Samsung Galaxy Fold review: naysayers be damned, this phone is fabulous

Rating: 9.1/10

Pros:

  • Foldable display
  • Premium design
  • Excellent packaging and customer service
  • Great performance
  • Good battery life

Cons:

  • Fragile
  • Average indoor selfies
  • Samsung could’ve added an S-Pen
  • Not affordable for most folks

Introduction

Oh man, they are here. Folding phones are a reality. And, the first one that I’ve had the privilege of using for a whole week as my daily driver is the Samsung Galaxy Fold. And, all I can say is that I am in love. As a tech journalist, I know I am supposed to keep my emotions in check, but how can someone who covers technology day in and day out not be excited after looking at the future? And, a very good and matured representation of the future that too. Read on for my full review of the Samsung Galaxy Fold – the phone cum tablet that changes everything and ushers in a new era of smartphone design. 

Samsung Galaxy Fold Design: redefines smartphone design from ground up

So yeah, as the name suggests, the Galaxy Fold…well…folds. And, the whole design was met with some criticism when the first lot of review units went out to international journalists back in April. The biggest concern was that the protective layer on top of the display looked like a normal screen guard. An unbeknownst to the journalists testing the phone, peeling it off was not really an option. Well, screens on these review units got damaged as a result. 

However, Samsung was unperturbed and handled it maturely. It went back to the drawing board. And, added t-shaped clips at the grooves to ensure that dust doesn’t enter through the gap. The gap has also been reduced now. Plus the protective layer on top of the display has been extended into the bezels ensuring that folks don’t mistake it for a layer that can be peeled. But most importantly, Samsung has added a smattering of warnings which includes one where you are explicitly advised not to push your nails into the display. 

Anyway, for me, the Fold feels sturdy and rigid from the get-go with a very solid fulcrum. The mechanism of gears inside the well-sealed metal hinge is very well done. Initially, I was a little wary of the folding mechanism and was using the Fold with kid gloves. But after a day, I was folding and unfolding the phone without the fear of damaging the display or breaking anything. Honestly, there is no more fuss with the design now. 

Let’s get one thing straight though when folded, the phone looks like a chunky pencil box and it is pretty heavy to hold. When unfolded, you cannot use it with one hand. For example, try taking a selfie with one hand stretched in tablet mode. It is nigh impossible. Which means you will have to use two hands to take a selfie. This is where I feel Samsung could’ve added S-Pen support to the Fold. It would’ve not only been a perfect tool for the tablet display, but it would’ve also been useful to take selfies using the Bluetooth button as well. 

To unlock the phone, you get a side-mounted fingerprint scanner that is separate from the power button. This is odd considering the S10e has it embedded on the power button, which feels more logical. That said, it is just a minor quip. It works extremely fast and should be no cause for concern. There’s also face recognition, and it works with the screen opened and without, both. I’d still stick to the physical fingerprint reader considering it is more secure.

Oh, by the way, there’s no headphone jack on the Fold and you get only a single SIM card slot. Just putting it out there.

Samsung Galaxy Fold Display(s): them displays are gorgeous

The Fold has a fairly small 4.6-inch Super AMOLED HD+ display on the front and when unfolded, you get this massive tablet-sized 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel with a QHD+ resolution. Ideally, you are expected to use the display on the front for most regular activities.

Therefore, let’s take a look at the smaller screen first. In the day and age where 6-inch displays are the norm, the 4.6-inch front panel feels excruciatingly small initially. Over time, I really got used to typing on it despite my pudgy fingers. It gets the job done for surfing Instagram, reading tweets, browsing through emails, and maybe sending out quick text responses. But try gaming or watching videos on this display and it feels weird. For that, you will need to open the display. On the contrary, you will need to close the display to use the earpiece for calls. And call quality is excellent, nothing to complain there. 

Now, coming to that gorgeous 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED panel with the squarish aspect ratio. Well, it is impressive what Samsung has managed to achieve with bendable plastic screens. However, at certain angles, you can definitely see the crease and feel it when you swipe your finger through the middle. But you know what, this is the first-generation tech and I cannot be so harsh on Samsung. In fact, during most of your regular usage, you will not notice the crease but you will notice that weird side notch. Yup, the notch is more annoying than the crease. 

Another problem is the dimension of the internal display. The aspect ratio for most apps is warped. Content gets cut on Instagram. And, since that’s not enough, the notch cuts off key UI elements in a game like Call of Duty. I sincerely hope app developers can fix this problem soon. 

One of the other things I had to test was how the touch felt. Now, I could test that immediately considering on the outside you get a glass panel and inside is plastic. So, the feeling of touch is completely different. Glass feels more smooth compared to the slight friction you get on plastic. That said, the haptic feedback is pretty damn good across the system. Also, the typing experience on a split keyboard on the tablet is damn cool. 

Overall, the display on the inside has a few issues but your mind immediately dismisses it when you fold and unfold the phone. It is that magical. 

Samsung Galaxy Fold Software: it’s tailor-made for a foldable phone

To adapt to the new form factor, Samsung had to make a few customary changes to its homegrown One UI based on Android 9. There are a couple of cool things you can do now. Firstly, there is App Continuity, which is not to be confused with Apple’s Continuity. Essentially, the apps that you open on the front display will seamlessly transfer to the display on the inside when you unfold it. 

However, a few apps have not been optimized yet. Which means, the aspect ratio doesn’t change. I am not very optimistic that app developers will re-code the aspect ratio inconsistencies for the new Fold immediately because the phone needs to be in more hands. I remember distinctly that many app developers hadn’t updated the design of their apps to include the notch on the iPhone X until even the iPhone XS was launched. So, it could take a while on the Fold as well. 

The other software addition is that you can open up to three apps in the cool new multitasking mode. You can invoke a slide-out panel from the bottom right part of the display with a list of apps that support split-screen. It uses real estate well.

Now, is there something that Samsung could’ve done more to include the tablet form factor? Absolutely. How about providing us a way to use one-half of the displays as the joystick and the other one to showcase the game itself? Anyway, even in its current state One UI for the Fold is very well done but I wish it could’ve added a few more features. 

Samsung Galaxy Fold Cameras: similar to the Note 10+

So, if you want to take photos with the Fold, you can use one of the six cameras on the phone. Yup, six. The phone has six cameras in total. Three on the rear. Two selfie cameras on the notch inside. Another selfie camera above the front display. 

But here’s the thing, the kind of pictures that you get with the Fold is exactly what you can get with the Note 10+. This means you get excellent dynamic range, sharp details in good lighting situations, and slightly poppy colors. In indoor lighting, the pictures lack the kind of sharpness that you get from the iPhone 11 Pro especially after the Deep Fusion update. Low light pictures look good and sharp too. The Fold continues to be the second-best phone for capturing videos right behind the iPhone 11 Pro. Selfies are not the strong suit of the Fold, though. Just like the Note 10+.

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All in all, the Galaxy Fold has one of the best sets of cameras you can find on a smartphone but it is definitely not the absolute best. That would still be the iPhone 11 Pro, which is also a phone that cannot fold. Just putting it out there. 

Samsung Galaxy Fold Performance: surprisingly good for gaming

The Fold is the first flagship Samsung phone in a long time in India to use Qualcomm’s flagship SoC. So, you get Snapdragon 855, 12gigs of RAM and 512GB of storage. The phone performs admirably in daily tasks and gaming as well. Take a look at the benchmark comparisons and it holds up well against the OnePlus 7T with a Snapdragon 855+ chipset. In fact, it is better than the Galaxy Note 10+ in most scenarios. 

Samsung Galaxy Fold Review Benchmarks (3)
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Samsung Galaxy Fold Review Benchmarks (1)

Gaming is a blast on the Galaxy Fold. While I had to adjust to the unique aspect ratio with respect to the joystick and the fire button in COD, it became second nature to me while playing. Honestly, the Galaxy Fold feels tailor-made for FPS and TPS games like PUBG and COD. Oh yeah, PUBG also runs at Extreme graphics in the HDR setting. Visuals are just a treat on the Fold. 

Couple the gaming performance and the multimedia performance – in general – with the excellent dedicated dual speakers in a stereo setup, your experience of using the device is amplified multifold. The speakers are loud, crisp, and possibly the best setup on a smartphone yet.

Samsung Galaxy Fold Battery: best battery life on a Samsung flagship this year

Powering all this is a fairly large 4380mAh battery inside the Fold. I expected it to deplete quickly considering you have two displays to power but the Fold completely bowled me over. You can easily eke out 7 hours of SoT from the phone on regular usage and the battery life can last beyond a day. You get a 25W charger inside the box that charges the phone from 0 to 100 in exactly 2 hours, which is not too bad but not great either. 

Apart from this, there is support for wireless charging and reverse wireless charging as well. You can use the reverse wireless charging support to top up the battery of the bundled Galaxy Buds if you wish. So overall, the Galaxy Fold is a solid A on battery life. 

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Fold?

So, that’s it we are at the end of the review and it is not like the Samsung Galaxy Fold doesn’t have its share of problems. In fact, Joanna Stern’s review for the WSJ does a good job of highlighting how using it in the real world requires you to be very careful with the Fold. Although, after using it, I am convinced that you might not need to handle it with care to an extent that you obsess over its fragility. 

Trust me, this thing can take the real world. Albeit, a world that does not involve fieldwork or adventure sports. Come to think of it, which glass-bodied phone does? Regardless, if you are lusting after this futuristic smartphone, pull that damn trigger already. I would’ve too. Only thing is, I don’t have Rs. 1,65,000 for a phone. 

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?