Review, Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy Fold Review: Fold This Round

“Why are you using such a bulky phone?” I was asked by a friend, as I was reading an article on the Samsung Galaxy Fold. I then proceeded to open up the Fold, much to the surprise of my curious friend. Needless to say, he was more than excited to get his hands on the foldable smartphone to try it out for himself.

Really, the Galaxy Fold is an eye-catching, unique device. After all, it’s the first mainstream foldable device, and that in itself is an impressive feat. However, that also means it has a number of big shortcomings. Paired with an exorbitant price tag, the Fold is a tough device to recommend.

But oh boy, is it a stunning engineering marvel.

Specifications

Display7.3-inch QXGA+ Dynamic AMOLED (2152 x 1536)
4.6-inch HD+ Super AMOLED (1680 x 720)
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 855 2.8GHz octa-core
GPUAdreno 640
RAM12GB
Storage512GB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)12MP f/1.5 – f/2.4, OIS, Super Speed Dual Pixel AF
12MP f/2.4 (telephoto), OIS
16MP f/2.2 (ultra-wide angle)
Camera (front)10MP f/1.9, Dual Pixel AF
8MP f/2.2 RGB Depth sensor
10MP f/1.9, Dual Pixel AF (folded)
Battery
4,380mAh
Dimensions160.9 x 117.9 x 6.9 mm
160.9 x 62.8 x 15.7-17.1 mm (folded)
Weight
276g
OSOne UI based on Android 9 Pie
ConnectivityLTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz)
USB Type-C
PriceRM8,388

Hardware wise, the Galaxy Fold is a flagship smartphone / tablet through and through, and it has a total of six camera sensors. There’s the triple camera system on the back, two front-facing cameras, and a single selfie shooter above the 4.6-inch secondary display.

Now, you may be concerned about battery life, considering that the Fold’s 4,380mAh battery has to power a large 7.3-inch display. Surprisingly enough, it’s actually quite a long-lasting device; more on that further down this review.

Design

The foldable nature of the Galaxy Fold is definitely the design highlight here. It’s a solid mechanism: the hinge feels tight, it closes with a reassuring thud, and I’m not overly concerned about breaking the screen whenever I open up the phone – the last one is especially important.

Truth be told, my biggest concern throughout my time with the Galaxy Fold was accidentally breaking the display. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, though I did baby the phone quite a bit. After all, the display isn’t made out of glass. It’s a polymer screen, which is basically plastic.

Given that plastic isn’t as scratch-resistant as glass, expect the Fold’s main display to collect scratches quite a bit. In fact, the review unit I got – which was rotated to other members of the media prior to me – already has some hairline scratches. On top of that, you can’t even use a screen protector with this phone, not to mention the fact that it gathers dust quite a bit near the hinges.

It’s a bit of an annoyance, but that’s the reality of using the Galaxy Fold, or any other foldable smartphone in this generation. It’s not an issue unique to the Fold: until manufacturers find a way to fold a glass screen without breaking it, a plastic display is the only viable solution for devices in this category.

Display aside, the Galaxy Fold is a sleek-looking smartphone…unfolded. Opened up, the main Dynamic AMOLED display looks gorgeous with minimal bezels, but it’s a different story when it is folded. It’s bulky, it’s much too tall, and the bezels surrounding the small 4.6-inch screen don’t look flattering at all.

On top of that, the Fold is also a heavy device, tipping the scales at 276g. Whether you’re using it folded or unfolded, you’ll feel the weight of the phone; ergonomics is not the Fold’s strong suit.

Despite that, there’s no denying the appeal of the Galaxy Fold’s foldable display. It’s a unique, novel piece of hardware that will (almost) always impress anyone.

User Experience

So how is it like to use the Galaxy Fold as a daily driver? Honestly, it’s more awkward than I initially thought. Here’s the thing: I actually find myself using the smaller 4.6-inch display for most tasks. Whether it’s web browsing or replying to texts – yes, it’s possible to type on the narrow screen, though it’s not particularly comfortable – I’ve always thought twice before unfolding the phone.

There are a couple of reasons why I’m not particularly keen to open up the Fold. For one, I don’t quite need the expanse of the 7.3-inch display all the time. The other reason? Well, I simply enjoy being able to use the device with only one hand when it’s folded.

But when I do open up the Galaxy Fold, I’m usually glad I did. It’s a gorgeous 7.3-inch 2152 x 1536 Dynamic AMOLED display, and no matter what I’m doing on this screen, it’s an enjoyable experience. The colours are punchy, the blacks are deep, it can get searingly bright, and it supports HDR10+ standard too.

What about the crease running down the middle of the main display? Well, it’s a non-issue for me. Sure, it’s visible at times – especially if you’re looking at the screen at an angle – and you can feel the crease, but for the most part, it’s not super noticeable in normal use. I treat it like a display notch: it’s there, but I eventually learnt to ignore it.

Speaking of notch, I’m not too thrilled about the screen cutout at the top right of the display for the two selfie cameras. Don’t get me wrong, I barely notice it in everyday use, but certain apps don’t play well with it. One such app is YouTube: when playing a video in landscape mode, the app simply ignores the notch, so you lose some of the video’s content.

YouTube isn’t the only app that does that. I’ve played a couple of games on the Galaxy Fold; both PUBG Mobile and Fortnite ignore the notch too. Granted, I didn’t encounter any game breaking issue from this, but it’s still pretty annoying to lose a portion of the screen.

Thankfully, there are some apps that scale appropriately, such at Netflix. If the streaming service can play nice with the notch, I imagine it won’t be too difficult for other apps (especially YouTube) to follow suit.

When it comes to performance, the Galaxy Fold excels. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 under the hood can keep up even in the most demanding of tasks, and although the Fold isn’t designed for gaming, it can run most – if not all – graphically intensive games very well.

Software wise, One UI on the Galaxy Fold isn’t all that different from other Samsung smartphones. The user interface is intuitive, it feels lightweight, and it’s easily one of the most polished versions of Android in the market now. On top of that, the Fold also gets its own multitasking feature.

You can open as many as three different apps with the Galaxy Fold, which really takes advantage of the screen real estate the 7.3-inch display affords. Personally, I don’t find much use for this, but I imagine it’s a feature power users would appreciate.

Oh, if you feel like it, you can even have a different app open on a floating window as you’re gaming. Again, this isn’t something I find particularly useful, but hey, it could be useful for those who are playing slow-paced games like Hearthstone.

Unlike its other flagship smartphones, the Galaxy Fold doesn’t have an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Instead, it has a physical sensor on the right side of the phone right under the power button. That’s right, it’s a separate sensor, unlike the Galaxy S10e‘s side-mounted fingerprint sensor that also doubles as the power button.

Although the Galaxy Fold’s implementation is not quite as intuitive or convenient, it’s still a fast, accurate sensor. Compared to Samsung’s ultrasonic in-screen fingerprint sensor (which can be finicky), some may prefer this solution.

How about battery life? Surprisingly good. Even though the Fold’s 4,380mAh cell isn’t awfully generous – especially for a device this big and heavy – it can still deliver above average battery life. I was consistently getting between five to six hours of screen on time with this phone, and that’s quite respectable.

Overall, I really do enjoy using the Galaxy Fold as my daily driver. It has reasonably good battery life, a large, stunning display, and a good level of performance. I just wish more apps and games will scale properly with the phone’s notch.

Camera

Sporting the same triple camera system as the Galaxy S10+, the Galaxy Fold offers similar camera performance as the former, which is a good thing. Under ideal lighting, the 12MP f/1.5 – f/2.4 main camera, 12MP f/2.4 telephoto sensor, and 16MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle shooter can take great-looking shots.

In low light conditions, the same still applies…to an extent. While the 12MP primary shooter performs admirably, the other two sensors struggle a bit, especially the 16MP ultra-wide angle camera. While they can still take good-looking low light shots, don’t expect the same image quality in both lighting conditions.

All in all, the Galaxy Fold has respectable camera performance; it’s easily up there among the best smartphones for photography. It can lock in focus quickly, the camera app is responsive regardless of lighting condition, and while Samsung’s camera algorithm has a tendency to oversaturate images, they do make for more visually striking shots.

Competition

Being the first mainstream foldable smartphone that’s readily available, there aren’t exactly any alternative to the Galaxy Fold. Well, unless we take into account other foldable devices that are releasing in the near future.

Huawei Mate X

Although it was unveiled to the world around the same time as the Galaxy Fold, the Huawei Mate X’s launch was delayed numerous times. Now, it’s only available in China, and it costs quite a bit of money. For the Chinese market, the Mate X costs a whopping 16,999 Chinese yuan, which is about RM10,050.

In comparison, the Galaxy Fold’s RM8,388 asking price doesn’t seem all that bad, not that it’s even remotely affordable. But for that extra bit of money, the Mate X does offer a number of advantages over the Fold, including 5G connectivity, a larger display when it’s folded – since the main screen folds outward – and a slimmer profile.

However, those winning qualities don’t really matter if you can’t even get the Mate X in the first place. Given Huawei’s ongoing debacle with the US government, it’s unlikely to ship with Google’s apps and services either. To top it off, the durability of the Mate X still remains to be seen as well. It has an outward-facing display, so it’s quite a big concern. At least the Fold’s display is protected when it’s folded.

Motorola Razr

This is arguably the most practical foldable smartphone in the market now. Unlike the Galaxy Fold and Mate X, the new Motorola Razr is the most “phone-like” device. Not only does it retain the iconic clamshell design, the Razr also sports a foldable display that folds flat when closed. There’s no noticeable crease when the screen is unfolded too.

However, the Razr isn’t quite as powerful as the Galaxy Fold, powered only by a Snapdragon 710 chipset. Its battery life may not be quite as good either despite the smaller screen, given the phone’s rather average 2,510mAh battery. There’s also the price tag: it costs $1,499 (about RM6,245) once it’s available in the US sometime in January 2020.

Even though that makes the Razr more affordable than the Galaxy Fold, Samsung’s offering definitely offers better value for money. The Fold has better performance, battery life, and camera performance as well, to name a few.

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy Fold is a unique, eye-catching, surreal, incredible technological marvel. But it is also impractical, bulky, fragile, and most of all, expensive. RM8,388 is a very dear price tag for a gadget, let alone a smartphone / tablet hybrid. Even if you can afford it, you’ll likely be happier with a dedicated smartphone and tablet.

Still, there’s no denying one thing about the Galaxy Fold: it’s an innovative piece of hardware. It’s a tough device to recommend now, but as foldable screens get more durable and prices go down, maybe – just maybe – the next iteration of the Galaxy Fold is worth considering.

Until then, don’t gamble on the durability of the Galaxy Fold – fold your hand while you still can.