Galaxy Fold Teardown Reveals That Samsung Has Big Problems

Posted on April 24, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Android with 25 Comments

UPDATE: iFixIt has published a teardown of the Galaxy Fold and has issued it a repairability score of 2/10 (where 10 is highest), noting that Fold owners will “almost certainly be replacing the screen before long” due to its fragility. —Paul

The gadget teardown experts at iFixIt believe they can explain why the Galaxy Fold fails so readily. If they’re right, Samsung may never be able to fix this current design.

Unfortunately for Samsung, there are likely several contributing factors in the Fold’s unreliability, iFixIt’s Kevin Purdy writes, noting that the firm’s opinions, for now, are just guesses. Albeit educated based on “more than a decade of examining the guts of similar devices.” These factors, combined, will make it hard for Samsung to fix the Fold without a substantial redesign.

The factors include:

The fragility of OLED displays. Samsung is the worldwide display leader, but even it can’t overcome some basic issues with OLED displays, which are “very delicate,” “very sensitive to oxygen and moisture,” “brittle,” and “challenging to disassemble or repair without damage,” iFixIt notes. “Curved displays are particularly tough to fix,” Purdy continues, “and any intrusion or stress on them is likely to kill their delicately balanced work.”

The Fold’s fragile innards are exposed to the outside. iFixIt notes that the Fold’s design results in visible gaps at the top and bottom of the screen hinge when the device is fully opened. “These are some of the biggest ingress points I’ve seen on a modern phone,” iFixit lead teardown engineer Sam Lionheart said. “Unless there’s some kind of magic membrane in there, dust will absolutely get in the back.” In at least one case, a reviewer Fold appears to have been broken when debris got inside the device and then pushed its way out through the display. And even Samsung has already confirmed that there were “substances found inside the [review] device.”

Samsung pre-installed screen protectors for a reason. While providing a pre-installed screen protector isn’t completely unique, that the Fold does not support the user adding their own is. “The flexible display is so fragile, people removing the protective layer—conditioned by years of removing the shipping plastic on their brand-new phones—are pressing their fingers and fingernails against the underlying surface, as well as applying uneven pressure across it,” iFixIt explains. “RIP OLED.”

Robot folding is not human folding. Ahead of the botched Fold launch, Samsung explained that the devices could withstand 200,000 folds. But this was based on robots cleaning folding the devices identically over and over again. In the real world, people folded the handset in different ways, iFixIt says, quickly leading to problems that Samsung never tested for. “Uneven force, applied over thousands of instances, can lead to problems,” the firm notes. “Samsung’s robots are running inside a clean room, while humans are using these devices in real-world conditions: lunch tables, outdoors, and in a hurry on the subway.”

No pre-scored folding point. Because Samsung wanted to maintain a clean aesthetic, the Fold’s display doesn’t have a pre-scored folding point, which would have been visible to the eye. But that means it doesn’t fold cleanly or evenly at exactly the same point every time. “Uneven pressure could cause kinks or puckers on the display, which might be an alternate explanation for the damage seen,” Lionheart suggested.

Samsung has indefinitely delayed the Galaxy Fold launch, and based on the rampant issues we’ve seen from reviewer devices, it’s unlike that it will be re-launched without a significant redesign. I’m thinking that 2020 is a distinct possibility.

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Comments (25)

25 responses to “Galaxy Fold Teardown Reveals That Samsung Has Big Problems”

  1. mmcewan

    A giant problem for a solution in search of a problem. Why not just have 2 displays with only a very narrow gap when opened? If this thing is needed at all. It's most likely going to become a keyboard on one side and a screen on the other anyways. Already had that with the old Starcom PPC700 and it wasn't wonderful.

  2. Daekar

    Very sad to see. There must have been considerable pressure to deliver the Fold as quickly as possible... Yet again, rushing a project to market is a bad idea.

  3. mrdrwest

    Aaahaa, their epidermis is showing.

  4. Jason Peter

    Blogosphere: Airpower cancelled! How can anyone fail harder?

    Samsung: Fold my beer!

  5. dvsctt

    I still want one. Well a working reliable one.

  6. datameister

    It's almost like they never bothered to give a dozen employees or so copies to test for a month before deciding that this brand new technology was ready for release.

    I wonder how the Huawei Mate X will compare in the reliability department.

  7. mmcpher

    Bring back the Royole! I generally don't over-react to teardowns as they tend to be scary. But this is an interesting video of an early itteration of a very complex device. I still can't understand how so many people can't understand how users might like and want to have a large, ultra-portable screen. That''s why there's so much continuing interest in the Fold.

    This all puts me in mind of the evolution of the old Blackberry "cursor" designs. They started out with a simple and stable trackwheel, which was strictly up and down and thus didn't allow direct horizontal scrolling. But the trackwheel was sturdy and fast and gratifying to use. But as screens, color, apps got better Blackberry wanted a pointing element that moved in all directions and hit upon a "trackball" which was a tiny, hardplastic ball floating/rolling precariously within this nested square of a geared, interlocking frame, protected by a metal ring. And the the thing worked! But it was an early design and a dirt trap and woe betide the user who tried to clean it up by opening it up! But it worked and was a wonderful advance at the time and I don't remember too much bitter crowing and anger about the initial, Rube-Goldberg aspect of a new form-factor element. Within a few more release cycles, Blackberry had moved beyond the moving parts and had a small, touch trackpad and after that integrated the pointing elements right into the physical keyboard. The devices got better and better. Because RIM/Blackberry kept their heads down and kept working at design. At least until market gigantism overtook their brand and nearly drove them to extinction.

    So I hope the Fragile Fold makes it to market and demonstrates a market for larger screen devices and provides a base to build from and improve upon.

  8. Elan Gabriel

    All of that, for a product no one really will use after the first 2 days of wow factor. I understand human's need to evolve, but is there a necessity to own a foldable OLED phone ?

  9. mattbg

    It will be interesting to see whether Huawei will have similar issues with their folding phone. The fold is less severe on the Huawei phone with it being on the outside, but they have additional exposure with the screen being on the outside. Neither will have glass screens as we are accustomed to relying on for protection. It will be interesting to see.

  10. Untitled1

    It's astonishing that Samsung ever let anyone outside their company touch such a half-baked device. I suspect if they'd allowed these review units to stay in the wild for much longer, the failure rate would've been close to 100%.

    • victorchinn

      In reply to Untitled1:

      They should of had an Insider's Program where they get early versions of the folding screens and conduct A-B testing. A. Galaxy Fold. B. Two Galaxy S10s in a wedge sandwich.

    • nicholas_kathrein

      In reply to Untitled1:

      They are still in the wild. Reviewers still have them. They still work. Anyone with a broken one got a replacement. Samsung isn't going to kill it. They only sold a small amount so far and they will do something to seal the hinge issue. I'm not sure they can do to much to the screen or it's protector for this years version 1 of it. I'm sure they put all they learned into version 2. Anyone buying this now has to know they are on the edge of what is possible and this is a flawed device. As long as Samsung can minimize the braking of the screens they might be ok for a limited production run of this version.

  11. provision l-3

    It's just weird that Samsung has gotten itself into this situation. Either they were unaware or didn't care about the screen issues and neither of those is reasonable explanation.

  12. red.radar

    what was supposed to be a celebration of Samsung's design prowess has backfired and showed a company that once again rushed a product to production. I guess they were trying to will the market to buy it.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to red.radar:

      More likely they just wanted "first mover" advantage and to get established as THE company with the folding screen before they become generic. And, with Google and likely Apple following Microsoft's addition of a folding screen API to their operating systems, the vendors using generic OEM hardware will make them generic if they succeed at all.

      • BoItmanLives

        In reply to MikeGalos: Microsoft's addition of a folding screen API to their operating systems

        Lol, what operating systemS plural? There's Windows 10 x86 - which they don't even really care about - and that's literally it.

  13. martinusv2

    Samsung will have to remove this phone from market.

  14. siv

    I think they were over eager to lead the charge so that other manufacturers wouldn't steal their market share that they jumped too early before all the snags were ironed out.

  15. Dan Hartwigsen

    Another update: iFixit has taken down their review at Samsung's request.