Jessica Dolcourt is a passionate content strategist and veteran leader of CNET coverage. As Senior Director of Content Operations, she leads a number of teams, including Thought Leadership, Speed Desk and How-To. Her CNET career began in 2006, testing desktop and mobile software for Download.com and CNET, including the first iPhone and Android apps and operating systems. She continued to review, report on and write a wide range of commentary and analysis on all things phones, with an emphasis on iPhone and Samsung. Jessica was one of the first people in the world to test, review and report on foldable phones and 5G wireless speeds.
Jessica led CNET's How-To section for tips and FAQs in 2019, guiding coverage of topics ranging from personal finance to phones and home. She holds an MA with Distinction from the University of Warwick (UK).
ExpertiseContent strategy, team leadership, audience engagement, iPhone, Samsung, Android, iOS, tips and FAQs.
We now know what the major design changes are, including hiding the edges of the plastic film that some reviewers peeled off. In fact, it was a protective layer that caused the screen to malfunction when removed. Keep reading for all the details, and a recap of what went wrong.
What kind of goodies do you get for buying a $2,000 phone?
The Galaxy Fold comes with a pair of Galaxy Buds wireless headphones ($130 value) and a special case. You also get Samsung's Galaxy Fold Premier Service, which gives you 24/7 access to a dedicated customer service representative -- you can even get help sent straight to you in person.
Can I preorder the phone?
No. Samsung initially put the Fold on preorder, before canceling sales in the face of what will end up being a five-month delay. The Galaxy Fold will simply go on sale.
Samsung's Galaxy Fold delay has put Samsung in an awkward position. As the world's largest phone maker and the the first major brand to announce a foldable phone, Samsung's reputation as an innovator is riding on the Fold, especially after its spectacular unveiling on Feb. 20.
Samsung's troubles underscore just how risky and fragile the concept of a foldable phone really is. Foldable phones represent a new type of device that's meant to maximize screen size without expanding the overall size of the device. The tech giant wanted to lead the way, burnishing its reputation as an innovator in the phone's transition to the next big thing.
Watch this: Our Galaxy Fold didn't break. Here's what's good and bad
Until Samsung and other brands can allay buyers' fears with screens that can withstand the pressures of daily use, the future of foldable phones hangs precariously in the balance. Intense criticism may hurt future sales and shake consumer confidence in the concept of
Why caused Galaxy Fold screen damage in the first place?
Several early reviewers experienced damage to the screens on their Galaxy Fold loan devices, which made the foldable phones unusable. Photos of the damaged Folds ranged from a fully blacked-out screen to a bubbled device, and one with a portion of the screen white and the other half blacked out.
The Fold has a horizontal clamshell design, where hard glass halves close like a book to protect a tender 7.3-inch plastic display inside. Samsung even includes a case in the Galaxy Fold box as extra armor for the glass exterior, in case you drop the phone.
There may be a specific reason that some of the phones came to harm. Two reviewers experienced a total screen failure when they removed a thin plastic film that runs along the Galaxy Fold's screen. There's a narrow gap between this film and the bezel-edge of the display, which has led to confusion about the nature of the film.
It isn't immediately obvious if the plastic layer belongs to the phone or if it's the film you commonly see on devices to keep screens smudge- and lint-free during shipping and storage.
Bloomberg's Mark Gurman found out the hard way that the latter wasn't the case. He tweeted this about his review unit last week: "The screen on my Galaxy Fold review unit is completely broken and unusable just two days in. Hard to know if this is widespread or not."
YouTube reviewer Marques "MKBHD" Brownlee had a similar experience after peeling the layer off his Galaxy Fold review unit.
"PSA: There's a layer that appears to be a screen protector on the Galaxy Fold's display," he tweeted. "It's NOT a screen protector. Do NOT remove it."
These reports of a faulty Galaxy Fold are a nightmare situation for Samsung, the first major brand to sell a foldable phone. The Fold -- which has a 4.6-inch screen on the outside, a bendable 7.3-inch screen on the inside and a nearly $2,000 price tag -- is a major risk for the tech giant.
Were the Galaxy Fold issues harmful?
While the reported problems make the affected Galaxy Fold unusable, they're not dangerous, unlike the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, which was found to overheat and sometimes catch fire.
To Google, foldable phones "open up a complete new category which, though early, might just change the future of mobile computing," said Google's Senior Android Director, Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson.
Watch this: People try the Galaxy Fold for the first time
The secret sauce hinges on App Continuity, the software that helps phones like the Galaxy Fold quickly move an active app from one screen and orientation to another, say from a small screen on the outside to a larger screen on the inside and back again, without missing a beat. Since developers don't typically make their apps for foldable screens, standardized developer tools and best practices will help make these apps work better on foldable screens.
Google's ongoing role here suggests that the Fold delay was a pothole, rather than a roadblock, on the path to foldable phone designs.
What was the problem with the film layer on the original Fold design?
What looked like a paper-thin sheet of plastic covering the foldable phone's 7.3-inch display was in fact a protective layer that's crucial to helping keep the phone damage-free. You can see the edges of that layer here, on my original review unit:
Why does the Galaxy Fold's screen need a protective layer?
The Galaxy Fold has a completely different screen setup than any other phone. There's a 4.6-inch display on the outside that's covered with Gorilla Glass -- that's the same as other Galaxy
like the S10 and
. But inside, the screen is made of a plastic (polymer) material that Samsung calls its Infinity Flex Display.
Samsung created this with a new process and specific adhesives to withstand the screen's bending and flexing without breaking. The screen protector layer is meant to remain in place to prevent damage to the display below -- that's the thing that actually makes your "screen" light up. Without the hardness of glass to cover the delicate display, the Fold is more vulnerable, something that's become vividly apparent.
Did Samsung say you're not supposed to remove the film?
It isn't clear if Samsung thoroughly briefed every reviewer who received a phone about the screen protector layer. There was no instruction in my box -- no literature at all, in fact -- but also no other indication, like a pull tab, that you should remove it.
I almost did anyway. As a reviewer, I like to experience the phone as "clean" as possible. That means everything I can peel off is going to come off. I emailed Samsung for more information about this layer. A spokesperson responded, "Galaxy Fold is manufactured with a special protective layer. It is not a screen protector -- do not attempt to remove it."
The company further elaborated its position:
"A few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers."
Samsung added this statement as well:
"The protective layer is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. The main display of the Galaxy Fold is made with a new, advanced polymer layer and adhesive that's flexible and tough enough to endure repeated folding actions. Because the main display is made with polymer, the extra protective layer is in place to guard against impact. It's built into the display which is why it should not be removed by force. Consumers who notice that the protective layer is not integrated on the display should contact Samsung customer care at 1-800-SAMSUNG as soon as possible to avoid any additional damage to the display."
Desmond Smith, director of creative content and a tech evangelist at
, tweeted that the carrier's final production models will come with a warning on the wrap that goes over the Galaxy Fold's screen:
But peeling off the Fold's screen layer isn't the only issue
While removing the plastic film caused a problem for some, it isn't entirely clear what the protective film does or how its removal relates to the screen's behavior. Remember that two of the reviewers kept the protector on. Bohn and Fisher suspect that a piece of dust or debris may have become lodged under the screen to create the bulge he felt, and a slight distortion on the Fold's surface.
Haselton, meanwhile, observed a persistent screen flicker over the left half of the screen. We know that two batteries, one on each side, work in concert to form a single power source. I'm not an electrical or chemical engineer, but I wonder if that could indicate a battery issue. Hopefully we'll all find out one way or another.
At any rate, the Galaxy Fold's risky design has created some inconsistencies that could damage its early production phones and its reputation.
Why are bendable screens made of plastic in the first place?
Right now, glass doesn't bend so well. That's something that Corning -- the maker of Gorilla Glass, which covers most high-end phones -- is working on. Don't expect bendable glass to save second-gen foldable phones, though. It won't be ready for some time.
Watch this: The bendable glass that’s shaping up to cover foldable phones
Originally published earlier this year. Updated with details on the fixed Galaxy Fold.