Second Time Is The Charm

Second Time Is The Charm

Last year’s Samsung Galaxy Fold technically wasn’t the first folding phone to hit the market. A Chinese brand named Royole had beaten Samsung to the punch by months. Huawei, too, launched a foldable around the same time the Fold hit retailers last fall. But both of those devices were only sold in China (Huawei didn’t sell foldables outside China until its second attempt earlier this year) in limited quantities. So to most of the world, Samsung’s Fold was the very first device in a new cutting-edge product line.

The Fold wasn’t for everyone. Or even most people. It was expensive, a bit hard to use, and raised durability concerns due to an early demo batch malfunctioning in the hands of three or four reviewers. Still, I loved it anyway. In fact, I named it my favorite phone of 2019.

But I am admittedly a tech geek and gadget enthusiasts with some spending power. So my love of the device didn’t mean much; I couldn’t justify anyone else paying $2,000 for the Fold unless they were similar to me.

Samsung’s sequel phone the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (the Z addition is new) flips the script. It’s still expensive (essentially same price as last year—$1,999 in the U.S. and HK$16,998 in Hong Kong), easier to use, and should be more durable.

I should add here that my own unit of the first Fold still works perfectly fine after a year of heavy use, so this first device’s supposed fragility is perhaps overblown. But the Fold 2 just feels significantly better constructed. Two areas of note got huge improvements: the bendy plastic screen has a glass coating on the outside now (Samsung calls it “Ultra Thin Glass”) so it feels harder to the touch. And the hinge on which the folding action depends? It’s one of the biggest generation to generation jumps in mobile tech in recent years. It feels significantly firmer, steadier, less wobbly.

It also allows the Fold 2 to bend just halfway, or a quarter of the way, and stay in place, sort of like a laptop lid would stay set at various angles. This brings a myriad of new usage cases, but more on this later.

The screens

The original Galaxy Fold felt like a tablet that can pass as a small smartphone for short periods of time. The reason I say that is because the outside screen—the screen that shows when the device is folded close—was so small (4.5 inches and wrapped by giant bezels) that it was difficult to type on. So anytime you wanted to type longer than a few words, you have to unfold the device. You need it in tablet form to get any real work done.

But the Fold 2 improves on this by giving us a much larger outside screen—it’s now 6.2 inches, spanning almost the entire cover. It’s taller, and a bit wider, which allows for more information to show, and an easier typing experience. It’s still more cramped than any modern smartphone due to that extra elongated 25:9 aspect ratio, but it’s manageable now.

With the Fold 2, I don’t have to unfold every time I have to send a long WhatsApp message or respond to an email. I can use it as a smartphone as much as I can as a tablet. This makes the device a lot more usable as a full-time device.

The inside screen has huge improvements over last year, too: it’s also bigger, 7.6 inches now from last year’s 7.2; and as mentioned, it feels better due to that extra glass layer. It also refreshes at a fast 120Hz and has only a small hole-punch for the selfie camera, whereas last year’s Fold 1 had a rather unsightly notch.

Just the improved hinge and screens make the Fold 2 one of the biggest single generation improvements in recent mobile tech history. Throw in the fact that regular top dog slab smartphones have all seen an uptick in price that pushed it near $1,400 or more, I think I can recommend others to consider buying the Fold 2. It’s no longer twice the price as other options with several glaring flaws.

The Fold 1 was a hint at what the future of mobile computing will bring; the Fold 2 is that future. I’m completely convinced in a few more years (likely when Apple does it), most of us will have a smartphone-tablet hybrid device.

Best in-class chip, capable cameras

Let’s go over the rest of the hardware specs quickly: the Fold 2 runs on the Snapdragon 865+ from Qualcomm, technically the most powerful chip right now until Apple introduces its new one in a couple of months. In terms of optics, the Fold 2’s main system is a triple camera array, consisting all 12-megapixel shooters of the usual wide/ultra-wide/telephoto variety. It’s a very capable system, but not Samsung’s very best offering, which is currently used in the Note 20 Ultra.

Samsung never explained why the Fold 2 does not use the Note 20 Ultra’s 108-megapixel camera or Periscope zoom lens, but I am guessing it is the fact that a foldable device doesn’t leave much room for a bulky camera component.

Still, you’re not going to have many complaints about the camera unless you’re very demanding. The only major noticeable shortcoming of the Fold 2’s cameras compared to other top phones is that it only has a max zoom of 10x, whereas something like a Huawei P40 Pro Plus can pull off really sharp 20x and 30x shots.

But while it may not be technically the most powerful camera, it is one of the most fun and capable shooters thanks to the Fold 2’s unique design and strong hinge.

As mentioned, the hinge has been drastically improved—there are little brushes inside that help repel dust and small particles—and it can keep the Fold 2 bent at certain angles. This means you can place the Fold 2 on a desk or flat surface, bend the top half of the phone (with the camera module) up at 90-degree angle, and have yourself a hands-free shooting situation. You can also take long-exposure shots, or set up intricate group photos, without the need of a tripod.

And because there’s a screen on each side of the Fold 2, you can use the main camera system as a selfie camera and still be able to see yourself. This is great because the main camera system on the back of phones is almost always much better than the selfie camera, particularly in low-light situations.

This use case will also be great for beginner vloggers who shoot with a smartphone. Often if they are filming themselves on the go, they have to make a choice: shoot with the selfie camera and put up with its usually low-quality sensor and tight framing, or shoot with the main camera system, which is always more capable, but in return they won’t be able to see what they’re shooting. The Fold 2 fixes this.

These new ways to use the camera make the Fold 2 a very fun device for people who love posting photos and videos to social media.

What’s it like using it in the real world

The Fold 2 is essentially a small tablet that can fit into your pocket. For a freelance writer like myself who does not like sitting still at a desk, this is my dream machine. I’ve written entire articles on just the Fold 2, while at coffee shops the past two weeks, mostly using a small foldable bluetooth keyboard. But I have also written a shorter article using entirely the onscreen keyboard. Because the Fold 2’s screen is significantly larger than most smartphone screens, the touchscreen typing experience is better than on most phones.

As a movie watching machine, it’s good but not great. The odd aspect ratio means most videos will have major letterboxing (giant black bars that appear at top and bottom). But you do get very good sound courtesy of excellent speakers.

Other smartphone tasks like surfing the web, reading articles, responding to emails, all work better on the Fold 2 than on a traditional smartphones. Most apps will take advantage of the larger screen and display content accordingly.

Multi-tasking is also easy, with the ability to run three apps at once in split-screen mode. I find that running two apps that work mostly in vertical scrolling mode is ideal, such as Twitter and a web browser. Or Gmail and Google Docs.

Battery life has been surprisingly great, despite the Fold 2 keeping the same 4500 mAh battery capacity, while having a larger and higher refreshing inner screen. In general, the Fold 2 can last me an entire 12-, 13-hour day out, but just barely. I do find myself going home at the end of the day with the battery veering dangerously close to the sub-10% mark. Considering this is half a tablet and how heavy I use my phones, I think this is still considered good battery life.

A luxury item? Yes. But it’s not frivolous

Endless digital ink has been spilled on the $2,000 pricing of Samsung’s foldable since the first version in 2019. Relatively speaking compared to other smartphones and even tablets, the Fold 2 is objectively priced on the high end. But I challenge the dismissive “no one should pay $2,000 for a phone” talk, or that it’s “overpriced.” First, everyone has different spending power. Second, the Fold 2 is not just a phone. Smartphones have long become our most used, most relied on personal item, and the Fold 2 takes that another step. This is more a portable computer than a thing to make calls.

The Fold 2 is a luxury item for those privileged enough to have $2,000 to spend outside of the core essentials. But it is not extravagantly priced for no reason—this is a breakthrough in mobile gadgets and displays and as I’ve been saying for over a year: I believe the future of our devices will be foldable in some way or form. The Fold 2 further cements my belief.

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