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You don’t need a folding phone

Mike Murphy
samsung galaxy fold

Earlier this year, I had a chance to spend some time with the Galaxy Fold, Samsung’s first attempt at a phone with a foldable, plastic screen. It opens up from a narrow, chunky device into a sizable 7.3-inch tablet.

On its surface, the Fold is, as I said at the time, an imperfect glimpse of the future. It’s a device that has a ton of promise—who wouldn’t want to be able to fold out their phone into a bigger screen whenever they wanted, to watch TV shows, read a book, or just browse the web? But it was full of flaws. The device costs nearly $2,000, it’s heavy, and it has a weirdly tiny screen on the outside. And there’s the small matter that many of the review units shared by Samsung back in April broke after just a few days of use.

Samsung paused the launch of the Fold and took the summer to re-engineer the device. It worked to block dust from getting into moving parts that could break the screen, ensure the hinge was sturdy, and discourage people from trying to peel off the layer meant to protect the massive screen. There are just a few reminders of the phone’s delicate nature when you get the device:

Samsung gave me and other journalists the chance to re-review the Fold, to show how the work it’s done to bolster its expensive bet on the future of mobile communication holds up. I’ve spent the last few weeks using the device on and off, and for all Samsung’s work, my opinion hasn’t really changed.

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Fold?

I said at the start of the year that foldable phones were coming. I could see the advent of 5G spurring demand for larger and larger devices, and one of the few ways to achieve that without gluing devices to our hands is to make them foldable. Samsung is the first major company to sell a foldable phone (its competitors, like Huawei, have also faced production issues), with the Fold officially on sale in the US and select other countries as of late September. It likely won’t be the last, but until this technology becomes more affordable and reliable, it’s not something that the average person should feel comfortable spending on.

I could feel that Samsung had made the Fold a bit sturdier, but I still handled it pretty carefully. I wanted to flick it open every time I used it, like an old plastic flip-phone from the mid-2000s, but that didn’t seem prudent.

For me, the Fold had one absolutely fantastic use case. It fit in my pocket (albeit sagging down my jeans a bit), and I could unfold it to a massive screen to read my e-books on the train. It was like a tiny, expensive version of unfolding a broadsheet newspaper from my back pocket.

To me, there is promise in that moment—and for some, that’s reason enough to buy into Samsung’s vision for now. Early adopters will be thrilled at the concept, and probably enjoy the always-on “concierge” support service that now comes with the device. Samsung will likely build thinner, sturdier, and cheaper devices in the future. But for many, this is a first attempt at a new idea that probably isn’t worth the equivalent of a month’s rent for a New York City one-bedroom apartment.

 

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