The Samsung Galaxy Fold Foldable Phone, the $2,000 folding phone with a history of hype and durability problems, has finally made it to U.S. stores.
The question for most folks isn’t whether to buy the Fold—you need to be the earliest of wealthy early adopters to do that.
The real question for most people is whether this the start of a big shift in phone design or just one of those quirky detours that arrive to much fanfare, then fade away—like, say, 3D TVs. In other words, is it cool?
We’ve been playing with our own store-bought Fold phones and we have some early answers on what makes sense, what doesn’t, and where it all might be going.
We also have some more Folds in our lab undergoing tough tests involving robotic fingers, scratch picks, and tumbling machines—those more definitive results will be ready in about a week.
Look and Feel
When closed, the Samsung Galaxy Fold Foldable Phone has a brick-like look and feel. The 4.6-inch display is of limited use.
In recent years, I’ve gotten used to carrying big phones with big screens. They can get heavy and bulky, but the trade off is an expansive display that’s great for watching video, scrolling through social media posts, or surfing the internet.
The Fold takes that tradeoff to a new level. When closed, it has a brick-like look and feel that takes me back to the early days of analog cell phones. Its thickness makes the Fold tough to shove in the front pocket of blue jeans, though when tossed in my purse it doesn’t take up much more space than a Galaxy Note10+ or iPhone 11 Pro Max.
When closed, the phone is about the size of a large candy bar—6.3 inches long and 2.5 inches wide. On the front, there’s a 4.6-inch AMOLED display. Open the phone up like a book and you reveal a 7.3-inch main display, also an AMOLED. But instead of glass like the AMOLEDs on other high-end phones, it’s made of a soft, flexible plastic.
When you touch it, it doesn’t quite have the same feel as smartphone glass. Given the fact it has to bend, that’s not surprising.
While the phone doesn’t look much bigger than other large-screen models, it is a touch heavier. Without the case, it weighs about 9.7 ounces. In comparison, a Note10+ weighs about seven ounces and an iPhone 11 Pro Max comes in at just under eight ounces.
The outside display is of limited use. Like the phone itself, it’s tall and skinny. You can use it to read your notifications, dial calls, and fire up your favorite music streaming service. It can house apps and games, too, but there just isn’t enough real estate for most apps to display properly. It’s really tough to type on and I even had a hard time finding a family picture narrow enough to use as wallpaper.
Here’s how the iPhone 11 Pro Max, Samsung Galaxy Fold, and Samsung Galaxy Note10+ display the same photo.
But the front screen is not really the point of the device. When you open it up, something slightly magical happens. What once was a brick is now thin and elegant. Videos stretch from one side to the other in a sweeping span that easily eclipses the full-screen modes of even the largest traditional smartphones.
Your photo gallery is big and beautiful, too. Text is bigger—a simple benefit that could appeal to many people who’ve grown tired of pulling out their reading glasses every time they use their phones.
That big screen can be split into multiple sections, letting your perform multiple tasks at once, such as checking your calendar and Googling nearby restaurants, while messaging your friends about an upcoming date night.
That’s all helpful, but splitting the space up too much can make it tough to actually use those apps. In some cases, toggling back and forth between screens, as you would on a traditional smartphone, is a better idea.
And the big screen demands a tradeoff: Most people will need both hands to do nearly anything. Until now, many of us have become accustomed to holding and operating even the largest phones with one hand.
I tried to play a simple game of Subway Surfers, which involves swiping the screen in various directions to get a character to run through an obstacle course, but I found it tough to both hold the opened Fold in my right hand and swipe at the same time. This is something I can usually do easily on my Galaxy Note10+.
There is a noticeable crease in the screen where the two sides of the phone are joined. Straight out of the box, it was more of a slight indent. You only really see it when the opened screen is completely black, though you also can feel the crease when you run your finger over it. We’ll have to wait and see whether it gets more noticeable as the phone ages. More
I write about all things “cyber” and your right to privacy. Before joining Consumer Reports, I spent 16 years reporting for The Associated Press. What I enjoy: cooking and learning to code with my kids. I’ve lived in the Bronx for more than a decade, but as a proud Michigan native, I will always be a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan no matter how much my family and I get harassed at Yankee Stadium.
Follow me on Twitter (@BreeJFowler).