On February 20, Samsung unveiled its luxury foldable smartphone at its Unpacked Event in San Francisco, California.
Samsung’s new luxury smartphone, the Galaxy Fold, functions as both a smartphone with a 4.6 inch display and a tablet with a 7.3 inch display when it opens up. Priced at $1980, the device is intended for upscale customers who recognize the benefits of having one device as compared to carrying both a smartphone and tablet. The device works with a hidden hinge with gears under the display, creating a seamless look. The Galaxy Fold comes in four colors: black, silver, green, and blue.
Samsung has created apps that work with the new dual display fold via a feature called App Continuity to enable the apps to stay open even if the device is open or closed. Samsung worked closely with Google on this feature, testing out Google Maps features. This ostensibly is the best feature of this foldable smartphone model thus far.
The Galaxy Fold has a 7-nanometer processor, 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, along with a 4,380mAh battery, which consists of two batteries on either side of the hinge. The device has a total of six cameras - three on the back, two on the inside, and one on the front. These cameras enable the user to take photos regardless of how the device is folded. The Galaxy Fold comes in two versions, one with LTE and one for 5G. Samsung intends to ship the device with its own iteration on Apple’s popular AirPods, called the Galaxy Buds. The new device will be available for purchase April 26.
Early Launch Not Yet Consumer Ready
Samsung’s launch demonstrates technical savviness, but also a lack of consumer awareness. Priced at a starting price of $1,980 and going up from there, the new Galaxy Fold is beyond the reach of the average consumer. It becomes more of a luxury item for early adopters. While there is a lot of consumer interest in foldable smartphones, the Galaxy Fold price point is not yet affordable for a majority of consumers. In addition, the device is not fully tested either. In some respects, you are spending a lot to gain access to a beta version of the product. Some concerns noted by tech journalists who attended the event, include:
• the inner display of the device never seems to fold out to be perfectly flat
• issues with folding completely and laying flat entirely
• small size of the smartphone screen at 4.6 inches
• poor user interface with 3-app multitasking
The small size of the smartphone screen at 4.6 inches seems to indicate that the device is intended primarily for tablet use where the user could receive notifications and do basic searches using the smartphone screen, but then would open up to the table for any serious computing efforts.
The Galaxy Fold enables the user to use three apps simultaneously. However, the user interface needs significant improvement and the apps are not appropriately scaled for optimal viewing. It’s clear that the device needs fine tuning and refinement in all these areas. For less than the cost of a new Galaxy Fold, consumers can buy a high quality iPhone and iPad that work perfectly or a Google Pixel and Samsung tablet. While it is marketed to consumers, the Galaxy Fold fails to meet expectations because the product is not ready for the mass market, from usability and design to customer experience and pricing. Perhaps Samsung needed to demonstrate its technical capabilities via the new device, but marketing to consumers so early on without sufficient refinement, creates unrealistic expectations and disappointment as the product is just not yet ready.
Hot on the Heels of Samsung’s Announcement, Huawei Shares Its Own Foldable Smartphone
Not to be outdone, Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei launched its own foldable smartphone, the Huawei Mate X, four days later on February 24th at the Mobile World Congress. The Mate X uses Huawei’s "Falcon Wing" design with a stretchable hinge that allows the smartphone to open out from a 6.6-inch OLED smartphone to an 8-inch OLED tablet. The new foldable smartphone is thus larger than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold.
Huawei’s Mate X folds in the opposite direction of Samsung's Galaxy Fold. The "Falcon wing" at the side houses the camera and also enables the Mate X display to be notch free. The Mate X uses a Leica camera system with four cameras that include a 40-megapixel wide-angle lens, a 16-megapixel ultra wide angle lens, an 8 megapixel telephoto lens and a fourth camera yet to be activated. The Mate X also focuses on multitasking, is equipped with a 5G modem and has a fingerprint sensor integrated into the power switch for biometric authentication. Huawei has announced that the new foldable smartphone also has a 55W SuperCharge feature to charge the included 4,500mAh battery up to 85 percent in just 30 minutes.
While Samsung shocked the market with its model starting at $1,980, Huawei’s Mate X costs even more, coming in at $2,600. Huawei’s foldable smartphone is expected to hit the market in the summer by June or July. Huawei’s new foldable smartphone however may not be available in the United States given the company’s existing conflicts with the U.S. government. Huawei has been suspected of supporting surveillance efforts and espionage by the Chinese government. Its CFO Meng Wanzhou is being extradited to the United States from Canada. Other countries have followed suit, including Japan and England, with discussions in Germany and other parts of Europe whether to allow the Chinese tech giant to gain access to telecommunication networks or not.
A Brief History of Foldable Smartphones
Foldable smartphones have piqued interest for a considerable time now, with hype increasing in the past few years as images and concept ideas have surfaced on the Internet. Manufacturers have poured millions of dollars into research and development with patented hinges such as Chinese tech company TCL’s “Dragon Hinge” that took many years to develop.
The DragonHinge is the name of the hinge that helps bridge the two screens together to create a foldable phone. It is paired with flexible AMOLED displays created by CSOT, a sister company of TCL. TCL notably has not yet launched its smartphone for consumers, citing the need to make the device accessible to consumers at an affordable price range.
Samsung has been working on foldable smartphones since 2011. Numerous other companies have also been working on their own prototypes and launch-ready models including Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo and more. Likely candidates include Acer, Asus and LG. One of the earliest models to be released was the Royole Flexpai in January of this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which received lukewarm support due to product errors but did enjoy the recognition of being the world’s “first foldable smartphone.”
Given the popularity of the foldable smartphone at the Mobile World Congress and the hype surrounding the launch of Samsung’s new product, it is clear that foldable have gained popular appeal. It will be interesting to see what new versions come to market and how well the software integrates with these new designs. Few products have garnered as much attention as the foldable smartphone has in recent months.
As always, Apple is not in a rush to launch a foldable smartphone product. The company is known for creating some of the world’s best products over time and careful testing, emphasizing quality over speed. Apple has filed patents previously for foldable smartphones. This does not confirm however that the company is building foldable smartphones in the near future.
Are foldable smartphones here to stay? It is not yet clear whether the foldable smartphone will gain mass market appeal and thus define the smartphone and tablet industry in the years to come or if it is just a short-term fad that will fade away. We will have to wait and see!