Are phones that unfold into tablets really the future of mobiles? And is flexible screen technology really ready for prime time? I spent four months with the £1,800 Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 to find out.
The second iteration of Samsung’s smartphone that unfolds into a tablet was impressive on first inspection, reinventing what it meant to be a premium, cutting-edge device.
But as with any piece of brand-new technology, particularly those that involve delicate moving parts, durability is a worry.
After four months of folding and unfolding it about 30 times a day, I can report that the screen is still pristine and everything still works as well as it did fresh out of the box. But I’ve also learned more about what works and what doesn’t, and how Covid-19 has changed the way I use devices.
The screen has survived four months of use without a scratch, despite being made of softer, potentially scratch-prone material. I didn’t leave it open on a table in the same way I might a tablet, as shutting it away felt satisfying and natural. Closed, it is fully protected on a table or in your pocket. The lips around the edge of the screen prevent any ingress of dirt or fluff, despite the USB-C port attracting the usual pocket lint just like any other phone.
The internal screen is a fingerprint magnet and requires frequent cleaning. That’s because unlike the screen on the outside of the Z Fold 2 or that on a regular smartphone, the internal display isn’t constantly being cleaned the fabric of a pocket or similar. A quick buff-up with a lens cloth was enough to restore the tablet screen’s pristine look.
Apart from Samsung’s and a few third-party apps, not many have a full tablet-sized interface on the internal screen when held in portrait. However, many more websites and apps do resize properly to the big screen when the device is held in landscape. That’s because the screen is taller than it is wide. When flipping it on its side, many apps and sites, including the Guardian, recognise the width as being beyond phone-size and give you a larger display meant for a tablet or laptop.
I used the Fold 2 as a standard phone with the big screen closed more often than expected. The outside screen is large enough to get most phone things done, from messaging people to checking my abysmal Fantasy Premier League performance. I often started searches on the outside screen and then opened up the Fold 2 to see an image or map on the inside screen.
But using it closed highlighted an issue with the fingerprint scanner. It is small and suffers more from getting dirt and grease on both it and your fingers than larger sensors. I often had to clean it with my jumper for it to recognise my thumb. The issue is compounded by the fact you cannot register a fingerprint when the main screen is closed, only when it is open. Given that I almost always unlock the device before opening it, I have to try to guess roughly where my finger would naturally land when registering it. Recording my thumbprint twice helped, but the fingerprint sensor is a weak point of the phone.
The continuing Covid-19 pandemic is also changing the way I use devices. Being stuck at home means I open the internal screen less, primarily because there are larger screens in the form of tablets, laptops and TVs always within reach. Even though foldable devices are clearly the future, the two-in-one benefit of the Z Fold 2 is somewhat lost at the moment.
Frequent but careful cleaning of the device with Dettol wipes has yet to cause an issue, despite the lack of water resistance. You need a good, strong car mount to hold it on a dashboard; the phone’s 282g weight will be too much for some.
Using two apps side-by-side on the internal screen proved to be useful for chats and watching the football scores, but less so for watching video as the picture was just too small. The battery holds up well, comfortably still outlasting the day. Samsung recently released One UI 3 (Android 11) for it, which is good.
All in all, after four months, the novelty of the Z Fold 2 has yet to wear off. It still feels like an incredibly special device, as it should when it costs £1,800, but one you can easily live with day to day and use to its full extent.
Nothing else quite has the wow factor. I’m not saying everyone should buy one – this is a device purely for the well heeled – but if you do, you’ll be richly rewarded. And for the rest of us, it proves that devices like the Z Fold 2, which can fill more than one role and still fit in your pocket, can and will be in our futures once the price comes down to more acceptable levels.