I haven’t laid my paws on this new folding phone yet — but K-pop band BTS has.
The Z Fold2 smartphone boasts a new hinge and other design changes that maker Samsung says will make it less delicate. (Samsung)
Maybe the third time’s a charm for Samsung’s folding-screen dream.
At its virtual Unpacked product event on Wednesday, the world’s second-largest smartphone maker unveiled a slew of new high-end — and high-priced — phones and accessories, including a preview of its Galaxy Z Fold2, the successor to 2019’s groundbreaking flip-phone flop, the Galaxy Fold. That $2,000 phone, the first with a screen that opens and closes like a book, got yanked after early reviewers found its screen broke easily. A tweaked version of the Fold released in the fall got mixed reviews, including from me, for being clunky and still too delicate. Then Samsung introduced a smaller, clamshell folding phone called the Z Flip just before the coronavirus swept through the United States.
Samsung is sticking with the folding idea, critics and pandemic be damned. Expensive new gadgets such as these feel like an especially hard sell at a time when America is still battling the coronavirus and historic unemployment. But the tech industry’s gears are grinding back into action for a fall season that includes a big push for 5G and other whiz-bang new tech for Samsung, Apple and others. Samsung’s new 5G ultra-large-screen Note20 smartphone, also unveiled Wednesday, ranges in price from $1,000 to $1,300.
(The new Note also doubles as a device for playing Xbox games, through a partnership with Microsoft.) The good news for fans of the folding-screen trend is that Samsung is iterating its design quickly. The company said its designers “didn’t compromise on anything” on the Z Fold2, setting expectations sky high.
Here are five fixes that caught my eye — and one big question that remains for now.
1. A new hinge with dust ‘sweepers’
The hinge mechanism behind the folding screen caused the original Fold to be very delicate. The Z Fold2’s “completely re-engineered” hinge contains tiny brushes that are supposed to keep dust, sand and other detritus from getting inside and breaking things. The hinge is also tighter, leaving less of a gap between the screens when it is closed. We’ll have to see if it’s thin enough now to slip into pockets.
Samsung says its Z Fold2 is thinner than its predecessor. But is the folding phone thin enough to slip into a pocket? (Samsung)
2. Better bending glass
Samsung says the Z Fold2’s screen is made of a special glass thinner than a human hair that has been optimized to strike a better balance between strength and flexibility — and to withstand high and low temperatures. But it didn’t say exactly how many times it can be opened or closed.
3. A full-screen front
The screen on the closed “front” of the original Fold was so small, I found it largely pointless. Version two fills out the space with a screen that measures 6.2 inches diagonally. For the idea of the folding phone to work, it needs to feel fully functional when it’s closed.
4. 5G support
In 2020, Samsung can’t afford for its most-expensive device to not support 5G networks — even if the places you can use them in America are still shockingly few and far between.
5. An endorsement from BTS
Samsung pitched the first Fold as an ultra-premium device, but its style and marketing always felt more senior-executive than hip. At Wednesday’s event, Samsung had K-pop superstars from the band BTS as “brand ambassadors” do an unboxing and play with the Z Fold2, an endorsement that set fans abuzz. “This is so cool,” said BTS member Jungkook.
And one big question mark: The price
In an effort to extend the drama — or perhaps dull the sticker shock — Samsung won’t say the price of the Z Fold2 until Sept. 1, when it also announces other technical specifications and starts taking preorders. Spending $2,000 on a smartphone still feels like too much to me.