Friday, December 13, 2019

After many rumours and leaks, Samsung has finally revealed its groundbreaking folding phone.

It’s certainly an exciting innovation but, really, what is the benefit and what will it be used for – Oh, and how can Samsung get away with charging $1,980 or €2,000 for it?

The Galaxy Fold was the opening gambit at Samsung’s San Francisco keynote event, where it also revealed three versions, no, four, of the Samsung Galaxy S10, a new fitness tracker and a smartwatch with a sports angle.

But it was the Fold which caught the attention. In the current vogue for maximum screen size but minimum phone size, while noting that our hands aren’t getting any bigger, a screen that can double in size was bound to come along sooner or later.

And it looks like other companies like Xiaomi, Huawei, Motorola and even Apple are exploring the technology. It’s made possible by flexible OLED displays. Another company, Royole, already has a phone that folds out to become a tablet.

Samsung has had these flexible OLEDs for a while – most recent flagships from the company have featured them – but they’re encased in solid glass, so you might not have noticed.

In fact the iPhone X and XS use the flexibility to remove the bezel at the bottom of the phone: Inside the iPhone, the OLED screen is bent back on itself.

Of course, that was only half the solution: The display sits below another layer on a phone, usually glass. It was only when a flexible cover layer was developed that folding phones could happen.

The Fold has a 4.7in screen when it’s closed, looking like a regular smartphone, if a bit thicker. Then, it opens up to reveal a second screen inside, which measure 7.3-inches. To put that in context, many smaller tablets on the market boast 7-inch displays.

So, how convenient, no need to carry two gadgets any more but still have the joys of the big screen. But, from seeing the new device, I have some initial reservations.

First, the bigger display has a weird screen ratio. It’s not quite square but at 4.2:3 is noticeably squarer than many tablets. Samsung displayed a Netflix movie on it, which looked great except that quite a lot of the screen was black bars on either side, which reduced the effect. I suspect it would have looked better on the smaller front display, where it would fill it entirely.

This shape means you can display three apps at once, like a YouTube feed, Instagram and a web page. The YouTube element, even in the biggest window, only had a tiny video element, which also wasn’t that appealing.

These are early days, though, and there may well be a combination of apps which will work well together.

Second, the display didn’t look sensational. Although it opens perfectly flat and images can run across the two with no sense of a join, as the Fold tilted in the light, a straight line that looked like a crease was visible. Perhaps this was because it was an early sample and when the phone is released (26 April in the US, 3 May in Europe) this will have been sorted.

Third, can it really justify the cost? In the US, the price starts at $1,980 and in Europe, $2,000. No UK price was given though expect it to be around £1,600 or more. For that money you could buy the Samsung Galaxy S10 and a 9.7in iPad and have a lot of cash left over.

But you wouldn’t have the convenience of the two-devices-in-one that the Galaxy Fold turns out to be. And in terms of innovation, a folding phone is the most exciting development in phone design for years.

The other phones look rather more ordinary in comparison, but offer noticeable upgrades from the current Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ handsets.

Both the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ feature a pretty exciting innovation, a fingerprint sensor buried in the display itself that allows the screen to stretch across the whole of the front of the phone. Well, almost.

There’s a tiny punch-hole in the S10 screen, a bigger one on the S10+, where the front-facing camera (or cameras on the larger phone) sit.

Samsung says that the technology it’s used, an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, is the most advanced around and in my brief use of it, it’s very fast indeed and in a day or so’s use recognised my thumbprint 100 per cent of the time – a little better than rival in-screen sensors from Huawei and others.

There is a downside to this tech: It won’t work through thick screen protectors, so check before you buy a protector for your phone.

Both cameras also adopt triple camera units on the rear with two 12-megapixel sensors offering wide and super-wide lenses. The wide lens has an automatically adjusting aperture to allow more light in when there’s not much there. The third sensor, backed by a 16-megapixel sensor, is an ultra-wide lens with a field of view which Samsung says matches that of the human eye.

The Galaxy Fold was unveiled on the 10th anniversary of Samsung’s Galaxy S-range of smartphones (Samsung)
The new phones also have two-way wireless charging so that you can place a friend’s wireless-compatible phone against the S10 or S10+ and charge it from the Samsung. Testing it with an iPhone XS Max, it worked instantly and is a very satisfying feeling. Huawei had this feature first, but it’s something every phone should have.

The S10e offered some of the S10’s features in a smaller form, so every hand size may find something that fits. But you’ll need big mitts to encompass the final phone release of the evening, the S10 5G. The difference here is, can you guess, it works on 5G networks. It’ll be released in May and has a 6.7in display, the biggest Galaxy S phone yet.

The Fold on its own puts Samsung out there when it comes to innovation, but the new Galaxy S10 range – you know, the ones most of us will consider buying – offer enough choice and a big step forward from last year’s S9 range. The addition of the super-cool inscreen fingerprint sensor on the S10 and S10+ along with the new triple cameras will be enough to tempt many.

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