Technophile

Full Review | Is the ₹1.6 lakh Samsung Galaxy Fold worth the price?

Mala Bhargava | Updated on November 08, 2019 Published on November 08, 2019

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold is quite a marvel despite being just a first step with a new form factor

The Samsung Galaxy Fold, India's most expensive smartphone, may have had its initial troubles but that isn’t stopping early adopters with cash to spare from buying the interesting new gadget, now that it’s back with better safeguards. People around me are accustomed to seeing me with new phones, but I now often get comments on how I ‘haven’t seen nothing’ because I don’t have that fabulous foldable phone on me. Well, now I do but won’t let anyone touch it as it makes me stop breathing to see someone else handling it too casually. Fragility is a fear with this device, though I managed to give it back undamaged.

The Galaxy Fold may seem like an extension of our regular smartphone, and it is in some ways, but it really is a whole new form factor calling for totally new usage behaviour. When the Fold is folded up, it definitely is thick and heavy when compared with regular phones. It’s even heavier than a cordless phone. It would strain any pocket and you would feel its weight in a handbag. But it’s also narrow enough to grip firmly in the hand. Most people of a certain age who see it immediately think back to the Nokia Communicator with great nostalgia. That had a keyboard fitted into one half but users loved it despite all the thumb-work they had to do.

Usable screen

On the Galaxy Fold, the closed up version has a usable screen on the top and nothing on the bottom or underneath. The top or cover screen fits in a 4.6 inch display, leaving quite a bit of room all around, making it look like a miniature or toy screen fitted into a larger space. I suppose we are now used to seeing displays so big they spill right over the sides, maximising usable area. But the Fold’s cameras and other components do have to go somewhere, so this is how it is.

 

The little front screen may be small, but it’s full fledged and fully usable. It is the secondary screen though with the unfolded inside one being the primary. It’s the quick work screen for when you’re on the go and have to take a call or glance at your mail or answer a message.

When using the front small screen, the keyboard has been squeezed in to fit the narrow width, so this is where a new behaviour will be needed as you find the equation most comfortable for you. I used the swipe method of typing here holding the device in one hand while inputting with the other. If you prefer using the phone one-handed you can try the usual fast thumb typing, but be mindful of the fact that your hand can get quite tired holding this chunky form for a longer period.

The Fold unfolded

You prise the Fold open from the right (this may be less fun for left-handlers) and it snaps softly into the format that is so intriguing to users. Opened up, it’s squarish, like a Kindle and it’s very nice to hold in that it has the same kind of nice hand-feel. It’s a good shape for reading. But unlike a Kindle, it isn’t light as there’s a lot inside this device. Your hand can certainly get tired holding the device if it’s your primary or only device. I say this after having successfully got Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from holding broad heavy phones and tablets for long periods and can now quickly assess where the strain is falling on the hand.

As with any phone or tablet, you swipe to unlock and see what happens to be a lovely 7.3-inch AMOLED screen (1536x2152) as you would expect from Samsung. But yes, you can see the distinct crease down the middle of the screen where the two halves are joined by internal hinges. Once you start using the device, you do however completely forget about it and this is specially when watching movies where the format switches to landscape in any case and where your eye is more drawn to the rich deep colours and to what’s happening on screen. The crease is actually most noticeable when the screen is turned off.

 

There is a set of warnings for the screen even before you touch the device: don’t press down too hard on it, don’t attach anything (like screen guards) to it, don’t let any splashes of liquid anywhere near it, and don’t let it get near credit cards and anything else sensitive to magnets. The display feels plastic-like rather than glass, but well, this is an innovative first of its kind device so one can wonder what it will be like further along in the future.

The Fold runs on Android 9 (not 10) and Samsung’s OneUI 1.5. It has 12GB RAM and 512GB storage with no memory card slot. It is powered by the Snapdragon 855, the current for most top-end devices. The battery is a 4,380mAh and it lasts a bit less than you’d expect it to. But it supports wireless charging and power sharing.

Samsung has worked with Google to optimise the operating system and how apps will display on the squarish format of the Fold. For the most part everything works fine, but there are a few third party apps where you may not find everything sitting quite right.

Multitasker’s delight

Swipe slightly from the right pulling out a little tab and a slide-out menu shows a row of apps. Tap on these to launch even while you have another app running. A third app can also be opened up, making for more multitasking than most people can handle. After all, just because you can doesn’t mean you should be dividing your attention three ways. Two apps was my limit on this device. This is also because if you want to input something, more than half of the screen is taken up by the pop-up virtual keyboard, so things can get messy if you have too much going on and most of the time will be spent reorienting your view as you scope out what’s on your screen. But sometimes two apps open can certainly be useful, such as chatting with someone and looking up something on Google, for example. Or typing out a report or article and checking something out on search or YouTube at the same time. This is a busy multitasker’s device and a bit of a waste for those who will never use more than one app often enough.

The keyboard splits in two for those who like to use their thumbs holding the device in both hands. I don’t, so quickly explored the other formats available and joined up the keyboard to use the swipe method instead. But even with the split, one can use swipe across the divide. Keyboard customisations on the device should definitely be explored. For eg, I found a dark theme for it separated the keyboard nicely from what can be an extra-busy screen.

App continuity

Most apps can continue on from the primary to the front screen. Before this is done, one has to go into Display Settings and enable them from a list. India’s favourite Whatsapp, Chrome, Facebook, Phone, Messages, Netflix, Play Store, Google, Youtube, Gmail and more will appear on the front screen when you’re using them on the inner screen and you have to snap the device shut quickly. The other way around also happens seamlessly when you start the app on the smaller screen and then decide you want to settle down and open to the primary screen. This is really quite impressive and one of the many things that makes for a difference from the regular slabs we use.

Six cameras

There’s no shortage of camera power on this device. First of all, the primary screen makes a great viewfinder, making it such fun to compose a photograph. For main camera’s, there’s a 16MP Ultra-wide lens, a 12MP standard lens (with variable aperture), and a 12MP telephoto lens. For selfies etc, there’s a 10MP lens on the front when folded and a 10MP lens with an 8-MP 3D depth sensor on the front when the screen is unfolded.

Photos look very good, familiar to you if you’ve seen Samsung’s newest phones from the S10 series or the Note 10. On the selfie front, the primary screen has a 10MP for regular selfies and an 8MP for portrait selfies with some background blur. Experiment with different aspect ratios and full resolution to see what you like but overall the images are sharp, with colour, white balance and exposure being really good. Indoors and in low light there certainly is some grain at times.

Full credits have to go to Samsung for daring to innovate with a risky form factor and effectively being the first to market with a new kind of smartphone that people are very eager to try out. Despite its huge price, the Fold is selling out fast in India and users are happy enough to to buy despite the fact that durability is by no means proven. Incredibly, Samsung has already teased its next foldable phone — one that will close into a square — at its developer conference.

Published on November 08, 2019
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