Last week, Samsung shipped out the first Galaxy Fold units to reviewers. This week, it recalled those units and announced it would hold off on shipping the phone until it performed failure analysis on the four known devices to have already broken.
We don’t know what the formal results of Samsung’s own analysis will show, but a new analysis by iFixit has left plenty of reason to be concerned. The Galaxy Fold has some potentially critical design flaws. Specifically, it marries an incredibly fragile OLED screen to a hinge design that allows debris into the phone at multiple points. That’s a serious problem, because pushing down on an OLED display against debris embedded in the phone can immediately destroy the panel.
As iFixit writes: “OLED plus particles equals death.” The back hinge is particularly rough. “These are some of the biggest ingress points I’ve seen on a modern phone,” Sam Lionheart, iFixit’s lead teardown engineer, said. “Unless there’s some kind of magic membrane in there, dust will absolutely get in the back.”
iFixit then completed its teardown of the Galaxy Fold. There is no magic membrane. The device isn’t IP-rated. Interesting fact: The first digit of the IP rating refers to whether the device is “dust protected” (5) or “dust tight” (6). The second digit refers to the degree of immersion protection. In other words, a phone that’s rated IP67 is “dust tight” and what we call “water resistant” (capable of surviving temporary immersion). A phone that’s rated IP68 is “dust tight” and waterproof (prolonged immersion). The Galaxy Fold can’t be rated for either, because it has multiple openings that allow material ingress into the phone.
There’s a total of 7mm worth of gap where the two screens meet. Any material that slips into the device can immediately destroy the display. Closing the display will protect it — but this leaves gaps on the spine.
These gaps are less likely to cause immediate screen damage, but will definitely attract dirt. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a phone with this many gaps, with the industry trending away from moving parts and towards sealed slabs.
This is relevant because at least one of the four dead devices appears to have died as a result of a particulate. Three of the four dead phones were killed by peeling off a critical layer of screen that shouldn’t have been touched (Samsung forgot to warn reviewers against this). But the fourth was killed by a piece of something that worked its way into the device and destroyed the screen from behind — exactly the scenario iFixit found entirely plausible based on the number of gaps that allow material into the phone.
iFixit is also worried about the size of the phone bezels. There’s barely 2mm of bezel. Over time, they may loosen and allow material to damage the display (the fact that it folds could exacerbate this problem). iFixit also notes that the top protective layer on the phone basically looks just like every screen protector you’ve ever peeled off a plastic device. Given that the company didn’t warn reviewers on this one and that smartphones regularly ship with plastic screen protectors, I’ve got to say that one is on the company. Then again, the reason peeling that screen protector off destroyed the displays is because of just how fragile the underlying OLED is in the first place. Food for thought.
Here’s iFixit: “In all known cases (including ours!), removing this layer kills the display. The display could technically function without the layer, but it is so tightly adhered and the display is so fragile that it’s difficult to remove without applying display-breaking pressure.”
iFixit notes that the hinge seems well designed, but that it completely lacks ingress protection. Large gaps around the spine “let dirt right in, possibly getting trapped between hinge and display.” Unfold the display with dirt in it, and those grains become pressure points against the OLED.
It truly looks as though Samsung didn’t finish thinking this design through. There’s no way that a phone this fragile should ever allow dirt particles anywhere near the guts of the display. Then again, we’ve got to give the company some credit — unlike Apple, at least Samsung admitted the problem immediately instead of letting it go on for three years.
iFixit rates the device a 2/10 in terms of repairability and notes that you’ll “almost certainly” be replacing the entire display before long.
If you care about reliability at all, don’t plan to buy this phone. Not unless Samsung brings it back to market with some truly impressive improvements. It does not bode well when people who take fragile equipment apart for a living describe the device using terms like “overwhelmingly fragile” and “alarmingly fragile.”
- Samsung Retrieving All Galaxy Fold Samples, Exposed Hinges May Cause Problems
- Samsung Delays Galaxy Fold Launch to Sort Out Malfunction
- Samsung Galaxy Folds Are Already Failing Catastrophically