Nothing has me more excited in the smartphone industry in the past five years than the folding smartphone. I started out a skeptic, not only about the fact that we would see folding phones in 2019, but also about the concept in general. “Why would I need one?”, I thought.
That was, until I saw Samsung unveil the Galaxy Fold. Then, it was like that moment in The 100 when they landed on Earth and discovered that the air was breathable. Mind. Blown.
But the thing about the Galaxy Fold was that Samsung kept it under lock and key. They didn’t let anyone really spend any time with the phone so there was no real way to tell how a phone like that would work. And, it was also hard to keep people like us wondering if this was a proper product or if it was just vapourware.
Yesterday though, if your YouTube sub box was anything like mine, then it would have been filled with videos from influential channels about the Galaxy Fold. Samsung finally opened the floodgates, and naturally after binging a couple of these videos, I have a couple of opinions of my own about this highly anticipated folding phone from the world’s largest smartphone maker.
Before I continue, I’d like to give some context. I haven’t actually spent any hands on time with the Samsung Galaxy Fold beyond staring at it in a glass box — so take this with a grain of salt. That said, I have spent time with what I foresee to be the Galaxy Fold’s biggest competitor — the Huawei Mate X — so I’ll be comparing my experience with the Mate X and what I’ve seen on the Galaxy Fold. Let’s start with the most obvious thing.
Samsung and Huawei took very different approaches to their folding smartphone concept, and I love that because we get to see the strengths and weaknesses of them both at the same time. Unlike the out-folding Mate X, the Galaxy Fold folds inward. Now, when I shared my first impressions on the Mate X, there were several comments talking about the uneven crease that can be seen on the section of the Mate X’s screen that has to fold. Some even insinuated that the Galaxy Fold didn’t have this problem because it folded inward — which was something I could never wrap my head around, by the way.
With the barrage of hands-on videos now in the public, the thing that has become incredibly evident is that the Galaxy Fold’s crease is very apparent. Now, I don’t think it’s a huge deal because It’s easily something you will get used to, but the crease is undoubtedly there and it sticks out as much as I remember the Mate X’s crease did.
But, here’s the thing: When we pointed out the crease on the prototype Mate X’s screen to Huawei, they assured us that they’ve already figured out a fix for that issue. They even said that the consumer devices won’t have this crease, which isn’t something that can’t be said about the Galaxy Fold because all the phones I’ve seen being unboxed are retail units that will hit store shelves.
Of course, there’s no way for me to confirm this without seeing a retail Mate X, so for now it’s just Huawei’s word against what we can see on the Galaxy Fold.
But, the fold in does have its strengths
One inherent issue that these folding screens might face is the fact that the panels have to be some form of malleable plastic. Hard glass just doesn’t fold without shattering into a million tiny pieces.
Because a folding screen has to be soft, I don’t think it will hold up too well to scratches and scuffs, which is why I think the Galaxy Fold should have the more scratch resistant design. When it folds in, Samsung can protect the fragile flexible panel from scratches by wrapping the outside of the phone with scratch-resistant glass. That way, the panel isn’t exposed to all the sharp bits randomly living in our pockets, and has a higher chance of staying scratch-free. Huawei’s Mate X does not have this luxury.
However, by folding the screen in, Samsung actually opened the Galaxy Fold up to a whole ‘nother problem — the problem I like to call the “thigh gap” problem.
You see, the Galaxy Fold doesn’t fold flush so there is a little bit of a gap between the top and bottom panel that kind of looks like the gap on a Surface Book. With a gap of this size, I’m a little worried that sharp bits or debris could get caught in it and just wreak havoc with the fragile insides of the Fold.
Then, there’s how Samsung uses continuity
To me, one of the most impressive things about the Mate X was how you could be in an app while the phone is folded, then just unfold the device, and continue doing what you were already doing just on a bigger screen. It was that seamlessness that really stuck with me as I gradually discovered how practical a phone like this could actually be.
With the Galaxy Fold, Samsung’s also got a similar concept. You can be doing something on the tiny 4.7” screen up front, then just unfold the phone and pick up where you left off on the bigger screen. This is maybe even more impressive on the Fold because this phone has to do it on two different screens while the Mate X doesn’t. It looks mighty smooth and seems to work with a whole bunch of everyday applications.
That said, I did notice something in all the hands on videos: It doesn’t look like this continuity extends to the re-folding of the screen. From the videos I’ve seen, the moment you fold the phone shut, the Galaxy Fold’s screen locks like a laptop.
Now, I’m not sure if it is because these phones were intentionally set up that way, or whether there’s a setting that you can enable to allow for this Big-Small continuity. I certainly hope there is because otherwise I think the Galaxy Fold might be missing out on a lot of the foldable phone experience.
That being said, there’s no denying how beautiful the Galaxy Fold is
These days, it’s just a fact of the universe that when Samsung makes high-end smartphone hardware, it’ll be exquisite. And the Galaxy Fold looks exquisite. While the Mate X was good looking in an industrial kind of way, the Galaxy Fold looks more like jewelry thanks to its pretty colours and glistening exterior.
I can’t help but feel that the Fold will play the part of an accessory for conveying social standing than the blue-collared Mate X will. And you can tell that Samsung has put lots of thought into it because they’re giving you quite a few options with colour customisation for both the hinge and the body.
It looks expensive and I’m willing to bet that it feels very expensive in the hand too.
I was also impressed with how good the speakers on the Galaxy Fold appear to sound compared to what I heard on the Mate X prototype. It’s pretty incredible that they’ve managed to cram such a solid sounding stereo speaker setup in a phone that’s as complex as this.
However, I can’t help but feel like Samsung’s concept is a little lacking
Let me put it this way. When I saw Huawei’s Mate X, it felt like a properly complete phone. It felt like they had thought every aspect of this smartphone through and designed everything from the ground up so that it worked like a cohesive idea. I could see where their head was at and that, unfortunately, is something I just don’t feel with the Galaxy Fold.
Before you start yelling at me about being biased, just look at the camera setup on the Galaxy Fold and you might get what I’m trying to say.
On the Huawei Mate X, there is a single triple camera setup at the back of the phone that you use for all your photography needs. I was told that it’s the same setup as the one you’ve got on the Huawei P30 Pro — which is a pretty good camera. When you want to take a selfie, all you need to do is flip the phone around and the gyroscope will automatically switch on the back screen so you can use that as a viewfinder.
Now, look at the Galaxy Fold. You’ve got the same kind of triple camera setup at the back, which makes total sense. But, with an in-folding design, there’s no screen at the back to use as a viewfinder, so Samsung slapped a fourth camera on the front of the phone right above the tiny 4.7” secondary screen. What if you wanted to take a selfie with the screen folded open? Oh, I guess Samsung had to put a massive notch into the top right of the phone to house yet another two cameras.
It feels vaguely like Samsung were actively Frankenstein-ing band-aid solutions to the Galaxy Fold as the problems cropped up, rather than designing the entire phone around potential problems.
Because of this, I can’t help but feel like the Galaxy Fold isn’t exactly the complete folding smartphone I thought it was going to be. Maybe my expectations were too high for a first-gen product from the largest smartphone maker in the world.
Does this mean I’m not excited for the Galaxy Fold?
Absolutely not. Like I said at the start, nothing has me more stoked in the smartphone world right now than a folding phone. And, I love that two of the biggest Android phone makers are presenting us with two drastically different concepts for a folding device — both with their own pros and cons. Trust me, the Mate X is far from perfect.
What I can’t wait for is the chance to try out the Galaxy Fold for myself, to see if any of these issues I’ve raised in this article are things you should worry about. So, you can expect a comprehensive first impressions if I do get to spend some time with this phone.
Samsung is also launching the Galaxy Fold in Malaysianext month, so you should definitely stay tuned to SoyaCincau if you want the best coverage of that product launch. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’ve seen of the Galaxy Fold so far. Be sure to drop them in the comments below!