Phones

Galaxy Fold a workhorse with hefty price tag

The Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G phone is presented at the hall of Samsung at the IFA consumer tech fair in Berlin, Germany, September 6, 2019.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold 5G phone is presented at the hall of Samsung at the IFA consumer tech fair in Berlin, Germany, September 6, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

For the past few days, I felt like an unofficial ambassador for Samsung.

I have been answering questions from curious colleagues and friends, demonstrating how things work and giving them my take on the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the first foldable smartphone from a major manufacturer.

Based on their responses and that of those who have seen and tried the Galaxy Fold, I believe the future of foldable phones is indeed bright.

For one thing, almost everyone is impressed by the phone. Perhaps the delay of the Galaxy Fold (originally planned for April) due to hardware issues has lowered expectations.

Predictably, the limelight was on the folding mechanism, which unfolds the phone like a book to reveal its main 7.3-inch display. The action feels snappy and natural. It also closes securely with a gentle click of its magnetic clasp.

It can be rather addictive to open and close the phone. This could eventually be a problem as Samsung has tested the folding mechanism to be good for about 200,000 folds and unfolds (or five years if done 100 times a day), a figure that could be exceeded by a zealous user.

  • FOR

    • Large vibrant screen

    • Snappy folding mechanism

    • Excellent stereo speakers

    • Powerful hardware

  • AGAINST

    • Doubt over long-term durability

    • Cramped cover display

    • Expensive

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $3,088

    PROCESSOR: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 (single-core 2.8GHz, triple-core 2.4GHz and quad-core 1.8GHz)

    DISPLAY: 7.3-inch, Amoled, 2,152 x 1,536 pixels, 362 ppi pixel density; 4.6-inch, Amoled, 1,680 x 720 pixels, 399 ppi pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 9.0

    MEMORY: 512GB, 12GB RAM

    REAR CAMERAS: 12MP (f/1.5, f/2.4), 16MP ultra-wide (f/2.2, 123-degree), 12MP telephoto (f/2.4)

    FRONT CAMERAS: 10MP (f/2.2), 8MP depth (f/1.9)

    COVER CAMERA: 10MP (f/2.2)

    BATTERY: Non-removable 4,380mAh battery

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4.5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

Samsung has also addressed the issues that surfaced in April, from plugging gaps that allowed small particles to enter and jam the hinge to making it near-impossible for users to peel off the plastic layer on top of the phone's flexible Oled screen.

But I would still not recommend going to the beach with the device unless it is inside a plastic bag. Despite the protective caps added to the redesigned phone, fine sand will likely get inside the hinge.

While you can no longer destroy the screen by accidentally peeling off its plastic cover, this layer remains soft and fragile.

I have noticed at least one tiny dent in the screen, which makes me believe it will be dotted with micro divots and scratches after a few months of usage. There is also no escaping the crease in the middle of the screen as it is evident when looking at the display off-centre.

Its best feature is the large 7.3-inch screen, which can fit three app windows - one larger primary app and two smaller, identical-sized ones - making it more suitable for multitasking than typical smartphones.

More importantly, all three apps are active at the same time instead of an app being put to sleep like they would have been on the Android 9.0 operating system.

This Multi-Active Window feature, which has been added to Android 10, makes the Galaxy Fold feel almost like a PC, albeit one with a cramped screen.

This is but one of several software tweaks from Samsung to make the phone more usable. For instance, an app opened in the secondary 4.6-inch cover display - located on the outside of the phone - will seamlessly resize to fill up the larger screen when unfolded.

Other examples: a split on-screen keyboard to make typing more comfortable, the ability to customise the placement of the Android navigation soft keys (they can be aligned left, middle or right) and a second shutter button in the camera app that can be placed anywhere on the screen.

I have one suggestion, though. I often have the browser, Gmail (or WhatsApp) and YouTube open at the same time. It is my default productivity setting. So, I would like to see a one-click feature to instantly restore the three apps and their exact placement on the screen.

The main display's almost squarish 4:3 aspect ratio is not optimised for all apps and media. As a result, there is some clipping of the graphics in some games. Depending on the format of videos, you can also either expect big black bars at the top and bottom or lose some details if you zoom in on the video to fill up the screen.

There is also the dual-camera notch at the top-right corner, which can be annoying as it may block key information in games such as the in-game map. Overall, though, the multimedia experience is good, aided by the Galaxy Fold's excellent stereo speakers.

A niggling screen issue is a jelly scrolling effect, in which lines of text appear to slant while scrolling up or down a webpage.

While this wobbly effect may not be obvious to everyone, it was something I could not ignore after noticing it. It is caused by how the Oled screen refreshes the contents of the screen and is more apparent in larger displays such as the ones on Samsung's tablets (when used in portrait mode).

The smaller cover display is not useful, but is required so you do not have to unfold the device all the time. The screen is tall and narrow - good for checking notifications, but too cramped to type a standard reply on the tiny keyboard.

The same could be said of the selfie camera above the cover display, which is there for convenience's sake. Its triple rear cameras are identical to the ones on the Samsung Galaxy S10 series.

These cameras probably will not win any smartphone camera shootouts, although they will be contenders.

The Galaxy Fold runs well, thanks to its high-end hardware, including 12GB of system memory and 512GB of internal storage.

There is no microSD card slot or second SIM card slot, but the phone supports eSIM functionality. A 5G variant is available in several markets, but not in Singapore.

On average, the Galaxy Fold lasts an entire work day with about 30 to 40 per cent of battery life remaining by bedtime. Its video playback stamina is good, managing 13 hours 5 minutes.

So, is the Galaxy Fold ready for prime time? It can certainly serve as my primary smartphone, as long as I take reasonable precautions and ignore the nicks and dents that it will accumulate along the way.

But most folk invariably lose their enthusiasm upon learning that the phone costs $3,088.

Not to mention a first-time screen replacement during the one-year warranty period costs $200. Otherwise, it is $810.

The foldable-phone era has truly begun, but only if you can afford it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2019, with the headline 'Galaxy Fold a workhorse with hefty price tag'. Print Edition | Subscribe