If you've got the funds to spare (and they really should be 'to spare' and not just 'I can afford one') the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 is an intriguing window into a future that's barreling down the road. Samsung's done a lot right here but there's still an awful lot that can go wrong if you're not careful.
Folding smartphones: a gimmick with a limited lifespan or a legitimate direction for the industry to go in? If you’d asked us that question last year, you’d have gotten a hesitant answer leaning towards ‘gimmick’. Ask us this year and you’ll probably get “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, THE WORLD’S ON FIRE!” But we’d also add that the folding smartphone looks more and more like it is here to stay.
And that’s just on the strength of Samsung’s offerings in this line. Samsung remains the only local vendor selling folding smartphones in South Africa, with the Galaxy Z Fold, Galaxy Z Flip and now the Galaxy Z Fold2 having launched in SA. Huawei’s Mate Xs has made an appearance, to media, but it’s not in stores. LG’s efforts in that line don’t really count and we’re unlikely to see the current incarnation of the Motorola RAZR officially launch here either. Even so, Samsung’s doing impressive work in developing a folding handset that you want to own. There’s still some work to be done, but Samsung’s definitely putting the hours in.
Back to the future
We got our hands on an early version of the Galaxy Z Fold2 — the kind that’s a final design but has all sorts of notations stamped on it to guard against the device leaking too soon — for this review and, right out of the box, this phone looks like the future. You know: definitely expensive, possibly full of heartbreak but also more than a little exciting.
On lifting it from its plain white box and unwrapped the protective plastic, it resembles a very slickly-made 7in tablet — and, honestly, if Samsung made a tablet with the same design that didn’t fold, they’d probably sell. But the fact that we knew it also folded in half… it’s like staring five years into the distance. Movies don’t really attempt to predict the future any more but the Fold2 feels like seeing one of those films and thinking “Man, it would be cool if they really made one. But they probably won’t.” Only you’re actually holding it.
In less nebulous terms, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 is a 7.6in, 1,768 x 2,208 tablet that just happens to also fold into a 6.2in Samsung smartphone. It’s just 6.9mm thick when open and measures 16.8mm at its thickest when folded in half. When in half, the phone looks like two Samsung handsets sitting atop each other and improbably joined by a hinge along the left side. When completely open, everything sits where you’d expect it on a smartphone.
There’s a volume rocker on the left, along with the power button/fingerprint scanner. The right side hosts the SIM tray, while the bottom edge has a speaker port (left) and the USB-C charge port (right). There’s also a speaker port up top, on the left-hand side. Camera lenses are on the right-hand side — one peeking through Samsung’s Ultra-Thin Glass panel and the three at the rear in a very S20/Note 20-like camera bump. The panel opposite the rear camera bump is a Gorilla Glass Victus-protected 6.2in Super AMOLED screen with its own camera sensor. It’s just like any Samsung flagship, only wider. And foldable.
Samsung’s gone all-in with the hardware here. Our model had a Snapdragon 865 inside, as well as 12GB of RAM. There’s 256GB of storage in the handset as well as a 4,500mAh battery. Uptime is surprisingly good, given that you’re running two screens. But the big one spends less time open if you’re not actively using the phone.
If you’re rocking a Fold2, you probably don’t need to bring along a computer to crunch numbers, watch Netflix and to Fort nights — although if you’re playing games on this phone you’re doing it wrong. It costs R50k. That annoying nephew who always wants to play games? He can play with something else. Give him an iPhone 11 Pro, that’s not quite as expensive to replace. This thing is more durable than its predecessor but still…
The first Fold was obviously an early-adopter affair, the Z Flip was a far better take on the design. The Galaxy Z Fold2 is an even better attempt, with a bunch of obvious caveats that Samsung warns users about on first boot. It’s not dust- or water-proof, the screen is fragile (so don’t poke or scratch, yeah?), the screen protector should never be removed and it’s got magnets in it — so keep it away from your credit cards. These could be seen as flaws but they’re also part of the price of using a handset like this in 2020. You know, a time before Corning learns how to make its Gorilla Glass foldable.
Samsung’s improved its hinge, taking cues from the Galaxy Z Flip, and the result is a sturdy-looking and -feeling smartphone. It holds itself closed using powerful magnets, so expect it to remain in a pocket without popping open. Just make sure there’s no change in said pocket, as you risk damaging the extremely attractive display. Which, yes, absolutely has a visible crease in the middle of it. It’s mostly noticeable in sunlight — if you’re inside and the bright display is on, the light has to catch it just right to make the crease show up. Don’t worry about it.
What’s the use?
In actual use, the Galaxy Z Fold2 proves that it’s more than an attractive piece of hardware. Samsung’s App Continuity feature lets users choose which apps will make the jump from the 6.2in to the 7.6in displays — if you’d like to keep your WhatsApp convos going no matter your orientation or you really don’t want to leave your Insta feed, ever, that’s a thing you can set up. The changeover is near-instant, as close as you can get to seamless with a screen that you have to move with mortal human fingers. There’s always something.
It’s also amazing to use in ‘tablet mode’, not least of all because there’s a multitasking option in the Edge menu that’ll let you activate up to three apps or functions at the touch of a button. Watch to scroll your Twitter and Facebook feeds while messaging the family on WhatsApp? So be it. Or any other combination you like. We don’t know your life.
It’s also easy enough to rearrange your windows to give one or another app more screen space, or to swipe away something that you’re done with. But even with a single app onscreen, it’s a pleasure to use. Because, well, it’s an actual tablet in your hand. One with very minimal bezels — unlike the original Fold.
But… BUT! We’re a lot wary of using this handset but that’s because we really, really don’t want to break it. Yes, it’s possible to get a cover for the Fold 2 but it only protects the rear, camera-toting section. The front screen relies on that toughened Gorilla Glass Victus for protection. Alas, we didn’t have one for this review phone which — again — costs R50,000. It’s cool to whip it out of a pocket and show off but whip it a little too eagerly and you’re kissing a whole lot of money goodbye. If you’re in the market for a Fold 2, we’d suggest that you’re not the sort to feel the pain of losing fifty grand too keenly. The phone seems like it’ll take a knock or two but we’re not in the slightest bit interested in a practical demonstration.
What else can we discuss about the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2? Well, there are the cameras. All five of them. There’s a front-facing 10MP f/2.2 camera set in the ‘tablet’ screen, there’s a twin to that one in the 6.2in glass cover panel. On the back, there’s a trio of 12MP sensors constituting telephoto (f/2.4), wide (f/1.8) and ultrawide (f/2.2). If you’re at all familiar with Samsung’s Note 20 Ultra, you’ll have some idea of what to expect. The Note 20 Ultra has higher-quality cameras but they’re not in this orientation. The results are… interesting.
And that’s because you can use the not-quite-as-fancy-as-the-Note-20-but-still-fancy rear sensors to take selfies. The 6.2in screen becomes your viewfinder, while capture duties are shifted from the 10MP sensor to the 12MP trio. It’s a cool addition that isn’t really possible with other hardware. Plus, Samsung’s camera smarts including Single Take are all present and accounted for. Expect excellent photos across the board but the S20 and Note 20 Ultra handsets both have this one beat (and are less than half the price). If all you care about is image quality, look elsewhere.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 Verdict
Is the Galaxy Z Fold2 the most technologically-advanced handset we’ve seen in quite some time? Absolutely, yes. Has Samsung made strides towards making the folding smartphone a serious thing? Also, yes. Do you absolutely have to own one right this second? At R50 grand a pop, no you don’t. It’s a nerve-wracking, wallet-wrecking amount of money to pay for access to a new smartphone form factor. But if you’re the sort of person who can drop R50k and barely feel it, it’s definitely worth checking out.
The features are cool, Samsung’s slowly but surely working through the obstacles in its way and the Fold 2 is the best folding phone on the market at the moment. The rest of us? We’re going to have to wait till the price point gets a little closer to the R20,000 to R25,000 mark before taking a serious look at folding hardware. That’s a pity, because it’s kinda cool living in the future.