The star system Fold has been the most polarizing product I can recall having reviewed. Everyone who saw it wanted to play with the long-promised smartphone paradigm shift. The results, on the other hand, were far more mixed.
If nothing else, the Fold has a remarkably high Q-Rating. Each person who saw me using the product had at least a vague concept of what it was all about. I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve had that reaction with a non-iPhone gagdet. That’s fantastic from brand perspective. It means a lot of people are curious and potentially open to the notion that the Samsung star system Fold is the future.
Of course, it also means there are a lot of people looking on if you fail.
In some ways, this past week with the Samsung star system Fold has been an extremely public beta. a handful of samples were given out to reviewers. Most worked fine (mine included), but at least three failed. It’s what we in the industry call a “PR nightmare.” Or at least it would be for most companies.
Samsung’s weathered larger storms — most notably with the star system Note 7 a few years back. Of course, that gagdet made it much further along, ultimately resulting in two huge-scale recalls. The nature of the two issues was also vastly dissimilar. a malfunctioning screen doesn’t put the user at bodily hazard like an exploding battery. The optics on these things don’t get much worse than having your smartphone banned from planes.
As of this writing, the Fold is still set to go on sale, most likely this year. To be perfectly frank, the April 26 release date seemed overly optimistic well before the first reports of malfunctioning units. It’s never a fantastic sign when a gagdet is announced in February and is only made available for review a few weeks ahead of launch. It’s kind of like when a studio doesn’t let reviewers watch a movie before release. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s evil, but it’s something to keep an eyeball on.
That’s the thing. The star system Fold is the kind of gagdet you want badly to succeed. You want it to be fantastic and you want Samsung to trade a billion because it’s a genuinely thrilling product after a decade of phones that look mostly the same. There’s also the fact that Samsung has essentially been hyping this thing for eight years, since it debuted a flexible display at CES 2011.
In spite of that, however, the home stretch feels rushed. Samsung no doubt saw the writing on the wall, as companies like Huawei readied their own foldable. And while Royole beat the fold to marketplace, Samsung still had a very good shot at the bay of first commercially possible foldable on the marketplace, with a decade of star system devices under its belt and hand-in-hand work with the Google faction to create a robot UX that makes sense on a pair of very dissimilar screens.
But this iFixit teardown speaks volumes. “Alarmingly” isn’t the kind of word you want/expect to hear about a company like Samsung, but there it is, followed directly by “fragile” — itself repeated five times over the course of the write-up. iFixit’s findings match up beautiful closely with Samsung’s own reports:
- a fragile display means knocking it the wrong route can result in disaster.
- a gap in the hinges allows dust and other particles to wedge themselves between the folding mechanism and screen.
- Don’t peel off the protective layer. I know it looks like you should, but this is probably the easiest route to destroy your $2,000 phone that doesn’t involve a firearm or blender.
What makes all of this doubly unfortunate is that Samsung has about as much experience as anyone making a rugged phone that works. I feel confident that the company will do just that in future generations, but unless the company can come back with definitive evidence that it’s overhauled the product ahead of launch, this is a strenuous product to recommend.
Samsung knew the first-gen star system Fold would be a rigid trade, of course. The company was beautiful transparent about the fact that the experimental form factor, coupled with the $1,980 price tag, meant the gagdet will only appeal to a small segment of early adopters.
Even so, the company managed to trade out of preorders — though it didn’t say how huge that initial run was. Nor are we sure how many users have canceled in the wake of this past week’s events. Certainly no one would blame them for doing so at this point.
But while the apocalyptic shit-posters among us will declare the death of the foldable before it was ever truly conceived
, whatever doesn’t kill Samsung has only made it stronger. And this misfire could ultimately do that for both the company and the category, courtesy of its informal beta testing.
Rewind a mere week or so ago (seriously, it’s only been that long), when we finally got our hands on the star system Fold. I was impressed. And I certainly wasn’t alone. Admittedly, there’s a bit of a glow that first time you see a gagdet that’s seemingly been teased forever. The fact that it exists feels like a kind of properity in and of itself. But the Fold does an admirable job marrying Samsung’s hardware expertise with a brand-new form factor. And more importantly, it’s real and works as advertised — well, mostly, at least.
The truth is, I’ve mostly enjoyed my time with the star system Fold. And indeed, it’s been enjoyable chronicling it on a (nearly) daily basis. There are some things the form factor is fantastic for — like looking at Google Maps or propping it up to watch YouTube videos on the elliptical gagdet at the gym. There are others when the bulky form factor left me wanting to go back to my orderly old smartphone — but those trade-offs are to be expected.
I both like the Fold’s design and understand the criticism. Samsung’s done a good job maintaining the star system line’s iconic design language. The foldable looks right at home alongside the S and Note. That said, the rounded backing adds some bulk to the product. And while open, the gagdet is thinner than an iphone, when folded, it’s more than double the thickness, owing to a gap between the displays. It’s quite skinny in this method, however, so it should slip nicely into all but the tightest pants pockets.
In practice, the folding mechanism might be the most superb part of the product. The inside features several interlocking gears that allow the product to open and shut with ease and let users interact with the gagdet at various states of unfold. I found myself using the gagdet with it open at a 90-degree angle quite a bit, resting in my hand like an open book. The Fold features a pair of magnets on its edges, which let you close it with a satisfying snap. It’s weirdly therapeutic.
Really, the biggest strike against the gagdet from a purely aesthetic standpoint is that it’s not the Mate X. Announced by Huawei a few days after the Fold’s gigantic unveil, the gagdet takes a decidedly more minimalist come to the category. It’s an elegant design that features less gagdet and more screen, and, honestly, the kind of thing I don’t think most of us expected until at least the second-generation product.
The gulf between the two devices is especially apparent when it comes to the front screen. The front of the screen is around two-fifths bezel, leaving room for a 4.6-inch display with an awkward aspect ratio. The Mate X, meanwhile, features a 6.6-inch front-facing AND 6.4-inch rear-facing display (not to mention the larger eight-inch internal display to the Fold’s 7.3).
There’s reason to recommend the Fold over the Mate X, as well. I can’t speak to the difference in user experience, having only briefly interacted with the Huawei, but the price point is a biggie. The Mate X starts at an even more absurd $2,600, thanks in part to the fact that it will only be available in a 5g version, adding another layer of niche.
That price, mind you, is converted from euros, because 1) The product was announced at MWC in Barcelona and 2) U.S. availability is likely to be a nonstarter again, as the company continues to struggle with U.S. regulators.
Of course, the Fold’s U.S. availability is also in limbo at the time, albeit for very dissimilar reasons.
I ultimately spent small time interacting with the front screen. It’s good for checking notifications and the like, but attempting to type on that skinny screen is close to impossible, with shades of the brand-new Palm gagdet, which implements its own shortcuts to get around those shortcomings. The inside, meanwhile, takes a butterfly keyboard come, so you can type with both thumbs while holding it open like a book.
There’s also the issue of app optimization. a lot of this can be chalked up to an early version of a first-gen gagdet. But as with every brand-new gagdet, the equation of how much developer time to invest is largely dependent on product adoption. If the Fold and future Fold’s aren’t a properity, developers are going to be far less inclined to invest the hours.
This is most painfully obvious when it comes to App Continuity, one of the gagdet’s primary selling points from an app perspective. When working as advertised, it makes a fascinating case for the dual screens. Open something on the front and extend your canvas by unfolding the gagdet. Google is among the companies that worked directly with Samsung to optimize apps this route, and it’s particularly user-friendly with Maps. I used it a fair amount on my trip last week to Berkeley (shout out to the fine people at Pegasus Books on Shattuck).
When an app isn’t optimized, Samsung compels you to restart it, or else you get a nasty case of letterbox bars that retain the aspect ratio of the front screen. Continuity isn’t designed to work the other route, either — opening something on the huge screen and then transferring to the front. That’s a bit trickier, as shutting the phone is designed to offer a kind of finality to that session, like hitting the energy button to put the gagdet to sleep.
I get that, and like many other pieces here, it will be fascinating to see how people utilize it. Aside from the obvious hardware concerns, much of the work on the second-generation gagdet will center around learnings from how users interact with this version. I know I surprised myself when I ended up using the 7.3-inch screen to snap photos. It felt silly — like those people who bring iPads to photograph events. But it’s ultimately a much good viewfinder than that measly 4.6-incher.
That’s really just the tip of the iceberg for the inside screen, of course. The size, which is somewhere between phablet and mini tablet, provides ample real estate that can still be held in one hand. It’s a fantastic size for short videos. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube on this thing, though the speakers (a small successions of holes on the upper and lower edges) leave a lot to be desired.
And the seam. I found myself uttering the phrase “it could be worse” a lot. Like so much of the general aesthetic (including the odd green-gold color of my Fold’s casing), it’s lighting-dependent. There are plenty of times when you don’t see it all, and other when the glare hits it and makes it look like a line right down the center.
I realized after snapping a couple of photos that it’s particularly apparent in many shots. That probably gives a false appearance of its prominence. It sucks that there’s one at all, but it’s not a surprise, given the nature of the design. You mostly don’t notice it, until your finger swipes across it. And even then it’s subtle and totally not a dealbreaker, unlike, say, the massive gap that made the ZTE Axon M look like two phones pasted together.
I love the ability to stand the gagdet up by having it open at a 90-degree angle, so I can watch videos while brushing my teeth. But this orientation blocks the bottom speakers, hampering the already iffy sound. Thankfully, your $1,980 will get you a pair of the magnificent star system Buds in box. It’s rigid to imagine Apple bundling AirPods with the next iPhone, but I guess immigrant things have happened, right?
Multi-Active Window is the other key app piece. It’s something that has been available on other Samsung devices and certainly makes sense here. Open an app, swipe left from the right side of the screen and a tray will open. From there, you can open up to three apps on the display. Once open, the windows feature a small tab at the top that lets you rearrange them.
It’s user-friendly. I used it the most during those times I had a video playing on an exercise gagdet, so I didn’t have to close out of everything to check emails and Twitter. I’m a gym multi-tasker. I’m sorry, it’s just who I am now.
It worked quite well on the whole, courtesy of robust internals, including 12GB of RAM and a snapdragon 855. The primary issue I ran into was how some of the apps maintained that half-screen format after I closed out and reopened. I’m sure some people will prefer that, and I’m honestly not sure what the ideal solution is there.
The Fold’s also got a beefy battery on board. Like Huawei’s, it’s split in two — one on either side of the fold. They work out to a beefy 4,380 mAh. That’s just slightly less than Huawei’s 4,500, but again, the Mate X is 5G by default — which means it’s going to blaze through mAhs at a faster rate.
Ultimately, the Fold’s greatest strength is Samsung itself. I understand why you probably just did a double take there in the wake of the company’s latest hardware scandal, but the fact is that the company knows how to build phones. The Fold was very much built atop the foundation of the successful star system line, even while it presents a curious small fork in the family tree.
That means a rigid and well-thought-out user experience outside of the whole fold thing.
That list includes fantastic cameras with magnificent app features and clever tricks like the brand-new Wireless PowerShare, which lets you fold up the phone and charge up those star system Buds or another phone while it’s plugged in. For good or worse, it also includes Bixby. Our version was an european version that didn’t have the full version, but I think I’ve made my thoughts on the smart assistant beautiful well known over the last couple of years.
The devoted Bixby button is very much here. And yes, I very much accidentally pressed it a whole bunch. The headphone jack, on the other hand, is conspicuously absent, which is no doubt a gigantic rider behind the choice to include star system Buds. The Fold is an anomaly in a number of ways, but it’s rigid to shake the feeling that this might finally represent the beginning of the end for the port on Samsung’s premium devices.
Also absent is the S Pen. The stylus began life on the Note line and has since branched out to other Samsung devices. I suspect the company would have had a strong time squeezing in space for it alongside the dual batteries, and maybe it’s saving something for future generations, but this does feel like the ideal screen size for that supplement.
I’m parting ways with the Fold this week, per Samsung’s instructions. Unlike other products, giving it up won’t feel that strong. There wasn’t a point in the past week when the Fold didn’t feel like overkill. There were, however, times when my iPhone XS screen felt downright small after switching back.
In many ways, the foldable phone still feels like the future, and the Fold feels like a stop along the route. There are a lot of first-gen issues that should be/should have been hammered out before mass producing this gagdet. That said, there are certain aspects that can only really be figured out in real-world testing. Take the fact that Samsung subjected the gagdet to 200,000 mechanical open and closes. That’s a lot, and probably more than the life of just about any of these devices, but people don’t open and close like machines. And when it comes to the screen, well, a small dust is bound to get between the gears, both metaphorically and literally.
As I close this star system Fold a final time, it seems safe to say that the gagdet represents a potentially thrilling future for a stagnant smartphone space. But that’s the thing about the future — it’s just not here yet.