The $2,000 Bendable Phone: Hold ’Em or Fold ’Em?

At the mobile-phone industry’s premier trade show, two of the world’s three biggest makers lavishly displayed what they hope will be the smartphone of the future. The question is, will anyone buy it?

Modern smartphones have gotten a little boring after a decade of iterative improvements. The wacky smartphones of yesteryear have died off in favor of the flat glass slab. Samsung is currently the largest smartphone maker in the world, which gives it room to try something new. The previously teased Galaxy Fold is official, and it’s coming this April. You might want to start saving up now, though. 

The Galaxy Fold has two screens, only one of which folds. On the outside of the book-like device, you get a tiny 4.58-inch OLED screen. That might not sound particularly small, but it’s very tall and narrow with a resolution of 1960×840 — the home screen is only three icons wide. When you open the Galaxy Fold, the internal screen opens up to measure 7.3-inches with a resolution of 2152×1536. It’s close in size and shape to an iPad Mini.

A large bezel surrounds the outer screen, but the internal one goes close to the edges. It does, however, sport a large screen notch in the upper right corner for cameras. There are three cameras on the back (standard, wide, and telephoto). The larger screen has a pair of sensors, and there’s one more front-facing camera above the small external display.

OLED panels are naturally flexible, but folding one even a few times can cause damage if it’s not designed for that. It took Samsung years to get to this point, and there will be some compromises. For example, the screens are not equipped with the usual Gorilla Glass. They have a hardened plastic cover that bends and flexes. It probably won’t resist scratching as well as glass, though.

Samsung says it spent a lot of time developing an interlocking gear system for the hinge that can withstand hundreds of thousands of operations. There are also two batteries, one inside each half of the phone, with a combined 4,300mAh capacity. The Fold also has a Snapdragon 855 chip, 12GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage.

Interestingly, the Galaxy Fold will ship with Android Pie, and most of Google’s expected foldable OS optimizations aren’t expected until Android Q this fall. However, Samsung and Google have worked closely to make the necessary changes to Android. The Fold is probably offering a preview of how Android will cope with this new form factor. When closed, the Galaxy Fold will work like a regular phone, but apps on the outside instantly resize for the internal display when unfolded. You can run apps in full-screen, split it between two, or have one larger app and two smaller apps next to it. The only other available foldable phone is the FlexPai, which has no involvement from Google. 

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