The Samsung Galaxy Fold took six years of work and more than $130 million to develop, reportedly. But within three days of its pre-release, many of the samples that were sent to tech reviewers have already begun to break. On April 17 — in a span of an hour — Twitter was inundated with pictures of the broken smartphone from many of the internet’s most influential tech commentators
Samsung’s first foldable smartphone has been available for pre-order since April 11, and even though the device has been summarily dismissed by some of the world’s biggest tech gatekeepers, Samsung is still forging ahead with its original plan.
The company told Inverse in a statement sent late on April 17 that it would carefully inspect retail units before they go out and make it clear how to handle the internal display. Many of the reviewers — who often put smartphones through the ringer a bit as part of their evaluations — broke the screens themselves by removing a protective layer. To get ahead of this problem, Samsung says it’s going to take extra steps to ensure users don’t accidentally damage the phone. Here’s the company’s statement in full:
“A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.
A few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. “
The Fold’s concept was first teased at CES 2013, and its launch was seen as a major phase shift fkor smartphone design. Samsung is the first big-name company to release a phone with a bendable display in the United States. Huawei has a model too, but friction between the Chinese company and the United States government left Samsung with an open goal. But even after its review unit slip up, the company seems set on capitalizing on this opportunity.
The Galaxy Fold was advertised as a true “phablet”, allowing users to seamlessly jump from a compact smartphone to an expansive tablet screen. That was all made possible by the company’s sophisticated hinge system comprised of multiple interlocking gears that allowed it to close like a booklet (at least in theory).
It’s still the early days for this technology, and a few broken review samples is hardly a death knell for the otherwise promising technology. But it’s a still a serious black eye for a product that was supposed to represent the next phase in smartphone development as manufacturers forge past the limitations presented by traditional displays and screens.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Review Samples Are Breaking
While the first reviews are not yet in, it’s safe to say that they won’t be flattering. Units sent to Bloomberg’s top mobile reporter Mark Gurman, the famous YouTube reviewer Marques Brownlee, The Verge’s Executive Editor Dieter Bohn, and CNBC Tech Editor Steve Kovach all broke within days, according to their Twitter accounts. All of them reported that their Fold’s display had either completely broken, or was suffering from screen bulging and indentations. During the device’s February debut, Samsung promised that it would be able to fold “hundreds of thousands of times” without suffering any damage. It is now remarkably difficult to take these claims seriously, even if many of the breakages can be attributed to user error.
After just a day of use, CNBC’s Kovach tweeted that when he unfolded the device, the internal display began to flicker while all of the smartphone’s pixels down the middle went black. Unlike the other reviewers, who reported removing an apparently crucial protective screen, Kovach said this part of his Galaxy Fold remained untouched.
For their parts, both Gurman and Brownlee tweeted that they removed this protective layer — which is subtly labeled — thinking it was a temporary screen protector. After removing it, Gurman reported that more than half his internal screen went black. Brownlee claims that he only stripped a small fraction of the plastic film off of the Fold before his display “spazzed and blacked out.”
A broken review unit or two could easily be a fluke, particularly as journalists are known to subject review units to stress testing. But it’s hard to see how so many review units could have broken already if there weren’t some core problems with the product.
Ed Zitron, a popular consumer tech publicist, told Inverse on the day “foldgate” occurred that he anticipated Samsung to delay the Fold’s launch.
“I have never seen a consumer electronic company fuck up at this scale,” Ed Zitron, a popular consumer tech publicist, tells Inverse. “The only thing they can do now is significantly delay the product.”
That didn’t up being the case.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Price
At $1,980, Samsung’s new handset came in as expected: Building up to the launch, the rumors had it priced somewhere between $1,900 and $2,500. A secondary, pricier variant likely explains the upper bound of that range.
Samsung has said in the past that a 5G version of the Fold is in the pipeline, but a release date or price hasn’t been announced. It’s hard to see how Samsung would proceed with this secondary launch, though, or proceed with launching a $1,980 device that is so prone to devastating user errors.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Pre-Orders
The pre-order window for the Galaxy Fold will open on Friday April 12, but only for those who signed up to receive updates for the phone. Anyone still interested in reserving a model will need to navigate to Galaxy Fold’s site, hit the blue “Sign Up” button at the top right of the screen then submit your full name, email address, and zip code into the text fields. Once customers have submitted their information, they will receive an email on Friday allowing them to secure one of the foldable devices for themselves, the company explained in a press release.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Exclusive Launch Date
The Galaxy Fold’s official launch date is still set for April 26 and it will get a standalone press event. This could be subject to change due to the recent string of review samples breaking down, but Samsung has yet to release an official statement.
Even before all this went down, Kate Beaumont, director of product, services, and commercial strategy at Samsung UK told the The Verge that the Fold would only available at select locations, and there will probably be a limited supply.
“We’ll have less supply than we would of the S10 at launch, and also how it goes to market is really important to us,” she said. “This is a super premium device, and we want to make sure it has a concierge-like service and experience, so it’s not going to be on display in all stores.”
Samsung hasn’t revealed where this concierge-like service would be available, but analysts have long predicted a very limited release. Brokerage Hana Investment & Securities told Reuters that it expected 2 million Galaxy Fold units to sell over 2019, less than one percent of the 291 million smartphones Samsung sold in 2018.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: What Could Have Been
The Fold was supposed to be a two-in-one, smartphone-tablet hybrid that offers two displays: When shut, users can use its 4.6-inch cover display to text, make calls, use apps, and open up Google Maps. Icons were pretty small in this aspect ratio, and the screen was surrounded with some pretty large bezels.
Opening up the phone, however, revealed a pretty remarkable 7.3-inch tablet display with much thinner bezels and a top-right notch. This orientation would have been ideal for playing mobile games, using creative apps, and watching your favorite shows.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: App Continuity
App Continuity is one of the two main features that Samsung revealed will define the Fold. This will allow users to, say, open Google Maps on the small cover display and then switch to the tablet screen to get a better view or vice versa.
The key here is that switching between displays should be a seamless experience and work across all apps when the phone is released.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Multi-Active Window
Another key game changer for the Fold? Samsung has often touted the Fold’s ability to run three apps at once, making the device a force to be reckoned with when it comes to multitasking. Based on the Unpacked demo, users can drag and drop any apps they’d like into a three-panel viewing mode.
Samsung showed off how users could watch a YouTube video, chat with their friends on WhatsApp, and browse Google search results simultaneously. This feature will likely come in clutch for students, journalists, researchers, or anyone that needs source material open when they’re working on something else.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Camera Set-Up
The Fold packssix cameras to allow users to take excellent photos no matter what display they are using. There are three on its rear panel, two over its tablet display, and one on its cover.
The triple rear-facing group includes a 12 megapixel telephoto lens, a 12 MP wide-angle camera, and a 16 MP ultra-wide angle camera with 123-degree field of view.
The camera combo found on top of the tablet display is made up of a 10 MP selfie camera and an 8 MP RGB depth sensor.
Finally, the single camera on its cover is a 10 MP selfie camera.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Specs
The Galaxy Fold comes with:
- 4,380 mAh battery
- 12GB of RAM
- 512GB of starting internal storage
- Qualcomm 7 nanometer SDM855 Snapdragon 855 chipset
- 18W faster charging
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Color Options
The Fold comes in four colors: Space Silver, Cosmos Black, Martian Green, Astro Blue. Apart from these four colors, users can customize the color of the device’s hinge. It appears that the device’s back seam comes with a metallic panel that can be swapped out for a different hue.
It’s not clear yet whether the launch will still proceed as planned, or whether Samsung will push things back (when there is a statement, we will update this piece again). Its launch event would, presumably, give the company a better opportunity to educate the public about the screen and its protective display. But this also seems like it would be too little, too late. Looks like the era of the foldable display will be sitting 2019 out.