The Galaxy Fold, Or Why Flexible OLED May Not Yet Be Ready For Prime Time

Samsung’s fancy new high-end smartphone with a flexible, foldable OLED display has been failing in worrying numbers for the first reviewers who got their hands on one. Now iFixit has looked into the issue using their considerable amount of smartphone tear-down experience to give their two cents. They base many of their opinions on the photos and findings by the Verge review, who were one of the (un)lucky ones to have their unit die on them.

The Galaxy Fold was supposed to be this regular smartphone sized phone which one can open up fully to reveal a tablet-sized display inside. The use of a flexible OLED display was supposed to create a seamless display without the annoying center line that having two individual displays would produce. Unfortunately it’s this folding feature which produces issues.

As iFixit notes, OLEDs are rather fragile, with their own tear-downs of regular OLED-equipped devices already often resulting in the damaging of the display edges, which spells doom for the internals of them as oxygen and other contaminants can freely enter. This means that maintaining this barrier is essential to keep the display functioning.

This is probably the reason why Samsung chose to install a screen protector on the display, which unfortunately was mistaken for a protective foil as found on many devices. The subsequent removal of this protector by some reviewers and the mechanical stress this caused destroyed some screens. Others had debris trapped in the fold between both halves of the display, which caused visible bumps in the display when opened.

The relatively massive spacing between the hinge and the display seems almost purposefully engineered to allow for the ingress of debris. This combines with the lack of any guiding crease in the center of the display and the semi-random way in which humans open and close the Fold compared to the perfectly repeating motion of the folding robots Samsung used to test the display. It seems that Samsung and others still have some work to do before they can call folding OLED displays ready for production.

Finally, have a look at this video of Lewis from UnboxTherapy pulling a folding robot with opening and closing a Fold one-thousand times:

 

91 thoughts on “The Galaxy Fold, Or Why Flexible OLED May Not Yet Be Ready For Prime Time

  1. But I don’t want a foldable cellphone any more than I want an always-on speaker spying on me. Can I just sit back and chuckle at the people who thought this was a good idea?

      1. That argument (if it’s available/works, why not?) is partly to blame for this very situation. It’s what lets companies like Samsung, Apple, Google, et. al. throw every half baked idea at the wall knowing there’s a viable customer base that will lap it up – a slightly larger screen, a slightly thinner device, 2 cameras instead of one, a camera behind a screen with a notch, a camera behind a screen without a notch, a screen that curves lengthwise, a screen that curves widthwise, a screen that curves on the side, a screen that curves on both sides, a screen that folds. And this, in turn, is used to avoid the natural lowering of prices as a product category matures – all they need to do is throw one new feature in each year and maintain “premium” pricing. Without the “because it’s produced in smaller numbers” argument, why do 6 inch smart phones cost $800 while 15 inch laptops cost $300 to $600? Because people will pay it, plain and simple.

        And the always listening speaker/phone/assistant is a great example of what this can lead to. The foundation of 24/7 monitoring of our every move and every word is being laid because “if it works, is reliable and reasonably priced, why not?”

        Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

        1. You can also get high end 15″ laptops that cost $2500 and 6″ phones that cost $200 (I have one), but yes, most high end phones have become vanity items since they lack innovative features.

        2. “half baked idea”

          Except that this idea has been decades in the making and is going to be pushed regardless of if you like it or not, because while some people may simply see this as yet another stupid gimmick to sell phones, the truth is this is what we’ve been working towards ever since the first mobile phone. Foldable devices are actually quite the opposite from a gimmick, they’re a multi billion dollar endeavor that has spanned decades, this feature actually has a LOT of thought put into it, and they’re sure as hell not going to give up on foldable screens because of one poorly designed device.

          Dont worry to much about it for now, you will come to appreciate fold-able devices in a few years as they become more affordable, just as everybody did with smartphones :P

        3. How about why do they make so many “feature reduced” crippled versions of phones just for the north america market? Look up the differences between the Galaxy J7 Prime sold in the USA and Canada vs the J7 Prime sold in EU, AU and NZ.

          They get 1080p, we get 1280×720 display. The original NA version only had 16 gig internat storage while everyone else got 32 gig. Ours has 2 gig RAM, those people *over there* get 3 gig RAM and a fingerprint sensor.

          The only good thing we got was the removable battery, the other J7 Prime doesn’t have that.

          They do this crap with many other things. For years Canon’s printers with disc printing had that disabled for NA with a firmware setting and replacing a roller part with a blockoff plate. My Samsung Smart TV has a DVR function that records to a USB drive – anywhere on Earth *except* North America.

          At least the Canon printers could be fixed by getting into service mode to enable disc printing then buying the roller piece and disc tray. Enabling the DVR on my TV to record OTA programs would require ripping chunks out of the EU firmware and hacking them into the NA firmware to enable a feature Samsung has decreed I can’t use simply because of where the TV is located. Out of the box it supported USB webcams and had a Skype app, but the first firmware update obliterated both. (Not that I cared about using a camera and Skype on my TV.)

        4. @Gregg Eshelman: North America phone plans tends to favors ”free phones” via expensive financing baked into the plans. A cheaper dumb down version would increase the profit and give the sheepies more reason wanting a new shiny ”upgrade” sooner.

      2. I wanted a phone with a qwerty keyboard folding out. This seemed to be the next best thing. Except it was mega expensive and doesn’t work.
        But yeah, I wasnt their target market either.

        1. Man, I miss the slide out keyboard on my old phone. It really wasn’t much thicker than phones these days, and with sliding behind the screen, screen real estate was pretty close to smaller smartphones these days. And seems swype gets worse and worse… probably due to all the “vocabulary” words so many commonly use while texting… ‘get off my grass’ :-)

          1. It doesn’t matter how high the resolution gets or how large the screen gets, they always make the on screen keyboard take up over 1/3 of the screen in portrait mode and nearly 2/3 of it in landscape.

        2. Im still waiting for some tech that was mentioned a few years ago, a screen layer that could ‘grow’ buttons as the ui needed it.

          Google this for more infos: “tactus tactile layer”

    1. By all means you can :P

      That said, i cant help myself pointing out that this has been talked about for decades, and is the first update to smartphones in years that actually has some thought put behind it, other then ‘how do we sell more devices’. While you may not see a use for it, many many MANY tech enthusiasts of all ages have been waiting on this.

      We can all agree Samsung screwed the pooch on this, but foldable phones are here to stay, they’ve been talked about since before we even had mobile phones (“a digital newspaper you can use to communicate with”) and it has taken like 10 years (between several companies) to get to this point of screen-technology, they’re not going to waste all that effort.

      All eyes are on Huawei now, if their device does hold up to daily use, foldable phones can be considered a succes and will roll out to the masses fast. If their device doesnt hold up to daily use, then we will simply see a new try at foldable phones a few years from now when foldable screens have advanced even further. At any rate, we WILL all get foldable phones eventually, just like you will eventually get a ‘smart speaker’ even if you dont want it (for example it will be in a new car, its actually already in your smartphone, it might be in a new stereo, etc)

      1. A few years ago every phone was going to get a pico projector built in. It never happened beyond a few demos at key events.
        We had foldable phones, the communicator for example. Foldable with a screen and keyboard.
        Made more sense than this really odd aspect ratio

        1. The pico projector thing never really took off because they are for all intends and purposes terrible projectors that only have a use in completely blacked out rooms, so that really translates to no use at all.

          The communicators sold very well and get praise to this day, these foldable devices are bscly the communicators for touch-generation, give it a year or so for several devices to come to market and for them to figure out what aspect ratio people like for these sort of devices, personally im fine with the 4:3 or square or whatever it is now. Im not expecting a device that can fold up twice to hold a widescreen tablet just yet, tho that would definitely be a cool continuation of this that is totally possible of happening

  2. I’m wincing just imagining the poor engineering team being informed that The Product Will Ship On Schedule.

    Unless they were handling these things in a cleanroom during all stages of R&D the issues killing review units inside 24 hours can’t have escaped the notice of people who’ve designed a few handsets in their time; but they released anyway; which suggests that they were not given the ”will release when it’s ready’ option.

      1. Not even Apple dared to put a phone with a folding screen on the market. Some bigshots at Samsung took the gamble, hoping to have a working one before Apple would. But well. Indeed they got their folding screen before Apple has one. But it’s breaking left and right. And proves Apple’s point that gambling is a no-no.

        1. Apple tend to wait until the technology is ready, then package it in a way that attracts customers. They are rarely first to market with an idea, but generally when they do arrive the competition finds themselves scratching their heads and wondering why they didn’t do it that way.

          1. Most often the competition already did it that way, but it received such a lukewarm response from their focus group that they dropped the idea. See first iPhone: nobody wanted a phone with only a touchcsreen because it was considered awkward. (and it still is)

            Then Apple comes along and puts $1.4 Billion a year into marketing, and suddenly the customers are interested.

          2. +1 to what Luke said, same applies to tablet devices, theres windows tablets from 10 years before the iPad, yet they never took off, not because the tech wasnt ready but because the products were not aimed at simple consumers, but at network admins etc.

          3. Apple was late to the party with USB, the PCI bus and many other new bits of hardware that showed up on PCs first. Apple was very late adopting AGP, looks like for less than three years in G4 desktops and only 2x speed. If they were going to be late, why didn’t they jump straight to 8x or at least 4x AGP?

        2. My best guess is Samsung got wind of Huawei’s device, and rushed one of their prototypes to the stage, Huawei’s is Samsung main competitor now, Apple hasn’t been for a while. (while Apple is still #2 in most markets its no secret that they’ve been losing ground and will continue to do so, meanwhile Huawei is growing at a staggering rate, if that rate goes on they will overtake Samsung within a few years, so yea, Samsung doesnt care about Apple anymore, they care about Huawei)

          Also just as a friendly heads-up, an Apple a day keeps the doctor away, but basing your whole reply around rumors regarding Apple isnt very healthy, widen your horizon a bit man. Nobody likes a fanboy.

          1. “…keeps the doctor away” – But just stay away from rotting (bitten) apples. They are not healthy and if they are electronic, they are extremely unhealthy for your wallet.

      1. Only some of them break, and it looks like it’s caused by user error. Samsung just made an UNIX version of smartphone – it’s super-useful and works great if you know, how to use it, but it will break in matter of hours, if you make a mistake. And like with UNIX and later Linux, fanboys will buy it anyway, even if it’s faulty or not good enough yet…

        Samsung will just add some warnings to the package and modify EULA so if user didn’t follow them, it’s his fault the screen went kaput…

          1. I’m talking of times long forgotten, when dangerous commands had no useful safety checks, and single typo could destroy your entire OS. In other words early 90’s and before. The dark ages. Back then UNIX/Linux gurus believed that system commands should not be safe and sane, so people would have to learn to type carefully. They really believed that OS was perfect, and everything that goes wrong is fault of the user.

            Samsung newest phone would work perfectly for someone who knows how to use it. But it will die after just single mistake. Like early UNIX/Linux…

        1. Only unix existed before the 90’s. Also, the comment doesn’t make much sense since unix and linux are typically for people who are technically literate while cell phone companies design for the masses.

        2. Hey, comma-man: Your Unix/Linux analogy doesn’t make any sense. You can easily break most operating systems by doing stupid things to it. Sadly, for most operating systems this is not hard to do. Also, I would much rather ask for help from a Unix user group than deal with the condescension and derision associated with Linux and Windows support groups.

    1. When you work in a very conservative business culture, like most South Korean multinational conglomerates, you aren’t going to stand up and point out failures in big company projects unless you can fix them. Saying “this won’t work, we need to stop” is not really OK in business culture.

      1. No different in the west I can assure you.
        Saying “this won’t work, we need to stop” is not really OK in any business culture.
        Only when fingers start pointing like diesel gate do people need to ensure they saved “those emails”.
        That’s the only time anyone cares to listen – when the music stops.

  3. “The relatively massive spacing between the hinge and the display seems almost purposefully engineered to allow for the ingress of debris.”

    No Maya, this spacing is to ensure a minimum folding radius. Too short a radius and it will break the screen.

  4. Flexible displays probably are ready for “prime-time”, I think the problem is everyone’s insistence on sticking with a folding form factor. Where did the roll-up prototypes go?
    Not only is minimum-bend-radius an issue for folds (hence some going with the screen on the outside) but the going for a more interesting form-factor would be an opportunity to actually differentiate from everyone else.

    1. IIRC, in late 2000’s they had this interesting idea to make a roll-up e-ink display that was supposed to be used as convenient way of reading digital newspapers, plans, blueprints and diagrams. Unfortunately it was lost in development hell, I think…

      1. I remember the hype around them but thought they fell away because they weren’t very high resolution and not many wanted monochrome especially when large form tablets soon became practical (cheap, moderately low power, high resolution). Plus I don’t think e-ink ever got to high enough volume to become cost effective in the physical large sizes that they would excel in (such as a newspaper/plans/blueprint market)

  5. I don’t see a “guiding crease” as missing. It would decrease the bend radius at this location. A wider bending area with greater radius reduces the stress on the OLED material.

  6. How about a phone that’s flexible as in means for input and output?

    Y’know, things like landscape slide-out qwerty keyboard for when hammering out text en masse, mandatory mini-jack so you’re not reliant on stupid-by-default adapters for when using things since it’s a ubiquitous and reliable standard, replaceable battery (ideally so one can easily fit a larger and fatter one if not obsessed with anorexic designs), micro-sd card since you can’t trust the cloud when cell coverage is still spotty, slow or obscenely billed, and last but not least a screensize that means it can be used by people who don’t have huge hands in one-hand mode when held vertical.

    I know it seems silly to phone designers nowadays but C’mon, function before form.

    1. Is it the designers leading the market or the market leading the designers though?

      I think it more the latter and manufacturers are dropping all the nice convenient features to satisfy a market that tends to slim phones with large screens, though the cynic in me believes that these companies are happy to oblige as it helps them sell more phones (due to upgrading) and more accessories (because they “have” to fit slimmer proprietary connectors or none at all).

      1. It is a bit of both. Products these days are marketed as life style accessories. Marketing people tell the sheepies what they “need” in their life. They might not make the practical approach and could alienate part of their potential market. The products won’t sell if no one cares or can’t afford them.

    2. In other words take a Samsung Epic 4G (not Epic 4G Touch) and hotrod it with a newer, faster CPU, more RAM, more storage, higher resolutions screen, and keep the slide out keyboard.

      That was a really nice phone. Sprint’s version of the Motorola Droid 4, which they called the Photon Q, was a disappointment, especially with the keyboard. Sprint had Motorola bump the CPU speed slightly, cut the storage from 16 to 8 gig, added several more data transmission and frequency bands.

      But the biggest problem was what they did to the keyboard. Reviewers raved about the Droid 4 keyboard. The Photon Q keyboard was horrible. It would either not register key presses or would bounce and cause a character to be entered 2 or 3 times.

      I still have a Photon Q, which I installed a new battery in shortly before I upgraded to an Epic 4G. I had a second Photon Q that I rooted and installed Android 5.something from Cyanogenmod. Sold that one for $50 years ago.

    1. ^ This ^
      That said we will have to wait and see how those claims hold up in the real world, but at the very least its quite easy to see how folding the screen around the outside seems like a much better first gen approach, as its screen stays securely attached to the body at all times, and besides that the thing actually properly folds up too, rather then some incomplete fold like on Samsung’s device, so less chance for crap to get into the hinge/under the screen.

      1. That is also what I thought, folding on the outside with a larger radius should be better for the materials. Strange that samsung did not use this approach as well. Almost like they knew it would be this way and wanted to do it differently.

  7. I’m waiting for all mobile phones to be BANNED – notice since they came out how many more pedestrians are getting hit & how many vehicles are slamming into buildings? Same thing with video screens on modern cars.
    & this – when no one else is on the road! On a street where the speed limit is 25mph!
    http://dailyvoice.com/new-jersey/southpassaic/police-fire/video-rollover-driver-who-hit-sign-broke-pole-outside-garfield-hs-was-on-phone-police-charge/766589/
    How totally irresponsible & impatient millenials are today!! Worse generation EVER!
    Magicjack for < $4 a month, $7 a month emerg tracfone in glove compartment.
    & i W A I T till i get home to go online. & i am done with my online business LONG before you are. & i have plenty time to go outside & watch millenials wasting their lives away, scrolling/looking for stuff on a tiny screen.

    1. It was cool to drive drunk with no seat belt at least into the 80’s before Mother’s against drunk drivers started lobbying. You can ease up on this cartoon idea of millennial’s my dude. Overall fatalities and fatalities per mile driven are going down year over year.

      Side note: millennial’s are in their 30’s so its gen z you should yell at to get off your lawn.

    2. “Magicjack for < $4 a month, $7 a month emerg tracfone in glove compartment.
      & i W A I T till i get home to go online. & i am done with my online business LONG before you are. & i have plenty time to go outside & watch millenials wasting their lives away, scrolling/looking for stuff on a tiny screen."

      How about you let others live their lives the way they want? If you want a landline phone and no mobile internet capability, do what you want, but leave us alone. Who made you dictator of the world?

    3. This is a long lost cause, while you definitely have a point, there’s no fighting it anymore.

      Try and calm yourself with the thought that this “thins out the herd”, with all due respect, its 99% stupid social media sheep are the ones going extinct from all of these accidents, and i guess we can all agree thats not so bad.

    4. So stupid! I am waiting for people like you get banned.
      I use a handsfree unit while driving and sometimes It helps to access information if you are outside and not at home. I do NOT need or want music all the time, I am not a regular user of headphones.

    1. If you’re gonna play like that then i will too:
      “I thought Apple would be the first to market bendable phones”
      wink wink nudge nudge.

      In all seriousness, lets not harp on issues that plagued a handfull of devices in a massive millions of units production run, regardless of the manufacturer, its childish and not needed. Fact of the matter is every tech company has seen their fair share of fuck-ups, and they approach solving those differently, one company might point the finger at the end user, and another might pull back an entire production run of phones. That doesnt make one company better or worse then the other, it just means they work differently.

    1. I have a E72 I used a long time ago. Bought it because I thought android was not good enough at the time and i gave in the myth that the keyboard is somehow magically useful. It wasn’t. I could type without looking, that is true. But I turned it on a couple of months ago…and damn it feels primitive. Even connecting to a wifi required me to find the manual and search forums.

      1. HackADay will come of it’s own,
        when one of it’s readers, hacks in and adds one, along with the up/down vote buttons, and sarcasm indicator.
        (and bonus points for messing with Benchoff’s login B^)

  8. I just hate how these foldable screen have creases or wrinkles on them. It’s totally possible to have the screen bend in a way that it will recess the peak of the fold into the case by only anchoring the screen on 2 opposite edges.

  9. Lets be real for a second, Samsung dropped the ball on this so hard they may have hurt the foldable phone industry before it could even kick off. My guess is they got wind of Huawei’s foldable phone and (with how quickly Huawei grows and is becoming a serious competitor for Samsung) rushed their own prototype to the stage, despite clearly having spent much less time on it.

    All eyes are on Huawei now, if they screw up too, foldable phones will be years off, but if Huawei’s device doesnt suck (and early reports do seem to suggest that its a lot better then Samsung’s one) then 5 years from now 90% of the offerings will be foldable smartphones.

    I really hope the Huawei phone delivers, i totally want a foldable phone, but not at these prices, so yea, plz succeed so prices can start dropping.

    1. I think and hope they will succeed. When phablets came out, people mocked them for the large screen, but look at it now, almost every phone is even bigger than the original ones. We do want larger screens and foldable is just the next step.

      1. Im secretly hoping that if foldable devices take off as planned, some manufacturers will start making smaller phones again that simply fold open to give people their widescreen fix, im an old fart that still believes the sizes of phones was best around the time of 4.3 inches screens, while i’ve learned to accept sizes of today and they’ve become less terrible as phones also got a little wider / cover more of the device in screen, im still not a fan of these skyscraper phablet things.

      2. I am not sure. For me the touch-feeling of glass is much better than plastic. So I never liked plastic screen protectors, I use a glass one where you do not feel or see the difference to the “naked” display”. Also plastic film gets scratched much more easily. But glass is not foldable. So you have a plastic screen.

  10. Samsung could turn this problem into an opportunity if the flexible screen was user or at least in-store replace-able. Wear-out/Break your screen? Go into the store and dish out say ~$100 and get a new screen put in. It would allow them to charge the heavy users more and and the light users less for their product which makes it viable at all use levels. It would take a major redesign to do this but it might be a winner.

    1. Why sell just a screen and provide competitive repair shops an opportunity to steal a slice of your business when you could be like Apple and force everyone to buy a new device when it breaks by not distributing parts? I guarantee you folding phones are just a fad. They are cool devices, and I’d love to play with one but I don’t see it as a smart investment because I don’t want to carry a gold plated eggshell in my pocket. I break stuff.

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