The Samsung Galaxy Fold is "Fragile with a capital F", according to a meticulous new teardown, with several large gaps which could allow dust and dirt to enter, many different ways for the screen to break and a complicated hinge mechanism that is likely to wear and fail over time.
The foldy phone was set to release in the US last week, but the launch was delayed after several journalists experienced serious issues with their review units. Now the respected repairability advocates and teardown specialists at iFixit have disected one of these early phones on their operating table, and they're not overly impressed.
For starters, the bezel that lines the large, folding screen is very skinny and is apparently attached only by light adhesive, prompting iFixit to worry about how little protection it provides and whether it would peel over time.
More concerning is the fact that the bezel itself does not bend, so when the phone is unfolded a 7mm gap is left open where liquid or particles could potentially enter. There are also gaps along the spine of the phone when closed.
The Fold is one of the very first flexible phones, so some design challenges are to be expected. Early mobile phones, of course, had problems with ingress protection too. But the issue is a big one when almost every other flagship phone on the market is watertight.
The gaps are especially worrying in a folding design because "anything that gets lodged between the fragile display and its hard metal backplate could become a fatal pressure point when the phone is unfolded", according to iFixit. This likely explains what happened to some of the journalist's review phones.
The teardown also examines the cause of some of the other failures, including the "advanced polymer layer" that some reviewers mistook for a screen protector and peeled off, killing the phones.
iFixit explains that the phone could technically work without the layer, but the force of lifting it pulls on and destroys the fragile OLED display. On most phones, these displays are protected by sturdy (but unbending) glass.
One final "serious reliability concern" was in the hinge. Though iFixit praises the engineering of the folder-like structure itself — which uses a system of spring-loaded clasps, hinges and gears to move and lock the sturdy metal plate upon which the foldy display is pasted — it says the cables that are routed through hinges to connect each side of the phone could cause a problem over the long haul.
Though it calls the Galaxy Fold "alarmingly fragile", iFixit concludes that Samsung could bolster it with some extra reinforcement and ingress protection, and by making the polymer layer look a lot less like a pre-installed screen protector.
Samsung has yet to set a new launch date for the Fold, saying in a statement that it was investigating the issues and would strengthen the display before release. Details of the phone's Australian availability were never announced, beyond Samsung confirming the phone would make its way here at some point.