Samsung called ‘first’ on foldy phones and 5G, but it wasn’t ready

Last week Samsung introduced five new phones, three new watches, a pair of true wireless earbuds, and new unit of measurement (the Galaxy Fit band weighs the same as a strawberry, apparently) at its Unpacked event in the US.

But while the Galaxy S10e, S10 and S10+ are great phones and a solid upgrade on the S9, the Galaxy Buds sound very good, and the Galaxy Active watch certainly exists, it was the things with no Australian release date which journalists couldn’t touch or photograph at the event that people were most excited about.

5G is the obvious next step for mobile communications. Faster is better, and with Telstra promising Australian customers that it’ll provide speeds up to 20 times faster than 4G, it’s understandable that everyone wants to get their hands on it. However, information about the Galaxy S10 5G in the briefings and the event itself was oddly light. We know it has six cameras, a 6.7-inch screen, and a 4500mAh battery (one of the largest ever in a smartphone), and it will only be available through Telstra to start with. We don’t know its storage capacity, or the battery life given how many antennas are in it, or actual speed tests on Australian networks. Just that we can expect it sometime before July.

The other, arguably even more exciting, phone announced at the event shows the next real step forward. Folding phones are how we’re going to be able to get bigger screens to multitask and one day replace tablets; perhaps even laptops. Folding a screen still seems a little like science fiction, it’s an exciting innovation we can see, touch and imagine we’re on the Starship Enterprise.

Except Fold was another phone journalists couldn’t see or touch at Unpacked, beyond what we could see on the stage.

What we do know is that it has an inner 7.3-inch screen and an outer 4.6-inch screen, it has 6 cameras, 12GB of RAM, a screen 50 per cent thinner than most other smartphones, and a very fancy hinge. And, much to my disappointment, we know that Samsung worked really hard to make sure there’s a seamless app experience no matter which screen you’re using, so you can’t actually hang up on anyone by angrily folding your phone.

However, we don’t know how the phone feels to fold, how a 2cm thick phone feels in your pocket, if it’s comfortable to type on a 7.3-inch square screen, if things can get caught in the hinge, and who is going to buy a $3000 first generation folding phone (other than early adopters and keen tech journalists, of course). It’s safe to assume, though, that if implemented properly folding phones could end up being more significant than the introduction of the tablet.

The problem is that the timing of Unpacked, just before the MWC tech show in Barcelona, and lack of visibility of the two phones everyone came to see, in hindsight comes across as the multi-million-dollar equivalent of posting “first” on a YouTube video. Samsung wasn’t quite ready to announce such significant products, but it wanted to get in before its competitors announced their own versions.

The S10 5G and Fold aren’t really the first 5G and folding phones, but they are the first that matter. I’m glad Samsung's waiting to release them when they’re ready, it’s just frustrating that it didn’t hold the announcement until it was ready for that, too.

The author travelled to San Francisco as a guest of Samsung.

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