The Samsung Galaxy Fold may not be my favorite smartphone of 2019, but I have no problem in calling it one of the coolest products I’ve used in the last decade.
There was a time when phones weren’t boring. When we got new form factors all the time, but the interesting part of the story is how that led to more experimentation than true innovation. The last 15 years have been kind of wild, but the complete opposite. They all began with the most simplistic phone of them all… the first iPhone. I still find it kind of bold for Apple to have dared to launch it and challenge everything we knew at the time, and get away with it. For me it then continues with the Samsung Galaxy Note, which literally jumpstarted the frenzy for ever larger, ever more-useful devices in our pockets.
But if you notice, this actually marked a shift where all the innovation of hardware took a step back into innovation of software. Who would’ve thought that the cab industry would kneel to the genius of two apps on a phone, and yet all while phones kept looking the same. Cameras got better, screens got crisper, processors on phones have overshadowed even some desktop solutions, but what didn’t change was the form factor of the phone. Some could even say, why should it? When simplicity is taken to its minimum expression, where is there more room to grow and innovate? And I say grow because companies know consumers want larger and larger screens that can still fit in your pocket.
The solution? This is the Samsung Galaxy Fold, a tablet when you need it, a phone when you don’t, and probably one of the coolest pieces of tech to be launched in years. Sure it did have kind of a rocky start, as has every single new product launched in the past, I mean who doesn’t remember the blue screen of death at the launch of Windows 95. Thing is, it’s finally here, and I decided to take my time, give it a month of use, and tell you how it all turned out. This is our Samsung Galaxy Fold review.
I’m going to have to admit something. There are times when I really love my job, and this is one of those times. I get to try out devices very early, turn some heads, and tell people that yes, this is my phone, and also my tablet. Things aren’t all fun and games always, though. The curse of the early adopter is a real thing, so don’t expect this to be a love letter to Samsung about how much I love the Fold. Fact of the matter is, there are scenarios when I do, and scenarios when I don’t. Let me start this video with the things I like and it starts with most of the hardware.
I already filmed a separate unboxing of the first batch unit I had in April. Even with this second batch of units, what you get is almost the same. The phone front and center, under we have a pair of Galaxy Buds, a USB A fast charger with its USB C charger, and a protective case made of Aramid. Probably the only change is a certificate that gives you one screen repair for a fee in case anything goes wrong by your doing.
What we like
Place this device on a tablet, and expect heads to turn. The Samsung Galaxy Fold looks like nothing else out there. From the glossy hinge design to the glass and chrome finish, this is a phone you really don’t want to use with a case.
When I saw the Fold for the first time, I did ask myself why they made it so narrow, but it didn’t really make sense to me until I held it. See, these are literally two phones sandwitched into one, so making this device as wide as every other phone would’ve led to massive discomfort in the pocket. Yes, it is thick when closed. Nearly double the thickness of the Note10+ at 15.5mm, but because it’s 15mm narrower, it doesn’t bother me in the corner of my pocket. It also helps it feel easy to handle as a phone with one hand. Open it up and dimensions change dramatically, shorter, narrower, and only a hair thicker than an iPad mini.
At 7.3-inches diagonal, the true protagonist that enables this story is this flexible display. This is a Dynamic AMOLED at more of a 3 by 2 aspect ratio, good enough pixel density and an 85% screen to body ratio. In typical Samsung fashion, it’s vibrant, with fantastic detail, great viewing angles and certified for HDR10+. Since glass can’t bend, the bezel is actually designed to protect it. We have a full separate video over how Samsung addressed the screen protector issue to be under the bezel and added caps to avoid debris from being a problem. And no, I don’t have any complaints on the crease, as any foldable product will have some sort of bend spot.
At the top and bottom, dual firing speakers that you can muffle if you try, but that provide some great sound when you don’t, thanks to some AKG tuning.
On the outside, we have a 4.6-inch Super AMOLED at more of a 720p resolution, though don’t think that this 4.6 means you’re getting a similar screen to an iPhone SE. This is a 21:9 aspect ratio vs 16:9, so it’s actually a taller, more narrow experience. We’ll come back to why you should care about this.
Powering the Fold is actually both more and less than you’d expect. We might not have the latest chip from Qualcomm, but everything else here screams premium. 12 Gigs of RAM, a whopping 512GB of UFS 3.0 storage. I say less because I thought we’d get a larger battery than just 4,380mAh, and yet, that’s another thing I like about this phone, battery life is kind of epic.
In 30 days that I’ve used it, never have I felt the need to charge it during the day, so there must be some sort of voodoo magic on these displays because endurance is one of my favorite things about this phone.
Last but not least, let’s talk about why you should care about using a foldable over a regular phone, and a lot of that heavy lifting is all based on One UI. Start a WhatsApp conversation on the outer screen, and open to the inner screen if you need more real-estate. Slide from the right for the favorite apps you select, and drag and drop to one side to multi-task. Want some more information to compare, slide another as well. Like seriously, why doesn’t every other Android phone do split window this easily.
And then there are the rest of the advantages of this form factor. I’ve left my Kindle at home because this is a nearly perfect eReader. I can navigate webpages with more freedom, and even get more work done while on the go, since I can make this a tablet whenever I want, and even using it with an external keyboard makes more sense than in trying to do this with any other phone.
Last but not least, let’s talk about all these cameras. The Samsung Galaxy Fold brings not 4, not 5, but a whopping 6 cameras, which to a certain degree are more a way to make up for the form factor in whatever scenario you’d like to take a photo. Once you dig into the results, you’re pretty much seeing a Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, which is quite awesome. Saturated color without going over, lots of detail, and best of all, three focal lengths from the primary cameras, so you have the versatility of capturing your scene however you see fit. Wide angle for the tall buildings, primary for best performance and low light, or telephoto for street photography. Samsung’s night mode is here, and really killing it with the results, even if a tad too-good to look real at times.
This phone does support Super Steady video, but given its limit to 1080p, I never used it. I prefer sticking to this 4K because if you do get the versatility of being able to use all the focal lengths, and like seriously stabilization is great without the need of the mode, and color reproduction is fantastic.
Even if you were to flip to selfie video, this phone has one of the best crops for you not to look overblown, and stabilization and color are great, along with the fact that you also get 4K at 30 frames per second.
The funny part is that if you ask me about using that internal selfie camera with that time of flight, I never really did. It’s just too awkward to use this phone extended for a photo. I stuck mainly to using the external camera, and the results were just as great as the S10, with lots of versatility in portraits that you even get if you were to use this camera for standard portraits. Photography and video are definitely things this phone gets right.
But now it’s time to tell you the reasons why I’m mixed about using the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and it’s mainly the fact that this is a really good tablet, but not such a good phone. Exhibit A is this, my iPad Pro. Notice that I carry it with a keyboard case, or in some cases with this other cover case, and that’s because tablets weren’t really designed for heavy thumb typing. Yes, you can, but even on an iPad mini the experience can feel cumbersome.
You’d say, well Samsung split the keyboard for this, but if you’re multi-lingual you’ll know how bad Samsung is about predicting more than one language. It’s the reason why I switched to SwiftKey which does support a split keyboard,.. But wait,.. There’s more. This is the part where I start telling you about the things that annoy me about the software. See, a split keyboard doesn’t make sense on the outside, and yet, that’s what you’ll get if you use any other keyboard that is not made by Samsung.
And it actually gets weirder. You’d think that this continuity would extend itself to the launcher, but nope. Each screen has a different one, which partially makes sense given the difference in aspect ratio, but you’d think at least the folders you create would be copied from one launcher to the other. Nope. Create your folders twice.
And then there’s the topic of this cover display. It feels like if Samsung just put one in that felt so crammed, that you felt a need to open the device all the time to interact with it, and that’s a problem. How crammed? Well unless you like to swipe, thumb typing on this real-estate is an exercise in frustration. That means this does not feel like a good phone. If you’re commuting between places and all you have is one hand to communicate, you can’t be using this as a tablet.
And even if you were bold enough to rough it out and do it, there’s the other problem, and it’s that this product feels fragile. Sure Samsung addressed the give when closed, but can you imagine what would happen if you dropped a product with so many moving parts? And if it were to fall on the flexible screen, forget it, it’s gone. I’ve come to the point where I don’t even want to bring this phone to the gym because I sweat a lot, and the Fold is not water resistant at all
This is why it was so important for this to feel like a phone, and even if I do get Samsung’s intent of having you open it, but how many times do you see people on the street juggling a tablet to get stuff done. For version 2, Samsung please make the outer display usable.
And then there’s the problem with the aspect ratio, which makes you miss a good portion of any Instagram Story, to just mention another reason why the outer display needs to be taken more seriously. And last but not least some of the quirks with the software. The phone is fast, but it seems like the software is juggling a lot, so you will notice stutters here and there, and then there’s that jelly effect when scrolling down pages, which does look kind of weird if you look closely.
Last but not least, don’t place this phone on a metallic table. The magnets will make detaching it a funny story you won’t want to deal with.
To conclude, let me go back to how I started this video. Hardware innovation is finally back thanks to this device, and honestly I do feel lucky to be one of the first to experience it. Thing is, I also said that the curse of the early adopter is real, and more evident than ever with this device. I’m not calling out things I don’t like because seriously, what’s there to compare this phone to?
I do believe in foldables and I want this device to succeed so bad because regardless of its pain points, what it does well are things that are actually really cool. I’m sure most of you joined me at mocking the Galaxy Note when it launched, only to end up loving the idea of using a phablet around 3 generations later.
I think that’s the perfect analogy for how to describe my experience with this device. This is a first-generation product. It needs no less than two more iterations for it to go from trying to solve a problem you didn’t have, to actually becoming an essential part of your daily life. If you were worried about durability, I tried it for 30 days without a problem, and even with the early unit I tested, I honestly have no complaints about that.
Would I recommend the Samsung Galaxy Fold? Well, if I have a hard time recommending any phone that costs $1000, $1980 doesn’t make this any easier. Thing is, if you care about the price, then this product was not really designed for you anyway. It was made as a showcase of what Samsung can do, and which targets users that desire something unique and cool.
“The Samsung Galaxy Fold may not be my favorite smartphone of 2019, but I have no problem in calling it one of the coolest products I’ve used in the last decade.”