Adrian Weckler: 'Is Samsung’s Galaxy Fold a freak or fantastic?'
Is Samsung’s new Galaxy Fold an incredibly useful new mobile device or simply a curiosity? Will it prove to be a Swiss Army knife or a Frankenstein machine?
No-one can yet say for sure because Samsung is keeping the gadget under lock and key from fidget-fingered journalists until its actual launch in late April.
But here in San Francisco at the Unpacked event (which officially unveiled the Galaxy S10 and S10 Plus phones, as well as new Galaxy Buds earphones and a handful of fitness watches), we got a lot more detail about the foldable machine, as well as some demos.
One thing still isn’t clear, though. Is this a 7.3-inch tablet that folds into a phone? Or a 4.6-inch phone that folds out to a tablet?
To answer this, I found myself contemplating a few potential users. The first is a commuter on a suburban train. This person may spend between 30 and 60 minutes (or longer) sitting looking at a screen en route to work. This could mean Netflix, YouTube, news bulletins, email, social media or a combination of all of these.
Does a fold-out screen make this more attractive?
I’m not sure. A 7.3-inch screen — in something much closer to a square shape — is considerably bigger than a 6.4-inch screen on the S10 Plus or even the 6.5-inch screen on an iPhone XS Max.
However, this doesn’t really count for video content such as TV or movie episodes, because these formats are usually horizontally rectangular. In other words, the actual size of the movie you see won’t be bigger than on one of the aforementioned phones. In fact, it will almost certainly be smaller.
Where the Galaxy Fold’s attraction lies is in the multi-tasking you can do while watching your episode. Samsung will let you divide the screen into three apps, with one of them being about the size of a film format and the others being a lot smaller. The clear inference here is that you can multi-screen as you watch something. This is a definite advantage and one that a certain audience might really appreciate.
However, there are two things that Samsung has to overcome.
The first is price. At over €2,000 (the exact price hasn’t yet been released), this is not exactly a normal phone upgrade option. This is more than twice the cost of a Galaxy S10 Plus and three times the price of, say, an S9.
So someone buying this will be making a special exception for a product they’ll really have to want.
The second hurdle Samsung has is associated with the form factor. While there is fascinating utility with a fold-out screen, it also makes the phone very chunky. And the unfolded screen is a modest 4.6 inches with very large bezels, making it potentially look old-fashioned compared to the slim, all-screen devices we’re now used to. Such a chunky phone doesn’t sit well with pockets. Will this prove to be an aesthetic problem when people see it in the flesh?
The Galaxy Fold has one very strong thing going for it: it’s something new. By and large, most smartphones now don’t differ all that much when it comes to their big features. Yes, some have better facial recognition than others. Some have better cameras. But in dim light, it’s getting very hard to tell them apart on a pub table. They all look a little like shiny black slabs.
Not so the Galaxy Fold. Because it’s doing something that hasn’t been done before on a mainstream smartphone, there’s a touch of adventure about it.
My first impression is ‘wow, they made a phone that folds out into a tablet’. But there could be a very different impression when it lands.