it’s pretty thick, with the hinge measuring 17mm top to bottom. It’s not overly heavy, but you’re going to feel the phone’s presence in your pocket, and because of its height, you’ll probably be able to see it there too.
The additional length doesn’t accommodate a longer screen, however. The 4.6in front display is decidedly small and narrow, almost comparable in size to zoomed out app windows on a regularly sized phone, and the bezels above and below it are bizarrely enormous. If you plan to swap out your current smartphone for one of these, you’ll be simultaneously gaining screen real estate, and losing it.
The screens don’t sit totally flush when the phone is folded up either. The hinge forms a small gap where the two don’t quite meet, but it isn’t the eyesore it sounds like.
On the traditional rear of the phone you’ll find half of its six cameras, while the side houses its fingerprint sensor, power button and volume controls. There’s a USB-C port on the bottom, and absolutely no headphone jack.
Unlike Huawei’s Mate X, whose display wraps around the back when folded, the Galaxy Fold conceals the display that makes up its tablet portion like the pages of a book. You get one less screen than the Mate X, but the tradeoff is that the larger display is protected when not in use.
We worried that a £1,799 foldable phone would feel precious to the extent that you’re actually nervous about using it. Happily, this is not the case at all with the Fold, which is sturdy, well-built and invites you to unfold it as much as you like.
That’s just as well, because when you start using Samsung’s bold new device you’ll quickly discover how addictive it is to simply fold and unfold it again. The hinge will click when the display is fully unfurled, and emits an equally satisfying clack when magnetically clamped shut. Samsung assures us that its bendy AMOLED tech is designed to endure hundreds of thousands of folds, and it certainly doesn’t feel fragile.
Unfolded, you get a 7.3in tablet (a bit smaller than an iPad Mini), but it feels plenty big enough, thin enough at 7.5mm (6.9mm screen) and easy to hold in one hand. It’s a shame there’s an unsightly notch in the top right corner, because otherwise it’s pretty much all screen. Good thing you can hide it with a black bar when you’re watching video.
We can’t talk about the Galaxy Fold’s design without talking about the crease in the display. We’re not sure how Samsung’s tech wizards can avoid creating a fold line in a foldable phone, but sympathy for their struggle doesn’t change the fact that it’s easily noticeable at an angle, and not particularly nice to run your finger across. The Fold never lies entirely flat either. The crease is just something you’ll have to accept, and as you’ll be looking at the display straight-on most of the time, it shouldn’t be a massive issue.
Screen and sound: : on the double
As mentioned, the Galaxy Fold features two displays: a 4.6in HD+ Super AMOLED (21:9) with a 720x1680 resolution on the outside, and a 7.3” QXGA+ Dynamic AMOLED Infinity Flex Display (4.2:3) with a 2152x1536 resolution making up the unfolded mini-tab.
It should be said again that the main screen is going to be unappealing to use for anything other than quick notification checks, music control and taking calls, as it’s just too small. We were squinting at text on the Stuff website.
That’s fine, though, because any time you’re not on the move you’ll want to have it unfolded. It seems to be pretty bright, and colours were vivid. Based on the Avengers: Endgame trailer and 30 second clip of Love, Death & Robots we watched, the Galaxy Fold is going to be a great media machine on the bus.
The Galaxy Fold’s dual AKG-tuned speakers sounded decent enough to us in a fairly large room, but you’ll get a pair of the excellent Samsung Galaxy Buds in the box if you don’t want to draw attention.
Features and performance: Into the fold
For our money, the Galaxy Fold’s standout feature is App Continuity. This is where you open a supported app on the front display, then watch it scale up when the phone is unfolded. With something like Google Maps or Instagram it works brilliantly, and we were impressed by how quickly apps seamlessly jumped between the two screens.
Split view apps also work well. You can have up to three running at once on the larger display, with adding a new window as simple from dragging the right side of the screen and tapping what you want from the sidebar. The furthest app to the left of the setup will appear on the front display when you fold the phone up again.
Android on tablets is famously shonky, but expected pre-release bugs aside, everything runs pretty well on the Fold. Under the hood you’ve got the same Snapdragon 855 used by the Galaxy S10+, as well as a monstrous 12GB of RAM and 512GB storage.
A battery sits on each side of the fold, totalling at 4380mAh, and there's support for wireless charging and wireless power sharing. We’ll find out if the cell will see you comfortably through a day of hardcore folding when we review the phone for real, but we’re sceptical.
Camera: super six
Altogether, the Galaxy Fold packs in half a dozen cameras. There’s a 16MP ultra-wide, a 12MP wide-angle lens and a 12MP telephoto sensor on the rear, while the unfolded display’s notch contains a 10MP selfie camera and an 8MP RGB depth camera. Rounding off the setup is an additional 10MP front-facing snapper that lives above the smaller display.
Loads of cameras, then. You can expect them to perform similarly to the S10’s impressive camera, but perhaps the biggest takeaway here is that it’s no longer unacceptable to take pictures on a tablet.
Samsung Galaxy Fold initial verdict
The first generation of foldable phones is inevitably going to be hit and miss. We’re dealing with brand new tech that is bound to have teething problems.
In the case of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the issues are immediately noticeable. It’s awkwardly bulky, bezel-heavy on the front, and there’s a visible crease that runs down the phone’s middle. It’s hard to dress that up as premium. It’s also really, really expensive.
But the Galaxy Fold is also a foldable phone that actually works as you’d expect it to, which is nothing short of miraculous given that it was only unveiled a few months ago. It feels built to last, and using a feature like App Continuity for the first time provides one of those all-too-rare wow moments.
While we might still be some way off the first must-buy foldable, we’re increasingly glad that they’re here to shake up the market. Look out for a full review in the coming weeks.