Samsung has tackled one of the biggest criticisms of its original folding-screen smartphone by giving the new version a much bigger external display for use when it is closed.
The original Galaxy Fold’s “cover screen” was a relatively small 4.6in, leading to claims it was fiddly to use.
By contrast, the Galaxy Z Fold 2’s external screen is 6.2in – the same as the best-selling Galaxy S20.
Even so, one expert said its high price would mean sales remained limited.
But he noted it would at least serve as a better “halo device” to generate excitement for the firm’s wider line-up, which also includes updated versions of its stylus-enabled Note handset, as well as a new smartwatch, tablet and wireless earphones.
“Samsung has addressed the biggest shortcoming of the Fold. Its external display was extremely small, which made it difficult to use as a one-handed smartphone,” commented Ben Wood from the CCS Insight consultancy.
“With a larger external display you really do get the best of both worlds with regards to being able to use it closed as a traditional phone and then having the benefit of a mini-tablet when unfolded.
“That said it’ll probably be priced as a super-premium product, so will only have a niche market.”
The South Korean company is in need of an attention boost.
The coronavirus pandemic caused the biggest decline in smartphone sales the sector has ever experienced in the second quarter of the year, but Samsung was even harder hit than its rivals.
Those that can afford the device will also benefit from it having a larger internal display than before, measuring 7.6in – up from 7.3in in the original version. The firm also said it now had a “firmer snap” action when being shut thanks to an improved hinge.
Faster frame rate
In terms of sales, Samsung’s focus will be on its new Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra phones.
Both deliver 5G connectivity, but otherwise represent a more modest revision to their predecessors than the change in the Fold.
The Ultra offers the benefits of a larger screen – 6.9in versus 6.7in – which is also capable of showing up to 120 frames per second, double the rate of the basic model. Samsung suggests this should make it more attractive to gamers.
Other changes centre around the stylus and include:
- faster response times when using the S Pen, to help make writing and drawing feel more natural
- the addition of five S Pen off-screen gestures to control the device, including flicking to the left in the air to go back a page and a shake to take a screenshot
- handwriting recognition that automatically straightens scribbled text
Additional new features include the ability to stream video to a compatible TV while continuing to let the handset be used for other tasks – similar to the AirPlay function on Apple’s iPhone.
And files can now be transferred wirelessly by pointing one of the phones at another “ultra-wideband-enabled” device, similar to the way Apple’s AirDrop and Huawei’s Share OneHop work.
The Note 20 will start at £849 and the Note 20 Ultra at £1,179 when they go on sale on 21 August.
Time to converge?
Samsung recently forecast that it expected its smartphone sales would rise in the coming months “thanks to the launch of new flagship models”.
But it has a lot of ground to catch up.
Its smartphones saw a much steeper drop in demand than Huawei and other Android competitors over the past quarter, despite the Galaxy 20 family having only been released in March.
Smartphone shipments in Q2
And one expert said she did not expect the Note to turn things round.
“There’s now talk of second and third pandemic lockdowns, which is causing people and their employers financial uncertainty,” commented Marta Pinto from the market research firm IDC.
“These are amazing devices, but at this price they are a hard pitch.”
Ms Pinto said that recent price cuts made to the Galaxy S20 range would only make the new Notes a harder sell.
But she added that one factor in Samsung’s favour was that Apple had said it would release its next iPhones a few weeks later than normal, providing Samsung a slightly longer window of opportunity to promote its phones’ 5G advantages.
Mr Wood also had doubts about the new phones’ appeal, but said Samsung had little choice at this stage but to release them.
“You have to remember that Samsung’s product development cycle takes so long that it was committed to the Note 20 a long time before the pandemic arrived,” said Mr Wood.
“But a broader question is whether there is still enough differentiation to justify having two flagship ranges. The Galaxy S and Note phones now have similar screen sizes, and the only key difference is the S Pen.
“I wonder if it would make sense to converge the two, save money on a second launch, and then focus on other parts of the portfolio like Samsung’s (mid-range) A series.”
Other new products included:
- Galaxy Buds Live – wireless noise-cancelling earphones that are designed to double up as remote microphones for video recordings
- Galaxy Watch 3 – a smartwatch that can take blood pressure and electrocardiogram (ECG) heart readings, but only if local regulators give approval
- Galaxy Tab 7 and Tab S7+ – 11in and 12.4in tablets that can also act as second screens for Samsung PCs