I Used the Galaxy Fold for a Week… And I Returned it
The niggles I didn't expect when using foldable phones
Reviewing smartphones is surely a fun job. You get to use all the latest smartphones right from the affordable $100 range to the $1000 flagships. However, we are at a point in time where most smartphones being launched are starting to feel rather, uh, let me just put it this way, boring. Don’t get me wrong, all the latest specs including the top-of-the-line Snapdragon chipsets, multiple cameras with telescopic capabilities, and high refresh rate displays surely take the smartphone experience to a new level compared to what it was a few years ago. However, there is not a lot of uniqueness to these candy bars. That was when I realized, I wanted some change. I wanted to try something different.
The only “different” category, to be honest, in the smartphone space right now that turns heads and feels futuristic and unique is foldables. Not a lot of brands have tried their hand at foldables because one, the tech is still very much in its infancy, and two, foldables are expensive and not something everyone can afford. Motorola tried their hand at foldables by resurrecting the famous Razr which now even has a successor. Microsoft just launched its Surface Duo, which technically, is not really a foldable but two separate screens attached similar to LG’s earlier implementation.
But, one of the early pioneers of foldable phones, as we all know, was Samsung. The first-gen Galaxy Fold came out early last year but due to some issues with the folding screen, it never made it into the hands of the end consumer. They did, however, launch a revamped version later that retailed close to the $2000 mark in the US and for Rs. 1,65,000 in India (which was later bumped up to accommodate for the increase in GST rates). With more generic flagships like the iPhones or Samsung’s own ‘S’ and ‘Note’ series smartphones selling closer to the $1000 mark, the Fold was not a phone that the average consumer could purchase.
Understandably so since the Fold was a first of its kind and first-gen tech, was expensive and not perfect. Along with the high price, consumers were also worried about the durability of the phone they are paying $2000 for. While not everyone could afford the Galaxy Fold at launch, it announced the beginning of a new form factor for smartphones in the future. Big screens being folded to fit into pockets.
Samsung themselves followed up the Galaxy Fold with the Galaxy Z Flip earlier this year. While it was still a foldable, Samsung decided to go with a clamshell design for the Z Flip and brought about some promising improvements to its hinge design and the quality of the display being used. Unlike the plastic flexible OLED display on the Fold, the Z Flip used ultra-thin glass and the hinge could now stay open at any angle.
Being a technology nerd, I have been closely following the metamorphosis of foldables and strongly believe that foldable smartphones are the future. I was, in fact, lucky enough to use the Galaxy Fold last year when Samsung sent across a review sample to us and was blown away by how far technology has progressed in the past few years. Unfortunately, though, the phone was given to us for just about a week which meant I could use the phone for just two days (thanks to my editor exercising his CEO powers). Now, two days is of course not sufficient to judge a phone but it was enough to get me intrigued about foldables.
Fast forward to late 2020, when I started to get bored with monotonous smartphone launches, I realized that I needed a change and decided to splurge all the money I saved up during the lockdown from not having pizzas and going for random outings with my friends on a Galaxy Fold. Note that this was after Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Fold 2 so if your argument is why I bought a year-old Galaxy Fold that too after its successor was just announced, the answer is the price. I found a really sweet deal (~Rs. 70,000/$950) for the first-gen Galaxy Fold here in India thanks to the fact that the unit was imported from Korea. I picked it up and the moment I unboxed it, I was elated. Given that my birthday was just 4 days before I bought the phone, the Galaxy Fold felt like the perfect gift for myself.
I popped my SIM inside and downloaded all the apps I needed. Every time I unfolded the Galaxy Fold, just the novelty factor was enough for me to justify the price I paid for it. It was not just about the foldability though. Despite being a year old, the Snapdragon 855 chip flew through the UI and any app I ran, and the experience of consuming YouTube videos and Netflix shows on that huge display was unmatched. While I initially expected the battery life to be average, the Galaxy Fold surprised me with solid endurance thanks to the fact that the Fold has a Snapdragon chip instead of the usual Exynos counterpart that Samsung uses for its phones in India.
At this point, I was ecstatic about my purchase and found myself incredibly lucky to have scored such a great deal. It did not take me long, though, to start finding the downsides of what initially felt like a perfect package.
First, let’s cover the display. While the inner folding screen was a treat to use, the external display on the Galaxy Fold was too small to be used to do anything productive. In a world where the average screen size on phones has breached the 6.5-inch mark, the tiny cover display on the Fold gave me a hard time even while replying to notifications since the keyboard was too small and narrow. While you can use the cover display as a viewfinder to capture images, it’s too small which means I had to open up the Fold every time which adds that extra step when compared to a conventional phone.
Samsung has addressed this issue with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 by adding a cover display that spans across the entire front of the phone. On the first-gen Fold, though, the cover display is not very practical and makes you want to open up the phone even for something like replying to a notification which takes extra time as well as effort. And yeah, you need two hands to open it up so if one of your hands is occupied, you have to struggle with typing on the tiny cover display.
This would still be fine had the typing experience on the inner folding display been good. Given that the inner screen of the Galaxy Fold is large, it is also wider than a conventional smartphone in its unfolded state which means holding the phone in one hand is essentially impossible. This takes me back to the earlier point wherein if one of my hands are occupied and I quickly need to text someone, it’s just impossible to type on the keyboard on the internal display too since it’s spread across a large area and even with the largest of hands and the most flexible fingers, there is no way you can reach all corners of the keyboard.
To add to the misery, if you are someone who heavily relies on swiping across your keyboard to type, the inner display on the Galaxy Fold is going to disappoint you in this regard too for two main reasons – again, the size of the display is too larger to be able to swipe from one end of the keyboard to the other with your thumbs, and secondly, the fact that the inner display is made out of plastic means it gets smudged easily and if your fingers are even a little sweaty, they are going to feel rough on the plastic display and as a result, you will have to resort to typing without swipe gestures.
If you’re like me and you text or go through social media while lying in your bed, again, it’s just not practical to hold the Galaxy Fold in the unfolded position for too long since you’ll have to use both your hands and they start to hurt after a while. Using it in the folded position means you have to look at the cover display which is too small for your sleepy eyes to read text on for a long period.
There are other minor niggles too like the fact that the hinge is a moving part and it made sounds at times that were not very reassuring. Given that my unit was imported and there was no warranty, it was always a matter of concern as to when I may have to spend more to fix a phone that I already spent a lot of money on. The Fold does not have any sort of IP rating (understandably) and while it is not necessarily a deal-breaker for me, it’s nice to know that I can use my phone while it’s raining or spill a glass of water on it by mistake and not be worried about it.
The Galaxy Fold is also chunky and hefty but this is something I had gotten used to in less than two days. While it may seem like the issues I mentioned are not that big of a deal when you look at the bigger picture and the kind of productivity and novelty that the Fold brings with that huge display, it kind of beats the purpose though if I can run three windows simultaneously with ease and take notes while watching a video and browsing the web but I cannot carry out basic tasks like texting easily or scrolling through social media using one hand while I am eating with the other.
Undoubtedly, the Galaxy Fold is a tool that may give you an upper hand with your productivity and multitasking. It may even give you an upper hand in your social life when you are out and about since it is sure to turn a lot of heads when you pull out a gadget from your pocket and unfold it to unveil a huge display. However, I personally feel that a conventional candy bar is still the way to go in terms of practicality.
A week into using the Galaxy Fold, I made a conscious decision of returning it. Luckily, the seller I bought it from was someone who I had dealt with multiple times in the past and he agreed to take it back without deducting any money. Having switched back to the OnePlus 8 Pro, I no longer have friends asking if I’m typing with my nose nor do I have the anxiety of screwing up the display with fingernail marks.
There is very little doubt about the fact that the Galaxy Fold is a technological marvel. The ability to fold a large display and make it pocketable still seems like a scene from a sci-fi movie. The cons I mentioned may not seem as problematic until you actually use the phone daily. In fact, if someone told me that one of the only few cons of the Galaxy Fold was that I cannot type with one hand, I would dismiss it and think that it is a paltry reason to not use a foldable phone. The Galaxy Z Fold 2, for that matter, seems to have fixed most of the issues I had with the Galaxy Fold by increasing the size of the cover display.
In hindsight, conventional candy bar phones just feel more practical and refined when compared to a foldable. My quest to experience a change in the world of mundane, ubiquitous smartphones ended with going back to a mundane, ubiquitous smartphone because only when I used a technology that is not as polished did I understand to appreciate the smaller things like convenience and ease of use. I guess I’ll save up for more pizzas once things get normal. Oh wait, the iPhone 12 is almost here.