Samsung unveiled a tonne of new phones last week, from a trio of Samsung Galaxy S10 phones - the S10, S10+ and S10e - to high-tech upgrades like the Galaxy S10 5G and Galaxy Fold. It’s the latter that we’re most interested in, as we take a look at the surprising new technology that allows the $1980 Galaxy Fold to turn from a 7.3-inch tablet into a compact 4.6-inch foldable smartphone you can fit in your pocket. I bet you are curious to know how the foldable screen works. Here’s what you need to know!
Infinity Flex display
First of all, there are two screens in play, arranged in a book-like configuration: a 4.6-inch Super AMOLED cover screen and a folding 7.3-inch Infinity Flex Display on the inside. That means you’re using completely separate screens between the two modes. Contrast that to the Flexpai Royole, the first foldable phone to come to market, which uses a single display that can have its edges folded back to return to a phone-like form factor. Either way, you’re left with a relatively thick phone in its folded mode, but the screen space advantage over a standard phone when unfolded is substantial.
In order for the folding mechanic to work, Samsung had to develop a new polymer screen layer that was half the thickness of those found in ordinary smartphones. This allows the screen to fold without the two halves of the screen grating against each other. As well as the screen itself, each layer within it needed to be capable of bending repeatedly without breaking - which is why we have seen folding displays for almost a decade, but it is only in 2019 that Samsung (and other firms) are able to use them in a smartphone.
Special metal hinge
Another key part of the Galaxy Fold is a special metal hinge which separates the back of the device into two sections. This hinge conceals the interlocking gears that carefully transition the device from folded to flat, without allowing users to accidentally overextend or stress the mechanism. That’s how the screen can survive being opened and closed hundreds of thousands of times, enough that it should survive some way past the normal replacement date of a modern smartphone. Samsung also aimed to make sure the two sides were balanced, with electronics and batteries distributed to ensure an even weight distribution.
While the Galaxy Fold appears advanced, it does have one design flaw: its front-facing cameras on the inner display are located in a large notch in the upper right of the display. This intrudes on nearly a third of the screen, making it much less subtle than the hole-punch notch included on the Samsung Galaxy S10, S10+ and S10e. There’s also no sub-surface fingerprint reader, with the Galaxy Fold using the same side-mounted fingerprint reader as the cheaper Galaxy S10e. However, these are the sort of first-generation compromises that you kind of expect - and Samsung seem to have made relatively few cuts elsewhere in pursuit of their vision.
As powerful as the Samsung Galaxy S10
Internally, the Galaxy Fold is just as powerful as the flagship S10, with a Snapdragon 855 processor, 12GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and six cameras: one on the front cover, two front-facers within the larger screen and three on the back. The rear-facing cameras are in the same regular, wide angle and telephoto configuration as the vanilla Galaxy S10. USB-C fast charging, a headphone jack and WiFi 5 (ac) are also included. The Galaxy Fold will also support 5G in some models, just in case you want all of the bleeding edge technologies in one smartphone. All of this is powered by a pair of batteries, totalling 4380mAh. That’s small for a tablet, but big for a phone, so it’ll be interesting to see how the battery life pans out.
As well as nailing the hardware, Samsung also needed to ensure their software and Android OneUI interface was up to the challenge. They’ve added three-way split-screen multi-tasking, in order to best use that extra screen space when in tablet mode. If you’ve ever wanted to watch a Twitch video stream while surfing the web and checking your Twitter mentions, this is the smartphone for you.
There’s also automatic switching of apps from the two screens as the phone is opened and closed, something Samsung is calling app continuity. For example, if you’re looking at a map or web page on the front screen, the app will be resized to fit the larger screen when it is unfolded. Android developers have had to support a wide range of screen shapes and sizes for years, so most apps should work out of the box on the Galaxy Fold in this way. However, Samsung will need to create an intuitive experience for new users in order to demonstrate the advantages of this striking design; it’ll be interesting to see the first reviews to gauge how well they accomplish this.
The Galaxy Fold will be released on May 3rd for $1980 or €2000, which should work out at least £1820 in the UK. However, an official UK price has yet to be announced, so stay tuned for this news as it arrives. You’ll be able to choose one of four colours for the device: Space Silver, Cosmos Black, Martian Green and Astro Blue.
What do you think of the Galaxy Fold? Let me know via Twitter @wsjudd. Thanks for checking out the article and we’ll catch you on the next one!