Samsung Galaxy Fold

What is it?

Samsung's biggest phone release yet – if only in terms of physical stature. Despite some hiccups when it first launched, the Fold has gone through further development and emerges with a number of technical advances to supplement refinements in design.

This is clearly a phone of two halves. Folded up you get a relatively small 4.6-inch display at an elongated 21:9 aspect ratio that's surrounded by particularly wide bezels, especially on the top and bottom. Unfolded is a 7.3-inch display interrupted by a hard 'notch' at the top right for lenses and a smaller but still noticeable bezel around the outside – no 'edge' display here.

It's a powerful beast, with Samsung's latest Octa-core processor and 12GB of Ram leaving plenty under the hood, and while the 512GB of storage should be enough, bear in mind there's no option for expansion.

The camera array is inherited from the S10 and Note 10 range, namely a 12Mp wide, 12Mp telephoto and 16Mp ultrawide rear setup, a dual (10Mp and 8Mp) selfie camera when the screen is unfolded, plus an additional 10Mp selfie camera on the cover. There are also extra bells and whistles, including Dolby Atmos stereo speakers and integration of Samsung's new wireless charging for other devices.

As you might expect, there's a hefty premium to be paid for this sort of technology – the standard Galaxy Fold will set you back £1,700, and you can add £200 to this if you want to future-proof with 5G.

What's it like to use?

That is the million dollar question. The Fold is two distinct experiences depending on whether you're using it open or closed, and really they couldn't be more different. The front display is relatively small – it's actually surprising how little of the front panel it takes up, and while it is fully functional, in that you can access all your apps and use it just like you would a regular phone, it's more likely you'll turn to it primarily for notifications and basic tasks.

Using the phone in this way is relatively comfortable, as while it's actually quite chunky folded up it's narrow enough to hold firmly, and just about access the full screen with one hand. You can also snap photos from here using the main cameras, but for just about anything else it's all too tempting to unfold the phone and access the main display.

This is where it really shines – the dynamic AMOLED screen is stunning, with crystal clarity, deep blacks and bright, vibrant colours. The all important fold in the middle is noticeable – you can feel it with your finger as you navigate around, and see it, though less easily with brighter backgrounds. In truth this didn't really bother us, we were far too busy enjoying the extra real estate on offer and the benefits this brings to rich content like HD video.

There are a few nice tricks up its sleeve as well – it's capable of displaying up to three different apps at once, in varying sizes, which could be a boon to productivity if you're the type to multi-task or prefer having a few things going on at once. You'll also find that anything you're doing on the main display is mirrored on the front when it's closed, and vice versa, which is a handy way to continue what you're doing without interruption as you move between environments.

Speaking of which, the process of opening and closing the screen is a satisfying one – the device feels very solidly built and you certainly get the impression the hinge mechanism will last. There is a spring to this that means it pops open to around a 120-degree angle, and then must be pulled flat, so it's only designed to be used fully open or fully closed. It would have been nice to see greater control here so it could, for example, be used in more of a typical laptop orientation while resting it on a desk.

The Fold runs Android 9.0 and benefits from Samsung's 'One UI' overlay, which works particularly well here in making navigation straightforward, and with the range of customisation options, you can tailor operation to your own style of working.

How long does the battery last?

Another improvement to this new version of the Fold is a bigger battery, and this time it's dual-cell, which means charging time is significantly improved. Like the S10 and Note 10 range, you can also wirelessly charge other devices, like headphones or smartwatches, by resting them on the display.

Samsung claims you'll get a day out of the Fold but we think this is heavily dependent on how it's used. Treat it like a typical smartphone and that might be the case, but the nature of this large-screen device means it's likely you'll be turning to it for tasks you'd usually grab a laptop or tablet for, in which case it will be draining fairly quickly.

In our initial tests we made it to early evening with fairly intensive use, when the speedy charging certainly came in handy for a quick boost – it was pushing 20% after 15 minutes, and a full charge was reached in just under two hours. Not groundbreaking – in fact we were expecting a little better from the dual-cell battery array, but then this does pack a large 4,380 mAh (4,235 mAh on the 5G) cell.

How good are the cameras?

Despite having no less than six cameras, there's nothing here that we haven't seen on Samsung's devices already this year. That's no bad thing though, as phones like the S10+, S10 5G and Note 10 are top-notch snappers.

The design of the Fold does make taking photos more awkward, though. You can use the three main lenses while the phone is folded, with the outer display as a viewfinder, but framing a shot isn't as easy or enjoyable as using a full-sized smartphone. Flip the phone open and you obviously have a large, gorgeous display to use – strictly two-handed of course, but that does feel like a cumbersome extra step in those situations where you want to take a quick snap or capture a moment.

Ultimately the phone is capable of taking great photos, which is the main thing, and as with Samsung's more traditional 2019 handsets there's an array of AI camera technology designed to make life easier. Tips on improving photos are there if you need them, and for the most part are effective in helping to frame subjects and get shots right first time. A range of background effects also allow for plenty of creativity if you're looking to be a bit more ambitious with your photography – and it has to be said that editing photos and videos is a far more enjoyable experience on a bigger display.

Is there anything I should watch out for?

Despite its price, the Galaxy Fold doesn't have an IP rating so is not waterproof protected.

Is there anything else I should know?

There are a few niggles, like the lack of a 3.5mm headphones jack and micro-SD expansion, but the biggest advice we can give is that you absolutely must get hands-on with the Fold before you decide to buy one. This is not your traditional smartphone, and we'd almost go so far as to suggest it's more likely to become a supplementary device rather than your daily handset.

Should I buy it?

Not unless you fall in love with it straight away (and have a couple of grand burning a hole in your pocket). As a showcase device it's unbeatable (unfolded) for videos, games and multitasking, but as a grab-n-go, versatile, do-it-all-one-handed-on-the-move companion it's got too many drawbacks either open or closed to really compete with the traditional smartphone.