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It’s pretty safe to call the launch of Samsung’s first folding smartphone, the Galaxy Z Fold, a debacle. Even the company’s CEO referred to it as “an embarrassment” at the time, and that’s probably an understatement.
Samsung’s new smartphone: Know when to fold ’em
Samsung’s new smartphone: Know when to fold ’em
The first Fold was sent to reviewers before it shipped, as is often done with flashship phones. Those tech journalists discovered all kinds of flaws, ranging from a protective film that was too easily removed and breaking the display to the fact that dirt and grit quickly made their way inside and under the screen.
Ultimately, Samsung scrapped the launch, recalled phones that had gone out and reworked the flaws. Months later, a patched Z Fold finally went on sale.
What a difference a year makes. Samsung launched the successor, the Z Fold 2, last week. I’ve been playing with one for several days, and it’s an impressive piece of hardware. The durability issues that bedeviled the original are gone, but many of the conceptual flaws remain. Also, it’s still a very expensive phone, selling for $2,000.
The basics: the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a smartphone that unfolds into a tablet. There’s an external, 6.2-inch touchscreen on one side, allowing you to use it like a standard smartphone. Open it up, and it’s a 7.6-inch tablet with a display that’s a little smaller than the one found on Apple’s iPad mini. It’s chock full of impressive technical achievements, not least of which is that the glass on the tablet side folds when you close it.
It’s a heavy smartphone and twice as thick when folded because it’s basically two slabs of glass joined by a strong hinge. It weighs in at 9.7 ounces, or about half an ounce less than an iPad mini. Carrying an iPad mini with this kind of heft seems light, but toting it a folded smartphone at that weight does not.
The construction feels solid. The protective layer on the inner screen no longer feels like a temporary film, which is what caused reviewers last year to peel it away. The body is a rigid metal.
This is actually Samsung’s third folding phone. Last year, it launched the Galaxy Flip Z, which resembled the flip-style phones from the early 2000s, but opens up to become a smartphone. That device used a hinge with internal plastic brushes that keeps out dirt, and it’s been incorporated in the Z Fold 2’s design.
The hinge also allows you to contort the Fold into infinite angles, a feature called Flex Mode, and it’s stiff to ensure the angles stay in place. In fact, it may be a little too stiff. I found the Z Fold 2 quite resistant, and forget about trying to open it up one-handed.
The tablet screen has a crease down the middle that’s not too prominent, but you’re always aware it’s there, particularly as you move your finger across the display. Both screens have a gorgeous look, with a 120-Hz refresh rate that’s adaptive, meaning it slows down when the screen is static and speeds up as needed when there’s motion on the display. This helps with battery life.
Which, by the way, is just . . . OK. There are two batteries, one inside each panel, and I found the battery life to be enough to last a full day with light use – video watching, speed tests, photography – but not much beyond that. The Samsung Note20 Ultra, which I also recently reviewed, did much better.
One of the coolest features is that you can start an app on the outside display with the Z Fold 2 closed, then open it and the running app transfers instantly to the inner display, in all its wide glory. Conversely, you can fold the device into an L shape and apps such as YouTube will show a video on the top half and text on the bottom. Only a handful of apps work this way, but more will surely come.
You can also run as many as three apps in windows on the tablet display at a time, though this multitasking feature, called Multi-Active Window, works best with two. (That also makes me more interested in trying Microsoft’s folding phone, the Android-based Surface Duo, which has its two screens separated and is designed specifically for this kind of two-app use.)
The cameras are respectable, but not nearly as versatile or high-powered as those on the Samsung S20 and Note20 smartphones. There are three 12-megapixel cameras on the back of the the device, mounted in a vertical bump – a main camera, a wide-angle and a telephoto. The front-facing cameras on the exterior screen and the tablet display are both 10 megapixels. In general, I found photos taken by the exterior cameras outside to be fine, but indoors they looked a little washed out – the colors didn’t pop, as is often the case on Samsung phones.
For a device that costs this much, there are some surprising corners that have been cut. It is only available with 256 gigabytes of storage; for a smartphone as pricey as this, I’d expect 512 GB, but that’s not even an option. And that might be forgivable if you could expand the storage via a memory card, but nope.
While the Z Fold 2 is a much better technical feat than its predecessor, its price and limitations continue to make it a luxury, niche smartphone. Someday, folding phones may be commonplace and affordable, but this is not that day.