Simply put, the Samsung Galaxy Fold is an ambitious phone that is also extremely expensive and frighteningly fragile. A lot has been said and written about the quality control issues that initially plagued the Galaxy Fold, prompting Samsung to give it a major redesign. But the Galaxy Fold is not just a fancy flagship phone that can fold into half. It is a precursor of things to come, which nearly all big names in the industry want to explore or are currently working on. The Galaxy Fold has a lot riding on it, as the future of foldable phones will have a lot to do with how the Galaxy Fold is received and the impact it makes.
On the surface, the Galaxy Fold’s core appeal lies in its futuristic design and top-of-the-line internals, but that is just half the picture. Samsung presents the Galaxy Fold as a no-compromise device that redefines how we experience a phone. The ‘no compromise’ part has been covered well, thanks to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, a healthy 12GB of RAM, 512GB of internal storage, six capable cameras, and all the other features that are ingredients of a true-blue flagship. It is the software experience that matters here, and will determine whether a foldable phone can be usable and practical. Truth be told, our experience has been mixed.
This beauty needs a lot of pampering
Samsung’s foldable phone is unlike any other smartphone out there. The form factor instantly draws attention, and the moment anyone sees you unfold it, questions and requests for a hands-on experience will follow. This might be tricky. Even though Samsung has redesigned the device to prevent dust particles from getting inside and damaging the flexible display, the Galaxy Fold still feels quite fragile. And if you think you can snap it open and closed like a flip phone from days gone by, forget about it.
Samsung didn’t go for an in-display fingerprint sensor because you won’t always be holding this device the same way, but the side-mounted one does its job just fine. It is surprisingly quick and its placement is comfortable. Using a protective cover, even the one that comes in the retail package, somewhat obscures it.
Opening the phone with one hand is nearly impossible, and Samsung advises against doing that, particularly if you have long nails. Why? Well, the surface of the inner display is not tough, and any sharp object or even some pressure could damage it. It also attracts smudges and dust particles really fast, and on top of that, it is not as easy to clean as smartphone screens usually are. There is some risk of damaging the panel when opening or closing this phone, and it still feels quite fragile. This is something that many prospective buyers will have to keep in mind, as the cost of repairing the panel ($599, approximately Rs. 42,340) is more than what you might pay for some flagships.
The Galaxy Fold feels chunky when closed, but it is not unwieldy and the weight is balanced evenly. The 4.6-inch HD+ (720 x 1680 pixels) external Super AMOLED display is tall with a 21:9 aspect ratio, and is crisp enough with a pixel density of 399ppi. It is good to see that Samsung has adhered to high quality standards, and it reflects in the good viewing angles and punchy colours it produces. The cover display is fully functional and can be used for anything you would want to do on your phone. The smallish size somewhat limits comfort and flexibility, but more on that later.
The 7.3-inch QXGA+ (2152×1536 pixels) foldable internal AMOLED display basically turns the Galaxy Fold into a pocketable Android tablet. There’s a crease running across the panel that can be seen and felt easily, but over time, we found that this did not impede actually using the display.
The foldable panel attracts dust and smudges quicker than glass, and you’ll need a piece of fabric to clean it every once in a while. But you’ll have to be particularly careful while doing so. Samsung tells us that one should use only high-quality, soft fabric, and that too without applying too much pressure, as even that risks damaging the display. Since the phone is neither dust nor water resistant, users are advised to be particularly careful when using the Galaxy Fold.
Even though Samsung claims to have addressed the hardware woes of this device, the care instruction leaflet in the retail package clearly states that it should be kept away from dust and water. Above all, there is a gap between the two halves near the hinge when the device is closed, which means small objects can slip in between and do some damage. It would be best to keep this phone in a pocket or pouch without any other objects, especially keys or small coins.
Samsung also advises users to keep credit cards away from the Galaxy Fold, as the magnets used to secure it when closed might damage them. The same goes for any implanted medical devices. You have to be conscious, – if not extremely careful – when handling the Galaxy Fold, and treat it like the luxury commodity it is. There is a lot that can go wrong here, and even though there have been no reports of further design flaws, we couldn’t help but handle it with extreme care all the time, out of fear that something might go wrong.
Another thing you should keep in mind is that using the Galaxy Fold unfolded with one hand is difficult. Yes, you can hold it in one hand when reading or watching a video, but for almost everything else, you’ll have to use both hands. Still, it is lighter and much more compact than the iPad Mini (2019) which has a 7.9-inch display compared to the Galaxy Fold’s 7.3-inch flexible panel. This brings us to the all-too-important question – is the foldable display just a gimmick, or can it make you more productive?
The experience stands out, but still needs some work
Samsung claims it has introduced a new standard to use a smartphone, and to some extent, we agree. The phone runs One UI 1.5 based on Android Pie, and it is quite similar to what we’ve experienced on the Galaxy Note 10 and the Galaxy S10. It is the multi-tasking experience and the versatility of having a larger display at your disposal that sets the Galaxy Fold apart.
We loved playing games on the large 7.3-inch AMOLED display. Asphalt 9: Legends looked gorgeous at 60fps, and the larger screen with spaced-out on-screen buttons in Call of Duty: Mobile made for an enjoyable experience. However, some games such as Mortal Kombat and Injustice simply stretch to fill the screen, looking weird. Thanks to the Snapdragon 855 under the hood, the Galaxy Fold handled every game with ease. However, we noticed that it got warm rather quickly while gaming, especially the area around the triple rear camera module.
Where the Galaxy Fold truly shines is productivity and multitasking. Simply open an app on the inner display, slide inwards from the right edge to show a small column of app icons called Apps Edge, and select an app to run it in split-screen view. In vertical orientation, running two apps side-by-side feels natural and less cramped compared to split-screen multitasking on a phone.
On the Galaxy Fold, it basically feels like using two tall displays side by side. You can resize the panels to give more screen space to one app, which can come in handy sometimes. We quite enjoyed composing emails in Outlook or writing a short article in Google Docs while referencing content in Chrome running alongside. However, switching the orientation to landscape mode changes things a bit. The app windows become more spacious and generally look better, but the keyboard ends up taking more than half of the screen.
There is a button at the top of each app panel that lets users expand it to full-screen or switch to a floating window. You can also reposition these floating windows, but we couldn’t help but notice that window movement was not smooth and it seemed to lag a little.
You can also run a third app side by side, but that didn’t help us be more productive. We felt that this made the screen too crowded, but if you want a third app at your disposal, you can choose to make it almost transparent and continue with your work. And if that still doesn’t cut it, you can minimise it to a small icon that can be positioned anywhere on the screen and can be tapped to open it in a split-screen or floating window view. We quite enjoyed this feature and kept apps like Amazon Prime Music or Spotify handy as an on-screen icon for playback control while working.
Another feature that we particularly loved on the Galaxy Fold is App Continuity, which basically allows you to carry over your on-screen activity from the small cover display to the large foldable panel and vice versa. You don’t even have to do anything – just open the Galaxy Fold and anything that was running on the external screen will be usable on the inner one. However, not all apps support this. The native apps do, while third-party ones need to have it enabled manually via the App Continuity tool in the display settings.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for games. If you are playing a game on the larger display, closing the phone will simply take you to the lock screen. If you want to carry over your Candy Crush session from the cover display to the inner screen, the game must be restarted. We noticed this when running benchmarks too. Also, switching is not instantaneous, as third-party apps usually take a second to scale themselves.
The cover display does not support split-screen multitasking, and even if it did, the small size would mean an unpleasant experience. Moreover, when you switch from the inner display to the cover display with multiple apps running, the latter will only show the one that you last interacted with. Typing on the narrow exterior display was nothing short of a struggle, prompting us to open the device every time we wanted to compose a lengthy message or have a long chat.
Some UI elements do become a minor annoyance. The camera app is cramped and hard to navigate on the cover display. If you plan to use the camera app on the full display, prepare to use both hands to grip the phone firmly, as one-handed usage is simply not possible.
Reading ebooks and browsing the Web on the 7.3-inch Super AMOLED display was pleasing. Media consumption is where the Galaxy Fold needs some work. YouTube videos are scaled to full screen on the cover display, but on the inner one, you see thick black bars at the top and bottom with no option to crop or fill the screen. Plus, the camera notch covers some content and is hard to ignore.
Letterboxing is evident in third-party apps such as Netflix and Hotstar as well. If you use the fill-to-zoom tool in apps like Amazon Prime Video, you’ll lose a huge amount of on-screen content, especially if it was shot in the 21:9 aspect ratio. We gradually got used to ignoring the black bars, and thankfully, the display crease was not too conspicuous while watching videos.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold definitely changes how a smartphone looks and needs to be used, especially from a productivity standpoint. The multitasking experience on the phone was great, and save for a few small issues, we were pleased with the overall experience. Samsung needs more support from developers when it comes to optimising apps for usage on both large and small screens, before it can market the foldable form factor as a truly viable solution without any major drawbacks.
On its own, the Galaxy Fold can stand up to any Android flagship out there in terms of raw power, but that takes a backseat when you consider the experiences you can have. There is no mistaking that the Galaxy Fold is a fragile device even after the redesign, and one should not take any chances, especially after taking into consideration the asking price of Rs. 1,64,999.
Being a first-generation device, you might fear that this will end up being a one-off gimmick. However, with brands including Huawei, Motorola, and Xiaomi already in the foldable phone space to different extents, the future appears bright for foldable phones. If you don’t mind the high price and can live with such delicate hardware, the Galaxy Fold is worth a shot. Still, the allure of a more practical flagship that costs less than a third of the Galaxy Fold can’t — and shouldn’t — be ignored.