Foldgate: Samsung hit with claims its new Galaxy Fold screen breaks

18 Apr 2019

The Samsung Galaxy Fold. Image: Samsung

Well, at least the new foldable smartphone is not exploding.

Was it too good to last? The future of bendable, foldable smartphones is already in question after several prominent tech journalists who were granted early review copies of the new Galaxy Fold from Samsung reported that the device is breaking after a day or two of use.

As well as cracks and bumps appearing along the hinge of the device, early users have also complained of display issues. Particularly, users are making an all-too-easy mistake of removing the top protective layer, mistaking it for a temporary screen cover.

Samsung has released an official statement promising to “thoroughly inspect [the review] units in person”.

Bend me, shake me but do not break me

Prominent tech review site The Verge reported how its review unit developed a bulge between the screen and the hinge before the device’s OLED screen actually broke. The reviewer suggested a piece of moulding clay that is used to prop up review devices for video shoots may have gotten trapped in the hinge. “But a piece of debris distorting the screen on a $1,980 phone after one day of use feels like it’s on an entirely different level,” wrote Dieter Bohn.

Other prominent tech writers such as Mark Gurman from Bloomberg and Marques Brownlee (also known as MKBHD) saw their precious new foldable phones become toast when they peeled back what they thought was a screen protector. “It’s not a screen protector. Do not remove it,” MKBHD tweeted. After he did so, the device blacked out.

Samsung responded: “A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

“Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.”

Teething problems for a whole new form factor?

Man on stage at crowded tech event revealing specs to a new device.

Huawei’s Richard Yu revealing the 5G Mate X in February at Mobile World Congress. Image: John Kennedy

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which has a 4.6in front screen and opens up into a 7.3in tablet, was unveiled to the public in February.

It was followed up by rival Huawei with the Mate X which it heralded as the world’s first 5G foldable phone with a 6.6in OLED frontal display. It’s 11mm thick when folded and, when opened up, it turns into an 8in tablet with virtually no bezels.

This is virgin territory for the smartphone industry and the signs of what could become commonplace for smartphones in the years ahead.

The interesting thing to watch is that the Huawei Mate X foldable display is on the outside of the device the entire time, unlike the Samsung display which folds in.

The Huawei device is also pretty pricey, costing around €2,299 when it debuts in the middle of this year.

When Huawei revealed its Mate X at Mobile World Congress at the end of February, it focused on having better screen, battery and data specs than the Samsung device, but also trumpeted superior mechanical design in terms of its ‘Falcon Wing’ hinge which has something like 1,000 micro-components.

Huawei will be watching very closely what happens with Samsung and how it avoids its foldable phone launch becoming a similar PR debacle.

No doubt Samsung is still haunted by memories of the exploding Galaxy Note 7 crisis of 2016 and doesn’t want to go back there again.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years