Samsung gets a second chance with the Galaxy Fold, the foldable phone it put on hold three months ago after problems with the Fold's plastic screen caused the company to re-evaluate its initial April 26 sale date. Now, the world's highest-profile foldable phone will arrive in the US on Sept. 27, after it's been on sale in Korea and the UK. Although CNET's review unit never broke (here's our original Galaxy Fold review), we're eager to see how the Fold holds up longer-term.
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.
(Here's everything that's good and bad about the Galaxy Fold so far.)
When will the Galaxy Fold go on sale and for how much?
The Fold is on sale in South Korea and the UK, and will sell in the US on Sept. 27 for $1,980, for the 4G. That price hasn't changed.
The 5G version, such as the one you can buy in Samsung's other two Galaxy Fold markets, will cost more. For example, at Samsung's Experience Store in the UK, the foldable device costs £1,900.
- You can't peel off the top protective layer; the edges of that film are no longer visible. Instead, they stretch beneath the plastic bezel.
- There are plastic, "T"-shaped caps on the top and bottom of the Fold screen that help keep dust and debris from getting behind the display.
- The gap between the hinge and Galaxy Fold's body is reduced.
- There's an extra metal layer beneath the screen to strengthen it and supposedly reduce the visibility of where the screen creases at the fold.
Galaxy Fold redesign: Here's how Samsung fixed its foldable phoneSee all photos
Is the Galaxy Fold dust- and water-resistant?
It's not. Samsung advises that you keep the Galaxy Fold well away from water and dust, which means you'd best leave it at home the next time you head to the beach.
How will people know how to care for the Fold?
Samsung provides care instructions in a YouTube video, in the phone's quick start guide, on the screen cling that surrounds the phone in the box, and on Samsung's website.
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.
Commentary: Rushing foldable phones doesn't work. Just ask Samsung and Huawei
What did the delay do to Samsung's reputation?
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.
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 foldable phones in general.
The Galaxy Fold's chance to lead the emerging category could come under fire if buyers turn their backs on the innovative design -- this could still happen -- or opt for a rival model such as Huawei's Mate X, TCL's upcoming designs or a rumored foldable phone like the Motorola Razr. On the flip side, those other companies have the chance to learn from the Galaxy Fold's mistakes.
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."
But the protective film isn't the only source of Samsung's early troubles. CNBC's Todd Haselton experienced screen flickering on the left side of his review device. The Verge's Dieter Bohn also had issues, with Bohn's screen forming a bulge beneath the surface. YouTube reviewer Michael "Mr. Mobile" Fisher also found a bump beneath his Galaxy Fold screen.
Read more: The Galaxy Fold can't have this one useful thing
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.
Read more: Sucking up to buyers might be Samsung's best way out of this Galaxy Fold mess
What does this Fold incident mean for Google Android support?
Nothing. Google's support for the category of foldable phones is unwavering, and the new Android 10 operating system supports foldable phones.
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.
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 phones like the S10 and S10 Plus ($263 at Walmart). 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 T-Mobile, 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.
Originally published earlier this year. Updated with details on the fixed Galaxy Fold.