SAN FRANCISCO (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Some test models of Samsung Electronics' new foldable phone have suffered defects after only days of use, casting a shadow over next week's introduction of a US$1,980 (S$2,680) device meant to rejuvenate a flagging market and showcase the Asian company's technology expertise.
Several publications, including Bloomberg News, outlined a bevy of problems with test versions of the device, which folds inward like a notebook.
Bloomberg's review unit experienced issues after a plastic protective layer was removed on Monday (April 15). By Tuesday night, a small tear had developed at the top of the hinge, where the gadget opens. Then the display failed to operate properly.
"We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter," Samsung said in a statement to Reuters, noting that a limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review.
It added that removal of a protective layer on the handset's display might cause damage and that the company would deliver such information to customers clearly, Reuters said.
The South Korean company suffered a black eye with a previous major launch in 2016, when it recalled the Galaxy Note 7 after consumers reported issues with batteries that burst into flames.
The world's largest smartphone maker is counting on ground-breaking gadgets to propel growth and excite consumers as demand for mobile devices flattens.
Pre-orders began on Monday for a marquee device expected to usher in a wave of smartphones that can unfurl into tablets. The Galaxy Fold's 7.3-inch screen teased how users can juggle three apps at once and view video with more clarity.
The problem seems to be related to the unit’s screen either cracking or flickering, according to Twitter posts by technology journalists from Bloomberg, The Verge and CNBC who received the phone this week for review purposes.
Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman tweeted: “The screen on my Galaxy Fold review unit is completely broken and unusable just two days in. Hard to know if this is widespread or not.”
According to Mr Gurman’s tweets, he removed a plastic layer on the screen that was not meant to be removed and the phone malfunctioned afterwards.
Mr Dieter Bohn, executive editor of The Verge, said that a “small bulge” appeared on the crease of the phone screen, which appeared to be something pressing from underneath the screen.
Mr Bohn said Samsung replaced his test phone but did not offer a reason for the problem.
“It is very troubling,” Mr Bohn told Reuters, adding that he did not remove the plastic screen cover.
In another apparent flaw, the inner screen stopped working.
First, the left side of the display went dark - then the right side developed problems before also failing completely. Other reviewers reported similar issues, including flickering visuals and how the area around the central hinge lost viewable pixels.
The external display still functioned for Bloomberg's review team when the phone is closed. Separately, the demo unit's screen retained permanent marks wherever a fingernail made contact during the course of use.
Other reviewers, however, reported no major issues with the gadgets Samsung provided.
In an e-mail sent on Tuesday - a day after providing the demo units - it asked media not to remove a "special protective layer".
The device's packaging did not discourage the attempt, however, and the sheet seemed similar to the protective films that come with most phones, tablets, and TVs right out of the box.
While it is still too early to gauge how much demand there will be for smartphones with flexible screens, Samsung and other rivals are eager to gain an edge over Apple in the US$495 billion industry.
Samsung had forecast it will produce at least one million foldable phones this year, a fraction of its overall shipments in 2018.
Huawei Technologies, Xiaomi and Lenovo Group's Motorola are all working on foldable phones. Research firm Gartner expects the overall market to expand to 30 million units by 2023.
Samsung - which spent eight years on the Galaxy Fold - is also developing a clamshell-like foldable phone and another that folds outward, Bloomberg News reported last month. The company envisions smartphones with rollable and stretchable displays, Samsung executive vice-president Chung Eui-suk said in February.
Even before reports of the review models' issues surfaced, there had been questions about the general durability of foldable phones. The company has released footage of machines repeatedly opening and closing the phone in what it dubbed an "extremity test".