Three weeks after Samsung distributed an undisclosed number of its new Samsung Galaxy Fold $1,980 folding smartphones for testing and reviews by journalists, the company has now announced a delay in the launch of the handsets after multiple reports of cracked screens, flickering and other operational problems involving the innovative new phones.
The company announced the delay on April 22 in an email to journalists, saying that by putting off the launch, Samsung will be able to further investigate the problems.
"We recently unveiled a completely new mobile category: a smartphone using multiple new technologies and materials to create a display that is flexible enough to fold," Samsung said in its statement. "We are encouraged by the excitement around the Galaxy Fold.
"While many reviewers shared with us the vast potential they see, some also showed us how the device needs further improvements that could ensure the best possible user experience," the statement continued. "To fully evaluate this feedback and run further internal tests, we have decided to delay the release of the Galaxy Fold. We plan to announce the release date in the coming weeks."
The company said that initial findings from the inspection of reported issues on the displays of affected phones showed that they could be associated with impacts on the top and bottom exposed areas of the hinge, according to Samsung. "There was also an instance where substances found inside the device affected the display performance."
Samsung Strengthening Display Protection
In light of the issues that have surfaced so far, Samsung said the company will "take measures to strengthen the display protection" while also enhancing the guidance on care and use of the display including an included protective layer on the screen that some testers removed because they thought it was there only to protect the device in shipping.
"We value the trust our customers place in us and they are always our top priority," the statement continued. "Samsung is committed to working closely with customers and partners to move the industry forward. We want to thank them for their patience and understanding."
The Galaxy Fold, unveiled in February by Samsung, is the company's long-rumored folding smartphone, with a 4.6-inch HD+ Super AMOLED display (21:9 aspect ratio) on its front and a large interior display that unfolds into a tablet-like 7.3-inch QXGA+ Dynamic AMOLED interior screen (4.2:3 aspect ratio). The Fold introduces the company's first phone that can unfold to give users much more screen real estate in a form factor that is easier to carry in a packet or a hand. But starting at $1,980—or twice the price of a typical flagship handset—the Galaxy Fold will not be a smartphone for every buyer.
Two weeks ago, the company responded to the first reports of trouble with the Fold phones being used by reviewers. The original reports involved issues with the main display on the samples that had been distributed, the company said.
In response to the reports, Samsung announced that it would thoroughly inspect the damaged units in person to determine the causes of the problems.
"Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen," the company said at the time. "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."
Past Phone Problems
This is not the first time that Samsung has had serious problems with a new smartphone in its infancy.
In late August of 2017, the company had released its then-new flagship Galaxy Note7 smartphone, which was quickly followed by reports about battery fires and explosions in the devices. Samsung addressed those initial reports by investigating the devices that had fires and starting its own global recall, and then in September 2016 cooperated with U.S. regulators at the Consumer Product Safety Commission when the agency issued a government recall of a million of the handsets due to at least 100 reports of fires and explosions from consumers. In early October 2016, Samsung cut its losses, announcing the end of its Note7 flagship smartphone model
after new reports came in of battery fires and explosions in replacement Note7s that were supposedly free of the defects in the original models.
Several IT analysts told eWEEK that Samsung is doing the right thing by delaying the release of the new Galaxy Fold model phones until it figures out what is happening.
"On the one hand, this is unfortunate for Samsung—more so because it is bad news again for a flagship device" after the Note7 problems, said Tuong Nguyen, an analyst with Gartner. "On the other hand, it's a much more minor issued compared to the Note7 issue. Moreover, the Fold isn't publicly available yet, which makes is a smaller disaster than it could have been."
Nguyen said that the world will have to now wait to see what Samsung determines about the new phones. "Given Samsung’s knowledge, history and ability to deliver hardware, the foldable technology itself may not be ready for prime time," he said.
Avi Greengart, the principal analyst with Techsponential, said the company is making the right move.
"It’s not an easy decision to delay a launch, but after the bad publicity of review units failing, it is smart to pause and ensure that consumer experiences with the phone are universally positive," said Greengart.
Another analyst, Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy, called it a positive move by Samsung to delay the launch so the company can check final shipping units for any potential issues before they are delivered to consumers.
"I had my Galaxy Fold for 5 days and have not encountered any of the issues a handful of reviewers were experiencing," wrote Moorhead. "While many of the issues were caused by [reviewers] peeling off a permanent, protective layer, two to three had not removed it and still had issues."
Moorhead said that if Samsung finds that other Fold devices waiting for shipment don't have these issues or if the company adopts a "very aggressive no questions asked replacement program," then he doesn't see the problems stunting growth in the nascent foldable smartphone category. "Smartphone sales numbers are declining and the industry needs a winner with the category,” said Moorhead.
In addition to its dual 7.3-inch and 4.6-inch displays, the Galaxy Fold features a 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 octa-core processor, 12GB of LPDDR4x RAM, 512GB of on-board storage and a 4,380mAh battery with fast charging and wireless charging capabilities. The Fold does not have a microSD slot for additional storage.
The Fold also features the same cameras as the new Galaxy S10+ and S10 smartphones, including a new three-lens rear main camera set with a 16-megapixel ultra-wide lens, a 12MP dual pixel wide-angle lens and a 12MP telephoto lens. On the front are a pair of 10MP and 8MP auto-focus cameras.
The Galaxy Fold phone was scheduled to be available in the United States through AT&T and T-Mobile starting in the second quarter of 2019. A new shipping time will likely be announced in the future.