Looking back, I can say definitely that the Samsung Galaxy Fold the most impressive phone I tested in 2019. Not just that—it was the most interesting and curiosity-inducing device I’ve ever used. As I mentioned in my recent column on foldables, I’ve had numerous strangers come up to me and ask about the Fold to either ask me what phone it is or if I’m using the Samsung Galaxy Fold. That’s the kind of tone that I want to set with this review, because This device genuinely captures peoples’ attention and imagination, including my own. After 6 months of usage, I want to give people an idea of what to expect from a phone and form factor that, while impressive, is still surrounded by a lot of uncertainty..
My personal curiosity with foldables began four years ago when I visited Lenovo’s Tech World in San Francisco, and the company showed off a foldable phone/tablet and a foldable phone/watch. Back then, I referred to them as bendables, which is still correct but not necessarily the industry-accepted term. The Samsung Galaxy Fold has an interesting history because the first iteration of the Fold didn’t necessarily do very well with some display issues, and eventually, Samsung recalled all devices and redid the launch with a few modifications. I got my Fold from AT&T in the second go-around, which was the only carrier in the US to re-launch the Fold after the issues were fixed.
The Galaxy Fold comes in a very flashy box with some serious packaging. Samsung clearly wants to convey the message that this is a premium phone, further evidenced by the device’s special support line, the bundling of the device with Samsung Galaxy Buds, and the offer of one free display replacement. While the free display replacement likely won’t be necessary for consumers, it’s a nice gesture designed to give customers peace of mind on a $2,000 device with a relatively untested form factor. Despite the $2,000 price tag, many people still went out and bought it. The latest and greatest from Samsung still carries a significant cachet.
The Samsung Galaxy Fold comes with its own, thin custom carbon case to protect the glossy exterior of the phone without adding too much weight or thickness. Upon picking up the device, you can immediately tell it is narrower than pretty much every other phone on the market. While it fits incredibly comfortably in my hand, it is also the heaviest phone I’ve held in years. This makes sense considering the phone has two large batteries, which are almost the same size—roughly 2200 mAh of capacity at 3.85V, for a total rated capacity of 4,380 mAh. Add in the complex hinge, foldable display, two cases for each half of the phone and six cameras, and you’ve got quite a heavy phone. 276g, to be exact, making it the heaviest phone on the market right now (beating out the 226g iPhone 11 Pro Max). The funny thing is that a lot of consumers associate heaviness and weight with quality. While Samsung likely tried to reduce the weight of the Fold as much as it could, the fact that it is heavy actually helps it exude a certain quality.
When I first started using the Fold, I found myself using the front-screen most of the time to take and answer phone calls and to check messages and notifications. To this day, I primarily use the outside screen (though I’ll admit that I wish it were just a tad bigger). Initially, I was worried about the seam between the two halves of the phone, where the hinge is located. However, the seam is virtually invisble from most angles when looking at the phone head-on (as you typically do with any smartphone). I was also quite impressed with the 512GB storage capacity of the Fold (though it makes sense if you’re going to sell a phone for $2,000). Once you use the Fold, you quickly realize how much of a content consumption powerhouse it is. You’ll need that storage.
Daily usage over 6 months
I usually carry 2-3 phones with me everywhere I go. Lately, it’s been the Note10, iPhone 11 Pro and Galaxy Fold. I make a point of bringing the Fold with me when I travel because it’s basically the perfect pocket tablet. The funny part is that I’ve never been much of a tablet user—I simply don’t have room for a tablet in my bag with all my other stuff that I travel with. The Galaxy Fold taught me something about myself and my device and media consumption that I didn’t realize before—I didn’t actually dislike tablets, I just disliked how big and clunky they were to travel with. The Galaxy Fold was the perfect answer to that problem.
The Galaxy Fold has a reputation of being a delicate phone, so naturally, I was hesitant to take it anywhere the first few weeks. Since then, I have traveled with it around the world and taken it to the gym, bars and restaurants without any issues. I’ve unfortunately dropped it numerous times, but it survived just fine. I love using the Galaxy Fold as a content consumption device—7.3” is a lot of real estate to watch videos with. While the aspect ratio does not match many formats of videos and applications, you still get a significantly larger screen to watch things on. I love to use my Fold to show off photos I’ve taken because my other smartphones aren’t large enough or the right aspect ratio.
One of my biggest gripes is how poorly some applications (like Instagram) have managed the aspect ratio of the Galaxy Fold, both for watching and posting content. Instagram Stories is an unmitigated disaster, and going through the feed on the Fold is painful—despite the huge screen, you can’t even fully see one post at a time (which doesn’t make any sense). While other apps seem to handle the larger screen better, Facebook also seems to struggle with what to do with all the extra real estate. Most Google apps do fine. Overall, I would say I found myself using YouTube, Netflix and AT&T TV the most on this device for content consumption.
One testament to the Fold’s status as a mobile content consumption device is the fact that I was able to watch the entire MLS Cup Final, while riding on the train from LA to San Diego, and I only used about 30% of battery. This is impressive considering that the screen was running at full brightness, engaging the LTE modem and Bluetooth streaming the audio to my Galaxy Buds about 2 ½ hours. I was truly deeply impressed by how well it worked and how great it looked.
To my surprise, gaming on this phone is quite fun and entertaining. The big screen is great for playing games—many games’ controls are on the screen, and having a bigger screen means that the buttons are less in the way of what you’re looking at. I mostly played PUBG and Call of Duty Mobile on the Galaxy Fold, but I’m sure pretty much any mobile game will run on it since thanks to its Snapdragon 855 processor. I think the Fold will also be a great device for NVIDIA’s new Game Streaming service GeForce NOW. I haven’t had a chance to try it on my Fold yet, but based on my Android gaming experiences, I believe it should be well-suited for PC games. The aspect ratio of the Fold was surprisingly less of an issue in games than it was for multimedia apps. That said, while games are very complicated pieces of software, they also tend to be much more flexible with resolutions and aspect ratios.
One of the big selling points of the Fold is its split-screen capability. It can even run three apps simultaneously on the same screen. To be honest, I seldom used three apps at the same time. I think that the screen is too small for three apps at the same time unless they are all equally sized, and the phone is in landscape mode. That said, multitasking on this device works very smoothly, and I used two apps at the same time, many times. I think the only real problem is that not enough apps support the split-screen mode on the Fold. Adobe needs to update its suite of Android apps to support this functionality. Microsoft is already on top of its game, and the entire Microsoft Suite works flawlessly on the Fold. Most of my productivity comes from Google Apps and the Office Suite, which all work great. Still it’s disappointing to see the limited split-screen functionality in apps like Photoshop Express, and the utter lack of support for it in apps like Lightroom and Instagram.
Taking photographs on the Fold is interesting—with a total of 6 cameras (3 on the back, 1 in front and 2 inside), it has more cameras than most flagship phones. I would say that the Fold’s photography ability surprised me, simply because I didn’t know what to expect. What I will say is that it feels rather weird to take photos with such a big screen. I own a lot of cameras—a Sony A6000, Fuji X100t and Sony A7iii. I’ve always pooh-poohed tablet photography and found it awkward. While shooting with the Fold feels like I’m shooting with a tablet, I can’t say that I particularly hate it. That said, the Fold’s camera system is better than pretty much every other tablet on earth. I’ve taken some magical photos with it; I would say competitive with those I’ve taken with my S10+ and Note10.
The camera stack has all of the same capabilities as the S10+ and Note10, except for the (in my opinion) overrated Instagram mode. Overall, the camera stack is comparable, but I will say that the night photos aren’t quite as good as the Note10. I also noticed that a lot of photos don’t look as good in preview as they do once the final shot is taken and the image has been processed. I’m frequently surprised by how much better photos ultimately look than they did in preview, which is nice, but it’s also not how cameras should work today. That said, I use my Fold at many industry events. It’s a great camera for taking shots above your head because the size of the screen enables you to better see what you’re taking a picture of. The Fold is the smallest tablet with the best camera in the world, and it also happens to fold in half (which is awesome). Plus, once you’ve taken those photos, you can show them off in their full 7.3” of glory.
The screen size of the Fold also makes it great for taking selfies. You can even take them with the device closed, if you want to. You can also use the main camera when the Fold is closed, but you probably don’t want to take photos with such a small screen. That said, when you do use the smaller screen for Instagram stories, it seems to crop a lot less and look way better.
The question of durability is a huge deal for a phone whose first launch was essentially botched by durability issues. CNET managed to get over 150,000 folds with its Foldbot (and the phone only broke after it slipped out of the robot’s arms). I think it would probably go 200,000 folds in a normal person’s hands, roughly equivalent to five years of folding. I have had the phone for almost six months now, and the device has held up impeccably well. I had a slight creak in my Fold at one point, but it went away almost as quickly as it appeared. The screen is supposedly very delicate, but I haven’t had any issues. That said, I don’t have very long nails or any kids, so I haven’t truly put the screen’s durability to the test. As mentioned earlier, I have traveled around the world with the phone. I’ve taken it on trains, planes, and cars. I’ve dropped it a few times—even sat on it while it was in my back pocket—and after nearly six months of usage, the it still basically looks like it’s brand new. My takeaway is that the second iteration of the Fold is a much more durable than people believe.
Wrapping up, the Samsung Galaxy Fold is, by far, one of the most impressive devices I have ever used. That said, there are still areas that could use improvement. That’s to be expected—it’s Samsung’s (and the industry’s) first foldable, and it took a lot of risks to make it possible. All in all, I think it paid off. The industry at large now considers foldables to be the future, myself included. Every person that I’ve talked to that owns or has used the Fold cannot get enough of it. Heck, even the #1 YouTuber in the world, PewDiePie, uses the Galaxy Fold and hasn’t complained about it once (and everyone knows he likes to knock things when they are bad). I think the Samsung Galaxy Fold was the most underrated phone of 2019, though it may not be for everyone, I do believe that the Fold is a very good phone and one that many people haven’t had a chance to experience. The Samsung Galaxy Fold gives us a glimpse into what the future of phones may hold and kicked off a trend that we will see for many years to come. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy Fold is one of the most expensive phones in the world, but people many people are still buying and loving it.