After months of build-up and a sneak preview in November, Samsung has finally pulled the wraps off the Galaxy Fold which becomes the first mainstream smartphone with a foldable display. And indeed, foldable displays aren’t any more a novel concept but a real thing and a clear step towards the evolution of the smartphone to a mainstream computing product.
At the core of the phone is Samsung’s new Infinity Flex display technology which has a diagonal of 7.3-inches which can turn into a 4.6-inch panel when folded. This represents a fundamental change in what a phone can be used for but this also means that the phone tries to become the primary tool for digital productivity.
But its form-factor and dual nature make this a device which is now essentially a Nokia communicator reincarnated. But in 2019 that’s a problem without even touching upon the details of how 1st generation it is at the moment.
Back in the day, the Nokia communicator when unfolded revealed a wide screen and full keyboard for people to thump out large emails and while closed it was just an oversized phone. That’s what the Galaxy Fold is in its current avatar.
When folded it has a 4.6-inch screen but with humungous bezels on the top and bottom. Unfolded, it becomes a 7.3-inch Android tablet with support for three app multitasking. There is a lot of clever stuff happening like with the hinge, batteries and how an app expands into a larger screen mode when the phone is unfolded, but there are two problems why this modern Nokia communicator concept doesn’t work for Samsung’s Galaxy Fold:
- •Thanks to the iPhone and Android, smartphones have evolved to a point that a lot of what we do on a PC, we are already doing on the phone, albeit with a slightly smaller screen. And it is not that the Galaxy Fold offers a keyboard, so people who need a keyboard will always need a laptop.
- •Android tablets suck. Period. Even though Samsung has really gone to town with getting third parties like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp optimised alongside core Android apps — Android apps at scale are bad.
- •When folded this phone is said to be too bulky, and when unfolded, the screen isn’t flat. Wait for YouTube crash test videos where people try to break the hinge; it will be glorious visually and mortifying for a potential customer. Just refer to this tweet by the Verge’s Vlad Savov who checked out the phone.
- •At $1980, this isn’t a Nokia communicator; this is a Nokia communicator in 2019 made by Vertu, but the reality is Samsung is the maker of this product — and no offence that’s not going to fly with many people.
- •Even though there are dual batteries, I fear battery life on this thing is going to be a dog. If you have a tablet, you’re going to expect it to last at least 8 hours a day.
What’s worst for Samsung here is that if this concept works to any degree, Apple will be the company in the best position to own this space. There are some simple reasons for it.
- In 2019 Apple isn’t making something like this, which gives it more time to refine the concept like a Swiss watch which will likely result in a more refined product. The key for Apple would be to not wait too long as it did with a 5-inch plus smartphone with the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus in 2014 as opposed to the first Galaxy Note in 2011.
- As this concept will be way more expensive than the standard smartphone model — Apple is the only brand positioned to sell anything in the vicinity of $2000 as it has built that luxury brand image over the course of the last two decades.
- iOS apps on iPad and iPhone are generally considered to be superior to Android apps. More so, the amount of iPad optimised apps are seemingly infinitely more than tablet apps for Android. Apple would surely need a helping hand, but from an app experience point of view, Apple would certainly do a better job than Samsung.
Whatever may be the critique here — props to Samsung for being first out of the block to what clearly is the most innovative mainstream smartphone in at least 7 years, since the first Galaxy Note. Unfortunately, history has repeatedly taught us with products like this refinement is key and first movers advantage holds for little.
Disclaimer: I’ve not seen or touched the phone. All opinion is based off public information.