Samsung Galaxy Fold review

    Screen snags aside, the Galaxy Fold is an exciting step toward a foldable future

    Samsung Galaxy Fold

    “The Galaxy Fold proves foldable phones are going to be the next big thing.”
    • Seamless software experience
    • Speedy performance
    • Good multitasking features
    • 7.3-inch screen is excellent for entertainment consumption
    • Great battery life
    • Expensive
    • Front screen isn't too useful
    • Screen is prone to glares outdoors, makes crease more pronounced

    My time with the Galaxy Fold came to an end too soon when Samsung recalled review units. Hardware faults with the company’s first foldable phone meant reporters ended up with damaged units, and the launch was postponed. I haven’t stopped thinking about the Galaxy Fold. No phone I’ve reviewed since compares to the marvel of using a vast 7.3-inch screen, with the luxury of closing it in half.

    I have been spoiled with the Galaxy Fold, but things are looking up. Samsung has announced it has fixed the issues on the Galaxy Fold, a new launch window has been set for September, with devices shipping on Sept. 6 in South Korea and in the U.S. in the following weeks. I just can’t wait to get my hands on it again.

    Broken Folds and delayed release

    What exactly happened? Several journalists encountered issues with the display on their Galaxy Fold review units (some through fault of their own), which forced Samsung to delay the release of the Fold originally to May. The company recalled all Fold units, but as May passed, it was quiet about whether the Fold was still going to launch.

    It finally broke its silence on July 24, saying it has fixed several issues with the Fold, and that it will be available for purchase in September. It’s worth noting that I didn’t encounter any problems, and my experience with the Fold has largely been trouble-free.

    “Samsung has taken the time to fully evaluate the product design, make necessary improvements, and run rigorous tests to validate the changes we made,” the company said in a blog post.

    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    In truth, I was never going to recommend the Galaxy Fold. It’s far too expensive for what it offers. Being a first-gen product, it’s also likely you will run into issues down the road. Most people don’t want to be beta testers when they drop close to $2,000 for a product, and rightly so. The only people I think who should entertain the idea of owning a Fold are those who live on the bleeding edge of technology and have money to blow.

    Most people don’t want to be beta testers when they drop close to $2,000 for a product, and rightly so.

    If the Fold’s problems are indeed fixed — we’ll be testing it out again — then great. It’s a good step toward the future of foldable smartphones, and it means you should keep your eyes on Samsung’s second-generation foldable phone, as well as what’s coming from the competition. But until manufacturers can bring foldable phone prices down, I don’t think most people should drop their hard-earned money on these products just yet.

    The Fold and its durability

    Now, onto what you want to hear about. Using the Galaxy Fold is quite unlike anything else. There are two screens: The first is what you see when you hold the phone folded up. It’s a small, 4.6-inch Super AMOLED HD screen (1,680 x 720), and it’s surrounded by thick bezels that make it look like its from 2008. Open the Fold up like a book, however, and you’re greeted to a sprawling 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen with a QXGA+ resolution (2,152 x 1536).

    The 7.3-inch screen steals the show. Samsung calls it an Infinity Flex display, made from bonded layers of polymer material rather than glass. It doesn’t feel as smooth as on glass, but it’s close. Opening it is easy once you get a good grip on the edges, but snapping it shut is so much more satisfying — like hanging up a call on a flip phone.

    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    When folded, the Fold more or less takes up the same length as the Galaxy S10 Plus. The thickness, however, is what’s noticeable as it’s the equivalent of two phones stacked on top of each other. I stopped thinking about thickness after my first few days of using it, when I found the Fold fit in all my pant pockets without fail. This will be a problem for those with small pockets, of course.

    You’ll also notice how narrow the phone is when it’s closed. It’s easy to wrap your hand around, but of course this is a different story unfolded. When it’s open like a book, the Fold is lightweight enough to manage, but any interaction will require both hands. There’s too much screen to be able to reach all parts of it one handed.

    The hinge hides away when the Fold is opened up, which is neat. It’s on the other edge that you’ll find the power button and volume rocker, as well as a fingerprint scanner not unlike the one on the Galaxy S10e. The scanner doubles as the Bixby button when pressed, and will call up Samsung’s virtual assistant.

    This may come as a shock, but there’s no headphone jack — it’s one of the first flagship phones from Samsung to omit the port

    There’s no fancy in-display fingerprint sensor like on the Galaxy S10 or S10 Plus, which may be a good thing considering the issues many are having with its accuracy. There is a basic face unlock you can use to unlock the screen as an alternative, but it’s not secure like Apple’s Face ID. This may come as a shock, but there’s no headphone jack — it’s one of the first flagship phones from Samsung to omit the port — so you’ll have to rely on wireless earbuds or headphones (you get a pair of Galaxy Buds in the box). The phone is not water resistant, either.

    When I first opened the Fold, both sides surrounding the hinge remained as flat as a pancake. After a week of using it, the phone no longer sits truly flat. The edges slightly stick up, especially when held in the hand. The Fold itself doesn’t feel as stiff as it did right out of the box. I can now feel and hear sounds of the parts shifting and rubbing each other while holding the Fold unfolded. It does make me wonder how put together the Fold will feel after a year of use.

    Yes, it does feel like a brick — like a certain Nokia phone of old — but it also feels like a drop will ruin the hinge and take the phone out of commission. If it’s any comfort, a case is included in the box, one that’s made up of a Kevlar-like material. It feels soft, and putting it on means you won’t have to deal with ugly fingerprints and smudges on the glass back and front.

    The display and the crease

    The 7.3-inch screen is beautiful, colorful, and sharp. It’s bright enough to see the screen in direct sunlight, but you need to angle it a certain way because it attracts a lot of glares from the sun. It’s because of the polymer material used in the display; it looks laminated. This isn’t as much of a problem indoors, but I did find myself adjusting the way I held the Fold outside.

    The 4.6-inch screen on the front looks even better, but it’s tougher to judge because it’s small. I often didn’t spend time using it because it’s so tiny. Content looks squished, and typing on it is a nightmare, so I often just opened the phone up. Samsung says the front screen is mostly for notifications.

    samsung galaxy fold review 6
    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    Can you see a crease where the phone folds? Yes, there is a crease and yes, it’s obvious. The crease is visible when looking at the phone from the side, or when outdoors. It’s tougher to see when looking at the phone straight on — particularly in bright and colorful apps. You can also feel it as you slide your finger across the 7.3-inch screen.

    I’ve read reports of an issue called ‘jelly scrolling,’ where one side of the screen refreshes content at a faster pace than the other, creating a wobbly effect. Samsung confirmed the sensor on the Fold is on the right side of the 7.3-inch screen, so contents on the right will refresh faster. I confirmed the issue on my own unit, but almost never noticed it unless I concentrate and actively look for it.

    My big concern is scratches or dents on the polymer screen. The larger screen is more prone to damage than glass because the material isn’t as hard. My unit doesn’t have any scratches or dents yet, but I’ve seen images from other reviewers with units that look a little banged up already. You’ll have to be extra careful handling the Fold. After all, it does cost around $2,000.

    The software experience

    Samsung’s One UI software, running Android 9.0 Pie, packs a few surprises. As mentioned, I only used the 4.6-inch screen to clear away notifications, to check the time, or to ask a question to Google Assistant. For everything else, even walking in the bustling streets of New York City, I opened up the phone to use the 7.3-inch screen. It felt akin to holding a Kindle. People with large hands (like me) won’t have much trouble, but if you own small hands, you’ll find it unwieldy.

    Speaking of Kindle devices, the Galaxy Fold completely replaced my ebook reader. It’s almost the same size as the all-new Kindle, and reading with the Amazon Kindle app is phenomenal on the 7.3-inch screen. I can even close the phone like a book when I’m done. It’s hands-down my favorite use for the larger screen.

    Games like Pako Forever and Alto’s Odyssey look excellent. Movies and videos are far more immersive than on traditional phones, and any app in general is super-sized. Optimized apps take it all a step further, as apps like Google Maps, Gmail, and Google Calendar, make use of the extra space well.

    Not all apps are created equal, however. Instagram looks ridiculously large, as you still only to see one post at a time. As time passes and more foldable phones are released on the market (and prove popular), expect app developers to tinker their apps to make use of these larger screens better.

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    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    One of the best features is App Continuity, which Samsung worked on with Google. It makes any app you were using on the 4.6-inch screen automatically open on the 7.3-inch screen when it’s unfolded. It’s seamless, and the contents of the app remain unchanged. You can also (optionally) use the feature in reverse. I’ve used reverse App Continuity to move apps like Google Maps to the 4.6-inch front screen after closing the Fold so I could continue looking at directions. It’s excellent.

    Multitasking feels great. Samsung has added a floating window you can pull out from the right side of the phone. Tap on apps in this panel and they will open up in multitasking mode — you can open up to three apps for the ultimate experience, but two of the apps are perhaps a little too squished to really be utilized well. It’s much more comfortable using just two apps in split-screen mode, as it feels like you’re holding two phones next to each other. Initially, I didn’t use this feature because I rarely used split-screen on other phones, but every time I needed to reference another app, I made it a point to try it in split-screen mode. Now I can’t stop using it.

    Not all apps will work well in this mode, however. Samsung hopes developers will add support as the foldable phone category expands.

    Strong performance

    The Fold, like its Galaxy S10 siblings, is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor. It’s the flagship chipset of choice this year, and a handful of other Android phones use it already. It’s paired with a staggering 12GB of RAM, as well as 512GB of internal storage. There’s no MicroSD card slot so you can’t expand storage, but it’s unlikely you’ll need much more.

    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    I’d usually say 12GB of RAM is overkill, but considering this may be one of the few smartphones you’ll be using to multitask with other apps open, it’s perhaps a little more warranted on this phone than any other. I haven’t run into any issues with performance on the Galaxy Fold. Multitasking poses no problem, and games like Pako Forever, Alto’s Odyssey, and PUBG: Mobile run well on the 7.3-inch screen.

    Here are a few benchmark results:

    • AnTuTu 3DBench: 351,304
    • Geekbench 4 CPU: 3,320 single-core; 10,480 multi-core
    • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 4,738 (Vulkan)

    These scores are among the best we’ve seen, and the Fold beats out the Galaxy S10 Plus, which is surprising as the tests were run on the larger 7.3-inch screen. While benchmark scores don’t always tell the full story, the Galaxy Fold doesn’t disappoint. You’ll have no issues running the apps you want to use.

    Six cameras

    The camera experience on the Galaxy Fold is similar to what we’ve seen on the Galaxy S10 Plus, but with more cameras — six to be specific. There’s a 10-megapixel lens on the front, as well as a 10-megapixel lens paired with an 8-megapixel 3D depth sensor on the front when the screen is unfolded. On the rear, you’ll find a 16-megapixel ultra-wide lens, a 12-megapixel standard lens (with variable aperture), and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens on the rear. It’s the extra 10-megapixel lens on the front that is the new addition and the only difference between the Fold’s cameras and the S10 Plus’ setup.

    samsung galaxy fold review 23
    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    The Fold is quick to take pictures, which are colorful and detailed in good lighting conditions, and there’s solid HDR, so images never look too under or overexposed. The triple camera setup on the rear makes it a versatile system, as you can zoom in or go ultra wide for the perfect shot. These two cameras falter in low light, though, as details are often muddy. The main standard camera, which can switch to a wider aperture at night, fares better, but it’s not as strong as the nighttime shots we’ve seen come out of the Huawei P30 Pro or Google Pixel 3.

    Live Focus, Samsung’s portrait mode that adds a blur effect behind a subject, works best in broad daylight. It doesn’t do the best job outlining the subject and details aren’t as strong, but when it works, the result is solid.

    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    On top of all this, you can capture 4K HDR video, which offers a cinematic and colorful look to your videos, and there’s a Super Steady mode that sacrifices some image quality for smooth shots. I did notice stutter when swapping between the three camera lenses on the rear when filming.

    The 10-megapixel cameras — above the unfolded and folded front screens — take average selfies. Detail is often lacking when compared to selfies from the Pixel 3, and I’ve often run into overexposed backgrounds. You’ll want to use the selfie camera on the inner screen — the one with the extra depth-sensing camera — as Live Focus selfies are a little better. There’s better accuracy with the blur, and photos are generally more vibrant. These selfie cameras can capture 4K UHD video if you plan on vlogging in high quality.

    It’s not the best camera system, but the six cameras on the Galaxy Fold will satisfy, and its versatility means you have more ways than one to take a photo.

    Great battery life

    A large 4,380mAh capacity battery sits inside the Galaxy Fold. It’s a dual-cell battery, but all you need to know is that battery life is excellent. On light to medium days of use, which involved using the Fold for browsing social media, messaging, and more, I frequently ended with about 50 percent battery life around 6 p.m. Relying on it more to watch videos, play games, read via the Kindle app, and stream music strained the battery more, but the Fold still managed to get through a full day, with around 30 percent left by 7 p.m.

    On one particular day of extensive reading, I managed to hit seven hours of screen on time, which is impressive. I only averaged out around three and a half hours of screen on time on the Google Pixel 3 XL, for example.

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    Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

    In our battery test, where we played a 1080p YouTube video over Wi-Fi with max brightness (on the larger screen), the Galaxy Fold lasted for 14 hours and 10 minutes. Impressive. That’s our second-best score to date, sitting just behind the Huawei P30 Pro.

    You can charge the Galaxy Fold wirelessly — unfolded or folded — or with a USB Type-C charging cable. While there’s support for fast charging, it’s only for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology, which isn’t as fast as other Android phones that use Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 or other proprietary technology. Still, the phone managed to go from 5 percent to full in around two hours time.

    Wireless charging support means there’s also Wireless Powershare, a feature first introduced on the Galaxy S10 series. You can turn the Fold into a Qi wireless charger and place other devices that support the standard to recharge them back up, like the Galaxy Buds earbuds case, or even an iPhone XS. It’s best used for dire situations, as it’s slow.

    Price, availability, and warranty

    The Galaxy Fold costs $1,980, and comes with 512GB of storage. It will launch in September, but T-Mobile won’t be carrying it like it originally said it would. It will still work on the network, but you’ll just have to buy the phone unlocked from Samsung or another retailer. We’re in the process of confirming with AT&T whether the Fold will be available through the carrier.

    It comes in silver, black, green, and blue. You can also mix and match the color of the hinge for added flair. There will be a 5G model in some markets outside the U.S..

    Head to Samsung’s Galaxy Fold website to provide your email so you can get notified when devices are available. As a perk, when you buy the Galaxy Fold, you get a pair of Samsung’s Galaxy Buds true wireless earbuds included in the box, along with a case.

    The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a strong first step for foldable phones, provided the final product is free from display issues. We’re finally seeing some change to the drab design and iterative upgrades to smartphones, but the $2.000 price still puts the tech out of reach for most people.

    Is there a better alternative?

    There isn’t a lot of competition for the Fold if you’re looking for other foldable phones. Its biggest competitor is the Huawei Mate X, another foldable phone from the Chinese company set to release this year. The Mate X is more expensive, at around $2,600 (2,300 euros), but it has a beefier battery, sleeker design, an extra screen on the back, and likely better cameras — if the Huawei P30 Pro is anything to go by. Sadly, like most Huawei phones, the Mate X won’t be sold in the U.S..

    We do know other companies are working on foldable devices including TCL, LG, Xiaomi, Motorola, and maybe even Apple and Google.

    If you just want a really good phone, Samsung’s Galaxy S10 Plus is a good place to start. You should also look at the Google Pixel 3, and the iPhone XR. Check out our best smartphones guide for more.

    How long will it last?

    This is a tricky question to answer since the Fold is the first foldable phone from a major manufacturer, and it has already been delayed once due to display issues. It should ideally last for three to four years, but the hinge mechanism could wear down, limiting its life span.

    One thing I do know is Samsung is still slow at pushing out software updates. Don’t expect to get Android Q on the Galaxy Fold until early 2020, which is disappointing (Google will likely release it this August).

    Should you buy it?

    No. The Galaxy Fold feels like the future of phones, but it’s far too expensive.

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