Theis still on hold. It’s been 17 days since Samsung was meant to launch its daring new foldable phone on April 26, and 21 days since Samsung told us it would on . The pause was caused by early production Fold units meant for reviewers, which and, in two cases, . Samsung has promised that it’s fixing the issues to reinforce the Fold’s plastic screen and will make it clear to buyers how to treat the more delicate display. Those screen issues eclipsed other concerns about where the 7.3-inch screen bends in half.
CNET’s Galaxy Fold screen remained undamaged during our review period.
We’re still not sure when Samsung will launch the Fold for real. An email AT&T sent to customers suggests that the. Although Samsung hasn’t confirmed that date, its mobile chief, DJ Koh, said that the Fold’s US launch “ .”
A few recent reports have circulated that Samsung has totally canceled the Galaxy Fold, but that isn’t accurate. Samsung has told preorder customers that it will automaticallyif you don’t resubscribe. That means Samsung is asking for you to opt in if you’re still interested, and won’t charge your credit card if you change your mind between now and the end of the month. Meanwhile, Google support for foldable phones is still full steam ahead (scroll down for more).
Samsung’s Galaxy Fold delay puts Samsung in an awkward position. As the world’s largest phonemaker and the theto announce a foldable phone, Samsung’s reputation as an innovator is riding on the Fold, especially after such a spectacular unveiling on Feb. 20.
However, since reports of the Fold’s screen issues emerged, enthusiasm for the Fold has faded, following Twitter and Reddit activity that cast blame on everyone fromto the reviewers themselves, two of whom hastened the meltdown of their review units by peeling off a plastic film it turns out they were never supposed to (the role of this layer was never clearly communicated to reviewers).
Samsung’s troubles underscore just how risky and fragile the concept of a foldable phone really is. Foldable phones represent a new type of device that’s meant to maximize screen size without expanding the overall size of the device. The tech giant wanted to lead the way, burnishing its reputation as an innovator in the phone’s transition to the next big thing.
Until Samsung and other brands can allay buyers’ fears, the future of foldable phones hangs precariously in the balance. Intense criticism may hurt future sales and shake consumer confidence in the concept of foldable phones in general.
The Galaxy Fold’s chance to lead the emerging category could come under fire if buyers turn their backs on the innovative design, or opt for a rival model such as, or a rumored foldable phone like the .
What’s going on with this Galaxy Fold delay?
Samsung still hasn’t said when the Galaxy Fold will be ready to go on sale in the US, but AT&T emailed its preorder customers with a, though we don’t know if this was a placeholder date or a firm commitment. T-Mobile and Samsung didn’t share any more details when we asked — neither did AT&T.
Samsung had initially promised to provide more information to preorders after two weeks. It did, but without a real timeline. The company did give preorders a choice to. If the Galaxy Fold doesn’t ship by May 31 and the order wasn’t renewed, Samsung will automatically cancel it. Samsung won’t charge you until the phone is in the mail.
Here’s Samsung’s email:
What happened to the Fold review units in the first place?
Photos of the damaged phones ranged from a fully blacked-out screen to a bubbled device, and one with a portion of the screen white and the other half blacked out. That leaves curious buyers and those who preordered the phone waiting for answers: What went wrong? Will this affect all Folds or just this early run? Where can buyers turn if something happens to their Fold?
The Fold has a horizontal clamshell design, where hard glass halves close like a book to protect a tender 7.3-inch plastic display inside. Samsung even includes a case in the Galaxy Fold box as extra armor for the glass exterior, in case you drop the phone.
There may be a specific reason that some of the phones came to harm. Two reviewers experienced a total screen failure when they removed a thin plastic film that runs along the Galaxy Fold’s screen. There’s a narrow gap between this film and the bezel-edge of the display, which has led to confusion about the nature of the film.
It isn’t immediately obvious if the plastic layer belongs to the phone or if it’s the film you commonly see on devices to keep screens smudge- and lint-free during shipping and storage.
Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman found out the hard way that the latter wasn’t the case. He tweeted this about his review unit last week: “The screen on my Galaxy Fold review unit is completely broken and unusable just two days in. Hard to know if this is widespread or not.”
YouTube reviewer Marques “MKBHD” Brownlee had a similar experience after peeling the layer off his Galaxy Fold review unit.
“PSA: There’s a layer that appears to be a screen protector on the Galaxy Fold’s display,” he tweeted. “It’s NOT a screen protector. Do NOT remove it.”
But the protective film isn’t the only source of Samsung’s early troubles. CNBC’s Todd Haselton experienced screen flickering on the left side of his review device. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn also had issues, with Bohn’s screen forming a bulge beneath the surface. On Tuesday, YouTube reviewer Michael “Mr. Mobile” Fisher alsobeneath his Galaxy Fold screen.
These reports of a faulty Galaxy Fold are a nightmare situation for Samsung, the first major brand to sell a foldable phone. The Fold — which has a 4.6-inch screen on the outside, a bendable 7.3-inch screen on the inside and a nearly $2,000 price tag — is a major risk for the tech giant.
Should I be worried?
While the reported problems make the affected Galaxy Fold unusable, they’re not dangerous, unlike the, which was found to overheat and sometimes catch fire.
What is Samsung doing to fix the problem?
We’re aware that Samsung is doing three things:
- Investigating broken devices
- Reinforcing the inner plastic screens for final production units
- Clarifying packaging to communicate with Fold owners not to peel off a protective screen layer
Samsung said in a statement, “We will take measures to strengthen the display protection. We will also enhance the guidance on care and use of the display including the protective layer so that our customers get the most out of their Galaxy Fold.”
In addition, we’ve asked Samsung what it thinks happened, if buyers can feel assured that their Folds won’t break, and how Samsung will make it clear what future Fold owners should and shouldn’t do to protect their phones.
So far Samsung hasn’t addressed these specific questions, but has said that Fold owners should contact Samsung customer care (1-800-SAMSUNG) if they experience any problems. We hope to get a few more details before the foldable devices go on sale.
What does this Fold incident mean for Google Android support?
is unwavering. At its annual on May 7, Google’s senior Android director, Stephanie Saad Cuthbertson, said that foldable phones “open up a complete new category which, though early, might just change the future of mobile computing.”
Android Q, the upcoming refresh of Google’s mobile operating system, will focus on App Continuity, the software that helps phones like the Galaxy Fold quickly move an active app from one screen and orientation to another, say from a small screen on the outside to a larger screen on the inside and back again, without missing a beat. Since developers don’t typically make their apps for foldable screens, standardized developer tools and best practices will help make these apps work better on foldable screens.
Google’s ongoing role here suggests that the Fold’s issues are a pothole, rather than a roadblock, on the path to foldable phone designs.
What is this film layer thingamajiggy everyone’s talking about?
Let’s address the film layer first. I had received my review unit on Monday morning, then shot an unboxing video, and worried that I had forgotten to take off this plastic layer — what would the YouTube viewers say?!
Turns out, what looks like a paper-thin sheet of plastic covering the foldable phone’s 7.3-inch display is a protective layer that’s crucial to helping keep the phone damage-free.
You can see the edges of that layer here, on my review unit:
OK, so now we’re clear: Whatever you do, don’t peel back this film. It’s part of the screen and bad things happen when you remove it.
But again, the protective layer isn’t the whole story, because two other reviewers, Haselton and Bohn, said that they didn’t remove the film, and still had problems that rendered the Fold unusable. So what’s going on?
What’s the deal with the Galaxy Fold’s screen?
The Galaxy Fold has a completely different screen setup than any other phone. There’s a 4.6-inch display on the outside that’s covered with Gorilla Glass — that’s the same as other Galaxy phones like the S10 and S10 Plus ($927 at Amazon). But inside, the screen is made of a plastic (polymer) material that Samsung calls its Infinity Flex Display.
Samsung created this with a new process and specific adhesives to withstand the screen’s bending and flexing without breaking. The screen protector layer is meant to remain in place to prevent damage to the display below — that’s the thing that actually makes your “screen” light up. Without the hardness of glass to cover the delicate display, the Fold is more vulnerable, something that’s become vividly apparent.
Is there something different about the review phones?
Yes. Reviewers received early production models. That means these aren’t the final review units, and could be prone to certain issues that Samsung might have the opportunity to fix before the Fold reaches buyers’ hands.
For example, I was told that my review unit is an unlocked European version that doesn’t support US services like Bixby Voice, Samsung Health and Samsung Pay. Likewise, I was warned that call quality might be compromised because the phone isn’t optimized to US bands.
While I’m fully testing this review unit of the Galaxy Fold, I am withholding a rating until I receive the final production model CNET ordered.
Did Samsung say you’re not supposed to remove the film?
It isn’t clear if Samsung thoroughly briefed every reviewer who received a phone about the screen protector layer. There was no instruction in my box — no literature at all, in fact — but also no other indication, like a pull tab, that you should remove it.
I almost did anyway. As a reviewer, I like to experience the phone as “clean” as possible. That means everything I can peel off is going to come off. I emailed Samsung for more information about this layer on Tuesday. A spokesperson responded, “Galaxy Fold is manufactured with a special protective layer. It is not a screen protector — do not attempt to remove it.”
The company further elaborated its position:
“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.”
Samsung added this statement as well:
“The protective layer is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. The main display of the Galaxy Fold is made with a new, advanced polymer layer and adhesive that’s flexible and tough enough to endure repeated folding actions. Because the main display is made with polymer, the extra protective layer is in place to guard against impact. It’s built into the display which is why it should not be removed by force. Consumers who notice that the protective layer is not integrated on the display should contact Samsung customer care at 1-800-SAMSUNG as soon as possible to avoid any additional damage to the display.”
Desmond Smith, director of creative content and a tech evangelist at T-Mobile, tweeted that the carrier’s final production models will come with a warning on the wrap that goes over the Galaxy Fold’s screen:
But peeling off the Fold’s screen layer isn’t the only issue
While removing the plastic film caused a problem for some, it isn’t entirely clear what the protective film does or how its removal relates to the screen’s behavior. Remember that two of the reviewers kept the protector on. Bohn and Fisher suspect that a piece of dust or debris may have become lodged under the screen to create the bulge he felt, and a slight distortion on the Fold’s surface.
Haselton, meanwhile, observed a persistent screen flicker over the left half of the screen. We know that two batteries, one on each side, work in concert to form a single power source. I’m not an electrical or chemical engineer, but I wonder if that could indicate a battery issue. Hopefully we’ll all find out one way or another.
At any rate, the Galaxy Fold’s risky design has created some inconsistencies that could damage its early production phones and its reputation.
Why are bendable screens made of plastic in the first place?
Right now, glass doesn’t bend so well. That’s something that Corning — the maker of Gorilla Glass, which covers most high-end phones —. Don’t expect bendable glass to save second-gen foldable phones, though. It won’t be ready for some time.
Unfortunately there isn’t much more we know or can do at this point, other than wait. CNET is keeping a close eye on he story and will continue to update you with further developments.
Originally published April 17 and updated frequently.