This smartphone/tablet hybrid has kicked off a whole new game, but are you ready to take the splash this early?
There is a so-called rule when it comes to first-generation devices: Be patient, allow the market to mature, wait for them to become commoditised and, as a result, get them at lower prices (at the soonest, hopefully) – unless you really want to be an early adopter or, of course, you have that extra cash to burn for them.
Let that sink in. Meanwhile, while you’re at it, consider the fact that Samsung has thrown a curveball at us with the Galaxy Fold.
Sorry for getting you confused, but that’s just the reality we’re in right now: Tech firms throwing the future at us with interesting propositions faster than we know it.
The Galaxy Fold was slated for an April launch this year, but due to some improvements the company needed to make, it was pushed back.
So here we are, with the improved gizmo. We weren’t among the select few that were able to test out the initial units, but we can categorically say that we haven’t experienced any of the issues that hounded that first wave (so far).
Those who pre-ordered the device will start getting theirs from today. Samsung announced that units for the pre-order phase – which started on October 6 and was supposed to last until yesterday – sold out in just three days. They didn’t disclose the figures, but selling out in that short span of time is telling. A second round of pre-orders is expected.
UPDATE: Samsung today announced that a second round of pre-orders have begun and the price is now at Dh7,399. Looks like Round 1 was a promotion, an opportunity for you (that you missed, if you missed it) to get the Galaxy Fold at a discounted price.
Now, on to the task at hand. And since the Fold is the first of its type from Samsung, we’ll have a solo bird’s eye view here:
TALE OF THE TAPE
While indeed it has no predecessor, we still had to highlight a number of stuff. We’ll get into those one by one.
When Samsung launched the Galaxy Note Edge in 2014 – the one with the curved screen on the right – people were like, whoa. Well, we’ve seen curved screens everywhere – billboards, signs, etc – but I’m interested to see the reaction on those folks who were stunned by that device when they see the Galaxy Fold.
In case you missed it, the Galaxy Fold, well, folds and unfolds.
This form is really a throwback to the days of the Nokia Communicators – the 9000, 9110, 9210, 9500 and E90 – which were launched between 1996 and 2007. Those, of course, had actual keyboards that, to a certain extent, took on BlackBerry back then, and they were really cool too. Mash those up with 2013’s Samsung Galaxy Round and here we are.
Anyway, the front screen is plumped into a black, all-glass finish, while the other side is made of metallic silver, the same finish you’d find on the edges and the hinge. Leave it lying around folded and it’s sure to draw attention (could be mistaken for an expensive-looking purse, too).
On the right side are the physical buttons – volume rocker and side key, plus a fingerprint scanner. The side key can be used to power off your device, wake Bixby up or launch the camera or any other app you assign to it. There is no in-screen fingerprint sensor, too.
Want to add more spunk? Slap on the aramid fibre casing that comes with the box or get the sold-separately premium calf skin leather cover and give yourself that aura of being an executive, as a couple of friends told me so.
And speaking of what’s in the box, you also get your very own Galaxy Buds, Samsung’s latest truly wireless headset. Thank you.
It also has six cameras. Yes, you read that right – six. But don’t worry; they’re not lumped into one cluster and won’t be a trypophobia-inducing situation.
Arguably, people stick around for a smartphone’s camera results – hey, six lenses are more than enough to pique your interest, right? – but, honestly, that’s the least of my worries right now, given the uniqueness of this gizmo.
As a matter of fact, we’re diving into that right now.
Sorry, cameras. You don’t get the honour of being last this time; it’s not really about you anymore.
As mentioned, there’s a sextet of cameras on the Galaxy Fold: Closed, there’s a 10MP selfie camera up front and a triple-lens system on the rear, composed of 16MP ultra-wide-angle, 12MP wide-angle and 12MP telephoto lenses. Open it up and there are two more – a 10MP selfie and 8MP depth duo. Whew.
Notice two shutter buttons? The one on the right is locked, but the one on the left can be moved anywhere, which is a good move considering the fact that this is a huge device, you need convenience on pressing it, depending on how you hold it. You can get that extra button by draggin the one on the right.
The good thing about this is that whether the device is folded or not, you still get the same image quality thanks to those three cameras at the back. Take a look:
Shots are excellent in good lighting conditions. Details are solid and well-balanced.
Those shots strike a good balance between lit-up and dimmer areas.
Of course, you may have noticed two versions of the images: The first was shot while the Galaxy Fold was closed, while the second was done unfolded.
Ergo – again – an unfolded Galaxy Note gives you more area.
Some night shots:
While shots are good, they tend to be mushy near lights and when objects get further away.
My favourite shots, however, are indoor situations:
Of course, our customary selfie sample:
Whoa… the first photo was taken using the camera on the cover, and you can clearly see they both have the same size. Aside from the crisp results, this is a good idea since you don’t want cramped selfies, right?
Alright, enough of this. Time to move on to the juicy stuff.
Two screens… what’s it like to use then?
Closed, it has a 4.6-inch screen that pretty much reminds you how small mobile phone screens were in those days – but back then, that would’ve been huge.
That 4.6-inch display up front is a size something we haven’t seen since the days of the Galaxy S II and S III.
So, yeah. Unless you’re using one of those phones that have a screen this small, you’re about to be transported back in time, since you may find the screen cramped. But don’t worry, the keyboard is pretty accurate when you input characters – just don’t press it too much or, of course, you may end up typing characters near your intended ones.
You can consider this as your garden-variety flagship smartphone – only smaller. Of course, unfolding it gives you a whole new perspective; time to open up, literally:
This is the whole idea of the Galaxy Fold: Offering you a lot of digital real estate without having to worry about carrying it around. Unfolding it reveals a monstrous 7.3-inch display called the Infinity Flex, for obvious reasons.
I won’t be surprised if – like yours truly – you’ll pause for a bit when you open (and close) the Galaxy Fold; your thoughts would be, this screen is so darn delicate. Well, actually, it is, to a certain extent, as seen on the sticker attached to the Galaxy Fold when you unbox it:
It’s a new technology, and we’re figuring that this is the most durable this tech can get at this point in time.
Friendly reminder: The Infinity Flex doesn’t have Corning Gorilla Glass protection. Let this be a reminder of handling it more carefully.
And it doesn’t have an official IP rating. Handle with care. Really.
Samsung knows this; in fact, here’s a ‘caring’ video:
Of note: If you accidentally drop it, are just really clumsy or something happens to your Galaxy Fold, or you have any issue with it, you get some VIP SOS support: There’s a 24/7 service you can contact, and it won’t make you go through multiple transfers to get to the right person – the first person you’ll speak to is a Galaxy Fold expert. In the event a repair is needed, Samsung will pick it up from your place, give you a loan unit for temporary use (if you require it), fix the device up and return it to you – within 24 hours.
Here’s another leaflet in the box detailing it:
Anyway, while the Galaxy Fold fits snugly into your hand when it’s closed, it can still fit in it even if it’s open:
Here’s a tip: It’s easier to carry it around in the way above – not being fully unfolded – because it gives a more natural hold. It could distort your view to a certain extent, but personally that’s negligible.
I have, should I say, regular-sized hands, and I can still hold it properly. So those with even bigger hands won’t have a problem doing so.
Still, the Galaxy Fold is still operable even with one hand; you can (easily) swipe through screens, scroll Web pages and even take photos like this. Again, this will still depend on how big your hands are.
And to give you an idea how much difference 4.6 versus 7.3 makes, check out what you can see in those two displays, starting with YouTube:
Pretty much sums it up, huh?
Oh, and by the way, why was this an unfair comparison, standard view while its folded and full screen unfolded?
Because you can’t rotate the outer screen as it doesn’t support landscape mode. So that limits functionality up front.
Which leads us to the most important area: How the Galaxy Fold takes advantage of the Infinity Flex. Here’s how the gallery looks like on both displays:
To be fair, the whole intention of the Galaxy Fold’s huge screen is to hike up your view. Ergo, if you just really need a quick glance at something, there’s really no need to open it. Personally, there are things I do with the device folded, including sending WhatsApp messages, peering at images and some other things that otherwise really don’t require a huge screen.
Writing e-mails, meanwhile, is better off on the bigger display, especially if it’s a long one or you need to include attachments. Ditto for browsing the Web, navigating through maps, wasting time on social media, beating the hell out of enemies in games and everything else.
Think of it this way: If you need to do more things on-screen, the 7.3-inch screen is your go-to option, just like Web browsing and Maps:
However, that notch on the upper-right corner, which houses the dual-lens camera, is really a distraction. Oh well, first-gen jitters, I guess.
And one main sticking point of the early reviews: The fold at the centre itself.
I didn’t personally see any of the first batch of Galaxy Fold review units, but from what you’ll see in these improved ones, the crease where the device folds in the middle is non-existent – if you’re viewing it from the standard angle, AKA how you’d normally use it.
But if you tilt it around, you will notice it. Not as if you’re going to use the device in that way though.
It is also commendable that the crease remains as it is – a straight line that isn’t crumpled like what you’d see on regular plastic. The durability of the device’s folding capabilities is guaranteed by Samsung for up to 200,000 folds; according to my calculations, you’ll have to fold and unfold the device for about 548 times daily in a (non-leap) year (that’s 365 days) to achieve that. I’m quite sure that I won’t do that for even 100 times a day, so looks like this’ll last me for almost five-and-a-half years. (I wonder what kind of phone would be in the market by then…)
One more thing that irritates me: When you close the Galaxy Fold, it keeps the cover screen locked, meaning that you can’t instantly pick up from where you left off on the main screen. You’ll have to unlock it – it doesn’t help that the fingerprint scanner doesn’t automatically unlock it, although you can double-tap the screen and use face recognition – and after doing so you’ll have to navigate all the way back to the app you were dealing with inside. Oh wow.
By the way, the hinge of the Galaxy Fold won’t stop anywhere between after unfolding it and about three-fourths through, after which you’ll have to really open it up until it locks in unfolded mode.
Which leads us to a little diversion – and a bit of fun – here: Can you use the Galaxy Fold like those devices above?
Well, in theory, yes.
Why yes? Well, before we answer that, this is one thing to keep in mind: The Galaxy Fold will only lay properly if the side with the cameras is the base, because it’s heavier. That means the only way you’ll successfully try out this (hidden feature?) is when you turn the device clockwise:
Now, on to that yes answer: As you can see above, the keyboard is ripe for typing. Honestly, I found it quite entertaining using the keyboard that way, and there seemed to be an extra kick out of watching the screen scroll from the base then going up. Well, this is vanity – it’s your choice; I’m guessing maybe in the next iteration of the Fold, a dedicated keyboard for this purpose may be included – plus the sides could be balanced out so that you can use it regardless of which side is the base.
Meanwhile, battery life is flagship-level. In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the Galaxy Fold lost 8 per cent of power. Now you would think, how come it still lost that much, given that it has two 4380mAh batteries? (If you recall, the Note10 shed 8 per cent, while the S10+ lost 7 per cent).
The answer lies in the fact that it has two screens – one of them being rather huge. The mere fact that Samsung slapped in two batteries of that magnitude means that it has to support a lot more functions compared to its previous phones, or any other device, really.
But the marathon run is where you’ll see where those two power sources really go to work: The Galaxy Fold was good enough to last me over a day-and-a-half, meaning from morning to late-afternoon the following day.
And wondering how calls would work when it’s unfolded? Well, it won’t you either have to use the speaker or fold it to get your call through. Hey, you’ll look a bit funny having a 7.3-inch device on your ear, right?
For a first-generation gizmo, the Samsung Galaxy Fold does a pretty decent job in driving home the point: A powerful, bigger device that is compact, therefore easier to carry around. Innovation at its finest at this point in time, dare I say.
However, it still has several limitations – and its price is really eye-watering. You can make the argument that there are cheaper options that can do more. To be fair, however, it is a new technology, and any new innovation comes at a rather hefty price.
It’s superb for browsing, gaming, productivity and viewing stuff in general. Not to forget, it can handle three applications at a single go, all running independent of each other, which is a big plus for those who want to make the most out of the device.
Time will only tell how the Galaxy Fold – and other foldable devices in general – will creep into consumers’ consciousness. And circling back to our initial argument above, this is only the start.
GOODIES: Really huge and bright main display,
GOOFIES: Cover screen has very limited function, Infinity Flex display is very delicate, really expensive
EDITOR RATING: This is one of the toughest, if not the toughest, reviews I’ve ever done. The Galaxy Fold is far from perfect, as expected from a forward-thinking first-generation device. But Samsung has laid some solid foundations for the future – and I’m looking forward to its next iteration. In case you missed it, there are already reports surfacing of a ‘Galaxy Fold 2’, with some big changes in the offing. 4/5
Neeraj Murali contributed photos to this article