Jessica Dolcourt: Galaxy Fold’s hard lesson – It wasn’t just the screen that killed this foldable phone

Commentary: Flimsy design is a death sentence for foldable phones.

Galaxy Fold Foldable Phone
Galaxy Fold Foldable Phone

Months after putting the Galaxy Fold Foldable Phone on ice, Samsung is finally ready to sell its redesigned foldable phone this month.

The Fold is the company’s first-ever device with a screen that bends in half, and also the first to come to market from any major brand.

(Huawei’s postponed Mate X might now go on sale in October.) But the rush to be first hurt the Fold, embarrassed Samsung’s CEO, and cast doubt on the durability of these seriously risky devices. It’s a lesson Samsung is unlikely to forget — and hopefully unlikely to repeat.

Right after I reviewed the initial Fold design, I said that a foldable phone is only as good as the quality of its screen. That’s because, more than with any other phone, the screen is the foldable’s very reason for being. 

Its entire value rests in its ability to provide you a meaningful experience on a bigger display than one you can have with a 6.8-inch phone like the Note 10 Plus — and in a footprint that’s half the size of a tablet. $2,000 is a lot to spend on a delicate piece of tech whose chief asset is prone to gouges and worse.

Turns out, I was half right. The screen’s integrity is only one element of the bigger picture. The Galaxy Fold didn’t have a rocky beginning solely because the plastic screen’s top layer is softer than glass. The damage came because the entire design was flimsier than it should have been, with the screen as the central point of failure. 

The problems with the Galaxy Fold began almost immediately, when a handful of reviewers noticed three different issues maligning the display. There were bulges. There was flickering.

And in more than one case, a protective layer that looked like a common disposable dust guard proved to break the screen when taken off. The Galaxy Fold Foldable Phone was more prototype than finished product, and it showed. 

Samsung said it’s fixed the Fold’s problems by adding plastic and metal reinforcements throughout. It’s closed off air gaps where muck can get in, strengthened the screen layers and made that crucial protective film hard to pry off. I went hands-on with the refreshed Galaxy Fold, and found it to be sturdier than the first time around. More