After kicking the tires on the Microsoft Surface Duo and coming away intrigued, but ultimately unconvinced, I figured that I also needed to take a look at this year’s other major foldable smartphone to get the full picture of what’s happening in this space. While Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 is also considered the same category of device, its design and the experience it provides are very, very different.
I’ve only had it for a weekend, but I do know a couple of things already. First off, the build quality of this device is quite good. There are still significant compromises involved with a foldable screen and the price tag is flat-out crazy. However, unlike last year’s model that landed halfway between alpha and beta quality, the Fold 2 seems solid enough to at least last a full year. The exterior doesn’t feel flimsy or ill filling. In fact, it actually feels as good as an Apple device in the hand. The hinge also operates smoothly and consistently. It’s a huge improvement over Samsung’s first shot at a foldable phone in every way.
All that said, the Fold 2 doesn’t offer quite the same screen quality or feel as a traditional flagship smartphone. That’s just a product of it having a folding screen with a plastic cover over it. It isn’t nearly as durable as a modern smartphone, either. No waterproofing or dustproofing here, unfortunately. That’s just not possible today. However, the Fold 2 also doesn’t quite measure up to the build quality of Microsoft’s Surface Duo, either. In other words, there are still significant trade-offs to taking the plunge on a foldable.
What the Fold 2 does bring to the table is a unique design that maximizes the experience of using its 7.6″ folding display.
whether’s you are using it unfolded or in Flex Mode, as shown above, the screen gives you the benefits of a dual screen setup without some of the drawbacks
While I liked the versatility of the Duo’s more traditional separate screens, using them together really didn’t work that well. They weren’t close enough together to use as one. The gap between the two screens, which was necessary for the Duo’s 360 degree design, was just too much of a compromise.
This ultimately killed my overall experience with the Duo. That obviously isn’t an issue with the Fold 2, though. There is a crease in the middle of the unfolded screen that takes getting used to, but it’s still a big improvement over the Duo’s gap, at least for me.
The Duo seemed like a great option when using the two screens for separate tasks, but it turns out that the Fold 2 is really more adept at this in real-world use, as well. Once you know how Samsung’s multi-windowing system works, and there is a learning curve to get the hang of it, there is actually quite a bit more flexibility.
You can have as many as three apps locked into positions across the screen (one covering have the screen and two others occupying quarters of the other side). You can also add an additional app open in a moveable pop-up window. You can even save screen setups, similar to iPadOS, so you can quickly and easily re-open groups of apps.
It’s this full-screen usability that really sets the Fold 2 apart from other folding screen or dual screen devices. While they all have their own quirks and trade-offs, this one is the best of the bunch, in my opinion. I know it has just been a weekend, but I could have told you the same after about 30 minutes. The rest of time with the Fold 2 has just reinforced it.
So as far as foldables go, the Fold 2 is definitely the form factor that I prefer out of the ones available. However, while I do really like having the large screen on the inside, there are still trade-offs in use. One comes when you close the Fold 2.
The 4.6″ screen on the outside, while better than last year’s model, is still too narrow for anything beyond the most basic phone tasks. This is one area where the Microsoft Surface Duo wins out over the Fold 2.
The other issue is that, as nice as it is having a 7.6″ display in your pocket, the Fold 2 still isn’t going to be enough for most hardcore iPad or tablet users. It is an improvement over what you can get with a typical smartphone that fits in a pocket, which makes it interesting to have in addition to a tablet. However, there is just no way this could ever replace anything beyond an iPad Mini, or maybe the low-end iPad if you don’t do anything besides surf the web and consume media. Anyone calling this thing a tablet killer is missing the mark, in my opinion. They aren’t the same thing.
Could a folding screen device become a real tablet killer in the future? Well, a thinner, more durable foldable with fewer design trade-offs and wider screens could certainly take a bite out of the low-end and middle parts of the market. However, there is ALWAYS going to be a need for larger screen tablets that work well for drawing and more professional applications. The current form factor of a foldable isn’t going to be able to compete with those devices and it may be a while before the tech is ready to for a newer form factor that can. That said, I could absolutely see a day 5 to 10 years down the road when a much larger screen device can fold for additional portability.
In the meantime, the Fold 2 is an interesting and pretty compelling demo of what may be coming in the near future. It is fun to use and there are ways that it can make you more productive on the go. However, there are also times when it’s form factor gets in the way and slows me down, so it isn’t all fun and games. Still, what I see here is interesting enough that I would at least take the plunge and try it out if Apple releases a foldable at some point. But don’t hold your breath for that. They won’t make a folding screen device until the screen and hinge technology is refined and solid enough to last for multiple years. I would bet 2022 is the earliest we would see such a device running iOS.
Unlike some other reviewers who will evangelize new gadgets and devices to no end, there is absolutely no way I would recommend the Fold 2 to anyone other than the hardest of hardcore tech nerds. There just isn’t any practical reason to pay $2,000+ for this device today. I’ve always felt that I fall somewhere in that hardcore nerd category, but there is no way I can justify keeping a device that cost me $1,800 with tax (I got this one from BestBuy as an Open Box deal) and isn’t and will never be my primary smartphone. Even if you are an Android user and won’t have to worry about making a switch, you should still beware.
Even if two grand isn’t too high of a price to hurt and you are already an Android user, just bear in mind that the Fold 2 is a one-way street. It is highly unlikely to hold much resale value after 6 to 8 months and we also have no guarantee how well it will hold up in the longer term. In all likelihood, it won’t last nearly as long as a traditional smartphone in a time when the average person is asking for at least two years from one. So unless you have a reason to live with a foldable or just an overriding interest in this technology, as well as no need for it to last more than one year, don’t buy a Fold 2. Maybe by next year, Samsung will have learned enough to make a much more durable foldable device with fewer risks and compromises. Even if they do, I don’t think we will see that high price come down for a while.
I will admit that I am not personally a big fan of Samsung. I know that the quality of their hardware and the refinement of their software has come light years over the last decade. The Fold 2 looks like a good example of that progression. However, their first foldable, like the Note 7, are also examples of the fact that the race to be first in everything at all costs sometimes comes with a big price tag for the customer. I can’t help but be a little wary of that only one gen removed from one of their bigger failures.
However, even a skeptic like me can admit that Samsung has more hits than misses to this point. Even as a staunch Apple fan, I wholeheartedly believe that the market needs at least one major manufacturer with this mentality and strategy of pushing new technology. We need a company like Samsung taking some risks and flyers on different things, knowing that they will sometimes strike out and fail hard. I just as strongly believe that we also need a company like Apple that obsesses over product quality and durability over being first.
Neither of these approaches are perfect, but they will appeal to different users in different ways. Samsung gets a lot of love from the tech community because of their approach and that’s no accident. However, Apple certainly has no shortage of fans because of the way they do things. Rather than than arguing over who does what better than which, maybe it’s better to just acknowledge that both bring something of value to the tech table.
The good thing for tech consumers is that their opposing strategies will cause the two companies to push each other in different ways. That constant competition is always a good thing for us, so I hope to see Samsung and Apple continue to square off over different kinds of hardware for many years to come. Based on my experience with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 so far, I hope to see foldable devices on both sides of that competition in the not too distant future.