Samsung unveils Galaxy Fold, but is it right for the masses?

samsung galaxy fold smartphone opened up 2019 images

Is Samsung‘s Galaxy Fold phone-tablet (remember the phablet?) going to turn into Google Glass? Remember Google’s big experiment where people jumped in to plunk down $1500 on something that’s long been forgotten.

google glass failed experiment
Google’s failed Glass experiment that cost early buyers $1500.

Usually, I’m excited for the next iteration of Samsung smartphones, but I’m feeling some serious deja vu with this announcement. Remember those Android Wear smartwatches you just had to have but now sit next to that must-have tablet? How about when 3D cameras on phones first hit (HTC EVO 3D) or modular phones (Project Ara).

In today’s world where news comes at us fast and furious, it’s easy to forget being duped into jumping onboard quickly only to have the company discontinue the product line leaving you with a pretty but useless piece of tech gadgetry. Hype still works, and it feels like Samsung is starting this product a little too early. The company is relying on diehard Samsung fans and those that love to spend a ton of money on a tech gadget just for the status.

samsung galaxy fold different displays
Are you willing to plunk down $2K to be a beta tester?

These people are going to become what Samsung needs in two words: beta testers. It saves the company money being paid by people to test the product rather than spending it on R&D.

Samsung is hailing the Galaxy Fold as the future of smartphones with this foldable one, but it appears this release is just a way to test and refine the model. You can’t claim to be releasing something that is the finest in its class but expect consumers to be your tester. Apple customers would have balked if the iMac Pro or those amazing 5K displays weren’t ready for prime time. Imagine if Microsoft had done this with those stellar Surface Studio PCs?

With a starting price of $1,980, Samsung knows the masses won’t be rushing out to purchase this. It will be the usual tech consumer aka early adopters to take the bait since they’re much more forgiving with problems than the average consumer.

samsung galaxy fold held up at conference

My big concern that this wasn’t a product ready for market was during Samsung’s live presentation of the Galaxy Fold where the inner display doesn’t seem able to be perfectly flat when folded out. As you can see in the images above, light is reflecting off the surface exposing a small ridge in the middle. At this price point, consumers will expect a perfect fold and not ‘close to a perfect’ one.

While Galaxy is presenting the Fold as a consumer device which is troubling as this feels similar to the companies Galaxy Gear. Remember that? That’s what I’m warning you about. There’s a lot of promise and flash, but the substance leaves me feeling very wary on this product. It truly is buyer beware aka caveat emptor.

samsung president showing off galaxy fold s20 model

Samsung unveiled a highly anticipated smartphone with a foldable screen in an attempt to break the innovation funk that has beset the smartphone market.

But it’s far from clear that consumers will embrace a device that retails for almost $2,000, or that it will provide the creative catalyst the smartphone market needs.

The Galaxy Fold, announced Wednesday in San Francisco, will sell for $1,980 when it is released April 26.

Consumers willing to pay that hefty price will get a device that can unfold like a wallet. It can work like a traditional smartphone with a 4.6 inch screen or morph into something more like a mini-tablet with a 7.3 inch screen.

samsung galaxy fold tablet

When fully unfolded, the device will be able to simultaneously run three different apps on the screen. The Galaxy Fold will also boast six cameras: three in the back, two on the inside and one on the front.

After spending nearly five years developing the technology underlying its foldable-screen phone, Samsung is clearly hoping for a big payoff.

“Get ready for the dawn of a new era,” declared DJ Koh, who oversees Samsung’s smartphone division. The new phone, he said, “answers skeptics who said everything has already been done.”

samsung galaxy fold color choices images
Oh, the color choices you’ll have.

If Samsung is right, the Galaxy Fold will spur more people to upgrade their phones. Overall smartphones sales peaked in 2017; Samsung saw its smartphone sales fall 8 percent last year, based on estimates from the research firm International Data Corp. Worldwide, smartphone sales dropped 4 percent in 2018, according to IDC.

But most analysts see a limited market for foldable-screen phones, at least in the early going. Phones like the Galaxy Fold “are likely to sell to a very limited market of technology aficionados who like big screens and have big wallets,” said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.

Although he also believes the Galaxy Fold is more a “status symbol” than mainstream product, Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Patrick Moorhead said the device is symbolically important for Samsung, the top seller of smartphones in the world. “The Fold was icing on the cake showing that Samsung is the company driving new innovations and excitement to the market,” Moorhead said.

There’s no doubt that the Galaxy Fold is “luxury technology,” conceded Justin Denison, a Samsung senior vice president during an interview. But he also predicted that the advent of foldable screens will unleash new uses for mobile devices. “It’s a technological marvel,” Denison said. “The first time you see a flexible screen, it sort of bends your mind.”

Samsung also released new Galaxy S10 phones that echo the features in other recent models. Each device in the S10 lineup boast fancy cameras, sleek screens covering the entire front of the devices and at least 128 gigabytes of storage — important features to consumers shopping for phones.

The new phones are able take wider-angle shots than previous models and can charge other devices, including wireless headphones and smartwatches. A fourth S10 model, due out this spring, will have faster wireless speeds through the emerging 5G cellular network.

But those improvements aren’t a big leap from the smartphones released during the past few years by Samsung, Apple and other top manufacturers.

“These phones are all variations on a theme we have already seen,” Llamas said. “It’s the same song with a slightly different verse.”

With the pace of smartphone innovation seemingly locked in baby steps, consumers are holding on to their existing devices for longer periods than they have in the past. Compounding that reluctance to upgrade is smartphone sticker shock, which the Galaxy Fold seems unlikely to alleviate. Prices for some existing phones models have soared above $1,000.

Samsung is offering a slightly smaller S10 model for $750 in an attempt to make smartphones more affordable, but the higher-end models sell for $900 and $1,000. It’s the second time in the past five months that a leading smartphone maker has positioned a $750 phone as a frugal option. Apple also priced its cheapest new phone, the iPhone XR, released last fall at $750. Other smartphone makers gaining market share, including China’s Huawei and Xiaomi, make smartphones that sell for $500 or less, as well as high-end models.

Two of Samsung’s new models, the S10 and the S10 Plus, are largely incremental upgrades of last year’s S9 and S9 Plus, although they are designed differently. They are about the same size as last year’s models, but will have more display space, as Samsung found additional ways to eliminate waste around the edges. As a byproduct, the top right of the display has a circle or oval cut out for the front-facing cameras.

galaxy fold smartphone models hit

The lowest-priced “essentials” model, the S10e, has most of the same features, but is 5 percent smaller than the S10 in volume. The S10e also lacks curved edges, a signature feature for many Samsung phones.

All three S10 models will come out March 8, with pre-orders starting Thursday.

Samsung trumpeted its 10th anniversary lineup ahead of a major mobile device conference in Barcelona next week. Huawei, which is threatening to overtake Apple as the world’s second biggest seller of smartphones, has promised to use the Spain showcase to preview its own device with a foldable screen and the ability to connect to 5G networks as they become operational during the next few years.