+ Friday September 20th, 2019

Samsung’s finally ready to launch the Galaxy Fold — but was it worth the wait?

It feels like Samsung’s been talking about the Galaxy Fold forever. In mobile phone terms, it pretty much has been, given that it started hyping it up in 2018 and then launched it at the same time as the Galaxy S10 family.

Then, of course, it all came rather… unstuck. Quite literally, as the protective screen on early review samples of the Galaxy Fold were notoriously unreliable, forcing Samsung back to the drawing board for the Galaxy Fold. We should have seen the Galaxy Fold before the Note10 launched, not after it.

At IFA 2019, I had the chance to go hands on with an early commercial sample of the revised Galaxy Fold. Samsung says it’s significantly strengthened the materials within to ensure that the screen breaking issues that the first generation had shouldn’t happen. That doesn’t quite make it the Samsung Galaxy Fold 2, though — this is more like the Galaxy Fold 1.1.

I’ll be brutally honest here. I like the idea of foldable phones, but I’ve been around tech journalism long enough to know that you never invest in the first generation of a technology. It’s always improving, and the early adopters pay a hefty price for their early access. Samsung’s problems with the Galaxy Fold really only heightened my thoughts in that direction.

Then I got hold of one, and I was almost instantly impressed with it in most respects. For a start, it’s a surprisingly solid device, even though it’s a foldable phone. I’d had the opportunity for a much shorter play on a Huawei Mate X the day before, and that’s a light phone in your hand — which some folks might prefer — but the Galaxy Fold feels really solid.

Imagine if you will the solid body of the Galaxy Note10, and you’re thinking the right way about how the Galaxy Fold feels, even though Samsung told me this was a preproduction sample. Given they’re going on sale literally the day after my review session in South Korea, I do wonder how true that was, but regardless, it feels like it’s been well engineered for the most part.

It’s also surprisingly fun just to flip it open and shut even if you’re not doing much else with it. Is that a flippant way to treat a $3,000 phone? You bet it is, but I spent plenty of time trying to see if I could trip up the continuity feature — where the primary app running on the full 7.3 inch display transfers to the 4.6 inch display when you close it — and every time I unfolded it, I couldn’t help but grin.

I was also a little cautious about the camera setup. I loathe taking photos on a tablet, but the size of the full Galaxy Fold is just about enough to get me past that issue. I didn’t feel entirely awkward holding it up to take shots — although sadly I couldn’t take any samples away with me for publication — and of course when closed it’s quite easy to grasp.

Samsung’s also done some smart work with multi-app windows on the Galaxy Fold. Sure, you can use it as a huge photo gallery browser or indeed web browser, but it’s also pretty simple to have multiple apps running, including floating app windows to make the most of that phone screen real estate.

It’s not all positive, however. The external display is tiny, and that’s accentuated because it doesn’t come anywhere near hitting the edges of the display. If you hate bezels, you’re really going to struggle with using that external screen.

It’s also an unusual shape for a 2019 flagship phone when it’s folded up. Again, I might get used to that in time, but notably it felt bulky in an upper shirt pocket, and weird in a pants pocket. Naturally, it’s a terrible idea to put it in your pocket unfolded.

The internal crease is pretty obvious if you’ve got a black background of any sort, and even when you can’t see it, you’ll feel it every time you run your finger across the display. There’s also a weird limitation to stop folks reliving the old Nokia N-Gage “sidetalking” days when you make or take a phone call. In full tablet mode, if you answer a call it’ll go to loudspeaker only, and you can’t divert it and hold it up against your ear at all. I feel pretty certain I’m going to want to thump somebody on a bus when they do that.

Of course, it’s also rather expensive. While Samsung Australia hasn’t released local pricing or even an availability date, current conversion rates suggest pricing at around $3,000 outright. That’s also for a 4G only device in Australia. The Galaxy Fold will come in a 5G variant, but not down under at all.

So would I buy one? I’m still undecided, but that’s a huge step forward from when I approached my review session, where I was pretty solidly convinced that it wasn’t even worth considering. Undoubtedly, the Galaxy Fold is never going to sell in massive numbers based just on that asking price alone. Still, while it’s an luxury priced item, it’s also an indulgently fun one at first glance.

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Alex Kidman  

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Alex Kidman is an Australian freelance technology journalist, who started working as a tech journalist back in 1998, which means he's clocked up over two decades working in the IT journalism industry. In that time Alex has worked or written for just about every significant technology masthead in the country, and plenty of international publications and sites as well.

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