Review: Samsung's Galaxy Fold is finally here. Handle with care.
You can fold up Samsung's $2,000 phone, no problem. But for heaven's sake, keep your fingernails away. Keys, coins and water, too.
We got a sneak peek of the Galaxy Fold in April, when it was originally supposed to go on sale and kick-start a new generation of "foldable" screen devices. Then Samsung delayed the launch after its futuristic flexible screen began peeling apart and malfunctioning on early units.
On Monday, I got a new Fold to review, and it hasn't broken. Yet. The new version, scheduled to be in U.S. stores on Sept. 27, has hardened screen edges, a new hinge and a giant warning about all the ways you might accidentally break it. A phone that can open up into a tablet is truly a precious thing -- maybe still a little too precious.
Using the new Galaxy Fold has undoubtedly raised my blood pressure. A "care instruction" guide attached to the front of the phone includes the following list of ordinary-sounding activities that might destroy this extraordinary device:
• Do not press or apply "excessive pressure" to the flexible screen with anything sharp, including fingernails. (Good thing you don't operate a phone with fingers.)
• Keep keys, coins, and cards away from the folded-up Fold, which has a slight gap between the two halves of its screen. (Good thing you never keep such items in pockets.)
• Do not expose the Fold to liquids or "small particles" that could enter through its exposed hinge. (Is pocket lint "particles"? Unclear.)
• Keep it away from credit cards, which it might demagnetize.
With apologies to Kenny Rogers: Samsung knows how to fold 'em. But you're gonna have to know how to hold 'em.
I suppose we can't blame Samsung for including warnings to Fold owners after taking a black eye for version 1.0. The company says to think of the Fold like an expensive, fancy watch. To add to its luxury marketing push, a new "premier service" that comes with each Fold includes 24-7 call center "concierge." Samsung is also offering to replace the screen within the first year of use for $150.
But it's also hard to think of a phone as a delicate piece of jewelry in 2019. That's partly Samsung's fault: It was one of the first manufacturers to add water and dust resistance to smartphones, back with 2014's Galaxy's S5. Since then, we've grown accustomed to making phones live as hard as we do.
Why would anyone put up with this? To be one of the first people to have a tablet that also fits in your pocket. Whatever our concerns might be about overdosing on screen time, the truth is that people keep buying larger and larger-screen phones. (Apple now maxes out at 6.5-inches with the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and Samsung goes up to 6.8-inches on its Note10+.) But our poor hands really can't take much more of this expansion. Folding screens could allow us to have it all.
The Fold has a slender 4.6-inch screen on its front (measured diagonally). Then it opens up like a taco to reveal a 7.3-inch screen, big enough to multi-task with multiple Android apps at once.
Creating an OLED screen that can fold and refold hundreds of thousands of times involved technical challenges that boggle the mind. But the question remains: Why is Samsung selling a device that it knows is still so delicate, instead of waiting until it's worked out how to make it strong? (This isn't just a Samsung problem; Apple recently introduced a white titanium credit card you can't keep near leather or denim.)
Maybe, like many newborns, this gadget will turn out to be more resilient than we fear. Or, maybe it'll be remembered as the device Samsung got its superfans to test for it.