Samsung Galaxy Fold, take two

The Galaxy Fold comes in a nice box. It’s a thing I rarely, if ever, mention in product write-ups, because, if done right, shipping containers are generally the least interesting thing about a product. But Samsung, to its credit, has taken great care. That’s been one of the constants across this admittedly bungled product launch: presentation.

The first time I saw the device, it was well lit, in an elaborate display behind several layers of glass on the floor of Mobile World Congress. Samsung wasn’t letting anyone go past a literal velvet rope a few feet from the device.

When we finally got our hands on the Fold, Samsung had laid out several large boxes, which, when opened, had the effect of raising the device up, toward the viewer. It was a fun thing for a room full of journalists who had largely been engaging with the product through guarded curiosity, wondering aloud whether it would ever actually see the light of day.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

That skepticism was warranted, as it turned out. The Fold came back broken from several reviewers. After placing the blame at the feet of users, Samsung eventually changed tack, pushed back the April release date indefinitely and tried to get to the bottom of what was going on with the product.

This week, the Fold returns to North American store shelves — or, rather, it finally debuts, about five months after initially planned. And once again, Samsung’s delivering the device in a nice box. The purpose of this one, however, is as much about setting expectations as it is providing a splashy debut.

Really, it’s like the analog version of the “Caring for Your Fold” video the company debuted on YouTube last week. It was as flashy and well-produced as we’d expect from Samsung, right down to the dramatic piano music while instructing the viewer to “Just use a light touch.” That note arrived with its own (somewhat redundant) footnote: “Do not apply excessive pressure to it.”

Similarly, the Fold box comes with its fair share of paperwork. The first bit is an overview of Galaxy Fold “Premier Service,” the white-glove offering the company announced a while back. That was, it explained, the reason it canceled initial AT&T pre-orders. The 24/7 service comes free with the purchase of the $2,000 phone, offering users phone support, starting with setup. The company’s got a call center in North Carolina fielding the calls during U.S. business hours, and routes them abroad after that.

There are other elements to it, as well, including a $149 screen warranty. All of these pieces add up to a company confident enough to bring the product back to market, but not quite ready to ensure that the Fold’s screens might not crack under pressure for some. In fact, there’s a five-point warranty adhered to the screen that warns against:

  • Excessive pressure (It’s the terror of knowing what the world is about / Watching some good friends screaming / “Let me out!”)
  • Placing objects like keys on the screen before folding
  • Exposing the Fold to water or dust
  • Adding your own screen protector to the existing screen protector
  • Keeping the device next to easily deactivated objects like credit cards (or, in my experience, hotel key cards) and *gulp* implanted medical devices

Samsung Galaxy Fold

The product does, thankfully, ship with a case, which is a thin, two-piece snap-on covering. It won’t protect the front display from scratches, but it may help the product avoid dings if dropped. When closed, at least. I’m very much looking forward to someone purchasing the device for extensive drop testing while open.

Samsung does get some bonus points for also throwing in a pair of its very good Galaxy Buds Bluetooth earbuds for free. A nice gesture, to be sure.

As those who read the site with some regularity likely already know, we’ve actually spent a significant amount of time with the device. I was carrying the original version of the Fold around during our Robotics event back in April. Fitting, I suppose, that I’ll be sporting it next week at Disrupt. I do once again plan to hold onto the phone for a bit to get a better idea of day to day life with the foldable (though I likely won’t be doing daily dispatches this time).

Full disclosure: Samsung just gave us the revised version of the product yesterday afternoon. Hardly enough time to give you anything conclusive, so I’m not going to pretend to do so here. I will say that aesthetically, very little has changed. For better and worse. The one immediate thing that leaps out is the lack of a visible screen protector.

If you’ll recall, that was a major source of the problems last time out. The edges of the built-in screen protector were visible and, yes, it looked an awful lot like the removable screen protectors other Galaxy products ship with. Did I peel it off? No. Was I tempted? You better believe it.

Samsung Galaxy Fold

This time out, the laminate has been extended to under the outer edges to avoid that temptation altogether. The other big fixes include plugging the gaps in the hinges that previously allowed debris to fall behind the screen, damaging it when pressure is applied. There’s also a new, unseen layer of metal under the display designed to reinforce the screen. This gives the device a slightly more rigid feel.

Otherwise, the hardware is largely unchanged, including the small 4.6-inch window display up front and the large 7.3-inch foldable screen inside, which still has a visible seam when the light reflects it at an angle.

There’s a tacit understanding that the Fold is an imperfect device. The product builds upon a decade of experience creating Galaxy flagship smartphones, along with all of Samsung’s prior electronics knowledge, but the foldable category is still very much a kind of uncharted territory. Companies are going to fail plenty before they succeed here, and at very least, Samsung deserves some kudos for being among the first to try the thing, tumbling a bit and getting back up and trying again.

There remains the important question, however, of whether consumers are okay with what feels a little like an extended beta test — albeit one that costs $2,000 to join. Thankfully, Samsung got some of those unfortunate bungles out of the way before bringing the product to market. Along with a reinforced display, however, Samsung does appear to be girding itself for the possibility that consumers will find creative and new ways to mangle the display — accidentally and otherwise.

Suffice it to say, I’ve got a lot more thoughts on the matter, many of which I’ll be formulating over the coming days and weeks. So, stay tuned for those. Meantime, if you’d like to leap before you look, the Fold can be yours this Friday, starting at $1,980 U.S.

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