Science

Galaxy Fold hands-on: I just tried Samsung’s foldable phone IRL and it was amazing – CNET

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I will admit I'm a little giddy right now. I've just opened and closed (and opened and closed and…) the Galaxy Fold for the first time since Samsung announced its foldable phone in February, and I've got to say, I'm thrilled by the experience so far. Yes, some of this comes down to novelty — after the Huawei Mate X, this is only the second foldable phone I've ever held and used.

There's also the hype. By keeping us reviewers far away from the Galaxy Fold — this is previously the closest I got — and releasing teasing videos, Samsung has built a certain mystique around its folding phone. This is a handset I've been drooling over for weeks, and now it's finally here.

But despite the plastic interior screen and bezel, the moment I picked it up (opened) and started using it, it truly felt like a cohesive, premium phone.

Foldable phones are an insane idea, not because the phone itself bends, but because the screen does, and that's really hard to do and even harder to do well — I'll eventually let you know if this one does. A few years ago, a foldable phone sounded like a futuristic joke: Oh, sure, you'll just fold up your phone and stick it in your pocket, uh huh. We can't stop our regular glass phone screens from breaking, and now you want to make the screens plastic and bend them?

But now there's enough critical mass, thanks to phone-makers like Samsung, Huawei and TCL, that foldable phones are becoming more real every day. Even Google's in on the action, pledging Android support so that its software will switch from one screen orientation to another as you fold and unfold the display. A little-known company sold the first foldable phone, the Royole FlexPai, but Samsung's Fold here is the first "real" foldable phone for most people.

Foldable phones will start off ultra expensive — the 4G version of the Fold starts at $1,980 and the Mate X costs about $2,600 — and there may be kinks to work out. (UK and Australian prices are TBA, but $1,980 converts to about £1,500 or AU$2,750.) But if enough people clamor for a device that puts a big screen in a little body, then a foldable phone design has the chance to change the way people use their phones: multitasking, interacting with the device and possibly even making other devices, like a tablet, obsolete. I've said it before: foldable phones are the wild west.

My time with the Galaxy Fold has been very short so far, but I'm just getting started. Ill be sharing a lot more throughout the day, so keep refreshing!

This is what it's like to use the Galaxy Fold

At this point, I've held and used the Fold for about 15 minutes. Not enough time to master the nuances of the multiscreen interface, but long enough to get a general feel of the device and what I still want to know.

As I said before, the phone feels solid and surprisingly premium. The opening and closing mechanism is smooth, thanks to a large hinge on the side, and that makes the width of the phone's "wings" narrow. On the right side, there's a volume rocker and a power button, and the fingerprint reader doubles as the Bixby button.

The first thing that's apparent is that Samsung has designed the Fold for you to use it closed up. It's tall and narrow, and the 4.6-inch exterior display feels kind of small. However, it is easy to use that way, especially if all you want to do is monitor your text messages or snap a quick photo. Samsung expects you to unfold the device to its full 7.3-inch glory when you want to fine-tune your photos and compose longer messages.

The Galaxy Fold, open and closed.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When you do open the fold, the app you had open on the outside will also unfurl on the inside. This is called app continuity, and it's something that Samsung and Google worked on together to make sure that the fold doesn't experience lag. From what I've seen so far with the few apps I tried, it works as expected, without delay. But if you want the app on the inside of the screen to follow you to the smaller screen, you'll need to select those apps in the Display settings. This is because you may not want every app to dog your heels — you might decide that for most apps, closing the phone means closing out what you're doing.

Once you're inside, there are several things you can do. You can use one app in full-screen mode, open up two apps vertically, or open a third panel. You get up to three active apps at once. You can also turn the phone to landscape mode to change the orientation. I noticed right away that the more apps you have open, the smaller the font, so you may not really want to use all three at once all the time. But if you want to quickly open the calculator while you're reading a news story, you don't have to stop what you're doing to switch focus.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

To load an app on the main window, you swipe up to access the app tray. To open an app on one of the other windows, you flick from the app tray on the right (where the edge display is on other Galaxy phones) and launch an app that way. You can resize windows, close them out and drag and drop to reposition using blue "handles" at the top of the app.

So far, WhatsApp, Microsoft, Spotify, Amazon Prime Video, Samsung and Google apps have all been optimized to use the design. If the app doesn't support app continuity, it still works, but you'll need to resize the app for full-screen — you'll see black bars on either side.

What about the crease?

Yes, there's a crease, but so far a little one. When I press down on the 7.3-inch screen when the Fold is opened, I can feel the hinge mechanism underneath, but I don't really notice if I'm swiping lightly. We'll have to see how this interferes — or not — as I use the phone over time.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Camera setup

You have a 10-megapixel camera on the front above the 4.6-inch screen, a trio of rear cameras, and two inside — there's also a big notch. The interior lenses are centered, with RGB and proximity sensors to the right, which is why you see that black bar. Samsung expects you to use the Fold unfolded to take most photos, because you'll be able to better adjust the blur and settings.

What else?

  • The Galaxy Fold isn't water-resistant
  • It has wireless power share
  • It supports Samsung's DeX dock
  • In the box: Galaxy Buds and a case (made of same material as bullet-proof vest)

Galaxy Fold vs. the Huawei Mate X

Specs

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Samsung Galaxy Fold Huawei Mate X
Display size, resolution 4.6-inch Super AMOLED; 7.3-inch QXGA+ Dynamic AMOLED 6.6-inch (2,480×1,148 pixels); 6.38-inch (2,480 x 892); 8-inch OLED (2,480×2,200)
Mobile software Android 9.0 with Samsung One UI TBA
Camera 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 4 rear cameras
Front-facing camera Two 10-megapixel, 8-megapixel 3D depth At least one
Video capture TBA TBA
Processor Octacore Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Kirin 980 processor
Storage 512GB 512GB
RAM 12GB 8GB
Expandable storage No No
Battery 4,380-mAh dual battery 4,500-mAh dual battery
Fingerprint sensor