Is The Samsung Galaxy Fold Destined To Flop?

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Last week at Unpacked 2019, Samsung introduced five new phones, three new watches, a pair of true wireless earbuds, and new unit of measurement (the Galaxy Fit band weighs the same as a strawberry, apparently.)

But it was the things with no Australian release date that journalists couldn’t touch or photograph at the event that people were most excited about; namely 5G and the Samsung Galaxy Fold. Unfortunately, while Samsung may have called ‘first’ on these technologies, there is reason to believe it wasn’t ready.

5G is the obvious next step for mobile communications. Faster is better, and with Telstra promising Australian customers that it’ll provide speeds up to 20 times faster than 4G, it’s understandable that everyone wants to get their hands on it. However, information about the Galaxy S10 5G in the briefings and the event itself was oddly light.

We know it has six cameras, a 6.7-inch screen, and a 4500mAh battery (one of the largest ever in a smartphone), and it will only be available through Telstra to start with. We don’t know its storage capacity, or the battery life given how many antennas are in it, or actual speed tests on Australian networks. Just that we can expect it sometime before July.

The other, arguably even more exciting, phone announced at the event shows the next real step forward. Folding phones are how we’re going to be able to get bigger screens to multitask and one day replace tablets; perhaps even laptops. Folding a screen still seems a little like science fiction, it’s an exciting innovation we can see, touch and imagine we’re on the Starship Enterprise.

Except Fold was another phone journalists couldn’t see or touch at Unpacked, beyond what we could see on the stage.

What we do know is that it has an inner 7.3-inch screen and an outer 4.6-inch screen, it has 6 cameras, 12GB of RAM, a screen 50 per cent thinner than most other smartphones, and a very fancy hinge. And, much to my disappointment, we know that Samsung worked really hard to make sure there’s a seamless app experience no matter which screen you’re using, so you can’t actually hang up on anyone by angrily folding your phone.

However, we don’t know how the phone feels to fold, how a 2cm thick phone feels in your pocket, if it’s comfortable to type on a 7.3-inch square screen, if things can get caught in the hinge, and who is going to buy a $3000 first generation folding phone (other than early adopters and keen tech journalists, of course). It’s safe to assume, though, that if implemented properly folding phones could end up being more significant than the introduction of the tablet.

The problem is that the timing of Unpacked, just before the MWC tech show in Barcelona, and lack of visibility of the two phones everyone came to see, in hindsight comes across as the multi-million-dollar equivalent of posting “first” on a YouTube video. Samsung wasn’t quite ready to announce such significant products, but it wanted to get in before its competitors announced their own versions.

The S10 5G and Fold aren’t really the first 5G and folding phones, but they are the first that matter. I’m glad Samsung's waiting to release them when they’re ready, it’s just frustrating that it didn’t hold the announcement until it was ready for that, too.


The author travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Samsung.


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    I hope that Samsung is planning *not* to sell many of their first generation folding phone. Like the article says I feel like it should be dedicated almost entirely to early adopters and tech journos. I feel like it'd be a bad choice to buy for pretty much any average user for a couple reasons.

    1. While it bridges a gap between phone and tablet (which is awesome) it's effectively to big to be a comfortable phone and too small to be a serious tablet.

    2. It's first gen tech. No one knows how reliable the folding screen will be, or whether the hinge will fail on repeated use. And of course the software is still in it's infancy too.

    I think folding devices can be quite interesting but they're not there yet. It'd be interesting to see an even smaller folder the is half the size of a typical phone (eg: s10e, iphone etc) but when you unfold it, it's got the same real estate as the S10e. My mother complains that all smart phones are too big to fit into her purse. A folder might be a good solution.

    It'd also be interesting to see if they can manage a triple fold, so instead of getting a 7 inch screen you get a 10 or 11 inch one. That might be a genuine tablet replacement then.

    I think a large variant could be a laptop/tablet replacement too. Imagine a 6 or 7 inch device that unfolds to become a 12 or 14 inch one. And if you unfold part way half the screen could turn into a full size touch keyboard.

    So yeah, I hope they don't expect to make money on the first gen because I think it'll struggle. But I hope they stick with it because there are a bunch of interesting possibilities for future generation devices.

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