Yesterday, Samsung announced its long-awaited folding smartphone–the Galaxy Fold.
The idea behind the complicated new phone is simple: It’s both a tablet and a smartphone. The phone’s flexible, 7.3-inch OLED display works as a small tablet when it’s unfolded. When folded, the 4.6-inch display on the front panel takes over. The company claims the Fold has “changed the shape of the phone and the shape of tomorrow,” which is pure marketing hyperbole–which, in this case, may be at least partially true, as smartphone makers struggle with stagnant sales and experiment with new form factors.
Today, phone manufacturers are in a race to sell products that consumers have an increasingly hard time differentiating. 2018 was the first year ever to see a drop in phones sales, with Apple losing as much as 11.8% in iPhone sales compared to 2017. In response, some smartphone manufacturers are experimenting with radical industrial design, spurring a renaissance in unusual–and expensive–phones. That includes folding phones, which other smartphone makers beyond Samsung are working on.
The idea of a tablet that can easily fit in your pocket is attractive (and not only for fans of Westworld, which popularized the idea) when you take into consideration the market’s insatiable appetite for larger and larger phones. The Samsung Galaxy Fold will give you the possibility of multitasking for work and pleasure in an easy way.
However, the Fold comes at a price: $1,980. It’s a high-powered phone, with 12GB of RAM (for comparison, a more expensive MacBook Pro comes with just 8GB) and 512GB of solid state storage (which matches the same laptop). That processor drives a 16MP triple-sensor camera on the back and 10-megapixel selfie camera on the front. The system feeds on a complicated 4,380mAh battery–in fact, Samsung had to divide the battery into two modules that work in tandem.
The flexible, hinged display panel–which is the phone’s raison d’être–is a stunning technological advancement on its own; Samsung’s proprietary design allows the display to magically solidify into a tablet as soon as you open it. It is a marvel of mechanical engineering, built using multiple gears that interlock which each other like clockwork to keep everything in place.
It’s not the first of its kind, but it is an extremely polished product–a triumph of engineering and miniaturization that has been received with oohs and aaahs. This is a phone clearly designed for early adopters with deep pockets–which is why the company is making just a 1 million units for now, likely appealing to the smaller, high-end phone market.
Huawei, Xiaomi, LG, and others are all reportedly debuting foldable phones next week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Eventually, we may see Apple release a folding model, akin to its race with Android manufacturers to debut larger screens. In fact, the Cupertino company has already filed several foldable phone patents that appear to function like Motorola’s forthcoming Razr folding phone.
When the Fold goes on sale on April 26th for $1,980, it will cost you as much as a top-of-the-line 13-inch MacBook Pro. Only time will tell if this experimental form factor–and its astronomical price–will herald a new era for smartphone makers.