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Galaxy Fold outdoes the iPhone XS. Here's why you still won't buy one

Commentary: Unless you're crazy rich and have phones to spare, the foldable device may not be for you.

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Samsung announces its new foldable phone, the Galaxy Fold.

James Martin/CNET

Foldable smartphones like Samsung's Galaxy Fold point to a bright future for the mobile world. But that doesn't mean you should hop on the bandwagon now.

Samsung on Wednesday finally offered a longer, closer look at the Galaxy Fold, a smartphone that unfolds like a book to reveal a second, larger display. It's the stuff of sci-fi magic, and it opens the door to a whole new world of different designs and devices. Most notably, it leaves Apple's iPhone franchise, which hasn't had a major facelift in more than a year, in the dust.

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung flaunts Galaxy Fold at Unpacked
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The Galaxy Fold may be impressive, but there might not be a more perfect illustration of the hazards of being an early adopter. Credit goes to Samsung for getting a foldable phone to market before rivals, but it's clear from our short first look at the device that a lot more polish and development needs to happen before this is ready for the average consumer. After all, the gadget was actually show on stage for a few minutes and wasn't available for demos despite Unpacked being the phone's launch event.

"The Galaxy Fold is not intended to be a mass-market product, at least not yet," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Techsponential. "It's a halo product for Samsung, aimed at early adopters."

Indeed, hard-core Samsung and gadget enthusiasts will gladly line up to be the first to own this device. They'll be beta testers in this brand-new foldable adventure.

Samsung knows this, which is why its safer Galaxy S10 line, alongside a Plus, 5G and budget variants, served as the meat of the Unpacked event. For most consumers, these devices will be more than sufficient for their needs.

But if you're thinking about the Galaxy Fold, here are a few reasons why you should reconsider.

Price

You think the $1,099 starting price of the iPhone XS Max is expensive? The Galaxy Fold will launch on April 26 at a staggering $1,980.

Next to the Fold, the $899 Galaxy S10 and the bigger $999 Galaxy S10 Plus are practically bargains. Though they're decidedly more rigid. 

At a time when prices for smartphones are higher than ever, the Galaxy Fold breaks new ground in terms of its potential to eat into your wallet. 

Justin Denison, marketing executive for Samsung, put it best: "It's a one of a kind luxury device."

Read: Mate X: Huawei's $2,600 foldable phone steps up to Galaxy Fold with three screens, four rear cameras, 5G 

User interface

Samsung has said it had to rethink the software and user interface to take advantage of the two displays. It's admirable the company took care in considering the new design, but Samsung has a mixed record when it comes to software.

The Galaxy Fold works well with Google Maps.

CNET

The early days of Touch Wiz were abysmal, and though the Samsung experience has come a long way, it still lacks the cleaner interfaces found on rival devices like Google's Pixel phones or OnePlus devices.

What Samsung showed off Wednesday looked promising. The device will be able to run three apps at once, and the seamless flow between the smaller display and the larger one works well in the demos. But we won't know for sure till we get our hands on the gadget.

Given how niche this device will be, app support should be abysmal at first. Google said it would support foldable devices with its next Android update, but that won't come until the second half of the year. For now Samsung touted Google Maps and video from Netflix as examples of apps that'll take advantage of the larger screen.

Battery

We won't know just how long the Galaxy Fold's battery lasts until we run proper tests, but the demands of not one, but two displays -- including a massive folding one -- don't bode well for the Galaxy Fold.

Samsung seems to know this, and it touted the inclusion of two separate batteries running the device.

Size

The downside of a foldable phone is, well, it folds. Two halves mean a device that's going to be thicker than even the bulkiest of smartphones. That comes at a time when phone makers are shaving millimeters off their devices and talking about sleek design.

The Galaxy Fold appears to be less bulky than the prototype Samsung showed off in November, but it's still easily twice as thick as your standard phone.

So just wait till you try to stuff it in the side pocket of your skinny jeans.

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The Galaxy Fold comes in four colors.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Durability

This one is the real x-factor. Samsung touted the proprietary articulated spine, as well as the coating on the glass that protects the foldable part from wear-and-tear damage. But even if Samsung has tested these phones, it's unclear just how durable they are.

Also, good luck dealing with the device if you've scratched or cracked the screen. You're not going to be able to bring this to any screen repair shop to get it fixed.

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The Galaxy Fold has a massive 7.3-inch display.

CNET

To the foldable pioneers

If you're the type of person who needs to have the latest and greatest no matter what -- well, why are you even reading this story? Concerns like price and battery life probably aren't too critical, since this isn't likely your only phone.

"It will sell out and become a status symbol," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insight.

So, to those early adopters willing to brave the new world of foldable phones, eventually leading to more-polished products for the rest of us, I salute you.

But for now, I'll stick to my boring rectangular slab of glass and metal.

First published Feb. 21, 5 a.m. PT.

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