Is Samsung’s Fold really the future?

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Above: Samsung’s Galaxy Fold comes in four colours with two active screens. Photo courtesy Samsung.

BitDepth#1186 for February 28

Last week, at an Unpacked event in San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, Samsung unveiled The Fold, the company’s newest take on the problem of making smartphones bigger and more usable.

Was this case of Samsung “jumping outside itself,” to use a colloquial term?

A next step, too much, too far?

It’s hardly the first time that Samsung has challenged ideas about the right size for a smartphone device.

When it was introduced, the Note was dismissed as a “phablet,” a phone category that fit somewhere between a phone and a tablet and a category, some felt, that nobody had asked for.

As it turns out, nine iterations of the Note and ten years worth of Galaxy smartphone development later, Samsung was proven right that some folks just want a bigger phone and will adjust their expectations and lifestyle to accommodate one.

At Unpacked 2019, Senior VP for Mobile Justin Dennison described The Fold as not just “defining a category, it defies it.”

The new smartphone takes advantage of the latest in OLED screen technology and includes a new Samsung designed hinge mechanism that the company claims will last for “hundreds of thousands” of uses.

The Fold also gives you two smartphone screens, two batteries and six cameras in a package you can just about fit into your pocket.

Folded closed, the face of the device sports a standard screen display that’s 4.3 inches on the diagonal.

Open it and Samsung’s App Continuity software moves whatever you were doing on the smaller screen to the 7.3 inch display that comes to life when the hinge snaps open.

Recent updates to Android Pie include the software APIs that make this a seamless operation.

That bigger screen introduces a new three-app multi-tasking mode that looks capable of making multiple windows on a smartphone screen a usable reality.

Samsung has long had app multi-tasking on its smartphones, but on a smaller screen, that splitscreen wasn’t as useful as the company might have hoped.

The Fold incorporates the triple-lens array that Samsung introduced with the Galaxy S10 lineup of devices, adds two front facing cameras in the unfolded mode and one on the active front when the device is folded.

That big screen will be great for productivity buffs, but most movies won’t make use of it all, leaving two black bars at the top and bottom of the viewable area.

To balance the device, and presumably, to power that hefty screen, Samsung has added a second battery to The Fold, which makes it essentially two small smartphones phones worth of device when it comes to pocketing it.

Samsung has not released weight or thickness specifications on the device.

That big screen will be great for productivity buffs, but most movies won’t make use of it all, leaving two black bars at the top and bottom of the viewable area.

It’s more than a little odd that Samsung’s most modern smartphone is actually optimised for media formatted for an old tube television. Fans of The Prisoner are going to love this.

On the downside, there’s no Micro-SD slot, though the device is slated to ship with 512GB of internal memory.

On the double downside, the price is set at an eyewatering US$1,980. That gets close to the price of three of the new S10e devices or a top of the line smartphone and tablet.

Samsung isn’t the only manufacturer showing or planning to release a smartphone featuring a folding OLED screen. Within days of the release of The Fold, Huawei introduced the Mate X with a foldable OLED screen.

Five years from now we will look back on the design decisions that Samsung made to bring The Fold to market with appreciative, if rueful nods. There will be astonishment at the introductory price point.

But if Samsung keeps working to bring science fiction into reality, we will then unscroll our new Fold 5 devices and get back to work.