Samsung is the electronics giant behind both these debacles, but it remains the most popular manufacturer of upmarket Android devices, proving that in order to make a decent omelette you have to break a few eggs.
Its most recent scramble was to repair the fallout from those hinges, which were on the first iteration of its flip-over phone, the Galaxy Fold. It was one of several problems reported by trial users, causing the official launch to be put back.
But it appears to have learned from that mistake, as it did from the exploding battery disaster of four years ago, and from its ashes have risen a second-generation folding phone called the Galaxy Z Fold 2. And with an eye-watering price tag of around £1,800, you will need quite a lot of the folding stuff to pay for it
The new model, the first to have 5G connectivity, incorporates a redesigned hinge which not only resists dirt but also keeps the screen steady, no matter whether you are using it fully open or folded. Samsung says the so-called “hideaway hinge” uses “sweeper technology” to do this. It sounds like in-house jargon for a brush.
The point of the hinge is to make the device function as both a phone and a tablet. Folded, it measures 6.2 inches from corner to corner, which is about average for a handset. But opened fully it extends to 7.6 inches – almost as big as an iPad Mini – with a high-resolution display suitable for playing mobile games. So you can recoup some of your £1,800 by not having to buy a separate tablet.
It’s not only the screen but also the processing power that rivals tablets and even some laptops, with 12 gigabytes of memory, 256GB of storage and an all-day battery with far more capacity than that in almost any standalone phone. There are wide-angle, telephoto and standard lens cameras on the back and two selfie lenses on the front. It’s a compelling package, as you might expect for the price.
But it’s not the only hybrid design on the market – Samsung also has the £1,000 Galaxy Z Flip, which opens lengthways, and Motorola and Huawei are among the other manufacturers to have experimented with folding devices. In the case of the Huawei Mate X, the screen is on the outside, which makes it easier to see at a glance but also more prone to damage.
The hybrid designs involve other compromises, too. Folded in half, they are obviously going to be thicker than regular phones and therefore less easy to slip into a pocket – but the prospect of using a single device all day long, opening it out to read at length and snapping it shut to take with you, is an appealing one.
However, as Samsung’s experience demonstrates, it will be some time before the market settles on a design that is practical and functional, let alone affordable. The Samsung story also serves as a warning against jumping on a technology bandwagon too soon; those first generation folding models are only a year old but they’re little more than doorstops now.
Having said that, those with luxury of a rolling contract on the firm’s expense account may well be tempted by the Z Fold 2 for their next upgrade. It is available from this week on all the usual networks – and from next year in the second-hand shops.
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