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The foldable is here

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold finally arrives in South Africa this weekend. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK takes another look

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It’s a headline we’ll see often in the coming weeks: Samsung’s foldable smartphone has sold out in Korea. Sold out in South Africa. Sold out … wherever it launches. 

There are two reasons that the world’s first commercially available foldable phone is making such an impact: 

  • It is being produced in small numbers to start; only a few hundred arrived in South Africa this week, and all were sold out on pre-order. When South Korea sold out its initial release on the first day, it was estimated by BGR consumer electronics site that only about a thousand units went on sale. By now, that number has increased to around 30,000, still tiny by big-name smartphone standards.
  • It costs a lot less than expected. While R44,000 is still wallet-busting, it’s well below the most recent forecasts of R50,000-plus, and there are enough heavy-hitters who will pay anything for the latest in cutting edge gadgetry. When the first batch went on sale in Korea, desperate buyers from other countries were paying up to $4,000 a time to import these units.

The device was formally unveiled in South Africa at Samsung Power of 10 celebration in Sandton, and an advance unit put up for sale. TV and singing personality Somizi Mhlongo was the first to shell out R44,000, creating a frenzy of wannabe enthusiasm for pre-orders.

There is a third reason for the enthusiasm: the foldable phone has been a long time coming.

Back in 2016, Lenovo showed off two working prototypes of foldable devices at the Lenovo Tech World conference in San Francisco. The Cplus was a bendable phone that wraps around the wrist, and the Folio a foldable tablet where the screen itself folds in half to become a standard smartphone display. Both were working devices, rather than artists’ concepts, but at the time Lenovo suggested the devices were still some years from hitting the shelves.

On February 20 this year, Samsung first showed off its new foldable phone. At the time, the media were surprised that units were available to try out at the launch. However, small groups had to take turns to enter a private Fold viewing area, photos were banned, personal phones had to be handed in, and the Fold had to be tried out only under close supervision.

The first impression was of a compact smartphone with a relatively small screen on the front – it measures 4.6-inches – and a second layer of phone at the back. With a click of a button, the phone folded out to reveal a 7.3-inch inside screen – the equivalent of a mini tablet.

The device introduced the concept of “app continuity”, which means an app can be opened on the front and, in mid-use, if the handset is folded open, continue on the inside from where the user left off on the front. The difference is that the app will then have far more space for viewing or other activity.

Click here to read about how app continuity.

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