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Galaxy Fold Review: A Bold Bet That Is Not Ready

The Galaxy Fold is an amazing example of what foldable phones can do, but questions about its durability make it a tough sell even for early adopters.

Our Verdict

The Galaxy Fold is an amazing example of what foldable phones can do, but questions about its durability make it a tough sell even for early adopters.

For

  • Innovative folding display
  • Can run three apps at once
  • Great battery life
  • Very good cameras

Against

  • Serious durability concerns
  • Front display is too small
  • Crease can be distracting
  • Very expensive

Update Sept. 4: We're getting closer to a U.S. launch for the Galaxy Fold. The foldable phone goes on sale in South Korea on Sept. 6, with the U.S. launch to follow in the "coming weeks," according to Samsung. When the company announced a September release for the Fold, it also detailed the changes it made to the Fold's display to correct the problem that delayed the Fold's April debut. Here's our original evaluation of the Fold based on the unit we tested in the spring; we'll update this report once we've tried the new version.

Capable of transforming from phone to tablet, the Galaxy Fold is a phone that’s explicitly designed to be shown off. And yet every time I let it leave my hands I almost immediately started to get nervous. Not just because Samsung’s new phone is nearly $2,000; it’s because I started to see reports about the screen breaking for some reviewers. Sure, I let my family members and colleagues play with it, but then I felt compelled to ask for it back within 30 seconds.

The good news is that my Fold didn’t break. In fact, now that I’ve been testing the Galaxy Fold for several days and using it as my main phone, I’m confident that foldable phones have a future. But this first-generation device leaves me with a mix unease and excitement that makes the Fold hard to recommend for all but the bravest early adopters.

Editors' Note: Because Samsung says that is taking measures to strengthen the display protection, we will update this review with a rating once we receive final review samples for the U.S. and conduct additional testing. We used a European model for this initial review.

Galaxy Fold price and release date

The Galaxy Fold smartphone was supposed to go on sale April 26 through AT&T and T-Mobile as well as through Samsung.com and Best Buy. The new official release date is now going to happen in September, after Samsung announced the Fold would go on sale in South Korea on Sept. 6.

The Galaxy Fold is one of the most expensive phones ever. It costs $1,980 in the U.S. and £1,800 in the U.K. (€2,000), or about double the price of most premium flagships. (For context, the Galaxy S10 Plus starts at $999, and you can get a model with 1TB of storage and 12GB of RAM for $1,599 — still hundreds less than the Fold.) For those scoring at home, the Fold would cost you $66 per month, at least if you pay off your phone in 30 months using one of AT&T's Next plans. 

After the five month delay in the Fold's launch, it's unclear who will be taking orders for this foldable phone. T-Mobile has already said it's not going to offer the Fold once the phone arrives in September.

Galaxy Fold Specs

Starting Price
$1,980
OS
Android 9.9 with One UI
CPU
Snapdragon 855
RAM
12GB
Storage
512GB
External display (closed)
4.6 inches (HD+)
Main display
7.3 inches (QXGA+)
Rear cameras
12-MP wide-angle (f/1.5 to f/2.4); 12-MP telephoto (f/2.4); 16-MP ultra-wide (f/2.2)
Front camera (closed)
10-MP selfie (f/2.2)
Front camera (open)
10-MP selfie (f/2.2); 8-MP RGB depth (f/1.9)
Fingerprint sensor
Bixby button
Colors
Space Silver, Cosmos Black, Martian Green and Astro Blue
Battery
4,380 mAh
Size
6.3 x 2.5 x 0.66 inches (62.9 x 160.9 x 17mm)
Weight
9.48 ounces

Design: Foldable wow with some quirks

There’s a wow factor with the Galaxy Fold that I haven’t experienced since I tried the original iPhone in 2007. Thanks to a sophisticated 20-part, dual-axis hinge, you can open this clamshell just like a book, transforming the Fold from phone to tablet mode. The motion is fairly smooth and natural, and I’ll admit I felt a bit like a secret agent as I used the Fold in public, surfing the web or watching a video and then closing the whole thing up before I walked away.

If you’re in a quiet place, though, you’ll actually hear the Infinity Flex display unfold, and it sounds like unfolding plastic. That’s because the main display is plastic, not Gorilla Glass like the outer cover display. The sound was a bit unsettling the first few times.

When closed, the Galaxy Fold feels like a throwback phone, and a chunky one at that. It’s quite tall and narrow and measures 0.66 inches thick. That’s about double the thickness of the Galaxy S10 and iPhone XS. This was not optimal for my jeans front pocket; it’s a better fit for a blazer pocket.

I’m not a fan of the button layout. For some reason, Samsung decided to separate the power button and fingerprint reader on the right edge of the Galaxy Fold. It would have made more sense to combine them, which would enable users to power on and unlock in one fluid motion. Instead, the fingerprint sensor doubles as the Bixby button, which you can program to open other apps as well.

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If you do buy the Galaxy Fold, I recommend that you don’t get it through AT&T or T-Mobile directly. That’s because Samsung.com goes beyond the boring Space Silver and Cosmos Black colors and offers both Astro Blue and Martian Green as well. I mean, if you’re going to stand out, stand out. Plus, you can choose from two different hinge colors with the Astro Blue and Martian Green models.

Two other important things to note. First, the Galaxy Fold is not IP68 water resistant, so don’t get it wet or try to dunk it. Second, there’s no headphone jack.

Durability: A big question mark

The Galaxy Fold made a very poor first impression with some reviewers, as the screen broke or malfunctioned on several models. However, the cause seemed to vary. In some cases, users accidentally removed a protective layer on the display that is designed to very much stay put.

In another instance, it’s possible that some clay (used to prop up the unit for photos) got caught between the display and hinge. And in yet another instance, the screen just started flickering before fading to black for no particular reason.

In response, Samsung says that it is delaying the launch of the Galaxy Fold. It also said that the reported display issues "showed that they could be associated with impact on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge."

This is not a good sign for a product that’s supposed to usher in an entirely new category of phones. But Samsung says that it is taking "measures to strengthen the display protection" and "enhance the guidance on care and use of the display."

MORE: The $2,000 Galaxy Fold's Screen Is Already Breaking

Even with more in-your-face warnings, the fact that users can so easily remove this essential layer calls into question the design of the Fold. It’s certainly possible that the Fold will hold up to Samsung’s claim of 200,000 openings and closings, as Samsung has demonstrated on video, but there’s a difference between a lab and the real world.

Displays: A tale of two screens (and a crease)

It’s best to think of the front display on the Galaxy Fold as an at-a-glance screen for quick interactions, like checking Slack notifications and changing tracks in Spotify. That’s because it’s just 4.6 inches, which is Lilliputian compared to even the best small phones (typically 5.5 inches and up). Because the screen is narrow, it’s also difficult to type on.

Samsung Galaxy Fold (left) and Apple iPad Mini (right).

Samsung Galaxy Fold (left) and Apple iPad Mini (right).

The interior 7.3-inch display is where the real action is — an oversized Super AMOLED canvas that’s sharp and colorful but with a couple of trade-offs. On the plus side, I really enjoyed watching Ant-Man and the Wasp on Netflix on this huge panel, as well as playing games like Marvel Champions; it really felt like I was using a tablet. I could even access and edit articles in our site's CMS because of how wide the display is. This is something I can't do on the 6-inch-plus-sized screens of the Galaxy S10 or iPhone XS Max.

However, the crease in the middle of the Fold’s display is noticeable when you use apps with a white background, such as Chrome and Gmail. It’s not ugly, just distracting. And you can feel the crease when you’re using various apps. The good news is that the fold isn’t as noticeable when viewing the display head-on.

Another issue is the notch in the top right corner of the display, which can cut off videos should you decide to watch in full-screen mode; you can hide this notch by turning on an option in software, but this just creates a black bar across the top of the screen.

MORE: Galaxy Fold Fiasco Is Worst Possible Start to Foldable Phone Revolution

My bigger problem with the Fold’s notch is that you can’t swipe down from this side of the screen to reveal your notifications and quick settings. Instead, I had to shift my finger toward the middle of the display. You can also use the fingerprint sensor to open and close the notification shade with a swipe down and up. It’s a neat option you can turn on, but I found myself accidentally activating it as I hand simply brushed up against it while holding the phone.

Software: Three apps at once and App Continuity

To make the most of its foldable design, Samsung worked with Google to devise a couple of clever software features. The first is App Continuity, which enables you to open an app on the cover display and then have the app immediately fill the larger screen when you unfold the phone.

This feature worked really well in my testing, with most apps popping up instantly, but you need to tweak a setting if you want a given app to keep running on the small screen when you close the phone again.

The other handy feature is Multi Active Window, which allows you to run up to three apps at once on the Galaxy Fold’s large display. You swipe in from the right side of the screen to open additional apps, and you can also easily resize the apps and move them around with your finger.

A decent number of third-party apps already support this multitasking mode, such as Spotify and Slack, but I noticed that Skype does not. It will take time for more developers to update their software for foldable phones like this.

By default, the big-screen keyboard offers a split layout to speed up thumb typing, but I found myself switching to a regular layout because that’s what I’m used to using. Unfortunately, swipe typing isn’t supported on this keyboard, and it remains to be seen which third-party keyboards will work with the Fold.

Six cameras — and one huge viewfinder

Having six cameras on a phone seems like overkill, but it isn’t given the Fold’s unique design. Just like the Galaxy S10 Plus, there’s three shooters on the back of the Galaxy Fold: a 12-megapixel wide-angle camera, a 16-MP ultra-wide lens and a 12-MP telephoto lens. Up front when the Fold is closed, there’s a 10-MP camera for selfies. And when unfolded, the Galaxy Fold has a 10-MP main camera plus an 8-MP depth camera for portraits.

Shooting with the Fold closed feels borderline sneaky because it’s so compact. You just double press the power button and start firing away. It’s particularly good for selfies, as you don’t have to stretch your thumb far at all to shoot.

The problem is that the 4.6-inch screen is pretty small for framing shots; I found myself using the larger 7.3-inch panel when I wanted to make sure I liked what I was capturing. Surprisingly, I didn’t find shooting with a tablet-sized display in front of my face embarrassing, which is probably due the small bezels around the screen. But it is a two-handed affair in this mode.

MORE: Galaxy S10 vs Pixel 3 Camera Shootout: Which Phone Wins?

The Galaxy Fold is capable of delivering gorgeous photos with saturated color and a stunning amount of detail, as evidenced by this flower close-up. The rich purple really shines through, and the veins in the petals are well defined.

I also had fun playing with the multiple lenses in Times Square. The standard wide-angle camera captured the myriad signs with crisp detail, and I could easily make out details on the signs as I zoomed in. The wide-angle shot resulted in a noticeable fish-eye effect toward the edges, but it got a lot more of the surrounding buildings into the frame.

Like the Galaxy S10, the Galaxy Fold comes with artistic new Live Focus modes, including spin bokeh, zoom bokeh and color print. I especially like the latter option, as it colorizes the main subject while leaving everything else black and white.

Performance

Given that the Galaxy Fold has the same Snapdragon 855 processor as the Galaxy S10 line of phones, it’s not a surprise that it offers comparable performance. The main difference is the whopping 12GB of RAM included in the Fold, which did seem to help juggle having multiple apps open on screen at once. I didn’t notice much lag as I ran three apps simultaneously; however, at times the screen did not respond to my taps right away.

On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the Galaxy Fold scored 10,593, which is comparable to the Galaxy S10 Plus (10,732) but behind the iPhone XS’ A12 Bionic chip (11,420).

The Galaxy Fold is a graphics powerhouse, just like the Galaxy S10. On 3DMark’s Sling Shot Extreme Open GL test, the Fold notched 5,408, which is slightly behind the Galaxy S10 Plus (5,648) but way ahead of the iPhone XS (4,339) and Pixel 3 XL (4,396).

Battery Life and Wireless PowerShare

With a 4,380 mAh battery, the Galaxy Fold has serious staying power. On a day with intermittent usage, which included snapping photos, streaming music, watching video clips and checking email, the phone still had 60 percent capacity left at 9:15 p.m. And I had unplugged the phone at 6:30 a.m.

On a day where I used the Galaxy Fold more heavily, which included watching two full TV episodes on Netflix, the Fold was down to 25 percent come 9 p.m. That’s still more than a full day’s worth of endurance. We will be running our web surfing battery test once we get our hands on the U.S. version of the Galaxy Fold, as we’ve been testing the European version of the phone.

I loved being able to fire up the Wireless PowerShare feature on the Galaxy Fold, which allows you to charge other phones and accessories by simply placing them on the back of the Samsung handset. This includes the wireless Galaxy Buds, which Samsung throws in for the $1,980 price.

What's in the Galaxy Fold box

The Galaxy Fold comes with a pair of Galaxy Buds, one of our top-rated wireless earbuds, which takes the sting away from that missing headphone jack. Samsung is also throwing in a lightweight case for protecting your investment, which is made of a material similar to Kevlar.

Bottom Line

The Galaxy Fold is what can happen when you try to be first to market with a new innovation. It’s not accurate to say that the Galaxy Fold was rushed, as Samsung says this design was 8 years in the making. But it is fair to say that Samsung didn’t spend enough time doing quality control testing with real users.

It’s not clear what exact changes Samsung may make between now and when the Galaxy Fold officially launches, but I don’t believe it will be anything dramatic if we’re talking about just several weeks. Even if you put aside the broken screens on early review units, the Galaxy Fold has some first-generation issues, such as a visible crease in the foldable panel and a front display that’s a bit too small.

Call me crazy, but I’m still optimistic about the future of foldable phones. I like the idea of a phone that can double as a tablet, and Huawei’s Mate X and its outward folding design looks like it has potential. Same thing goes with other form factors, like the rumored return of the Motorola Razr as a clamshell that unfolds vertically. For now, I see the Galaxy Fold as an exciting achievement that isn’t durable or polished enough, but I will revisit this review with a final rating once final units are available.

Credit: Tom's Guide