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Commentary Phones

Galaxy F would be a terrible name for Samsung's first foldable phone

Commentary: At least one rumored name for this watershed phone would be a big mistake.

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We don't know much about Samsung's foldable Galaxy phone, including its name.

Angela Lang/CNET

A foldable phone by any other name may not sound as sweet. Samsung has already shown off the foldable Galaxy phone on stage and confirmed it'll come in the first half of 2019 -- but it doesn't yet have a real name. There are at least four rumored front-runners, including the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Flex and Galaxy Fold. Samsung, unsurprisingly, did not respond to my request for a heads-up on the official name (it would like to keep that a surprise). But one of these candidates is undeniably the worst.

Samsung should definitely not choose "Galaxy F." In the US at least, "F" is for "fail," the lowest grade a person or thing can get. And no product wants to be linked to failure, or to "the F word." The mind just doesn't leap to "foldable" or "fantastic."

Any product marketer will tell you that names matter. Brands can spend hundreds of hours on market research to select the right name that conveys the right message to buyers. Pick wrong and you might fail to connect with your desired demographic or worse, offend them in their native land and language.

Both negative connotations for "Galaxy F" would open up Samsung to endlessly creative criticism akin to the worst online bullying, especially if the foldable phone turns out to be anything other than "s" for "stellar." (For the record, the "S" in Galaxy S stands for "Super Smart.")

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Samsung's Galaxy-something is already building up plenty of buzz as the first foldable phone by a household brand. Foldable phones are expected to change the way that people use their devices by giving you a larger screen surface in a small enough package to carry around. Samsung is moving quickly to get its product on sale ahead of rivals.

But chances are high that Samsung's foldable phone won't knock it out of the park on its initial attempt. As one of the first of its kind, this foldable phone and others face staggering challenges in how they're designed and how well the apps work with a bendable body.

"I can't stress this enough, this is a beta product," said Stephen Baker, VP of industry analysis at NPD Group. "All these problems should be expected and anticipated, and as the first version this is an early adopter product for consumers who like to be on the bleeding edge."

Samsung's first foldable phone may be awkward, but it, and others, are an essential first step into learning what to do and not to do when making devices with bendable screens.

"We believe that devices with flexible displays will eventually become a larger part of the market as prices drop, designs improve and usability issues are overcome," said Ben Wood, chief researcher at analyst firm CCS Insight. Samsung will want to put its best foot forward.

A better name for a foldable phone

Samsung's naming dilemma is extra potent because the expected reveal of its foldable Galaxy phone comes at a time when the tech giant will also unveil the Galaxy S10. That model will have a more traditional glass slab look and feel that should appeal to the mass market, but Samsung will likely show off a fully working version of its foldable phone to add drama to the event and to underscore Samsung's ability to keep innovating, even a decade on.

It's unclear if Samsung would also announce the phone's name here or simply tease a later dedicated event, rumored to take place in March. Whenever Samsung does share its name, there are plenty of more harmonious options than the foreboding "F." Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Flex are infinitely better, but still pretty tame considering what a watershed moment this is for Samsung's brand, which holds the coveted title of world's largest smartphone maker. Also, LG already had a "G Flex" as recent as 2015 so "Flex" could wind up on the cutting room floor.

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As a name, "Galaxy X" (pronounced "ex," not "ten") has the right kind of sizzle. Think of how the phone's shape could play into an "X" form and all the adjacent marketing about the device having the "X" factor. Samsung would run the risk of copycatting the iPhone X, and while it's unlikely to result in another dragged-out lawsuit, such a name would perpetuate the dreaded (and not totally fair) "Samesung" reputation. And with the "X" name painting Apple into a corner, it's something Samsung would want to sidestep anyway.

Perhaps Samsung should take my colleague Ashley Esqueda's safer suggestion to go with the Galaxy V, because it looks like a foldable phone opening or closing. Of course, V is the Roman numeral "5." There's always something.

It may be too late for the electronics titan to whip up excitement by taking fan suggestions, as Xiaomi is doing for its remarkable-looking phone prototype that folds on both ends, and as Google did for Android N

But it isn't too late for Samsung to think long and hard about its legacy and steer clear of any name that could expose it to one of the internet's most vicious "F"s: flaming.

Published: Jan. 28 at 4:00am PT.
Update: Jan 29 at 3:00am PT with minor edits.

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