Might be time to take this one back to the drawing board: Review units for the recently announced $1,980 Galaxy Fold, which shipped to some tech reviewers on Monday, are already breaking. Almost at once, Twitter was flooded with pictures of broken smartphones from many of the world’s most influential reviewers.
These broken smartphones included the 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 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. Despite the face-plant, Samsung said in a statement to Inverse that it would be proceeding with its original launch timeline.
“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,” said Samsung in a statement sent late Wednesday night. “Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen… Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.”
Even if they were review units, some of which were compromised due to tampering with a protective layer, many of the reviewers in particular were shocked that Samsung planned to press ahead.
“I have never seen a consumer electronic company fuck up at this scale,” Ed Zitron, a popular consumer tech publicist, told Inverse in the immediate aftermath of the news. “The only thing they can do now is significantly delay the product.”
After just a day of use, CNBC’s Kovach tweeted that when he unfolded the device, the internal display began to flicker while the smartphone’s middle pixels all 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.”
“The phone comes with this protective layer/film,” wrote Gurman. “Samsung says you are not supposed to remove it. I removed it, not knowing you’re not supposed to (consumers won’t know either). It appeared removable in the left corner, so I took it off. I believe this contributed to the problem.”
For The Verge’s Bohn, the Fold’s destruction was more of a slow burn. He said he noticed a bulge that began to form at the bottom of the internal screen, on top of the hinge. A day later, the screen stopped functioning. While these may still be beta devices that fully ready for the public — a call to Samsung’s press line was not immediately answered — the Galaxy Fold was set to launch on April 26.
To be sure, 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.
Zitron also pointed out that these breakages all speak to what would likely be any sensible consumer’s key anxiety about the product: That the world’s first bending smartphone displays break when you bend them. This isn’t a minor (or even large) issue with the battery that could be recalled and patched. This particular product issue implies that the Fold can’t perform its key advertised function.
So how the hell could this have happened? As someone who knows a thing or two about safely passing market-ready products to members of the press, Zitron thinks that the likeliest explanation is that the existing Folds, whether they’re beta units or not, simply either weren’t field-ready, or that the testers who did use the phones didn’t test them long enough.
“It’s very possible the internal PR team had no bloody idea. That’s very common. You get the units and send them to the reporters,” he explained. “But if these were in their offices and they didn’t play with them first, all of them should be sent to PR jail. Like in the Count of Monte Cristo.”
As the manufacturer with the highest global marketshare for smartphones, Samsung will very likely bounce back. After all, Apple had “bendgate.” But if you were itching to get in line to be one of the first lucky customers for this nearly $2,000 device; you might want to think twice. Repairing a history-making display will also probably be pretty pricey.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Samsung