/Hands on: Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Fold review

Hands on: Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Fold review


Update: We’ve gotten more hands-on time with the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and we’ll be adding to our early impressions of this smartphone of the future.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is by far the most exciting smartphone of 2019. It’s been an instant head-turner as we’ve tested it out in public, and most people don’t know or care about its five-month delay due to reliability issues.

This is the first major foldable smartphone, and it’s officially available in the US this Friday, September 27, after having launched in the UK on September 18 and Korea on September 6. It’s launching worldwide, but it’s not for everyone, as it’s still incredibly expensive.

Samsung Galaxy Fold review

(Image credit: Future)

What do Galaxy Fold early adopters get for twice the price of the new iPhone 11? The chance to own the future of smartphones and tablets, with a 2-in-1 design that just makes sense – if the bendable screen technology holds up.

Having a smartphone with a small 4.6-inch screen we can easily grip on the outside and, at a moment’s notice, unfurl into a 7.3-inch mini tablet with a separate screen on the inside is supremely cool, but it also feels practical in everyday use.

Samsung Galaxy Fold review

(Image credit: Future)

We were able to quickly snap photos and check our notifications in fold mode while walking in a busy New York City, comfortably keeping a secure grip on a phone that we would describe as thick in girth, yet slender in actual width. It’s very easy to grasp this thing compared to today’s Max and Plus-sized smartphones.

The Galaxy Fold is the answer if you want a big screen without being encumbered by a big phone. When we sat down on the subway, we were able to use the 7.3-inch screen to review the photos we took and respond to emails. It maximizes screen real estate, and felt built for productivity as we used the keyboard across the large screen and plotted our next move in an expanded Google map.

Samsung Galaxy Fold review

(Image credit: Future)

As we test out the durability and software continuity between the two screens of Samsung’s first foldable phone, the satisfying magnetic click of folding and unfolding it is constantly drawing the attention of people around us. It’s as if we have the first iPhone. “What is that? Tell me more about it!” Oh, we will.

We’ll continue to post our findings here, and below you can learn more about the release date history, and our earlier thoughts about the Fold.

Cut to the chase

What is it? Samsung’s first foldable phone
When is it out? September 27 in the US, out now in the UK
What will it cost? $1,980 / £1,800

Samsung Galaxy Fold release date and price

The Samsung Galaxy Fold release date was September 6 in South Korea. Samsung had originally intended to launch the foldable phone on April 26 in the US and May 3 in the UK and Europe.

It’s now out in the UK (where it was released on September 18), as well as France, Germany and Singapore. The official Galaxy Fold US release date is Friday, September 27.

As far as we know the Samsung Galaxy Fold price is still $1,980 / £1,800 (€2,000), which makes it one of the most expensive smartphones you can buy, and pretty much matches the cost of the forthcoming foldable Huawei Mate X

The Samsung Galaxy Fold will come in 4G and 5G variants, with the latter packing a slightly smaller battery, but it’s currently not 100% clear which countries will get which variants, and what the price difference between the two models will be.

We do know that the phone is exclusive to EE in the UK, and you’re only be able to buy the 5G variant of the phone – in fact, the phone will be advertised and sold as the Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G in the UK.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Design

Samsung believes the Galaxy Fold has the most intuitive form factor for a foldable phone, with the screen folding in on itself to provide protection, much like a laptop.

The company certainly hasn’t taken the challenge of designing of its first foldable phone lightly. This is a phone that’s been over 10 years in the making, and which has gone through over 1,000 different prototypes, as well as the further durability improvements.

The book-like folding action does feel like a natural way to open the handset, and it’s certainly easier to get to grips with than the Huawei Mate X – Huawei has taken the opposite design approach to Samsung, with the screen on the outside of its device when it’s folded.

Open up the Galaxy Fold fully to reveal the 7.3-inch display and the 20-part, dual-axis hinge locks into place, preventing you from over-extending the display past 180 degrees.

Fold it back up and the phone snaps shut with a satisfying sound, giving you confidence that it won’t accidentally unfurl itself in your bag.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Galaxy Fold specs

These are the specs of the updated Galaxy Fold model
Weight:
 276g
Folded: 62.8 x 160.9 x 17.1mm
Unfolded: 117.9 x 160.9 x 7.6mm
OS: Android 9
Main screen size: 7.3-inch
Resolution: QXGA+ (2152 x 1536)
Cover screen size: 4.6-inch
Resolution: HD+ (1680 x 720)
CPU: Octa-core
RAM: 12GB
Storage: 512GB
Battery (4G):  4,380mAh
Battery (5G):  4,235mAh
Cover camera: 10MP
Front camera: 10MP + 8MP
Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP + 12MP

Samsung has spent a lot of time working on the dual-axis hinge, and it gives the device a tactile feel, with a smooth movement between its two states. It’s been designed to withstand more than 200,000 folds and unfolds, which works out at 100 opens and shuts a day for five years – so it should last.

It certainly feels sturdy, and capable of surviving repeated folding and unfolding, and a nice touch is the way the hinge disappears into the body of each half of the phone when it’s fully opened. 

The second version of the phone also comes with caps over the top of the hinge to ensure dust doesn’t get into the device. It also feels more sturdy when opened out into its tablet form as Samsung has laid metal inside the device to ensure you don’t bend it too far.

When Samsung first revealed the device, it had a screen protector on that was unlike what you’d get on your average smartphone. Some testers removed that protector, and it caused structural issues with the phone.

Samsung has now included a slim rim around the outside of the inner display that blocks you from removing the screen protector and also helps keep the device closer together when it’s folded back into its thinnest form.

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You can see the small rim running around the edge of the device

You can see the small rim running around the edge of the device

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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You can see the small rim running around the edge of the device

You can see the small rim running around the edge of the device

(Image credit: TechRadar)

It doesn’t feel like the most premium aspect of the phone, but if it ensures people don’t remove the screen protector it will have done its job.

The fingerprint sensor is located on the right edge of the lower half of the device when it’s closed, falling nicely under thumb or finger, and so it remains in that position when the phone is unfolded. The sensor also acts as a Bixby launch button when pressed, jumping you straight into Samsung’s smart assistant.

Above the digit reader there are power/lock and volume keys, also in easy-to-reach positions, while on the base of the Fold you’ll find a USB-C port on one half of the bottom frame and a speaker on the other half. There is, however, no headphone jack.

There are two speakers – the second one is on the top edge of the phone – providing stereo sound tuned by AKG and boasting Dolby Atmos support. These seemed rich and loud in our testing.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

(Image credit: TechRadar)

As fun and futuristic as the Galaxy Fold design is, however, it’s also big, bulky and heavy. The Fold measures 62.9 x 160.9 x 17mm, making it double the thickness of most smartphones – that means it’s not so easy to slide into pockets, especially if you’re a fan of skinny jeans.

It tips the scales at 269g (the updated Galaxy Fold has actually increased the weight to 276g), making it one of the heaviest devices on the market. For comparison, the Galaxy S10 Plus is 175g, the iPhone XS Max is 208g, and the Huawei Mate 20 Pro comes in at 189g.

Originally, Samsung said the Galaxy Fold would be available in Space Silver, Cosmos Black, Martian Green and Astro Blue, but it appears the blue and green options have been dropped, at least for the initial rollout of the handset.

In the hand the Gorilla Glass 6-covered Galaxy Fold feels solid, but it doesn’t quite have the same premium appeal as its S10 siblings, which present a classier finish in the palm.

Another thing to note is that the Galaxy Fold is a huge fingerprint magnet – we were constantly wiping the handset down during our hands-on time, and the super-reflective glass body shows up fingerprints clearly.

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(Image credit: TechRadar)

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(Image credit: TechRadar)

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(Image credit: TechRadar)

Display

The Samsung Galaxy Fold has two screens, with the 4.6-inch HD+ Super AMOLED display on the front (when the device is closed in ‘phone mode’) feeling a little small by today’s standards, when most phones have screens which are at least five inches in size.

It’s made to feel smaller thanks to the sizable bezels above and below, reminiscent of phones from around 10 years ago. It’s a trade-off that has to be made, as the tech has to fit somewhere, and the benefit of its diminutive size is that it can be easily used one-handed.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

The 4.6-inch front phone display.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

In terms of aesthetics, though, it’s far from pleasing to the eye. In a world where bezels are disappearing almost completely, the look here is a real blast from the past – and when you consider the asking price for the Samsung Galaxy Fold, some may argue that its appearance, at least in ‘phone mode’, doesn’t quite match its premium price tag.

The small display is bright and clear though, with Samsung’s Super AMOLED panel providing plenty of color. You can easily navigate Android, and it’s useful for checking notifications, reading messages and controlling music playback.

The larger tablet display, which comes into play when the phone is opened, features an advanced composite polymer layer that’s stuck to the body with a foldable adhesive, allowing the display to bend. It’s also the thinnest display Samsung has ever made.

When the device is opened you’re greeted by a 7.3-inch QXGA+ (2152 x 1536, 362ppi) Dynamic AMOLED display that’s bright, clear, crisp and colorful. It also supports HDR10+, for an enhanced viewing experience with supported video.

According to Samsung the screen boasts the world’s best contrast ratio, and has excellent outdoor visibility – we only got hands-on with the Galaxy Fold indoors though, so you’ll have to wait for our full review to find out if it can live up to that latter claim.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

However, there is one fairly major point to note about this display: the crease.

If you look at the display at an angle, there’s a noticeable crease running down the entire length of the screen in the middle, where it folds. It’s not something that can be remedied or hidden, and you’ll have to learn to live with it if you do opt to splash the cash on the Galaxy Fold.

That said, the crease is much less noticeable when you’re viewing the screen head-on (it’s still there, though), and when we fired up Asphalt 8 for a quick race it disappeared from view as we focused on the game (we came first, naturally).

Samsung says the crease won’t get more pronounced over the time, so those fearing that it’ll become more noticeable over time should be able to rest easy – although we’ll only really know how it holds up a year or two down the line.

Interface and performance

There are various ways you can use the Samsung Galaxy Fold. When closed, the ‘phone mode’ provides one-handed operation for tasks such as calls and music playback. 

The 4.6-inch display operates like that of a regular smartphone, so apps and games work as you’d expect, although with a bigger screen just a quick unfold away, working on the smaller screen can feel cramped.

Open the device up into ‘tablet mode’, and the larger screen makes social media, messaging, web browsing, gaming and photo/video editing much easier.

Each time you transition from one screen to the other, compatible apps will follow your usage patterns for a seamless experience. For example, if you launch Google Maps in ‘phone mode’, and then open the Fold up, Google Maps will automatically be displayed on the big screen.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Every app that comes pre-installed on the Galaxy Fold (including Google’s suite of apps, WhatsApp and Microsoft Office) supports continuity between displays, and it’ll be up to other developers to make their applications compatible. 

Samsung says it’s easy to add the necessary functionality, as it doesn’t require developers to redesign existing apps – they just need to add extra features – but we’ll have to wait and see how widely it’s adopted.

It’s also unclear how many apps will support the 4:3 aspect ratio of the Galaxy Fold’s tablet mode display, as it’s much squarer than the screens currently found on smartphones – there may be a bit of a wait while core apps build in support for this aspect ratio.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

(Image credit: TechRadar)

You can also use two or three different apps side-by-side on the large display in multi-active window mode. Open up an app on the big screen, then slide your finger in from the middle of the right side to open up a panel of compatible multi-active window apps. Tap one and it’ll gobble up half of the display, alongside the app that’s already open.

Perform the same action to bring up the app menu again, and tap a third choice, and this app will then take up a quarter of the display, below the second app which is also reduced in size to 25%.

You can then swap the positions of the apps by dragging and dropping them, and you can adjust the width of the apps by dragging the central division line from side to side.

It all worked well during our time with the Galaxy Fold, with apps opening and re-sizing promptly, and we can see the benefits that being able to have multiple apps open on a large display will bring.

Load up a game – Asphalt 8 in our case – on the big screen and the Galaxy Fold will automatically rotate the app 90 degrees, forcing you to turn the device. There’s a clever reason for this though, as it provides better orientation for the stereo speakers for an improved audio experience.

The Samsung Galaxy Fold has been optimized with the Unity Game Engine, which means games which run on that platform will perform superbly here.

There’s more than enough power under the hood, with the Galaxy Fold packing a 7nm octa-core processor and 12GB of RAM. It means Android 9 – coated in Samsung’s One UI – runs smoothly under finger, with apps opening swiftly.

You also get 512GB of storage inside the Fold, providing plenty of space for apps, games, movies, music, photos and more, and for most that will be more than you’ll ever use – for serious power users, though, it’s worth noting that the Galaxy Fold doesn’t offer any expandable storage, so you’re stuck with that 512GB, unless you opt to send your data to the cloud.

Some versions of the Galaxy Fold will also come with 5G connectivity ready to roll, but the phone is also available in a 4G flavor in some countries.

Cameras and battery

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Samsung Galaxy Fold comes with six cameras – yes, six. The main trio are found on the rear of the device, with a 12MP main sensor (f/1.5-f/2.4, OIS) joined by a 12MP telephoto lens (f/2.4, OIS) and a 16MP ultra-wide angle lens (f/2.2). 

This is exactly the same setup as you’ll find on the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus, so performance should be excellent, although we weren’t able to test them out on the Galaxy Fold as it wasn’t running final software.

You get one, 10MP (f/2.2) camera on the front of the Galaxy Fold, above the 4.6-inch display, for the odd gratuitous selfie or hastily arranged video conference, while opening up the device reveals two cameras in a notch which eats into the top-right of the display.

Within this notch a 10MP camera (with the same specs as the selfie camera) is joined by an 8MP (f/1.9) depth-sensing camera which provides the information for Samsung’s background blur Live Focus mode.

The benefits of having a large, 4:3 aspect ratio display when it comes to photography are clear. First up, you get a sizable live preview, giving you a clear indication of what your photo will look like before you hit the shutter button.

Second, the 4:3 aspect ratio matches the aspect ratio of the cameras, and thus your final images, which means that what you see on-screen is exactly what will show up in your camera roll, with the whole screen used and no black bars filling in wasted space. 

Samsung Galaxy Fold

Turning to the battery, and the Samsung Galaxy Fold breaks with tradition again as it packs two power packs – one in each half.

The two batteries combine to provide a total capacity of 4,380mAh, which Samsung told TechRadar should provide “all-day power”, although that will be heavily dependent on how you use the handset.

If you spend most of your time using the 7.3-inch tablet display we expect the battery will drain much faster – but you’ll have to wait for our in-depth review to find out just how it fares.

The Galaxy Fold supports wireless charging, and it packs the same Wireless PowerShare feature as the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus, allowing you to charge other wireless-charging compatible devices on the rear. 

It even has a small magnet by the charging coil to keep devices – such as the Galaxy Buds – in place, which should hopefully avoid them slipping off easily.

In the box

The Samsung Galaxy Fold price is lofty, but it does at least come packaged as a premium handset should. The box is constructed with eco-friendly material, and is emblazoned with Samsung’s embossed Fold graphics.

Open it up and you get the phone, charging block and cable, but there’s more: Samsung is also bundling in a pair of Galaxy Buds wireless earphones (MSRP: $149 / £139 / AU$249), along with a slim, lightweight, yet strong case for the Galaxy Fold for a bit of added protection.

Every Galaxy Fold purchaser will also get a year’s free insurance via Samsung Care Plus, which covers you against the likes of accidental and water damage. And finally, there’s a year’s YouTube Premium subscription bundled in as well.

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is an exciting entrant into the smartphone market, breaking the static rectangle mold that we’ve become accustomed too, and bringing us two displays, two batteries and six cameras.

Sure it’s expensive – but the first generation of any new technology is – while people will point to its size, weight, screen crease and bezels around the smaller display as negative points; and for some, one or more of those may be deal-breakers.

However, the Galaxy Fold is more than a standalone handset. It, along with the Huawei Mate X, and others to come, ushers in an exciting new mobile form factor which will only be refined, improved and made more affordable over the next few years – and you’ll have this phone to thank for that.

It has had a major setback, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s up to Samsung to regain consumer trust that the upgraded Galaxy Fold won’t suffer the same issues as early review samples did. If you’re considering picking up the Fold, you’ll want to feel confident your sizable investment doesn’t breakdown within weeks.

But, if you want to be ahead of the curve – sorry fold – the Samsung Galaxy Fold can get you there, right now (almost)… and that in itself is impressive.

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