The Galaxy Fold lives.
I don't just mean in the vague "Samsung bounces back from a fiasco" sense, either. My Galaxy Fold, which I've been tossing around for weeks, opening and closing it like a madman, mostly works the same as it did the day I unboxed it.
Had the Fold failed again the way it did earlier this year, it might have been enough to seriously derail Samsung's grand, foldable ambitions. This review would've been totally different, too. I could've gotten on my high horse and said a few things about innovation at the expense of usability, with a dash of pro-consumer indignation to spice things up a bit. It would've been a fun read.
But reality can be pretty banal sometimes. Because of that, we instead have to face a more complicated truth about the Galaxy Fold: You shouldn't buy one. Not because it's expensive or because of its long-term potential for failure, although those are valid concerns. No, you shouldn't buy one because it's just not quite as thoroughly thought-out as a $2,000 phone should be. When I wrote our original review, I said that people who did splurge on one were paying for the privilege of being Samsung's guinea pig. Despite the company's thoughtful design fixes, that simply hasn't changed.
- Game-changing flexibility
- Excellent performance
- Solid battery life
- Seriously expensive
- Outer screen is of limited use
- The inner screen’s durability is concerning
- The software feels unpolished
Before we go any further, let's just establish that the Galaxy Fold gets nearly all of the standard smartphone stuff right. Its three main cameras take fantastic photos, and framing them up on the small, external display is surprisingly useful. Its dual-battery system means the Fold will last for well over a day on a charge. I even enjoy taking calls while the Fold is closed -- it feels like using a phone from 2005 in a way that I find immensely satisfying.
Of course, the Galaxy Fold is anything but standard.
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Fold, again | 12 Photos
Gallery: Samsung Galaxy Fold, again | 12 Photos
During my first go-around with the Fold, I said I found the functionality it offered intoxicating, and that's still true. The 4.6-inch external AMOLED screen is best suited to quick interactions, like glancing at your notifications. Even so, I can't tell you the number of times I've started thumbing through an email on the subway and opened the phone to bash out a quick response. Or when I've been reading a Kindle book on the main 7.3-inch display and closed the phone so I could take up less space for the person sitting next to me... also on the subway. (What can I say? I spend a lot of time on trains.)
Once you get used to starting a task on one screen and whipping the Fold open to complete it on another, you'll probably be hooked. Ditto for when you've loaded up three much-needed apps to run on that spacious screen at the same time, allowing you to furiously multitask. When you master the Fold's nuances, Samsung's approach starts to feel tremendously valuable. But that's not to say the Fold experience is perfect.
While I believe Samsung got the overarching experience right, the Fold's software needs some finesse. To its credit, Samsung says it went back to make some changes after the review unit debacle, though the few updates I noticed seemed minor.
Unfortunately, some issues persist. Some apps don't lend themselves well to being stuffed into a multi-window grid, and the only way to find out is through trial and error. Trying to re-open your carefully curated app grids still feels like a crapshoot -- sometimes you can bring them back with a swipe on your homescreen, other times you can't. And some apps, like Instagram, continue to display incorrectly on the main screen; you have to close the phone to view it the way it was meant to be seen.
Of course, the beauty of software is that it's mutable, subject to change over time. Over the coming months, developers inside and outside Samsung will likely retool at least some of their software to work more elegantly on devices like the Fold. It doesn't hurt that Samsung has set up validation labs in cities from Mountain View to Beijing to help developers ensure app compatibility with the Fold and that some of Samsung's early multi-screen work influenced some of Google's decisions when crafting Android 10.
So yes, even after Samsung went back to the drawing board, the Fold still has plenty of quirks. But when it comes to getting things done, the Fold still feels like it has the ability to offer the right amount of phone at the right time. It's useful, if rough around the edges.
Thankfully, the physical improvements Samsung made to the Galaxy Fold serve to fix the concerning design faults I spotted the first time. The version of the Fold that almost went on sale earlier this year had noticeable gaps at the top and bottom of the main display, where dirt and debris could feasibly shimmy inside. The hinge felt a little too weak, especially when it came to locking the two halves of the Fold in place while open. The screen felt surprisingly spongy, which just isn't what you'd want out of a $2,000 phone.
All of those issues were addressed, and surprisingly well to boot. Those pesky gaps have been plugged up with plastic stoppers and what appear to be small strips of adhesive. The phone is still easy to open, even with one hand, but the Fold's halves lock into place much more securely. And that screen? It's been bolstered with some extra material that prevents the soft plastic panel from flexing downward too much. More importantly, the protective plastic layer on top of that screen doesn't look like a flimsy screen protector anymore -- it stretches underneath the screen's raised bezels, removing all temptation to peel it off.
Because Samsung hasn't discovered time travel yet, it couldn't go back and re-engineer the Galaxy Fold and fix certain other fundamental issues. That big, beautiful screen is still prone to jelly scrolling, where content on one side of the display moves slightly faster than the other. And you're just going to have to get used to that crease because it's not going anywhere. These aren't great characteristics for a phone this expensive to exhibit, but I wouldn't say they're dealbreakers.
In any case, I went out of my way to open and close my Fold more than I ever needed to -- in a way, it became a ludicrously expensive fidget toy. And on the occasions when the Fold accidentally clattered to the ground, it didn't seem any worse for the wear. Because of these improvements, this version of the Fold doesn't feel quite as slapdash as the original, and in my experience so far, it's not quite as flimsy as some of the prevailing chatter would have you believe.
But again, that's only for now. Living with a phone for three weeks still isn't enough time to say for sure how it'll hold up in the long term, especially when it's objectively more fragile than other smartphones. Even though I stopped worrying about the Fold suddenly dying on me, that low-key fear didn't exactly disappear. Now I wonder what will eventually do it in, because something surely will. A careless drop onto asphalt while the screen is open? Maybe. Will some pocket lint somehow squeeze in where it wasn't supposed to? I can't rule that out either. Sometimes, things just happen. And well after I had I drawn some conclusions about the Fold, something did.
Last week, I popped out for an after-work drink with a few friends. Since the Fold is nothing if not a conversation-starter, one of them asked to see the device for themselves. A few oohs and aahs later, she handed the Fold back to me and asked "what those green spots were."