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One Galaxy Fold screen issue is unfixable, and you can blame physics

Like almost everyone on the planet, I've never touched a Galaxy Fold. But I have bent things made of plastic plenty of times and can see a big issue with the phone that few people are talking about: physics. Specifically, the tighter the radius of a bend in a piece of rigid or semi-rigid material, the higher the chance is that it will be damaged. Multiply that chance by the 200,000 times a Galaxy Fold screen is designed to be folded and unfolded, and there may be a big problem that can't ever be fixed.

Everything will break when bent enough times. Hopefully, enough only happens after the end of useful product life.

I'm not crazy, as it is obvious that Samsung has already considered the issue. A quick look at the hinge of the device when it is folded shows it. That decidedly unsexy gap at the hinge is there specifically to combat the problem. Folding it tightly when closed would exacerbate it and lead to a much more prominent crease a lot sooner than expected or, worse, causes premature screen failure.

You don't have to make phones to figure that out, either. Just take a rigid screen protector made for any regular phone and bend it. Admire the perma-crease you just created, then bend it a few hundred times until it tears. Plastic can be a wonderfully tough material in a phone, but it will eventually be damaged.

At first glance, the display on the Fold looks like any other Samsung phone. It's big and beautiful, has that distinct AMOLED color pattern, and makes you want to pick it up and use it. Samsung is the king of small form-factor display technology for a good reason and the company knows how to do it better than anyone else. But it's also a screen that's designed to fold, which is a whole new idea.

That idea means plenty of plastic. Hard plastic, soft plastic — even secret plastics. Anyone who has ever taken a phone apart knows just how fragile the actual display is once you get rid of the glass, and the OLED panel in the Fold is no different. The OLED layer itself along with the digitizer — the piece that registers when you've touched it — will break and tear at the slightest disturbance.

Samsung not only had to reinvent the phone form factor with the Fold, it had to reinvent some display tech, too.

These need to be sandwiched between layers of flexible material that will allow for the Fold to bend and stay rigid enough to prevent damage at the same time. The tighter the radius of that fold, the better the chance this rigid layer will become creased forever or even break. And you only need to look towards China to see that there might be a better way.

The initial reaction to the Huawei Mate X was that the display should fold over itself the way Samsung is doing it — an innie rather than an outtie. It would arguably look better, but more importantly, it would protect the display more so than having it exposed. After seeing how quickly the crease has become more prominent on several reviewers' Galaxy Fold units, and other issues surrounding the display, I think the opposite may be true.

The Mate X may look worse when folded, but I'll bet it lasts a lot longer.

Having a much larger radius in the folding area of the display, as seen in the Mate X, probably makes for a much tougher panel that's far less prone to damage at the crease. Tougher materials can be used that are more rigid because the spot where a crease can form is non-existent. Tough, stiffer plastics mean a tougher exterior layer that can fend off more scratches and abuse.

That's important because as Samsung reminds us, you can't add any sort of adhesives or other layers atop the Fold display aside from the existing plastic protector. That means no additional screen protectors, at least for now.

In the bigger scheme of thing none of this matters. The Galaxy Fold is a first generation product that's only going to be purchased by enthusiasts who are willing to send damaged units back to Samsung for repair or replacement. The ungainly looks and $2,000 price means there won't be any real consumer demand for the product, and Samsung is free to keep working at the idea until a consumer-ready version can be built and sold.

Samsung has a track record of perfecting a product category. The Fold will be the same.

That's an idea Samsung is familiar with and has perfected. Looking back, can anyone say the original Galaxy Note was a failure? It was expensive, very few were sold, and it needed several versions of refinement to turn into the mainstream success the Note line has become.

Give the Fold a couple of versions, and it may turn out the same.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

48 Comments
  • While I applaud Samsung for trying to inventna newer concept product of technology. At the price of $2,000 they should have done more rigorous testings on Fold prior to putting it on shelves.
  • Their testing was pretty rigorous.
  • apparently not! After 2 days of use there are major flaws
  • Another article on Android Central about the Galaxy Fold problems? NO WAY!!!!
  • Physics have been around a long time and you design with them in mind. Samsung made bad design choices with the Fold and a device so open to ingress of substances guaranteed to damage the device, it has no place in consumers hands
  • You know, people don't have to love this thing, and even if it was flawless, it is not for everyone. I'm an Apple guy, and I have no desire to get one of these. But why all the hate in these articles? It seems as though everyone is rooting for Samsung to fail. The peel-off ones were not defective. The one that had the bump in the fold that broke the screen has not yet been proven to not be due to the user putting modeling clay on the fold while photographing it, but OK, lets accept that as defective. Perhaps that is a higher-than-average failure rate, 2 out of 300 preview phones. But who hasn't gotten a defective item once in a while? There seem to be a hundred articles gleefully reporting that this is a disaster. It's not--it's a bump in the road, especially to a giant company like Samsung. I think that the media's ravenous appetite for dirty laundry is more highly valued that the progress of this new an intriguing technology.
  • He's a Huawei guy. He's rooting for that product and will defend it to the death upon it's release. So consider the source.
  • By saying that Huawei's silly idea I have never touched is designed to better combat the perils of a tight turning radius than Samsung's silly idea I am now a fan. No. I am a fan of bending conduit. Other fans of bending conduit will understand.
  • I'm referring to dov1978, not the article, which is fair.
  • ahhh OK. Silly threading in these comments had me confused.
  • Erm ok "a Huawei guy" that's had Samsung's Galaxy S1-8 with severely Edge/Plus varients and several Notes the last being the Note 8. Quite a few LG G series, Had iPhone 1-7Plus, tonnes of Nokia/Microsoft Lumia phones too so I'm not even exclusive to one OS. Just because my last 2 phones have been Huawei doesn't make me a Huawei guy that will defend it to the death but nice try dude
  • Ah, my apologies...I was soooooo wrong. You are CLEARLY unbiased. 😏
  • I don't buy that theory
  • But the crease that's getting worse on every phone is not the same as reviewers breaking theirs by doing dumb things. And there is no way that Samsung didn't know it would happen. I'm saying Samsung didn't care, will take the money of people who also don't care, and keep working at it. As someone who had the first Galaxy Note and Galaxy S Active, AND the first foldable Android phone from ZTE 6 or so years ago, I am telling you to wait three more years.
  • I don't disagree. I was referring to dov1978's post.
  • Jerry the original note wasn't too bad. It had software problems and some over heating issues but was a usable product. I kept mine for 15 months before upgrading to the S4. It's still one of my most favourite phones out of all the phones I owned.
  • Corning (the company behind the Gorilla Glass) is developing bendable (not foldable) glass. Early prototypes can bend to about the same radius as the Huawei Mate X. Glass is much stronger than the soft plastic displays used on current bendable/foldable phones like the Huawei Mate X and the Samsung Fold. Once Corning's bendable glass finally comes to market, that is the time to buy a bendable/foldable phone with confidence. But for now, wise shoppers (or people who can't afford to lose two thousand dollars) should stay away from current bendable/foldable phones.
  • It would be better, in my opinion, if they could just make a way for two seperate screens to almost seamlessly line up when opened. That way better materials could be used with no actually bending of the screen. I'm sure this has been thought of and tried.
  • Yeah, if they could get two separate panels to look close enough to the same and act as one that'd fix every problem I talked about. Hope they are still trying!
  • That was the proposed tech behind the rumored Microsoft 'Andromeda' prototype foldable device. They have patents for having the screens curve at the hinge and using refraction to make the actual seam disappear from the user's perspective. I agree with OP I think thats the smarter investment of tech/time cause from the user perspective we wouldn't lose any significant capabilities aside from swiping over a tiny gap (would that worse than a crease? IDK) while getting much more durable overall screen(s).
  • I still think the innie is the way to go. It just needs the material science to mature. Something that delivers a pixel 2 sized experience folded and slightly-larger-than Nexus 7 sized experience unfolded would be ideal.
  • So gimicky and looks tacky AF
  • I dunno. It's not my style (too big) but it solves a real problem — people want bigger phones but they need to carry them around, too. I think version 1 turned out pretty good, actually. I still would tell anyone who isn't sure to wait for version 3, though. Too expensive to buy if you aren't 100% convinced when you see it.
  • Tacky is a matter of opinion, but it's definitely not gimicky. People need to stop decrying everything that doesn't interest them personally as gimicky.
  • This product is Folding Phone 1.0 and is only for super hardcore early adopters. The article points out a basic materials issue (bending and re-bending plastics) that I don't believe has a simple solution. Think of how many other industrial applications could benefit from a plastic that could be bent and re-bent many times. I'm pretty sure this issue (not just as it applies to folding phones) has been studied in depth for decades. As Jerry pointed out, the "outie" design pf the Mate X may be the most practical since it's unlikely there's a simple solution to the bending plastics problem.
  • A lot is said in this article by someone who has touched neither device, never mind spent any time with them. Prime example of what Lew Hilsenteger and Jon Rettinger talked about today.
  • You don't have to touch any device to understand that plastics fatigue and fail when flexed, and the tighter the radius the more prone to damage they are.
  • We DO know the screen has been tested, and is good for, at least 200,000 uses. Tell me about Huawei's testing.
  • I doubt Huawei's screen has been tested as extensively as what Samsung did. They do have the benefit of a larger radius, so that will help... but it also depends on material quality. Either way, the crease on the Fold is something that we can't do anything about, even though the device can keep on working.
  • Just like the majority of our nations news these days. If they create enough fake drama, people will read and watch.
  • But I have touched a lot of thin, flexible, rigid plastic sheeting. yes, it's flexible and rigid at the same time. The materials used have to be flexible enough to fold but rigid enough to support the OLED sheet and digitizer on both sides and at the edges. That means it has to have a minimum bend radius that if passed, will form a crease. You can also decrease that radius if you "overbend" when folding flat and pop the crease out, but the phone isn't designed to do that.   A flexible plastic isn't new. Even flexible OLED panels aren't new. Here's one from 2012.     Since the time between everyone taking glamor shots at the Samsung briefing and Thursday phones have developed a prominent crease in the center. I doubt the few people with the phone are using photoshop to add in this "defect" (for lack of a better word) so I'll blame the materials and design. I have no opinion of outer screen protectors or hinges open enough for putty eraser clay to work its way inside. Only what I can see with my own eyes. it might be a really great phone, I dunno. Don't claim to know. But I do know why you can't bend any plastic or polymer too tightly, and now everyone with a Galaxy Fold knows, too.
  • The crease seems to be what you're put off by. Every reviewer who actually has one has said: the crease is there. Most talked about it in their unboxing videos. It's there out of the box, and they told everyone to expect seeing and feeling it. The Huawei, from what we've seen, will have the plastic "bunched up" at the crease. You'll see it. You'll feel it. That's physics too. One's an innie; one's an outie. If you want a perfectly flat screen, neither device will provide that. So from that standpoint, neither is a better solution. Durability. Samsung stopped testing at 200,000 folds. The hinge can take it. The screen can take it. What are Huawei's numbers? How is the Mate X holding up to squeezes and foreign objects all over the fully exposed screen? Is it really a better solution? Now, about the claim that the Fold's crease has "become more prominent"... can we see the empirical evidence on which that claim based? I literally watched Lew unfold his device 1,000 times in 20 minutes, and it looked exactly the same at the end as the beginning, and its unboxing. So there must be some objective data showing the crease getting deeper/wider/more prominent? Those are some of the questions/unknowns that came to mind as I read the article. The answers aren't there, because of what Lew and Jon discussed yesterday.
  • Are you a Samsung employee? You sure are shilling for them all over these comments sections despite the fact the Fold screens are breaking.
  • No. He's given the other side, which is what discussion it all about. Do you really just want to sit on here and just criticize Samsung all day with no retort?
  • That's it. Everybody seems to want to ignore the latest developments in what was a huge story a couple of days ago, preferring to stick to their chosen narrative. All I've been trying to point out is: new details have emerged, and the story might not be what it seemed. Two people definitely broke their screens. One person used clay on THE most critical component of the device, possibly damaging it. The fourth may have damaged it as well, as Marques Brownlee observed from tell-tale signs of abuse. Knowing all that, I'm being chastised by somebody claiming "Fold screens are breaking." AndroidPit claims they're breaking "left and right." Phandroid claims this is a "nightmare" for Samsung. Wow. Can we all just wait for more facts? That's the point Lew and Jon were trying to make.
  • Are you a Huawei employee? Like so many Chicken Littles claiming "Fold screens are breaking?" Based on what we've seen lately, it's "screens are BEING broken." (By the way, has anyone noticed no more reports of any issues, user-caused or not, since the initial four?) If anyone tries that crap with Huawei or Oppo, I'll be shilling for them too when the time comes. Just tired of false or incomplete narratives to create sensationalist hype. In the meantime, do you have any actual answers to the questions I raised? Let's stick to facts, not hype. Jerry's article is technically correct. It's some of the assertions being made that I wonder about.
  • Possibility the dual screen approach of the Zte axon m is the most practical design approach at the moment. I appreciate that seam in the middle could turn of some people, but the phone is sturdy. I have been using one for over year with no issues I agree that any new technology will be a work in progress. We must applaud progress and encourage growth potential. After all we have a choice to buy only when convinced.
  • It looks as though the "outtie" may win the foldable phones just because of physics. The Mate X doesn't seem to have the problems of the Galaxy Fold.
  • The Mate X isn't available yet. I'm not sure what you mean. Who's handled it for weeks already ? How do we know it won't have it's own set of issues. It's still a prototype device.
  • No,
    These issues are based on poor design. From what I can see the Galaxy Fold does have a bezel around the foldable screen. Why couldn't they just tucked the film protecting the screen under the bezel so it wouldn't be easy to remove? Rushing to be the first in the market to release something and compromising quality isn't a good business model.
  • Marques Brownlee started peeling his off from the middle, near the hinge; your idea wouldn't have helped there. It'll be interesting to see how Huawei has hidden the protective layer, since the Mate X doesn't have any bezels at all.
  • Fugly. Immature tech. I'm poor. Gimmicky. I have to have a perfect screen. I'll stick with conventional design for now. Even if I was rich I'd never pay that for a phone. I use a Tab S2 and a "real" phone. Reliable at 1/4 the cost.
  • 10 years ago: Galaxy Note: Fugly. Too big. I'm poor. Immature tech. Give me my iPhone 3g. I swear we live in a loop.
  • Yup. Those without vision just see the future after it's happened rather than as it's approaching.
  • I agree with your main conclusion (consumers will have to wait a couple generations for their decent foldable phone), but your premises are highly faulty. Unless you know the material properties and engineering tolerances, concepts like "bend anything enough and it will fail" and "a wider bend radiance is necessary to prevent damage" are simply meaningless and uninformed. You don't know that Huawei's design is better because you don't know the material properties. You don't know that the radius of the fold will cause failure and that bigger would be better. Please stop.
  • I wonder how they test these devices before releasing to certain public testers. I mean seriously. How can such issues that occur within just 2 days of use not raise a red flag at Samsung HQ. It would save them negative media and what not if they tested the devices properly for everyday world use
  • Like many things before this, wait for apple to make it right when they release something of the sort. Android has tons of new cool features but let's face it, only apple perfects and polishes the selected features that were available on android years before apple had it. For example Face unlock & Face ID.
  • The galaxy fold is not a first gen product, it is an advanced prototype and Samsung wish to beta test it with its customers. The first gen Galaxy Note was a true first gen product with far less compromises (and even those compromises were not critical as with the fold) As fir the  « outtie » design, i wonder if it won’t create two crease!