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11 best and worst Galaxy Fold features, from the camera to that crease

Notches, screens and the foldable phone's hinge. Here's what really matters with Samsung's Galaxy Fold.

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The redesigned Galaxy Fold has a crease...because it has a hinge.

Angela Lang/CNET

Our Galaxy Fold review is here! The foldable phone has seen ups and downs since it was first announced last February. After rushing the design in a race to be first to foldable, Samsung redesigned the Fold to make it sturdier and less susceptible to the screen damage some review units sustained during reviewers' first foray with the device. 

Aspects of the $1,980 Galaxy Fold are as exciting as the first day I held it. It's undoubtedly a device so different it immediately draws curiosity. There are things I genuinely love about this phone, and new ways that have felt natural to use it, like as a true second screen, and as the best viewing device with its 7.3-inch plastic-not-glass display.

But the same annoyances are there, too, and that's because Samsung's do-over just bandaged the weaknesses that caused early Galaxy Fold screens to malfunction as dust, pressure and the removal of a questionable protective layer gummed up the inner workings of the Fold's screen. It never addressed more deep-seated issues like a crease down the center of the screen and a notch that's bigger than it really needs to be.

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This time around, Samsung is clearly communicating what you shouldn't do and what could break the Fold, like applying "excessive" pressure to the 7.3-inch plastic screen. Some of the phone's other quirks, from an extended screen notch to the 4.6-inch external screen that's uncomfortably small to type on, remain the same. In other areas, the improvements have really helped in small but significant ways.

Any way you look at it, the Galaxy Fold is a unique phone. As the first foldable phone to go on sale from any major brand, it sets the pace for what the future of phones could become. They might not all look like the Fold. (In fact, it's a good bet that Samsung's suffered enough growing pains from this experience that it will come out with a completely different look for future foldable devices.) But if enough phone makers follow Samsung's lead, there could be a lot more phones that open into tablets, or at least into larger-screen devices.

Here's how some of the phone's major features stack up.

Love: The Galaxy Fold's 7.3-inch screen size

To Samsung, the Galaxy Fold's 7.3-inch screen is its main one. This is the large display you access when you open the phone from its folded-up position. Samsung expects you to do most of your typing, viewing and living on this display. 

Typing isn't as easy as it is on even extra-large phones like the Galaxy Note 10 Plus (the Fold's heft makes it heavier to hold, too), but it's great having so much screen to do... anything, really. 

And, since I know you'll ask about the crease that runs down the middle of the plastic screen. Yes, you can see it, but mostly when the screen is all white or black. When you're doing something, like watching a show, reading, typing or even looking at photos, it tends to blend in more than you'd imagine. At least that's how it feels for me -- I get wrapped up in what I'm doing, not in the slight valley on the display. 

It'd be great if the crease didn't exist, but from what I've seen with foldable phones so far, that's a trade-off you get as part of a flexible design. (I liken it to your elbow.)

Hate: The screen's delicacy

We hem and haw over the "fragile" glass screens that cover pretty much every phone display, but you don't realize how durable this glass is -- especially Gorilla Glass 6 -- until you baby a polymer screen that can break under pressure and sustain damage if your fingernail hits it wrong.

Samsung cautions you to keep the Fold away from water and dust, car keys, and items like credit cards that the Fold's magnets could disrupt. The company even made a video to both caution and inspire you

So far the Galaxy Fold review unit has been fine, but I look at my fingerprint smudges piling up and wonder if wiping them off too vigorously will kill this $2,000 device entrusted to my care. Samsung recommends using a dry microfiber cloth, and says to take extra care around the hinge where dust could get in.

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This is how Samsung tells you to care for the Fold.

Angela Lang/CNET

Mostly like: The fingerprint reader

The first time I used the Fold, I wasn't a fan of the fingerprint reader placement, which is awkward to reach 50% of the time. It's situated on the right side, on the "bottom" part of the stack when the Fold is closed. When it's open, you just slot your thumb in and the Fold unlocks in under a second. Easy.

When it's closed, this action is much more awkward, but I've learned to swoop my thumb in at the right angle and most of the time it's not a problem. I wound up liking this a lot more this review period than I did at first. Even better, though, would be secure face unlock that could work from the cover screen as well as the inside of the Fold. For a $2,000 phone, that shouldn't be such a stretch.

Don't love: The Fold's weight

That the Galaxy Fold isn't light comes as no surprise. t's essentially two phones stacked together, with a lot of glass and two batteries. It weighs 9.28 ounces (263 grams), compared to the iPhone 11's 6.84 ounces (193 grams). Besides, Samsung wants it to feel solid and luxurious. At the end of an intensive day of use, though, the Fold just felt heavy. When my hands got tired from typing (see below), taking the Fold out of my purse felt more like a chore.

Holding it up to read and watch videos also made its weight even more obvious. Watching a movie on the plane, reading in bed, using the Fold as a second screen while I worked -- I kept searching around for anything I could use as a stand so I wouldn't have to keep holding it. Let's call this one a minor annoyance.

Good, but room for improvement: Multitasking

During my testing period, I spent five straight hours typing notes on the Galaxy Fold while covering an even, using both screens to type. I'll get to my thoughts on the keyboard below, but the point is that, while typing, multitasking came naturally, too. 

I needed to focus on the Google Doc I used for note keeping while also tweeting, responding to Slack messages and using other apps to check in to work. I also opened up the browser from time to time. This was a feature I was glad to have, and it makes sense given the Fold's 7.3-inch display.

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This is what multitasking looks like on the Galaxy Fold, shown here on the original design.

Angela Lang/CNET

Sliding from the right edge of the display to select an app and split the screen felt natural, especially since it's an action I routinely perform on other Galaxy phones, like the Note 10. But I don't always love the way the screens split, even though I can move them around. Overall, it made the second app more narrow than I prefer. You can do a little more work to adjust the sizes but, when you're working quickly, that felt like a fussy waste of time.

The Galaxy Fold can support three windows at a time, which get progressively smaller. I almost never opened the third. 

Mixed bag: The Samsung keyboard

All that typing made me familiar with the Samsung keyboard in a brand new way. I always test Samsung phones with the default keyboard, but once the review period is over, I immediately install Google's Gboard app, which I prefer for its superior typing predictions and access to emoji.

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The split screen keyboard is good stuff, but there are still annoyances.

Angela Lang/CNET

And yet, Samsung's keyboard has a distinct advantage over Gboard on the Galaxy Fold, since it splits in half to make typing more comfortable, like a physical ergonomic keyboard. This works well, actually, and I'm happy to have it, even if my hands do get tired from stretching to type. I installed Gboard just to compare the two, and quickly returned to the Samsung keyboard's split screen -- less strain that way.

My main issue is that the keyboard eats up so much screen space, especially when you're multitasking, that it almost undoes all the benefit of having such a large viewing area to begin with. Scrolling to see what I just typed kind of defeats the purpose of the Fold's 7.3-inch promise. Gboard takes up a skosh less space.

Still deciding: Taking photos

If you cringe when you see people shoot photos on a tablet, you'll feel like a fool taking photos when the phone is opened up. You can't beat that 7.3-inch viewfinder, but people will notice, especially if you start mugging for selfies.

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The Fold's 7.3-inch screen makes a great viewfinder, but you might feel ridiculous.

Angela Lang/CNET

More discreet is taking photos with the Fold closed in its candybar form. It's much harder to see what you're shooting on the rather narrow 4.6-inch exterior display, but you feel stealthier doing it, and the photos will come out fine. You won't want to use this mode when you're trying to fine-tune a shot, say by using an on-screen slider control.

The one difference to keep in mind about open- or closed-screen photography is that you get both 10- and 8-megapixel front-facing lenses when you unfold the device, versus the one 10-megapixel selfie shot if you use it closed.

Hate: That inch-long notch

The Fold's camera notch really takes up space. It's a big chunk of the right part of the interior display, and it's really unsightly. It's as though someone took a big bite out of whatever it is you're looking at. 

Thankfully, the notch is off to the edge, so it won't swallow up the action of a video or cut off a website, because the app's border stops before you get to the notch. But when the screen is lit up, it does stick out like a sore thumb -- it's almost that large.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the notch is hardly functional. It houses some sensors, including two front-facing cameras, but when you look at them in the light, you'll find there's a lot of dead space. I'd expect Samsung to slow-walk away from this design in its future foldable phones.

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The Galaxy Fold's wide notch houses a whole lot of nothing.

Angela Lang/CNET

Love: The end caps on the screen

It's a small thing, these plastic bits that remind me of the T-shaped peg in Tetris, but they're effective and, compared to the first Galaxy Fold unit I used, they just seem to complete the look. Like they belonged there the whole time. 

So far, they also seem effective. I've gently probed the opening with a fingernail. While I can slip a nail between the plastic bezel and the screen, this end cap has seemed to close a gap that existed in Samsung's previous design. Here's hoping it holds.

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This 4.6-inch exterior screen is good for viewing, less good for typing.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Hate: The too-small exterior screen

Typing on the Galaxy Fold's 4.6-inch exterior display (the one that's actually topped with Gorilla Glass) is a challenge. Walking, it's almost impossible not to litter whatever you're working on with typos. 

Blame Samsung's other extra-large screen phones if you like, but my fingers have completely fallen out of the habit of precision typing. Working the display feels more like hunting and pecking. It's a useful screen to have -- so you can use the Fold when the screen is closed -- but the more passive viewing, the better.

It's a very good thing you can start on this small display and continue what you're doing on the larger screen, once you open the Fold.

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Clack! The Galaxy Fold closes with a satisfying snick. Just keep those magnets away from your credit cards.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Love: The way the Fold snaps shut

There's something about this new Samsung design that seems to have changed the way that the Fold feels when it closes. Or at least the way I remember the Fold feeling five months before. My overall impression, though, is that the Fold's magnetic closure feels sturdier when you close it.

It's hard to overstate the importance of physicality when it comes to the Fold. I've said since the very first that this is one of those gotta-do-it-to-believe-it moments that makes the concept of a foldable phone so compelling. People love tactile things, and phones have become the opposite. 

Opening and closing the device feels like a return to more interesting phone days when devices had lots of buttons and keyboards that sometimes swiveled out. 

For the verdict on battery life, who should buy it and more, see my final Galaxy Fold review.

Originally published last week and updated with new information.