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Samsung Galaxy Fold hands-on: The tablet that (almost) fits in your pocket

If you stretch your mind far back enough, you can probably find fault with every first-generation product. The original telephones only communicated over short distances and produced a hollow, ghost-like sound. Early televisions had tiny, shadowy screens inside massive, boulder-like cases. Within both of those categories, innovation happened in fits and starts, but it was relatively constant. By the time we got to smartphones and flat-screen TVs, the sound had improved, the picture sharpened, but it would take many more years — 'til the mid-2010s, in fact — for them to both thoroughly commoditize without sacrificing major core features.

Which brings us to today, where I got to try — and take home — the first truly foldable phone on earth. Yes, there have been other attempts, but they have mainly been two displays crudely and deleteriously conjoined, with little to no thought as to the software experience. The Samsung Galaxy Fold is just the first of an inevitable avalanche of foldable smartphones to be released in 2019 and beyond, but the company's bragging rights don't just extend to timing, but to completeness. While nowhere close to perfect, the Galaxy Fold gracefully handles the transition from small to big screen, and where it can't, it provides a pretty robust set of fallback experiences that shouldn't upset the early adopter crowd too much.

A brief Galaxy Fold recap

We've known Samsung was working on foldable display technology well before the company unveiled the Infinity Flex display — the Fold's foundational elements — at its developer conference in November. When the Fold was officially announced in February alongside the Galaxy S10 series, it did a good job overshadowing Samsung's flagships, as it received a price ($1980 USD) and a release date (April 26), numbers both cheaper and earlier in the year than Huawei's Mate X, which was announced a few days later at MWC.

You'll probably want to use the huge 7.3-inch tablet display more than the smaller outer display, but both are surprisingly usable.

Samsung decided to go for an "innie" design, opting to include a 7.3-inch display on the inside, with an old-school tablet-like 4:3 aspect ratio. While many phones, including Samsung's own Galaxy S10 series, have screen sizes approaching 7 inches, they're measured diagonally using the ultra-tall 19:9 aspect ratio. The same size screen with a more traditional 4:3 measurement provides a lot more real estate — and many fewer apps optimized for that design.

But to ensure that everyday tasks can be completed without needing to open the phone, there's another 4.6-inch panel on the front, this time using a super-tall 21:9 aspect ratio. It's quite a contrast, and one of many on this device, though many of the trade-offs are worth it, as I'll get to shortly.

The hardware that ties it all together is an extremely seamless hinge paired with a magnet that allows the two sides of the phone to open and close with only a bit of effort — and a satisfying click that will become a bit of a habit for some, I'm sure. Of course, glass doesn't bend, so while the front and back of the phone is covered with glass, the inside screen uses a proprietary plastic substrate.

While I'm unwilling to scratch it to see how it withstands the realities of daily abuse (though technically it should do well considering it's only exposed while being used), it's also clearly not glass, which comes with a bevy of obvious trade-offs. First, the crease. Samsung's calling it the "fold" — yes, like a book — which will attempt through marketing to preempt any criticism of its presence. But it's there, and you either have to learn to live with it or not. Second, the touch response is definitely not as good as it is on a regular smartphone.

The phone doesn't sit flat, either, thanks to the hinge forcing one side of the phone to protrude and separate slightly from the other. This is in contrast to Huawei's Mate X, which uses an "outtie" design that negates the need for a similar hinge.

Samsung did a lot to make the inside display feel the same as close to its S10 counterparts as possible, but the technology is still too new for that to be the case. The two sides of the screen appear to refresh at different speeds, leading to a jankiness that, while difficult to spot at first, is unmistakable once you actually notice it.

Hardware-wise, the Fold is pretty close to a Galaxy S10 — at least the super expensive ceramic version of the S10+. There's a Snapdragon 855 inside it, along with 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage — and you better be OK with that amount, since there's no way to expand it with a microSD card. The phone has six cameras, including a 10MP selfie shooter on the cover, another 10MP selfie on the inside, along with an 8MP RGB depth camera, while the rear has the same loadout as the S10 — a 12MP wide-angle and 12MP telephoto, both optically stabilized, along with a 16MP ultra-wide.

While the phone actually has two batteries — one on each side of the hinge — they total to a massive 4380mAh, which is bigger than the S10+ but smaller than the upcoming Galaxy S10 5G. It's unclear how the Fold's battery life will be affected by the, well, folding, but it should last at least a day on a charge.

The capacitive sensor doubles as a Bixby button which, coming from a S10e, isn't confusing at all 🙄

To top it up, there's wireless charging and fast wired charging, just like the S10, though for some reason it only supports the 15W wired charging standard that we've seen going all the way back to the S6, rather than the 25W option debuting on the S10 5G later this year. The Fold is also limited to LTE speeds of 1.2Gbps, as the company couldn't manage to get the 4x4 MIMO antennas needed for the Snapdragon 855's 2Gbps speeds on this new form factor. Still, 1.2Gbps is nothing to turn your nose up at.

On the right side of the phone is a capactive fingerprint sensor that's in a far more comfortable place than it is on the Galaxy S10e, but confusingly its secondary function operates as a Bixby button, not the power button as it does on Samsung's smallest S10. Stereo speakers round out the list of features pumping out of each end of the "cover" screen.

Using the Galaxy Fold

So how is the Galaxy Fold as a phone? I've spent a few hours with it as my main phone and the dichotomy of small, tall screen that expands to be a near-square tablet display is a bit jarring at first, but it works a lot better than I expected. Samsung's worked with Google to develop App Continuity — which works as simply as promised. When you have a supported app on the cover, it opens to fill the entire inside screen; non-supported apps just fill the center and can be forced to re-open in a tablet view. It's not a great experience, as shown below, but it's a relatively creative solution to something that Samsung, as a hardware vendor, ultimately has very little control over.

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But Samsung's value proposition for the Fold isn't to mimic a dumb Android tablet, most of which have deservedly received a heavy dose of criticism over the years for lacking an ecosystem of apps that do anything to support their larger form factors. Google is partly to blame here — aside from a brief campaign five or so years ago, Android's creator has largely given up on encouraging the developer community to optimize their apps for more spacious screens. That leaves often-used apps like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and others wasting a lot of space as they merely expand outwards to fill additional horizontal space on the Fold.

Instead, Samsung wants people to use its improved multitasking mechanism, which borrows the UX from its Edge Display feature on Galaxy phones. Swiping in from the right side of the screen in tablet mode lets you open a second app in a two-third/one-third split with the primary app, and then a third that cuts into half of that space; plus, you can add up to five more apps running concurrently in floating windows.

This works well because, as I said above, the tablet mode's 4:3 aspect ratio (it's actually 4.2:3) provides an almost equal number of pixels horizontally and vertically, so having two apps side by side merely lets them revert to their natural phone interfaces. Three apps is a bit trickier, because you have a phone layout on the left while two are squared-off on the right, but it still feels productive.

And that's... it. There are very few gimmicks here. The rest of the software is strictly Samsung's One UI, so you get the same love-it-or-hate-it design changes that arrived on most recent Galaxy phones a few weeks ago. Because of the notch on the inside's top right corner, some apps, like YouTube, currently cut off content in that area with no option to resize it, while others, like Netflix, letterbox video so that the notch doesn't come into play.

As a phone, this is otherwise a Galaxy S10 — the camera viewfinder looks a bit silly when taking up the entire tablet screen, but it's still quite usable. I made a bunch of phone calls with the earpiece and they sounded great, as do the two speakers (though they're easy to cover when you're holding the phone in its default landscape orientation.

The biggest criticism I can throw at the Fold is that it's very tall and quite heavy — 161mm and 263 grams, respectively — which may disqualify it from the average jean pocket. When you use the Galaxy Fold, or when you're transporting it, it's difficult to forget it's there. That said, it's quite enjoyable to use with one hand because it's narrow enough that the height doesn't undermine its "phone-ness." I find myself defaulting to the small screen most of the time, even for typing — Gboard works really well on the cover, and less so on the tablet screen — because it's easier to use a phone with a single hand than two.

The larger screen, conversely, is great for gaming or Netflix, or anything that requires more surface area. Reading. Browsing. Tablet stuff.

But I keep coming back to why this thing exists in the first place, why someone — even someone overflowing in money — should buy it over a really good phone and a pretty good tablet. There's no question that there are plenty of advantages to having both form factors in your pocket, even one so heavily weighed down. And the $1980 you're spending is only — only — $400 or so more than the top-of-the-line Galaxy S10+, with which the Fold shares most of its high-end guts. Are the compromises worth the extra dough just to say you had it first?

Should you buy the Galaxy Fold?

Like all first-generation products, the Galaxy Fold isn't without its flaws. The cover display looks a bit odd taking up only 60% of the phone's front. The tablet screen, while excellent on its own merits, doesn't feel quite as smooth and responsive as most of Samsung's products. And the transition between cover and tablet modes is often finnicky, especially before apps have been explicitly updated to support Samsung's App Continuity.

That's all fine because when you're buying something like this, especially at its $1980 price, you're investing in the growing pains. While not quite a beta test, like the Galaxy Edge before it Samsung is definitely using the Fold as a test balloon for foldable phone demand, and I'm encouraged by how complete and usable it is, even in this early state.

There's a part of me that wants to go all-in on the foldable hype, embracing this as the next big thing. And perhaps it will be, once the software experiences catch up. Right now, though, you're getting a very good phone and a very good Android tablet built into a single product, and if that's worth $1980 to you, I say go for it.

One thing's for sure, though: this is one of the most remarkable pieces of technology I've ever used. And that's saying something.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

45 Comments
  • Samsung.com already sold out its pre-order pre-order allotment (at least for Tmobile). "Pre-orders have surpassed expectations." Not sure about this first version, but at least the future looks bright for the category.
  • Shut up. Samsung made fun of apple because of a notch, the folds notch is unbearable. Go blow Richard Yarrell
  • Damn dude chill lmao, wtf
  • You trigger easily. Not that anybody even mentioned Apple, but since you did: Apple has nothing like this; they're just following now.
  • Because there is no need for foldable phones...
  • That's subjective. There were uses for the foldable.
  • ...or bigger screens, or styli, or OLED, or wireless charging.... You'll be eating crow when Apple "invents" foldable phones.
  • You tell'em Pookie!
  • We can all agree that it's a niche segment of the smartphone market but man no need to go full rage mode like that. If you don't like the thing just don't buy it. Sure the sales are exceeding their expectations but I'm certain they had a very low mark to attain such a feat. Seems like a cool devise but it isn't for me.
  • PookiePrancer stated nothing but straight FACTS!!!
  • I'm totally surprised someone else here remembers Richard Yarrell hahaha
  • Rude....just rude
  • If only this was cheaper I can't wait for what the galaxy fold will be
  • Looks cool, but I'd wait for the second Gen. The price will probably be the same or higher, but it'll be more polished.
  • I like that it's an "innie", i would feel a lot more comfortable carrying it w the large screen protected instead of on the outside asking for scratches lol. I won't get one, i am happy w the note line and still love my spen. I am excited to see how it evolves though, who knows, maybe one day I'll "need" one! Lol
  • Why do people keep saying cheaper. Technology is not cheap specially when it first comes out. I think this is something very innovative. If it was Apple everyone would be ok with the price lol
  • I really want this form-factor to succeed. (I'll admit, I'm just short of buying one to help it do that though.) It's good to see that these are moving and that we'll likely see other entries that will add to the push for creating apps with large screen support. I've been impressed with Samsung's efforts to try out different concepts and I'll be taking a really close look at version 2 of this product.
    As for size, both my pockets and my hands are on the large side, so something like this should pose no problem for either.
  • I'm sure the next one will have an S-Pen (or F-Pen).
  • I want one...that one, in fact...send it to me. As a former Notre edge owner who still feels the burn a bit, I am still intrigued...and again....I like stuff that doesn't copy apple( who I have nothing against, but also don't believe then to be the end all be all...)
  • I would be extremely interested in the device. Don't like the look of the foldable hedge
  • This phone looks like complete trash. Samsung threw so much shade at Apple and then here they come with this vomit inducing corner notch LOL and the front of the phone, don't even get me started.
  • What are you using right now?
  • *****crickets***** lol Exactly
  • So what you are really saying is "I tried to pre-order, but my CC was declined." Got it. ;-)
  • I got rid of my one and only iPhone not because of the notch but, because of the constant app crashes. If you don't want a notch on your phone either don't buy a phone without a notch or design your own just the way you want it. Notches don't seem to be slowing phone sales down. Other factors but not the notch.
  • Hideous....if you have enough money buy two and throw them both out.
  • No way in hell I'm dropping almost 2 stacks on this without any 5g or micro SD support. Samsung is lucky huawei can't sell it's devices here in America.
  • Why would this need 5G?
  • If I'm paying that much for a premium device with 5g right on the horizon it better have the capability built in. Otherwise I'm wasting money.
  • Haha...yeah 5G is right around the corner...😂
  • Lol somebody's living under a rock.
  • You've already filled up a 512GB phone? Impressive.
  • I have a 512gb note with a 250gb micro SD card. The card is completely full and I'm using over half of that 512 at the moment.
  • Why would you pay 2 grand for this even if it did have those things? Moot point...
  • That is the whole point. Why would anybody pay that much money for a device that didn't have all the bells and whistles?
  • I know you AC guys have to cover everything.... And I'm a Samsung guy.... Maybe one day I'll upgrade my Note 8 (years to go).... But really, almost nobody will buy the Fold.... You guys are writing to such a miniscule number of would be buyers.... Whom I'm all but certain aren't reading your coverage.
  • Pretty exciting concept. Can't wait to try it in person. This device and the complete offer, compared to the iPhone XS Max's price, is not even that expensive.
  • I was all in for these devices, until I saw this article. Nothing wrong with the points made etc. But it just made me realize by looking at the pictures, it's not for the masses at all. I am fine with my "candybar" mmmmmm yummy candy, style phone.
  • It looks great. In 6 months, it may be affordable? Can't wait for next year's model with s pen! Keep it up Samsung.
  • Love the idea but hate the implementation. Wish it folded evenly.....nice and flat rather than the way it does. I'll end up getting one of the later gens for comic book reading!
  • Is that lag I see on the second swipe in the "App Continuity" video embedded above? Seriously though, if you watch a 16:9 Netflix or Youtube video on this vs the S10+, the actual video looks like it will be the same size on both devices, just with top and bottom letterboxing on the Fold
  • Honestly I wouldn't buy this phone at half the price. Of course I'm speaking for myself but this is twice as thick, and don't close flush. I carry my phone in my back pocket. How many sit downs would it last through? I'd break it for sure. I don't need or want an everything device. This is kinda a phone and kind of a tablet AND IT'S $2000!! Nah I'll gladly miss this... device
  • I'm never paying two grand for a phone... at least not the current definition of a phone. However, this is a step in a direction. I'll enjoy watching the journey from the sidelines before joining at some point in the relatively distant future.
  • On further reflection, I don't think folding is the way to go... Roller (pull out) will work... I suspect I'll have a long wait, though. Mind you, I waited a decade for the device I wanted before the original iPod Touch and several more years for something similar as a phone (thanks, HTC)... I can wait for this too.
  • Honestly, even without the durability issues reviewers got, it is still just an advanced prototype! Too many compromises for a high price! You are better off buying a better phone AND a better tablet for the same price!