The Galaxy Fold‘s second coming is already tinged with doubt after one reviewer noticed a “blob” of pixels on his screen where they shouldn’t be — a new symptom in the foldable phone’s ongoing woes. This is after Samsung redesigned the Fold (which is now on sale) to make it sturdier and less susceptible to the screen damage some review units sustained during reviewers’ first foray with the device, which was 5 months ago.
CNET’s review unit is unaffected, and my ongoing review continues. Even though it’s been nearly five months since the last time I used a Fold in day-to-day life, it’s exciting to have the Fold, a device so different it immediately draws curiosity. There are things I genuinely love about this phone, and new ways that have felt natural to use it, like as a true second screen, and as the best viewing device with its 7.3-inch plastic-not-glass display.
But the same annoyances are there, too, and that’s because Samsung’s do-over just bandaged the weaknesses that caused early Galaxy Fold screens to malfunction as dust, pressure and the removal of a questionable protective layer gummed up the inner workings of the Fold’s screen.
This time around, Samsung is clearly communicating what you shouldn’t do and what could break the Fold, like applying “excessive” pressure to the 7.3-inch plastic screen. Some of the phone’s other quirks, from an extended screen notch to the 4.6-inch external screen that’s uncomfortably small to type on, remain the same. In other areas, the improvements have really helped in small but significant ways.
Any way you look at it, the Galaxy Fold is a unique phone. As the first foldable phone to go on sale from any major brand, it sets the pace for what the future of phones could become. They might not all look like the Fold. (In fact, it’s a good bet that Samsung’s suffered enough growing pains from this experience that it will come out with a completely different look for future foldable devices.) But if enough phone makers follow Samsung’s lead, there could be a lot more phones that open into tablets, or at least into larger-screen devices.
These are my ongoing impressions of life with the new Galaxy Fold. Check back, since I’ll keep updating this as I work toward my rated review.
Love: The Galaxy Fold’s 7.3-inch screen size
To Samsung, the Galaxy Fold’s 7.3-inch screen is its main one. This is the large display you access when you open the phone from its folded-up position. Samsung expects you to do most of your typing, viewing and living on this display.
Typing isn’t as easy as it is on even extra-large phones like the Galaxy Note 10 Plus (the Fold’s heft makes it heavier to hold, too), but it’s great having so much screen to do… anything, really.
Hate: The screen’s delicacy
We hem and haw over the “fragile” glass screens that cover pretty much every phone display, but you don’t realize how durable this glass is — especially Gorilla Glass 6 — until you baby a polymer screen that can break under pressure and sustain damage if your fingernail hits it wrong.
Samsung cautions you to keep the Fold away from water and dust, car keys, and items like credit cards that the Fold’s magnets could disrupt. The company even made a video to both caution and inspire you.
So far the Galaxy Fold review unit has been fine, but I look at my fingerprint smudges piling up and wonder if wiping them off will kill this $2,000 device entrusted to my care. For now, they pile on.
Like: The fingerprint reader
The first time I used the Fold, I wasn’t a fan of the fingerprint reader placement, which is awkward to reach 50% of the time. It’s situated on the right side, on the “bottom” part of the stack when the Fold is closed. When it’s open, you just slot your thumb in and the Fold unlocks in under a second. Easy.
When it’s closed, this action is much more awkward, but I’ve learned to swoop my thumb in at the right angle and most of the time it’s not a problem. I wound up liking this a lot more this review period than I did at first. Even better, though, would be secure face unlock that could work from the cover screen as well as the inside of the Fold. For a $2,000 phone, that shouldn’t be such a stretch.
Don’t love: The Fold’s weight
That the Galaxy Fold isn’t light comes as no surprise. It’s essentially two phones stacked together, with a lot of glass and two batteries. It weighs 9.28 ounces (263 grams), compared to the iPhone 11’s 6.84 ounces (193 grams). Besides, Samsung wants it to feel solid and luxurious. At the end of an intensive day of use, though, the Fold just felt heavy. When my hands got tired from typing (see below), taking the Fold out of my purse felt more like a chore.
Holding it up to read and watch videos also made its weight even more obvious. Watching a movie on the plane, reading in bed, using the Fold as a second screen while I worked — I kept searching around for anything I could use as a stand so I wouldn’t have to keep holding it.
Let’s call this one a minor annoyance that I’m keeping my eye on.
Starting to love: Multitasking with up to three active windows
I spent five straight hours typing notes on the Galaxy Fold while covering a Qualcomm event in San Diego this week, using both screens to type. I’ll get to my thoughts on the keyboard below, but the point is that, while typing, multitasking came naturally, too.
I needed to focus on the Google Doc I used for note keeping while also tweeting, responding to Slack messages and using other apps to check in to work. I also opened up the browser from time to time. This was a feature I was glad to have, and it makes sense given the Fold’s 7.3-inch display.
Sliding from the right edge of the display to select an app and split the screen felt natural, especially since it’s an action I routinely perform on other Galaxy phones, like the Note 10. But I don’t always love the way the screens split, even though I can move them around. Overall, it made the second app more narrow than I prefer. You can do a little more work to adjust the sizes but, when you’re working quickly, that felt like a fussy waste of time.
The Galaxy Fold can support three windows at a time, which get progressively smaller. I almost never opened the third.
Mixed bag: The Samsung keyboard
All that typing made me familiar with the Samsung keyboard in a brand new way. I always test Samsung phones with the default keyboard, but once the review period is over, I immediately install Google’s Gboard app, which I prefer for its superior typing predictions and access to emoji.
And yet, Samsung’s keyboard has a distinct advantage over Gboard on the Galaxy Fold, since it splits in half to make typing more comfortable, like a physical ergonomic keyboard. This works well, actually, and I’m happy to have it, even if my hands do get tired from stretching to type. I installed Gboard just to compare the two, and quickly returned to the Samsung keyboard’s split screen — less strain that way.
My main issue is that the keyboard eats up so much screen space, especially when you’re multitasking, that it almost undoes all the benefit of having such a large viewing area to begin with. Scrolling to see what I just typed kind of defeats the purpose of the Fold’s 7.3-inch promise. Gboard takes up a skosh less space.
Still deciding: Taking photos
If you cringe when you see people shoot photos on a tablet, you’ll feel like a fool taking photos when the phone is opened up. You can’t beat that 7.3-inch viewfinder, but people will notice, especially if you start mugging for selfies.
More discreet is taking photos with the Fold closed in its candybar form. It’s much harder to see what you’re shooting on the rather narrow 4.6-inch exterior display, but you feel stealthier doing it, and the photos will come out fine.
The one difference to keep in mind about open- or closed-screen photography is that you get both 10- and 8-megapixel front-facing lenses when you unfold the device, versus the one 10-megapixel selfie shot if you use it closed.
Hate: That inch-long notch
I had forgotten how much space the Fold’s camera notch really takes up. It’s a big chunk of the right part of the interior display, and it’s really unsightly. It’s as though someone took a big bite out of whatever it is you’re looking at.
Thankfully, the notch is off to the edge, so it won’t swallow up the action of a video or cut off a website, because the app’s border stops before you get to the notch. But when the screen is lit up, it does stick out like a sore thumb — it’s almost that large.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that the notch is hardly functional. It houses some sensors, including two front-facing cameras, but when you look at them in the light, you’ll find there’s a lot of dead space. I’d expect Samsung to slow-walk away from this design in its future foldable phones.
Love: The end caps on the screen
It’s a small thing, these plastic bits that remind me of the T-shaped peg in Tetris, but they’re effective and, compared to the first Galaxy Fold unit I used, they just seem to complete the look. Like they belonged there the whole time.
So far, they also seem effective. I’ve gently probed the opening with a fingernail. While I can slip a nail between the plastic bezel and the screen, this end cap has seemed to close a gap that existed in Samsung’s previous design. Here’s hoping it holds.
Hate: The too-small exterior screen
It didn’t take long for me to remember that typing on the Galaxy Fold’s 4.6-inch exterior display (the one that’s actually topped with Gorilla Glass) is a challenge. Walking, it’s almost impossible.
Blame Samsung’s other extra-large screen phones if you like, but my fingers have completely fallen out of the habit of precision typing. Working the display feels more like hunting and pecking. It’s a useful screen to have — so you can use the Fold when the screen is closed — but the more passive viewing, the better.
It’s a very good thing you can start on this small display and continue what you’re doing on the larger screen, once you open the Fold.
Love: The way the Fold snaps shut
There’s something about this new Samsung design that seems to have changed the way that the Fold feels when it closes. Or at least the way I remember the Fold feeling. Without having old and new models side by side, it’s hard to know for sure. My overall impression, though, is that the Fold’s magnetic closure feels sturdier when you close it.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of physicality when it comes to the Fold. I’ve said since the very first that this is one of those gotta-do-it-to-believe-it moments that makes the concept of a foldable phone so compelling. People love tactile things, and phones have become the opposite.
Opening and closing the device feels like a return to more interesting phone days when devices had lots of buttons and keyboards that sometimes swiveled out.
Remember, this is an ongoing review, so there’s a lot more to come. In the meantime, here’s everything you need to know about Samsung’s Galaxy Fold reboot.
Originally published earlier this week and updated with new information.
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