I’ve seen the future, and its folding like a Christopher Nolan film.
Samsung has released updated versions of both their Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Fold Phones in the past couple of weeks, and I have to say, they have worked out most of the glaring issues from their previous incarnations. For me, it was the screen protectors and hinges. I just got my hands on the new Galaxy Z Fold 2, and overall, I’m impressed with the improvements. The only thing holding it back from hitting the mainstream is the price, coming in at $2,779 CDN. That sounds astronomical, but consider that most new flagship phones retail at around $1,500+, and prices on new technology only go down, we’re going to see a fundamental shift in smartphone and tablet form factors over the next 5 years. Within 10 years, I’m predicting that the majority of mobile devices will have some form of folding or rollable screens. At the moment, Samsung is in the lead.
Let’s get to the phone, starting with the specs. The front screen now takes up the entire front of the phone, coming in at 6.2 inches and leaving virtually no bezel. The first version had a 4.6 inch screen, which given the 6 inch front, struck me as a strange waste of real estate. The new larger front screen size eliminates this issue. That being said, it’s tall and skinny. This is most noticeable when you’re typing, especially when compared to typing on a standard smartphone that is wider. My hands are average sized, but I felt a little cramped trying to type messages and emails on the front screen with two thumbs. If this was my main phone, would I unfold it every time so I could get the full keyboard experience? Maybe, but I think for most people will use the front screen to send quick text messages, and may get frustrated if they’re die hard two thumb typists. I found after using it for several days, because the front screen keyboard was narrow enough, I started just using just one thumb. Keep in mind that you probably can’t type long messages like this for extended periods. The phone is heavier, and you’ll definitely feel itafter one handed messaging. For the times where I had to type out long messages or emails, the full size split keyboard in the unfolded tablet mode is glorious. I found that I could type twice as fast, with no thumb cramping. It will be hard to go back to typing on regular smartphones after this.
Let’s talk about the main tablet mode screen when it’s unfolded. It’s a game changer. It’s beautiful and it’s larger than the first gen model, coming in at 7.6 inches. Most importantly, it’s a super AMOLED screen that the phone can alter the refresh rate from 11hz, to 120hz depending on what your doing to extend battery life. In plain speak, it’s incredibly bright and easy on the eyes. There is a definite WOW! factor when you unfold it for the first time. Everything just works and looks better. Web browsing, email messaging, using the camera, watching videos–it’s difficult to go back now.
Now, the cameras: there are three on the back, ultrawide, wide and telephoto, all 12 megapixels. There are two more notchless cameras, one on each of the two screens. I briefly tested all of them, with good results. The pictures and video are up there with regular form factor flagship smartphones. I know the photo nerds may quibble with me on that, but for normal people, the Folds 2 takes really good photos. One feature I appreciated was what Samsung calls their Flex display. This is an improvement over the first model, and allows you to flex the screen into any position. For example, you can flex the phone in half, with the top portion of the tablet mode screen showing what the camera lenses can see, and the bottom with the various camera controls. This is especially handy for night photos. I could place the phone half folded on a flat surface (horizontally or vertically) to get some amazing low light shots. As steady as you think your hands are when taking shots, you’ll never beat a table: #mikephototip. The Flex display feature holds great promise, but there are few apps that fully take advantage of the feature yet. It reminds me of the early days of the Apple iPad when regular iphone apps would work on it, but it took a couple years to get a good selection of dedicated iPad apps that took advantage of the new form factor.
A question I’m getting a lot about the screen is the actual crease when it’s unfolded. Can you see the crease in the screen ? Yes, it’s there. Do I notice it when I’m using the phone? No, it’s very minimal. If I’m moving text or pictures across it there’s no distortion and when I type emails, surf the web, or watch videos, I’m immersed in the moment. If I consciously think about the fold, yes it’s there. It’s a little like wearing glasses: do I see the frames when I’m looking around in my day to day life? Only when I think about them. What will the crease look like a year from now? That’s a good question. From some of the reviews of the first gen Fold, it seems that it will wear well. And that’s the big question: durability. The Fold 2 has made marked improvements with the screens and hinge, but you will need to treat it more like a tablet or laptop than a smartphone. I think most of us have the expectation that we can knock our phones around a bit, with the occasional drop, and all will be well. Would you treat your iPad the same way? Probably not. You know if you drop that baby, the odds are good that you’ll do some damage. I felt the same way with the Fold 2. Make no mistake, they’ve made it as tough as possible. The outside screen and back have rock solid Gorilla Glass to protect them, but the inside foldable screen is not as tough. It’s made from a form of thin bendable glass. Now, I’m no glass expert, but I’m afraid that if I drop it as much as I do my regular phone, things won’t end well. Samsung has acknowledged that “fear” by offering a 1-year, one time discounted out of warranty inner screen replacement as part of their Premier Service. This drops the inner screen replacement price from an eye watering $1,000 CAD to $199 CAD. I can read that offer a couple of ways. They’ve either crunched the numbers and built a percentage of estimated screen replacements into the overall price of the phone, or they know that it’s more durable than we think. Here’s to hoping it’s the latter. Bottom line: if you drop your tech gear a lot, this may not be the device for you. If you look after your other mobile devices, you’ll probably be OK.
I could go super geek and do a breakdown comparison to other flagship smartphones spec by spec, but I don’t think it matters to the target customer for this device. I don’t think the uber nerds are going to buy this. They’ll appreciate the engineering and cool factor, but there will be some specs that just don’t match up to regular smartphones to justify the price for this incarnation of bleeding edge technology. I know that Samsung has been seeding these phones to “creators”, but I don’t think they’re the target market either. This device is not durable enough, or more accurately–doesn’t possess the perception of durability–to be knocked around by YouTube creators. I also think that they would rather spend the money on a Galaxy S20 and a GoPro or other action camera. Who does that leave? The luxury and fashion market. Samsung has acknowledged that with their Thom Browne Edition of the phone. I don’t know who that is, but he’s apparently a fashion icon. Don’t get me wrong, do I want one? Oh my God, yes. It’s oozes cool. It’s a solid, well equipped, good looking phone with a bold promise for the future. When this form factor hits the $1,500 price point, and it will one day soon, we’ll have a more difficult choice. As it stands now, I think Samsung has created a winning phone for those who like to be seen as fashion forward, appreciate quality and are willing to pay for it.