After weeks of tortur teasing us, Samsung has finally put an foldable Galaxy Fold in my hands. It’s been a wild few hours so far. There was the initial rush of opening the lit-up, mirrored box that Samsung had concealed the Fold in for an early morning briefing, then the thrill of picking it up — fully open —  for the very first time, and some rough moments as I fumbled my way through a new navigation system when using three active windows at once. But let’s start at the beginning, at what it’s like to use the almost $2,000 Galaxy Fold for the very first time. 

The first thing I noticed what the weight as I lifted the Fold off of its stand. The heft of it, and the smooth, glossy glass backing. And then, I bent it in half. That’s the moment I’d been waiting for. I wanted to understand the Fold on a physical level, to feel how much weight you need to throw into it to close the device and open it again. To gauge the smoothness of that big hinge as the “wings” open and close. It isn’t hard, but you do need to be deliberate, and I like the little bit of power the Fold demands from you. 

It may have a large notch, and a plastic interior screen and bezel, but on the whole, the Fold feels like premium, cohesive device.

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Yes, I’m excited about exploring the Galaxy Fold. No, I’m not blinded to some of the questions I have about it durability and usability, but at this point the novelty of learning a completely different type of device is intoxicating. After the Huawei Mate X, which I only handled for a few minutes in a conference room at a trade show, this is only the second foldable phone I’ve really gotten a chance to use. 

By keeping us reviewers far away from the Galaxy Fold — this is previously the closest I got — and releasing teasing videos, Samsung has definitely built a certain mystique around its folding phone. The fact that it’s also a limited release with a complicated (and already full) presale helps drum up the hype. Samsung knows that the Fold is a luxury device that will become a status symbol for early adopters. What none of us knows is how long foldable phones will last — fad or future?

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. I’ll be sharing a lot more throughout the day, so keep refreshing!

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Getting used to the foldable design

My time with the Fold has been a flurry of activity, but I’m just now able to dig into setting up the device as my own. I haven’t had 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 sturdy, but Samsung does put a two-part case in the box. The Fold’s hinge mechanism moves smoothly, but a large hinge also makes the width of the phone’s “wings” quite narrow. Closed, it looks like sandwich. On the right side, there’s a volume rocker and a power button, and the fingerprint reader doubles as the Bixby button. 

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The Galaxy Fold looks tall and narrow when it’s closed.


Sarah Tew/CNET

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. Font size and icons are both miniaturized, which feels like a throwback to the days when we all hunched over your phone screens hunting and pecking our way through. 

However, it is easy to use one-handed this way, especially if all you want to do is monitor your text messages or snap a quick photo. I have smaller-size fingers, so it’s not as tricky for me, but you may struggle with this “cover” display if you’re blessed with girthier digits. 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.

When you do open the fold, the app you have 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. 

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I was shocked that the Galaxy Fold completely zipped into my jacket pocket.


Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Start typing something in this view, say an email, and you’ll notice that Samsung splits the keyboard to make typing more comfortable on the larger screen. 

There’s an art to using three apps at once

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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You can use up to three apps at once.


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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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The Infinity Flex display is made of a type of plastic because bendable glass isn’t available yet.


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Camera setup

The Galaxy Fold has a total of six cameras: three on the back, one on the front and two inside. It also has a big notch when you unfold the phone. You’ll see that the two interior lenses are centered on a black bar (the notch) that extends to the right. Samsung says this is where it’s put the RGB and proximity sensors. 

While you can snap shots using the 4.6-inch screen, Samsung expects you to use the Fold unfolded to take most photos, because you’ll be able to better adjust the blur and settings that way. I’m not sure I love the idea of holding the Fold up like a tablet to take my photos, but I’ll keep an open mind during this testing phase.

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The Galaxy Fold comes in black, green, silver and blue.


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4.6-inch screen (cover camera):

  • 10-megapixel camera for quick shots and selfies

7.3-inch screen:

  • 10-megapixel camera
  • 8-megapixel RGB depth sensor

Rear cameras:

  • 12-megapixel main camera
  • 16-megapixel ultra-wide angle
  • 12-megapixel telephoto lens 
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You can see two cameras when the phone’s unfolded, and a pretty sizable notch.


Sarah Tew/CNET

What else? 

  • The Galaxy Fold isn’t water-resistant
  • It has wireless power sharing like the Galaxy S10 phones
  • 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

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 Power button Power button
Connector USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No
Special features Foldable display, wireless charging, fast charging Foldable display, fast charging
Price off-contract (USD) $1,980 TBA, converts to $2,600 (2,299 euros)
Price (GBP) TBA, converts to £1,500 TBA, converts to £2,000
Price (AUD) TBA, converts to AU$2,750 TBA, converts to AU$3,620

Originally published April 15 at 6 a.m. PT.





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