The first Samsung Galaxy Fold: Ahead of the Galaxy Unpacked event, know the spectacular story
A spectacular innovation - that was what the first foldables by Samsung were. Ahead of the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event, we take a look at how the journey of folding phones began.
The first decade of the 21st century was a time when smartphone design innovation was probably at its peak. We saw companies releasing conceptually bold smartphones, and the focus was always on making them stand out. The era gave us some of the most iconic devices such as the Samsung Corby with its slide-out keyboard, the Nokia 7600 - the square phone - and the iconic Motorola Razr V3 - the flip phone. And while most of these designs were forgotten with the advancement of technology and streamlined design aesthetics, the flip phone created a frenzy that smartphone makers could really not let go of.
In the 2010s, as touchscreens became mainstream, companies began playing with the idea of folding phones, with the focus at that time still being on adding an extra display. From Nokia, Kyocera, to China's ZTE, and Japan's NEC, all previewed their own take on the fad. But none of the smartphones were really focusing on a single display that can be folded, and instead just added a separate screen with the help of a hinge. So close, yet so far.
It was not till 2018 when OLED displays came to the fore, that smartphone makers could really envisage what we call a modern folding smartphone. In November 2018, Royole, a China-based company, became the first to commercially launch a folding smartphone, although it had an outlandish design where it folded outwards, and didn't really catch on.
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But just three months later, everything changed as Samsung became the first major smartphone player to announce its own foldable called the Samsung Galaxy Fold during its media event at Mobile World Congress in February 2019. And with its inward-folding smartphone that had a single seamless OLED display, the design became an instant hit.
But it was not the ‘iPhone moment' Samsung thought it would be. In fact, in the months after the launch of the phone, it became known as both a remarkable piece of technology and a horror-show. This is the story of the first generation of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.
Samsung Galaxy Fold: Disastrous innovation that took off on the 2nd attempt
Featuring a 7.3-inch tablet-sized flexible display and a 4.6-inch cover display and being equipped with Snapdragon 855 chipset and a triple rear camera setup with a 12MP wide lens, another 12MP telephoto, and a 16MP ultrawide lens, Samsung instantly became the talk of the town. That is, till the review units were sent out.
Once the reviewers got the phones in their hands, things quickly turned. A swarm of reviewers began complaining about dead pixels, debris getting stuck within the hinges, and the unremovable screen protector coming off on its own. Samsung then recalled all review units and delayed its launch.
Many thought that would be the end of Samsung's foldable dreams. But not to falter, the company reworked all parts of the phone and finally launched it in September.
The relaunch was more successful than the first time, but reviewers were still not convinced. In order to ensure the devices functioned as intended, Samsung issued a long list of ‘do nots' along with the device. Many reviewers highlighted that it looked like an experimental medicine that came with a big list of side effects. Samsung actually told users to not press hard on the screen and to keep it away from credit cards. And then, there was the hefty $2000 price tag that made it inaccessible to most people anyway.
But despite the criticisms, Samsung Galaxy Fold also had an aura that demanded admiration. Dieter Bohn of The Verge famously said, “Even though I would never buy the Galaxy Fold and wouldn't recommend anybody else does either, I'm going to keep thinking about it. Because there might be the start of something really new here, something really different”.
It was not a smartphone without its flaws, but it promised something that no other phone in the market did. An actual revolutionary technology that could, within a few generations, become reliable and affordable.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip: Ingenious technology packaged in familiarity
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip came 5 months after Fold, in February 2020. But this time, Samsung had prepared well and was not just letting its under-experiment Frankenstein out of the door. This was a much more polished design and contained an ingenious idea that has stayed with the series even today (and no, we are not talking about the Z branding).
Samsung spent a lot of time during its launch event talking about the ‘Flex Mode'. This was the ability of the smartphone to stay in its place mid-fold and it was the first smartphone that could do that. That increased its usability tenfolds. From using it as a separate second display to treating it like a tripod to take pictures of yourself (not to be confused with selfies), it offered a lot of quirky features.
And with its familiar clamshell design that gave people the nostalgia of the early 2000s, Samsung's innovative ultra-thin plastic (hence bendy) OLED panel, and a Snapdragon 855+ chipset, it quickly became a popular device.
But the downsides were here as well. For example, it had just a 1.1-inch cover display that you could barely use to check notifications, which means every time you needed to use the phone for something so basic as picking a call, you had to unfold it.
But somewhere, Samsung had cracked the code to make something so bizarre as a smartphone glass display that folds in half, feel like it could be something that you could use as your primary device. Bohn from The Verge said it best, “The highest praise I can give it is that, after five days of using it, I found myself just thinking the Z Flip was kind of normal. I have complaints, and I have many, many concerns. But after a while, the Z Flip sort of stopped feeling like a special folding phone and just felt like my phone”.
And that was the magical story of the first generation of Samsung foldables. But we have come a long way from that. In just a few more days, we are expected to see the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 at the Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event. And we cannot wait to see the kind of technological innovation Samsung has in store for us!