USA Today: Galaxy Fold first look. We go hands-on with Samsung’s nearly $2,000 foldable phone

The processor is the same as the S10 line, Qualcomm's Snapdragon 855, though the Fold has 12GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage

Samsung Galaxy Fold April 2019 video
Samsung Galaxy Fold April 2019 video

Samsung is about to fold but don’t take that the wrong way. It wants you to buy into the new Galaxy Fold that goes on sale next Friday and that will cost you nearly two-grand.

That sum alone obviously raises all sort of eyebrows, especially when you thought $1000 for a smartphone was excessive. But you’re also understandably curious about the dramatic new “foldable” design that transforms Samsung’s latest smartphone from a slightly chunky handset with a 4.6-inch display into a small tablet with a 7.3-inch screen.

We were curious too, and one week before the Fold hits stores, we got our first hands-on look at the new flexible display hybrid device. 

Samsung’s marketing spiel is it is giving you more with less. But we’ll have to do some real world testing to determine its ultimate usability– and whether that high price is worth it. Having said that, though, there is no doubt this thing is cool.

In its closed position, Fold will function as your standard premium smartphone, though the small front screen practically begs you to unfold the device into a tablet. Samsung itself is giving tablet mode top billing–the device comes unfolded when you open the box. 

There’s nothing to actually folding and unfolding the device. Opening and closing it is as satisfying as closing an old flip phone. Merely unfold it, and snap it back in place. Closing it produces an audible “clap” noise just like those older devices. Unlike the typical flip phone you unfold it sideways and not top-down.

The inner display is protected by a tough polymer layer; the outer screen is Gorilla Glass. Samsung says the flexible display was eight years in the making and designed for being opened and closed at least 200,000 times. You better believe you’ll go through this action repeatedly yourself. 

At certain angles, or depending on what you have on the screen, a line on the inner screen is visible where you fold the device. If you close your eyes and rub your hand along the screen you’ll feel this divider too.

The Galaxy Fold’s divider isn’t always hidden. Eli Blumenthal, USA TODAY

Surprisingly, though, this didn’t bother us as much as you might think particularly when you’re watching a video or playing a game, though it will likely take getting used to–and we want to gauge our reactions once we spend more time with the device.

There are trade-offs, however, even on a phone as pricey as this one. There is no headphone jack, though Samsung does include a pair of its wireless $129 Galaxy Buds in the box. 

While there is a 5G model in the works for the U.S. market (and a 5G one will be sold overseas) the version of the Fold launching next week in the States will only work on AT&T and T-Mobile’s 4G LTE networks. There is also no unlocked model in the U.S. for use on Verizon or Sprint. 

Unlike other recent Galaxy phones, the Fold is not water resistant either. Living on the edge requires you to make some sacrifices. 

The phone is also thick when closed, roughly the same size as a Galaxy S10 stacked on top of a Galaxy S10+. It still fits into our pant and coat pockets, though you won’t have much room for other items once it’s there.

When closed the Galaxy Fold is roughly the size of two Galaxy S10 line phones. Eli Blumenthal, USA TODAY

When opened the screen is roughly the same size as Apple’s iPad Mini.

Specs wise the phones are slightly more powerful than what you would get with Samsung’s $1,000 Galaxy S10+. 

The processor is the same as the S10 line, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855, though the Fold has 12GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage. Unlike other Samsung devices, there is no expandable storage.

The back of the Galaxy Fold.Eli Blumenthal, USA TODAY

The six cameras — one of the front, two in the tablet mode, and three on the back — are similar to the S10, including giving you three shooting options for the rear camera (wide angle, ultra wide-angle and 2x telephoto zoom).

One of the tablet mode’s two cameras is a depth sensor for improved selfies and portraits. 

The foldable is powered by a 4,380 mAh dual battery system that Samsung says will last all day. We’ll see.

Samsung is going after a very specific audience with the Fold:  Wealthy early adopters who are willing to pay to be the first with the would-be latest, greatest and coolest device. 

Presumably, these folks will also have the money to replace an internal display that might break–the screen might be strong but it’s not bulletproof (Samsung does include a case for the Fold in the box that is made from a “bulletproof material” for added durability). 

In our brief time, the Fold definitely checks many of those boxes and is certain to turn heads. But for $1,980, many of you will want to wait for round two before going into the fold. More

By Eli Blumenthal and Edward C. Baig  USA TODAY

Follow @edbaig on Twitter; @ellblumenthal on Twitter