Galaxy Fold Teardown Reveals That Samsung Has Big Problems

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