Samsung Galaxy Fold Hands-on: Not just a tech demo

Samsung's first foldable phone is surprisingly capable

Galaxy Fold header

Despite the Galaxy Fold’s apparent shortcomings, I can’t help but be excited a foldable smartphone finally exists after so many years of concept designs, patents and neverending rumours.

Overall the device is far more polished and stable than I expected, both in terms of hardware and software. Android Pie and Samsung’s One UI seem to handle the Fold’s multiple displays with ease, the camera performance is top notch, and in general, the Fold feels well-made, despite its noticeable bulk.

Still, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Fold is an incredibly pricey smartphone. While Canadian carriers and the final price haven’t officially been confirmed by Samsung yet, the Fold will likely cost somewhere in the $2,600 CAD ($1,980 USD) range.

Galaxy Fold beside the S10

This puts the device out of the financial reach of most people, relegating its audience likely only to wealthy smartphone enthusiasts interested in its fascinating and groundbreaking design.

Even then, those who do pick up the smartphone will be forced to deal with several drawbacks, especially in the design department.

Any way you look at it, the Galaxy Fold is a ridiculously expensive experiment regarding the future direction of smartphone design.

The foldable display

First off, let’s talk about the Fold’s undeniable main draw: its foldable display. The device’s front-facing 4.6-inch screen is comically small and features massive bezels on the top and bottom. The interior displays fold out to reveal what is essentially a 7.3-inch tablet-sized panel inside.

The 4.6-inch screen is exceptionally tiny when compared to today’s modern, nearly bezel-less smartphones. The phone itself is also incredibly chunky when folded and feels like a flip phone from the early 2000s. In fact, after handling the Fold for just a few minutes, I told MobileSyrup staff writer Brad Bennett that the device feels like the classic clamshell mobile flip phone I had as a teenager.

To be clear, I don’t necessarily think this is bad given my tendency to appreciate nostalgia, but some people may take issue with the Fold’s undeniably bulky look. That said, the tiny 4.6-inch display is difficult to excuse. I found it so small in part because of how narrow the phone feels when you’re holding the Fold in your hand. I’d even go so far as to say that the Fold’s external display is borderline unusable depending on what app you’re running on it.

Though I’ve always thought about the Fold as a folding smartphone, when the 7.3-inch screen expands it feels more like a tablet. I’d say the closest comparison in terms of size when you’re holding the device in your hand is Apple’s 7.9-inch iPad Mini. It’s worth noting that apps transition seamlessly between the outer 4.6-inch and inner 7.3-inch screen when folding the phone, which is a welcome user interface design move on Samsung’s part.

The inner screen’s 7.3-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display has a plastic-like feel thanks to its ‘advanced composite polymer’ build, but generally looks almost identical to the S10’s display in terms of brightness, vibrancy and overall display quality. It surprisingly even supports HDR10+, according to Samsung, which isn’t something I expected.

The display crease, which was a significant point of contention leading up to the Fold’s reveal, is still somewhat present but nowhere near as prominent as it was in leaked hands-on videos.

Galaxy fold front display

I found I was able to view the crease when I looked at the 7.3-inch display from an angle, but when using the phone head-on, the slight indent was barely visible. Regardless, you can feel the crease when you run your fingers across it, which could be an issue for some people. It’s also possible the crease could deepen and wear over time.

Further, as you likely noticed from the pictures included in this hands-on, the Fold is also even more of a grease, smudge and dust magnet than even the Galaxy S10. For someone like myself who typically keeps my portable electronics pretty clean, this is pretty disappointing.

What about that hinge though?

Galaxy Fold hinge

The Fold’s hinge mechanism feels surprisingly reliable and satisfying. Whether you’re folding the phone in, or back out again, the device makes a satisfying ‘click’ noise that I grew to like during my brief hands-on time with the device. Moreover, magnets hold the display firmly closed, so if you have the fold in a pocket or backpack, it shouldn’t easily accidentally unfold. There is a bit of flex where the hinge and the front-facing display connect, but it’s not that severe.

Though I’m not sure anyone would do this, you can even use the Fold’s 7.3-inch display half unfolded like a book. Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning the camera notch located in the top right corner of the screen is rather substantial.

It’s particularly noticeable when you’re watching YouTube videos, with the content often being cut off by the Fold’s display. Other than this though I found that the notch fades into the background, similar to my experience with the iPhone XS Max and Pixel 3 XL.

Galaxy Fold camera

Although I didn’t spend much time testing it out, you can also efficiently multitask by swiping from the right of the smartphone’s unfolded display to launch a list of recently used apps. These apps can then be dragged around and resized, with the Fold allowing three apps to run simultaneously.

To my surprise, every app I tested out responded well when multitasking, though I’m sure I’ll run into compatibility issues the more time I spend with the Fold.

The S10, other Samsung phones and Android devices in general, are capable of similar multi-tasking functionality, but I’ve never found that they featured enough screen real-estate.

Regarding specs, the Fold is nearly identical to the S10+ in almost every respect. The phone features a Snapdragon 855 processor, 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. The battery is also sizable, coming in at 4,380mAh, with parts of the cell located in both sides of the phone. More testing is needed to determine if the fold actually hits Samsung’s full-day battery life claim.

The rear of the phone features a three-camera setup, just like the S10+: a 12-megapixel wide angle shooter, a 12-megapixel telephoto camera and a 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle lens. On the other side, the front of the phone rocks a single 10-megapixel shooter.

Then, when Fold is open, there is yet another 10-megapixel camera housed in the notch, along with an 8-megapixel RGB depth-sensing camera, bringing the total number of cameras to a borderline ridiculous six.

Galaxy Fold camera

Though I only snapped a few images, camera performance with the fold is identical to the S10 and S10+.

Other technical specifications worth mentioning include that the Fold features a USB-C port, a speedy side fingerprint sensor and surprisingly loud stereo speakers.

Almost ready for prime time

What shocked me the most about the Galaxy Fold is just how smooth the experience of using the foldable device is.

While I didn’t expect the Fold to be a disaster given it’s coming from Samsung, I assumed the experimental smartphone would suffer from software issues, that the often-discussed foldable display crease would be more prominent and in general, I would be disappointed with its overall build quality.

There are drawbacks to be sure, with the Fold’s thickness being the most apparent issue many will likely have with the phone. It’s evident the Fold is still somewhat of a tech demo designed for smartphone enthusiasts and those with massive amounts of expendable income, but at least foldable phones finally exist.

With likely one to two design iterations and what hopefully amounts to a significant price drop, Samsung’s new Fold line could be ready for the masses. Whether or not foldable phones really need to exist is another question altogether, however.

Regardless, it’s hard not to be impressed that they’re finally here.

Samsung says the Galaxy Fold is coming to Canada in “summer 2019.” It’s unclear what carriers will sell the phone, but the South Korean manufacturer has confirmed to MobileSyrup that the foldable phone will be sold through partners as well as directly from Samsung.

All six Galaxy Fold colours, including ‘Space Silver,’ ‘Cosmos Black,’ ‘Martian Green’ and ‘Astro Blue’ are coming to Canada. Carriers will sell the ‘Space Silver’ version, with ‘Cosmos Black’ being exclusive to Samsung Stores. The Martian Green and Astro Blue devices can be customized with either a gold, or silver hinge. Every Fold also includes a packed-in pair of Samsung Galaxy Buds Hands-on: Third time’s a charm?Galaxy Buds, according to Samsung.

Photography by Patrick O’Rourke and Bradley Bennett. Videography by Bradley Bennett. 

Update 17/04/2019: Reports have emerged that some early Galaxy Fold review units are experiencing display issues. MobileSyrup’s fold review device hasn’t yet run into display problems.