Galaxy Z Fold 2 after a month: Simply a joy to use

Using the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is simply a joy and Samsung has done a convincing job to prove that this concept has an exciting future ahead of it.

What a difference a year makes.

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G is Samsung's third foldable smartphone and the successor to its first model, the Galaxy Z Fold, that was launched last year.

The Fold series' proposition is actually a simple one: It's a phone and tablet packed into one device that is convenient to carry around. This hasn't changed for the Fold 2, except this time around, it has been executed much better when compared to the first iteration. 

After a month of use, I think Samsung has done a convincing job proving that this concept works.

That being said, the Fold 2 also doesn't seem like the pinnacle of this particular form factor and leaves many questions for the series moving forward.

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Image: Cho Mu-Hyun/ZDNet  

DAILY USE

The Fold 2 is a device that invites more usage. Whether stationary or on the go, the device is ready to offer the best experience that a portable device can offer. Whether it's stationary at home, or on the subway, or at an office environment, the gorgeous 7.6-inch main screen is a pleasure to use. 

On the go, users can use the 6.2-inch cover display to take calls and check notifications or browse the internet if they so wish.

The one word that captures the device is versatility. This was the same for the first Fold, but the new larger cover display and free-stop hinge on the Fold 2 widened the way in which users could customise their foldable smartphone experience.

As someone who used both 7-inch and 11-inch tablets, and obviously smartphones, the learning curve for the Fold 2 was not steep, as it took less than a day to absorb all of the how-tos of the Fold 2. Most importantly, it never felt like the device forced me to use it in a certain manner and this freedom offered by the device was very refreshing. It may not seem like much on paper, but using the Fold 2 has been a blast. When using the device, I felt a sense of gadget euphoria that I haven't felt since the smartphones of the early 2010s.

Packing all of this versatility, the Fold 2 is a heavy device. Although, after a couple of days of use, you really forget that additional weight. It is thicker than conventional flagship smartphones but it slipped into my pockets just fine. I think the device being heavier actually makes it less likely to fall out of my pockets.

The one minor lingering concern I do have, however, is the device's durability. I was more conscious in my efforts to not drop the device.

The Fold 2 is also not water or dustproof, but as someone who never really treats their smartphones with respect even before that spec became standard for flagship models, this wasn't a concern for me during use. With that being said, I still feel the feature should be included in Samsung's future foldable devices, given that they are meant to be premium devices. When the Fold 2 was first unveiled, Samsung talked up the self-dusting hinge of the Fold 2 -- if they could develop that technology, water and dustproof certifications shouldn't be too hard to add either.

Looking at the Fold 2's design, there's no denying the South Korean tech giant has put a lot of effort into making sure the Fold 2 is usable in all of its form factors and it shows. Since picking up the device, I've interacted with it more than any other smartphone over the same duration.

DESIGN

The design of the Fold 2 screams premium and makes the first Fold look like an ancient contraption by comparison.

The word that kept coming to mind when looking at the device was symmetry. Samsung has put in a lot of effort to make sure the two sides look balanced from the back. The size of the back matches that of the 6.2-inch cover display so there is a nice feeling of uniformity regardless of whether you are looking at the device from the front or back, unfolded or unfolded, or even if you are just moving the device around. And the bezels are thin for both the cover display and the main screen -- Samsung has done a great job in allowing its beautiful AMOLED displays to speak for themselves in the Fold 2.

For the review, I chose the mystic bronze colourway. It's really a light bronze with a touch of purple. I wasn't a big fan of the colour at first, being someone that is more of a fan of the traditional black, white, and silver colours, but I found the bronze to be a natural and subtle colour while also being different enough for people to make positive comments about it.

Much like the Galaxy Note 20 series, the back of the Fold 2 has a matte finish that is resistant to fingerprint smudges. Using the device, the hinge and side bezel left to the cover display were also fairly resistant to fingerprint as well. 

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Image: Cho Mu-Hyun/ZDNet

The cover display and main screen aren't, however, and the device's screen protectors also gathered dust. The dust was pretty standard stuff that you expect from smartphones and will need to wiped out now and then.

Thanks to the improved hinge, the folding and unfolding experience is much better than the Fold. It's smooth, sturdy, and controlled.

When folding the device, the two sides emit a pleasing thud sound as they are pulled together by the magnets inside. But when unfolding, the device makes a muted crunchy sound just before it is totally unfolded, which I assume is from the screen layers stretching open or the sides making contact with the hinge. It's not a big deal, but future devices could perhaps mute this sound. Overall, the Fold 2 felt like a sturdy and reliable device in my hands when folding, unfolding, and keeping ajar.

While the two sides don't fold completely and there is still a slight curvature between them, the gap is very, very small and the Fold 2 successfully gives off the feeling that it is completely shut when folded.

THE SCREENS

The Fold 2's strongest asset is, of course, its 7.6-inch main screen. Samsung has a proven track record when it comes to display screens. The Fold 2's display is AMOLED, 120Hz, 373 PPI, and wide. The first iteration's notch on the right side has also been replaced with a punch hole.

In terms of materials, the new version of the foldable device uses ultra-thin glass for the main screen instead of the polyimide film cover that was used for the first Fold. There isn't really much of a noticeable difference when it comes to how the surface feels when touching it, but the change I think is more about how sleek the glass looks in comparison. The upgrade is subtle but it is there.

The main screen's width is the main draw here. It gives a feeling of fresh openness that few smartphones today offer. In an effort to make their screens bigger while keeping them grippable, smartphones makers have elongated their smartphone screens, which has resulted in unconventional aspect ratios that aren't always pleasing to look at. 

In addition, the Fold 2's main screen is also bright enough and always visible in outdoor settings, even during midday when the sun is bright.

The wide screen also makes multi-tasking setups viable. I spent a lot of time splitting the screen, with YouTube on the left and my browser app on the right. Having the two apps opened at the same time side-by-side allowed me to scroll up and down both of them without interruption. It is the equivalent of using two smartphones. The Fold 2 can support up to three split screens -- the right side can be split in half one more time. Users can also use the App Pair feature on the edge panel to preset two apps to automatically make them appear together.

The Fold 2 also allows users to drag and drop apps on the screen like windows. Overall, by simply having a larger and wider screen, the Fold 2 provides more ways to use some of these tried-and-true features.

When the screen is turned off, the crease that popped up in the middle of the first Fold is still here in the latest version. When the screen is on and there are apps activated, the crease becomes less visible -- when facing the main screen from front on, it becomes near invisible. It really isn't a big deal when using the device and you mentally forget about it really quickly.

The crease does make me wonder, however, about Samsung's S Pen integration that it has hinted at for later models. I feel that the stylus bumping into the crease when writing or drawing on note apps could be a bother to some people, especially for artists that are brushing in delicate lines. It seems the crease won't be going anywhere, but I think future models should flatten it more.

Meanwhile, the front 6.2-inch cover display is somewhat long, which seems to have been done to accommodate the foldability and grippability of the device. It is also only 60Hz, unlike the main screen, and there is a hole-punch camera at the top. It's an improvement over the first Fold's 4.6-inch cover display by quite a large margin. You don't use it as much as the main screen, but it was pleasing to use for quick functions like checking on Twitter feeds, making Facebook replies, or using text-focused news apps. I mostly used this display to scroll through my news apps. I also used it more near the end of the day when there the device had less battery.

I think, overall, using the cover display requires less focus than the main screen as you can always use it with one hand and it is smaller so there are less things to look at on the screen. It's perfect for when your brain is in auto-pilot mode.

Lastly, I found app continuity to be a smooth process. You can continue to use the same app from the cover display to the main screen, and vice versa, by folding and unfolding the device. This feature was mostly used to continue using the app from the cover display to the main screen. It's the most simple and intuitive of the software features on the Fold 2.

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Image: Cho Mu-Hyun/ZDNet

FLEX MODE

The free-stop hinge brings flex mode on the Fold 2 to life. I wasn't a big fan of flex mode on the Galaxy Z Flip because of the relatively smaller display but with the Fold 2, this concept I feel now works. Maybe it will be on the next Flip if Samsung can manage to make the screen on that device wider.

The great thing about flex mode is that you don't have to strain your neck or hunch foreword to use your device on a table while sitting down now. It's not the mode you really go to in the beginning as the flashy main screen will have your immediate attention. For me though, I started using the mode more and more when the Fold 2 was charging as it is forced to be stationary.

It's a great mode to use especially when using the Fold 2 alongside other devices such as notebooks or desktop PCs. The Fold 2 becomes a great secondary device for other tasks, whether for work or pleasure. It's also a perfect device for Zoom calls on the go, whether you are at a hotel lobby or in a meeting room.

I did wish the main screen was just a tad wider though, and that the curvature between the sides were a little bit thinner while in flex mode so that the device could resemble an opened notebook. The limitation of the size of the screens also made it hard to type while in this mode. The bottom screen, which acts as a control-pad, is really just for pressing buttons or scrolling. The best set-up for typing on the Fold 2 is still doing so while holding the phone open and using it as you do for a tablet.

Flex mode is best when using the Fold 2 to play music or watch videos offered on interactive services like YouTube, as well as for the camera.

CAMERA

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Image: Cho Mu-Hyun/ZDNet

The cameras on the Fold 2 are flagship-grade, but not the best of the best. It has three 12MP cameras on its back. The telephoto supports 2x zoom and its has two 10MP selfie shooters.

Taking photos with the Fold 2 using the rear cameras is basically like taking photos with a tablet -- it's clunky but you get a good sense of the quality of the photo you are taking thanks to the large screen.

The Fold 2 also allows selfies to be taken with the rear cameras instead of the front hole-punch camera. There is a dedicated button for the mode on the camera app. Pressing this allows users to see themselves on the cover display while the device is unfolded, which allows users to take advantage of the more powerful rear camera for the shot. It takes some time getting used to as the Fold 2 is a big device, but it is by far the best new thing the Fold 2 offers when it comes to the camera.

Due to this, I used the two hole-punch cameras on the front of the cover display and main screen less than the rear triple camera. 

But where the Fold 2 provides a unique experience is through flex mode. I loved turning on flex mode by folding the device just slightly while keeping the device up in the air vertically when taking photos on the go. The screen will split from the middle; on the right side of the screen is a camera preview screen and on the left is the gallery.

Now, did I feel like I had to use flex mode all the time? No. I also admittedly used the rear camera the most while holding the Fold 2 up like a tablet. But I really missed flex mode when I reverted back to a conventional smartphone, showing that it is a mode that comes part and parcel with the folding experience. 

BATTERY AND SOUND

Battery life was a worry for me at first but I found the Fold 2 could handle a day's usage without any problems.

I followed the same routine as I would for any smartphone -- use it for the whole day and come back home to charge the device.

When using the device, I did notice that the battery bar dropped quicker from continuous folding and unfolding action, heavy use of streaming services, or using multi-tasking features.

I would say the Fold 2 can handle five to six hours of intense use and over seven hours of casual use before the battery starts reaching the 20-30% range.

As I have said previously, the Fold 2 is a device that invites more usage. I found myself gravitating towards the device more at home than I would when using a regular smartphone.

That being said, not to knock on the battery capability of the Fold 2, which is on par with other flagships and arguably better than the tablets of old, I would like the battery life to improve even further for the next device.

A month of use showed no noticeable change in battery performance, but it did make me wonder how the Fold 2 would fare after a year of use. There is only so much software optimisation can do to slow down the natural decay of battery hardware. The Fold 2 is a big device with two screens after all. A battery in the 5,000mAh range would be nice for the next version of this device.

Turning to audio, this was one unexpected strength of the Fold 2. The speakers for the Fold 2 are at the top and bottom of the cover display side. The best way to enjoy them is to keep the device in flex mode while having the cover display faced down. 

I personally would have loved the sound a tad more if there was more bass, but the speakers on the Fold 2 are by far the best ever for a Samsung mobile device. It's well-tuned, smooth, and pleasing to the ears, making the Fold 2 a great stationary audio player.  

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Image: Cho Mu-Hyun/ZDNet

UI

Samsung's own apps are optimised well for the Fold 2 while those from other companies really aren't.

Beyond Instagram and Facebook, where there are noticeable black empty spaces on the sides, most other apps were also serviceable on the Fold 2 and it wasn't as much of a bother as I thought it would be. Most apps appear larger than they would on a smartphone and that was enough of a plus for me.

I have no doubt this will improve with each successive generation of the Fold and as more companies join the foldable bandwagon. Looking at Samsung's track record, the company has historically shown it can optimise apps when looking at its Galaxy S series and Note series.

The only annoyance I got from the user interface was when watching movies or videos in full on the main screen, and I feel there will be no way around it due to the aspect ratio of the device.

Watching movies that have a 16:9 ratio on the main screen just defeats the purpose of having a larger screen as there are huge, black, empty spaces. Cropping the movies to fit the main screen isn't any better either, as large parts of the movie are cut out. You are always better off splitting the screen or using flex mode when watching movies.

THOME BROWNE EDITION

The Fold 2 already screams premium, but the $3,300 price tag of the Fold 2: Thome Browne Edition is deafening.

The Thome Browne Edition offers the Fold 2 with a custom cover, Galaxy Buds Live wireless earphones, and the Galaxy Watch 3.

I've never really cared for unboxing experiences but I must confess that the Thome Browne Edition unboxing experience put a smile on my face. You open the box as you would a cake box where the three pieces of tech are packaged in neat-looking red, white, and blue boxes. In addition, there is a nice drawer underneath that you can pull out for the custom smartphone case and the custom straps for the Watch 3.

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The Fold 2: Thom Browne edition

Image: Cho Mu-Hyun/ZDNet

This version of the Fold 2 has red, white, and blue stripes coming down the middle of its back that each have a different texture than the matte finish of the remainder of the body. It also has its own grey and white UI with Samsung apps that are designed like paper notes, which look stylish and analogue in its feel.

My conclusion? If money is no object to you, this edition would make a great gift set. It's a set that has "I care for you" written all over it.

Now the one thing that made me salivate more than anything from the Thome Browne Edition was the grey metal colour of the Fold 2.

As much as I grew fond of the mystic bronze, I preferred the grey metal colour offered on Thome Browne minus the stripes in the middle. I hope future editions of Fold are offered in at least three colours -- two traditional colours like black, white, or grey, and possibly blue as well as the one "bold" colour, much like what Samsung has done with its Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series.

MAYBE A FOLD ULTRA?

Is the Fold 2 worth its $2,000 price tag?

For the first Fold, my answer would have been a resounding no. But the upgrades in the Fold 2 have made this a difficult question to answer as it's such a joy to use.

With the Fold 2, it seems clear that Samsung wanted to create one device to show all it could offer. And even though the Fold series is only in its second generation, I don't think I would mind using the Fold 2 a year from now. Thinking practically, however, the price would have to drop by a third at a minimum before I would happily reach for my wallet. 

I do think the $2,000 price tag could be justifiable for an "Ultra" model of the foldable device, however, it would need to offer more than what is currently on offer from the Fold 2. A cover display and main screen that comes even closer to being bezel-less, like Samsung's other flagship phones would be a start. 

More internal storage -- at least 512GB --  a rear camera that packs the best technology, and an even smaller curvature radius than the Fold 2 when folded, would also make this device more enticing. The "Ultra" version could have stylus integration that is not available for the standard model too.

Another question that came to mind when using the Fold 2 was whether its five cameras was truly the best set-up for a foldable device. I wouldn't have minded losing the camera module on the cover display. Camera module prices are going down thanks to smartphone makers competing over the feature, but it is still one of the pricier components after the display and processor. I don't think there would be many tears over the loss of one camera on the standard model, especially if the price barrier is the primary factor preventing people from buying a foldable device.

Using the 7.6-inch main screen also brought back the nostalgia of when I used my 11-inch and 13-inch tablets more extensively. Though such a large device that folds may lack mass appeal, and this is not even mentioning the ridiculous price tag such a device would come with. 

Saying all of this, Samsung has always been a company that tries everything first before going all-in, so I wouldn't mind trying out such a large device.

One thing is for sure though, regardless of what comes next in the world of all things foldable, I can't wait for the Fold 3.

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