Despite some upgrades to the Fold series, Samsung’s efforts to make its foldables a triumph are still likely to end in failure.
“The new mainstream for smartphones.” That’s how Samsung described its latest generation of folding phones, unveiled at the Galaxy Unpacked showcase on August 11.
Ever since the introduction of this new form factor back in 2019, some people would have you believe that foldables are inevitably the future of smartphones, but sales have yet to take off, and the path-breaking design doesn’t seem to have greatly influenced the rest of the market, where the standard slate design still holds sway.
So is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 the game-changer that finally opens the book to a new chapter for foldables?
No it’s not, and here’s why.
Firstly, let’s ask ourselves what’s actually new about the device. Durability has been significantly improved, as the Fold 3 is finally water resistant (wth an IPX8 rating), it has a tougher aluminium body and Gorilla Glass Victus on the outer display. Naturally there’s been even more research and development completed on how to optimise the hinge and the screen.
But that’s less like an improvement, and more like Samsung’s just making up for a mistake. It was highly embarrassing when early samples of the original Fold malfunctioned within weeks, causing the release date to be shifted back by months. In fact, that might even have put a permanent stain on the form factor, giving it a reputation for vulnerability that’s been hard to shake off, so just making it more robust – while desirable and frankly necessary – is a minimum requirement rather than a huge new selling point.
Secondly, there’s now an under-display selfie camera on the main screen rather than a big old notch or hole-punch camera. This has the potential to be a big improvement, not just on foldables alone but on all smartphones, as it’s far more preferable to have an uninterrupted full screen rather than dealing with an unsightly notch getting in the way. However, the execution is far from perfect; the stretched pixels over the area in question make it very obvious. As disguises go, it’s about as efficient as Clark Kent’s glasses.
The most important thing about the new Fold is not what has changed, but what has stayed the same.
It’s still large and unwieldy. This design means you’ve got a device that’s about as thick as two smartphones on top of each other crammed into your pocket, while rival smartphones are far more convenient, portable, and even elegant by comparison.
It’s still hugely expensive: the lowest spec model is £1,599 ($1,799), a price that even surpasses that of top-spec iPhones. It will only be affordable to the very rich, but the fact that it’s about as clumsy as its mouthful of a name means it’s unlikely to catch on as a status symbol.
And the big selling point is what exactly? To have an extra screen the size of a tablet. Considering that the tablets market has been in decline for a while now – even more so in the case of Android tablets – that’s by no means a killer feature for the Fold.
Sure, a 7.6-inch screen sounds good, but the aspect ratio is far from ideal for watching films or TV, and there is still a big crease running through the middle. The publicity campaign has focused on its aptitude for multitasking, but let’s face it: nobody, not even your boss, gets excited at the idea of being able to answer emails and make Excel spreadsheets at the same time. If you want to win over somebody who isn’t an accountant then you’ve got to offer more than that.
While the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 has definitely made improvements over its predecessors, they are just shallow updates, and remain inconsequential to the main problem that’s always plagued the device: the supposed extra utility of a large folding screen, which is itself far from being perfect, is still nowhere near worth the trade-off in bulkiness or in cold, hard cash that Samsung demands.
The first genuinely successful foldable will not be just another a variation of the Fold; it will embody a completely new design – one that we’ve yet to see from any major manufacturer. For now: it’s back to the drawing board Samsung, and better luck next time.