The most forward-thinking phone you shouldn’t buy.
The Galaxy Fold delivers a ‘wow’ factor that no other phone offers today, and yet we’d only recommend it to early adopters with a penchant for impressing their peers, and who have money to burn. It’s a technical marvel, with technical limitations, and it makes us hopeful for a more fully rounded sequel.
- Supremely cool form factor
- Gaming taken to the next level
- Samsung’s biggest battery
- Outrageously expensive
- Vulnerable plastic screen
The Samsung Galaxy Fold is the most forward-thinking smartphone of 2019, finally delivering on the promise of a foldable phone, and instantly proving a real head-turner out on the streets. And yet, it’s still not something we can recommend to most people.
Wherever we went with the Fold, people wanted to know what this thing was and how it worked. We demonstrated how it folds down to a 4.6-inch outer screen, and folds out out to become a 7.3-inch mini-tablet display – and it always amazed.
But then the second wow-factor kicks: it’s twice the price of today’s best smartphones, and on top of that it has a troubled track record with regard to durability, which could prove a deal-breaker for many potential buyers.
Samsung has refined the Galaxy Fold over the course of a five-month delay to its launch, reinforcing the points where it broke in the hands of early reviewers. But we’re still in constant fear of pixel tearing, or damaging the vulnerable plastic screen.
Good news: right now the bendable screen of our Galaxy Fold review unit is as pristine as the day we unboxed it a week ago. It comes with a crease down the middle, but this is only visible when it catches glare. A bigger deal is the uneven refresh rate across the larger display: as you scroll pages, one side lags ever so slightly behind the other – it’s barely perceptible, but you can’t unsee it once you realize it’s there.
The Galaxy Fold is the best example of why foldable is the future of smartphones. Its 7.3-inch screen is built for productivity. We multi-tasked with three apps open on a phone, as if this were a tablet. Editing photos is easier, gaming takes a gigantic leap, and showing someone a complicated spreadsheet is doable.
Its folded size is satisfying for one reason: we loved carrying a small phone again. It’ll go unappreciated in photos, and the extensive bezel around the 4.6-inch screen makes it feel cramped; but hold this tall, chunky, yet narrow phone in your hand and you’ll swear glass phones aren’t slippery after all. We felt confident one-handing it on busy streets.
The Galaxy Fold inherits the power and cameras of the Galaxy S10 Plus , which is nice, but we missed some photo and video modes offered by the Note 10 Plus – that five-month delay means Samsung’s latest and most cutting-edge phone isn’t actually its most capable camera-wise. You also won’t find an S Pen stylus tucked inside (which it wouldn’t be wise to use on a plastic screen anyway, but still).
Battery life was the toughest to judge. At 4,380mAh, the battery here is Samsung’s biggest, and lasted us a day-and-a-half. But battery life varied wildly based on how long we had that big screen open – we killed it in less than a day when we tried.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold feels like the biggest sensation since the original iPhone – and, really, that’s the only reason to take a $2,000 risk on it. This phone is strictly for early adopters with money to burn and a penchant for impressing, and it’ll end up in a drawer with Google Glass and other gadgets ahead of their time. Everyone else should wait for something cheaper, better, and more durable in a few months.
Samsung Galaxy Fold release date and price
- Double the price of flagship phones: $1,980 / £1,800 (€2,000)
- Launched in September in the US, UK and South Korea
- It was originally set to debut on April 26, 2019
- Two colors: Cosmos Black or Space Silver (Martian Green and Astro Blue have been axed)
The Samsung Galaxy Fold release date was staggered throughout September, and getting your hands on it wasn’t easy. It first came out in South Korea September 6, and made its UK debut September 18, when it sold out immediately. There’s no work yet on pricing or availability for Australia, but you can register for updates at Samsung’s website.
The Galaxy Fold US release date was Friday, September 27, five months and one day after its original April 26 launch date. During this hiatus, Samsung tweaked the hardware, but the price remained the same: very high.
The Fold costs $1,980 / £1,800 (€2,000), twice the price of an iPhone 11 Pro . You can buy it through Samsung, local stores like Best Buy, or exclusive carrier partners: EE in the UK and AT&T in the US (it’s $66 a month for 30 months). Note: the UK has the 5G version, while the US is limited to 4G LTE.
Samsung packs in its Samsung Galaxy Buds , giving you a bit more for your money, and offers a Galaxy Premier Service 24/7 dedicated support service by phone, video chat, or in-person visit for the lifetime of the device. Then there’s a one-year limited warranty, and a one-time $150 screen replacement fee if a wrecked display is your fault.
The price is our biggest hangup. It’s hard to justify such an exorbitant price for a device that, while supremely cool, clearly isn’t time-tested and feels awfully vulnerable. We’re also kind of disappointed that Cosmos Black and Space Silver are the only two colors – gone are Martian Green and Astro Blue, the two other options from the initial launch lineup.(Image credit: Future)
Foldable design and durability
GALAXY FOLD SPECS
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)
Battery (4G): 4,380mAh
Battery (5G): 4,235mAh
Cover camera: 10MP
Front camera: 10MP + 8MP
Rear camera: 16MP + 12MP + 12MP
The arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Fold gives you the opportunity 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.
It marries a tall, narrow 4.6-inch ‘cover’ display behind glass on the outside with the foldable, mini-tablet-like 7.3-inch ‘main’ display behind plastic on the inside. Samsung calls this the Infinity Flex Display, and its design really does dazzle.
The key to the Galaxy Fold’s book-like foldable design is a 20-part, dual-axis locking hinge that prevents the display from overextending past 180 degrees. Whereas the screen is delicate, the hinge feels like it’s been meticulously engineered to withstand abuse.
Opening and closing the Fold feels buttery smooth, and closing it ends with a satisfying magnetic click, like you’ve just closed up a book. Remember what it was like to hang up on people with a flip phone or even an old telephone? That feeling is back – only now, you’ll probably swallow them up in a video call.
Also coming back is smartphone heft. In its folded state, the Galaxy Fold is 17.1mm thick and weighs 276g; for comparison, the big-and-heavy Note 10 Plus is just 7.9mm and 196g. However, it’s narrower than you might think, and despite its thickness it isn’t hard to slip into a jeans pocket – it’ll even fit into tight-yet-deep jacket pockets that other phones can’t fit into, although there’s no escaping the fact that it’ll look like you’re packing two phones back-to-back.(Image credit: Future)
Unfolded, it’s a reasonable 7.6mm thick. You’ll find a fingerprint sensor, power/Bixby key, and volume rocker on the right (all accessible when the Fold is open or closed), and two speakers at the top and bottom. It’s easy to cover up these powerful Dolby Atmos stereo speakers when you’re playing games or watching videos in landscape orientation. Pro tip: instead of uncomfortably choking up your grip, try rotating the Fold 180 degrees – most apps will rotate just fine.
When it’s closed, an all-glass design envelopes the phone’s outside. The glass is slippery, but we found its folded size so easy to grasp that we didn’t feel the need to use the two-piece Aramid Fiber case that came in the box. This ease of handling is one of the things that struck us the most in our testing – while everything else about the Fold has a futuristic vibe, its narrow size took us back to a time when phones were easy to hold in one hand.
If you love big screens, but are tired of juggling big phones, this is the biggest phone we’ve tested… and smallest (recent phone) at the same time. It’s an idea that’s been more than 10 years in the making and, as Samsung likes to say, went through 1,000 different prototypes. It’s not a bad start, but there’s surely more innovation to come.
- 7.3-inch main display inside and 4.6-inch cover display outside
- Reading, browsing and gaming look great in 4.2:3 aspect ratio
- Most movies have letterboxing in 16:9 aspect ratio
- Great: HDR10+ and brightness; not great: middle crease and uneven refresh rate
Beyond the mesmerizing foldable design, the main display is impressive with only a few technical caveats, illustrating the cutting-edge and its obvious downfalls.
The 7.3-inch display makes web browsing 1.4 times bigger than the Galaxy Note 10 Plus, and videos and games can appear 2.2 times bigger if they take up the full screen. It’s the reason to own a foldable phone. Alas, most video in the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio will only be 1.3 times bigger, with big black letterboxing at the top and bottom.
We found the big screen better for reading, web browsing, and gaming thanks to its 4.2:3 aspect ratio. This mirrors the traditional 4:3 TVs we did away with 15 years ago, but going back makes sense: it offers a broader view and makes way for Muti-Active Window mode. We had three apps open at once, and it was fairly usable.
Samsung has outfitted the Galaxy Fold with HDR10+, which bumps up the contrast ratio considerably on supported video content, and made it bright enough to be solidly visibly outdoors. You will find glare literally shines a light on the middle crease, indoors or outdoors, and you can feel the groove. The good news: like a notch, your brain will ignore it in time.
Harder to ignore is the uneven refresh rate. Scroll through a text-filled webpage and you’ll notice the words shift unevenly across the 7.3-inch display. Samsung makes the best phone displays, so this is a compromise we didn’t expect. Its bezel-heavy 4.6-inch Cover Display also shouts “first-gen product”. Yes, the foldable future is great, but it has some obvious pain points you should know about.(Image credit: Future)
- App Continuity allows you to easily transition between screens
- Multi-Active Window allows you to have 3 apps open at once
Samsung’s fold hardware is only half of the story. Its software was made reactive to the transition from the small phone screen to the larger tablet screen, and it does that fairly well with a feature called App Continuity.
Apps Continuity allowed us to browse Chrome, Yelp reviews, and Google Maps while walking with the phone folded, and then seamlessly open up to those same apps on the larger screen when we came to a standstill (usually lost in the wilds of Central Park and needing finer directions in Google Maps).
The reverse – keeping apps open when you fold the phone – is also possible, but we had to tick off each app in a display settings submenu. Apps we enabled to go from big screen to small screen included Messages, Slack, Chrome and Google Maps – things we’d want to keep using upon exiting a subway in folded mode. Otherwise, Cover Display ends things and shows the always-on screen (time, date, battery life).
Samsung’s says “the possibilities are endless with Multi-Active Window”. That’s true if “endless” is defined by up to three active apps open at once. It’s cramped for sure, but we had a Google Sheet open in the biggest window, a Hangouts call going in a smaller box, and Slack in the tiniest windows to at least see the latest message from our TechRadar team.
Sadly, not all apps, including Hangouts Meet, work in Multi-Active Window mode, and creating App Pairs is strangely not a thing on the Samsung Galaxy Fold – yet.