The Galaxy Z Fold2 Has Convinced Me That Foldables Are the Future
The first iPhone launched more than a decade ago, ushering in the modern smartphone era. Device makers have since toyed with various phone designs with physical keyboards, ticker displays, and modular components, but none of these ideas stuck. In the last few years, almost every phone of consequence has been a larger version of the original iPhone’s candy bar form factor. We’re due for a change, and I think foldables are it. I was encouraged by the first-gen foldables in 2019 and early 2020, but after using the new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2, I’m convinced we’ll all own foldables in the future. But maybe not the near future.
A Tablet in Your Pocket
The Galaxy Z Fold2 is Samsung’s second or third-generation foldable, depending on how you want to count. The original Galaxy Fold was redesigned after early review units showed a propensity for display failure, and the updated Fold launched a few months later in summer 2019. While it didn’t fall apart, the technology was still quite limited. The Z Fold2 improves on the last Fold in several ways to become something I actually want to use.
The external cover display on the Fold2 now fills most of the available space instead of having massive bezels, and the hinge is even more robust with additional dust clearing brushes. When you open the Fold2, you get an awesome 7.6-inch foldable OLED panel with an improved 120Hz refresh rate. There’s also a layer of foldable glass in the display that makes it feel more sturdy. While the Fold2 is a “phone,” I think of it more as a tablet that fits in my pocket. Yes, it’s a big phone when folded, but I think its actually easier to carry than the Note20 Ultra, which has an even larger footprint.
Hearing the words “Android” and “tablet” in the same sentence might make you squirm, and I get that. The dearth of tablet-optimized Android apps has made for a rotten experience compared with something like the iPad. This isn’t as much of an issue with the Fold2 because we’re not talking about a 10-inch screen. Even blown-up phone apps are usually fine on this screen. The aspect ratio is a bigger issue — a few apps just don’t play nice with the square-ish display.
The cover display is fine for sending a quick message or checking your notifications. However, I almost always use the main foldable screen. It’s a two-handed experience, to be sure, but I find typing on it quite comfortable. I’m probably 30 percent faster with a real computer, but again, this is a phone/tablet/thing that fits in my pocket. I can get real work done on this device no matter where I am — I wrote this entire article on it. The larger screen is part of what makes that possible, but Samsung’s multi-window system is vital to the experience as well.
The Z Fold2 lets you split-screen apps or even use a three-up interface. Some of the UX needs work, but I see hints of greatness. On my “real” computer, I like to keep multiple windows tiled for easy access. I was surprised how much of that experience I could replicate on the Fold2. For example, I’ve used windowing to do research in Chrome while also monitoring Slack chats and intermittently managing email. This is not possible on a regular phone or on smaller foldables like the Z Flip without switching windows and interrupting my workflow.
The Fold2 changes how I interact with the smartphone in my pocket, and that’s refreshing after years of nearly identical flat glass slabs.
A Phone From the Future
Clearly, I like the Z Fold2 a lot, but I would never tell most people to buy it. It’s ludicrously expensive at $2,000, but I can understand why — this is a phone from the future. And because it’s from the future, a lot of apps and technologies haven’t caught up. Some apps just don’t play nice with the Fold2, and Samsung’s windowing system needs polish. No one else is really competing in this space, though. Google added basic foldable support to Android, but it’s mostly letting Samsung do its thing (I really wish Google would take the lead here). And while folding OLED tech has come a long way, the panel on the Fold2 can scratch, it doesn’t repel oils, and even Samsung can’t make a foldable water-resistant.
These shortcomings are real, but they’ll be addressed over time. Hinges and flexible OLEDs will become more durable, the crease will become less visible, costs will come down, and OEMs will explore more styles of foldable phones. Imagine you could carry a smartphone that unfolds into a small tablet or a large one depending on what you need. That’s still the realm of science-fiction, but the Z Fold2 would have looked like science-fiction 10 years ago.
Technology always starts as prohibitively expensive, but Samsung is pushing the envelope to claim the prestige of being first. It can do that thanks to its leadership in OLED tech — even Apple uses Samsung displays. Now, when Apple finally makes a foldable, Samsung can look down its nose and remind everyone it was pioneering foldables as early as 2019.
The Z Fold2 has the feel of a hyper-advanced tech demo that, through sheer scale and determination, Samsung has forged into a product that you can buy. So, of course, this thing is priced high. You shouldn’t buy it because your old phone conked out and you need a new one. You should buy it if you want a glimpse of the future of computing.
I realize that’s the kind of proclamation that could age like a fine milk, but I’m willing to go out on this limb and say that you will probably own a foldable phone in the next few years. Just as it became harder and harder to find phones that didn’t look at least a little like the OG iPhone, it might become harder to find phones that don’t owe something to the Galaxy Z Fold2.