Traditionally, choosing a laptop has been about compromise.
Samsung Galaxy Fold review: Show Off
The expensive, foldable smartphone of the future finally arrives
- Versatile and unique form-factor
- Great specs and performance
- Makes you think about how you use your phone
- Ridiculously expensive
- Inconsistent app continuity
- Limited durability
The Fold is innately compelling, truly innovative and impossibly expensive.
Price$ 2,999.00 (AUD)
Performance - Specs, Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
Processor: Snapdragon 855
Operating System: Android 9.1 + One UI
MicroSD slot: No
Headphone Jack: No
Fingerprint sensor: Yes, side-mounted
SIM: eSIM + Dual Sim
Connectivity: 4G + Wi-Fi 6 + Bluetooth 5 + NFC
Rear Camera: 16-megapixel f/2.2 + 12-megapixel f/1.5 & f/2.4 dual-aperture + 12-megapixel telephoto f/2.4 + ToF
Front-Facing Camera: 10-megapixel (f/2.2) wide-angle lens + an 8-megapixel (f/1.9) wide angle lens & 10-megapixel (f/2.2) cover camera
Dimensions: 160.9 x 62.9 x 15.5 mm
Weight: 263 g
The Galaxy Fold runs on Android 9.1 crossed with Samsung’s One UI. It looks super slick and it feels really responsive in action. For the most part, the software experience here isn’t that different from what you’ll get out of a Galaxy S10 or Note 10.
However, there are a few exceptions to this. Familiar looks come augmented by new functionality designed to help you get the most out of the Fold’s unique form-factor.
The first of these is app continuity. This refers to the ability to have apps seamlessly carry from one screen to another. For example, you take a photo with the folded Fold’s rear camera and then open up the inner display to see the results in higher resolution.
When this feature works, it works really well. The caveat here is that you do have to go into the settings menu to manually enable every single app you want to work this way and that, even then, not all apps are supported.
Overall, I’d say this situation is better than I expected but not quite as ubiquitous as I’d hope. Still, things can only get better over time.
The other neat software feature that the Fold offers is enhanced multitasking.
On top of the split-screen multitasking and picture-in-picture playback already available through Android, the Galaxy Fold can support three apps at once plus floating windows.
This experience is not as smooth or intuitive as I’d like it to be but it is something that you can’t really get out of other Android devices and it does make the Fold better suited to multitasking in a way that even the Note 10 can’t match.
The last thing to note here is that, while typing on the Fold’s outer display feels a bit cramped, the experience of typing on the larger display is second to none. Samsung’s native keyboard app does this neat trick where it splits the keyboard across both edges of the display, which makes it exceptionally ergonomic and intuitive to use.
At least, that’s been my experience. About half the people I’ve shown the Fold agree. The other half recoil in terror at the sight of the device’s split keyboard. Your mileage may vary.
The Galaxy Fold also supports Samsung’s DeX experience and, it turns out that DeX runs really, really well with 12GBs of RAM behind it.
My one complaint here is that the Galaxy Fold doesn’t offer the simple digital toggle for DeX that the recent Tab S6 does. You can only use it when it’s cabled into a monitor or laptop. You can’t just enable the DeX interface on the unfolded Galaxy Fold - which does stifle its potential as a tablet replacement somewhat.
As mentioned, one of the unique perks of choosing the Fold over Samsung’s other 2019 flagships is that it runs on the Snapdragon 855 processor. Ordinarily, Australians are stuck with the Exynos variant of each new Samsung device. This time around, you get the best.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the Galaxy Fold’s performance on this processor and the accompanying 12GBs of RAM was super-impressive. It cleanly beat out Google’s Pixel 4 XL and Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro for graphics performance.
It didn’t quite close that gap on other fronts but, as far as Android performance goes, the Galaxy Fold left a strong and positive impression.
Please note that, since we haven’t reviewed that many devices since Geekbench updated their software, we don’t have a huge pool of samples to compare the Galaxy Fold against. We plan to update this section once we have a bit more data to play with.
Jumping into titles like Call of Duty: Mobile, Hearthstone and Armello, the Fold ran 3D games smoothly in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mobile device do.
Unfortunately, the flip-side of this performance is that very few titles seem to be optimised for the specific dimensions of the Fold’s inner display and even fewer support app continuity. In-game textures often looked stretched and blown out and things like on-screen controls are rarely suited for comfortable use on the Fold’s wider, squared display.
My experience gaming on the Fold was plagued by a lot of black bars and weird sections of the screen that were obscured by the Fold's silly-looking shoulder-notch.
I would love to see how more ambitious stuff like League of Legends: Wild Rift runs on this thing but I hope that Riot and others are able to catch up when it comes to optimising things for large Foldable screens before then.
Still, games and videos looked mostly great on the Fold’s spacious inner display in indoor environments. Reading ebooks on the Fold is particularly compelling. It’s not the nicest display but it's still a pretty nice display. The situation is slightly less rosy when taken outdoors. In these sorts of situations, the glossy plastic screen becomes more problematic.
Treated as a tablet, the Fold is actually quite small. It's more akin to an iPad Mini than it is the recent Tab S6. That being said, I can't wait to see Samsung take this form-factor and build a dedicated Android tablet around it. Divorced from the demands and expectations of being a usable phone, it feels like Samsung's flexible display tech could thrive.
I doubt the Fold could replace my Nintendo Switch but if you put a gun to my head and asked me if the Fold offered a better gaming experience than the average flagship smartphone, I’d say yes. I had a blast playing stuff like Hearthstone on the Fold, despite the fact that the game runs in mobile mode rather than treat the Fold as a tablet.
My time with the Galaxy Fold saw the device’s 4380mAh battery deliver in a big way. It wasn’t Huawei P30 Pro good but it was still pretty good. A day of regular use was easy. Sometimes, I’d approach midnight with between 30% and 40% charge remaining.
Depending on how frequently you use the device’s larger internal display, I could imagine getting pretty close to a second day of regular usage.
That being said, one thing I did notice was that the Fold’s 15W wired charging felt really slow compared to other modern flagships. I assume this is a product of the Fold’s unique dual-cell battery design. Nevertheless, this felt like a compromise and something that made using this device as my primary one just that little bit worse.
The Bottom Line
At this stage, it feels safe to say that Samsung’s decision to defer the original launch of the Fold and make the necessary changes have paid off. The version of the company’s first foldable isn’t perfect but it sets a pretty high bar going into 2020.
It turns out what doesn’t kill your first foldable phone only makes it stronger.
After spending proper time with the world’s first mainstream foldable device, Samsung has not only managed to convince me that the Fold isn’t about spontaneously self-destruct. They’ve managed to sell me on the idea that this technology and this kind of flexible form-factor has a future.
There are plenty of reasons not to buy the Galaxy Fold but there are just as many reasons to be excited about the foundation it’s laying for the foldable devices to come.
We've updated this review to reflect a longer review period with the device, you can read our original thoughts on the Galaxy Fold here.
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