The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 restored (a little of) my faith in flagships


OPINION – $1,999: that’s apparently the price of innovation, or at least evolution. Still as inaccessible to the masses, and therefore widely irrelevant, as with its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 nevertheless marks real progress for the South Korean conglomerate. In fact, this device has done enough to give me hope for the future of flagship smartphones.

The first op-ed I wrote for NextPit last March was titled “The ‘flagship’ smartphone is dead, an autopsy of an old-world concept.” In it, I described the total loss of meaning and, above all, the identity of high-end smartphones, where most of them look alike and struggle to truly stand out from the mid-range smartphone market.

So I deplored the lack of uniqueness among flagships, this “je ne sais quoi” feeling that makes you want to forget their exorbitant price just for the pleasure of owning something that is unique and standing out from the rest of the crowd. The latest example to date is the Galaxy Note 20. I dedicated an article on why the Galaxy Note 20 is a joke, peppering it with vitriol while hoping that reviewing it will make me change my mind. 

But that was before. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 could, on paper, pave a path of hope to turn the tide around.

A big step for Samsung, and for flagships

A flagship is expensive, precisely because it serves as a technological and marketing showcase for its manufacturer. There is only a minority market that is willing to fork out insane amounts of money while it also serves as an incentive for investors to finance additional R&D in order to develop the concept of each brand. Ultimately, the whole objective is to improve the device to the point of mass-producing these features in handsets that are more affordably priced over the course of time.

And for the first time in a long while, that promise finally seems to be kept – at least half of it. Yes, the Fold 2 is still as expensive as its predecessor, but it’s still a striking device to look at, even if only visually, to see the giant leap between the Galaxy Z Fold 2 and the first-generation Fold.

Galaxy Fold vs Z Fold 2. The evolution is real. They don’t even feel or look alike IMO. The change is that drastic in real life. pic.twitter.com/5rHpbM7Xk1

— Danny Winget (@superscientific)
September 1, 2020

With its almost bezel-less main display, the shrinking of the gigantic notch in favor of a punch-hole, and the integration of a large cover screen, the Fold 2 makes its predecessor look old-fashioned. So much the better! Add that to the hinge improvements as seen on the base of the Galaxy Z Flip, which my colleague David had already noted in his review, and you can feel that the Fold 2 design has arrived at an acceptable maturity level.

What I mean by that is this: on paper, it looks good enough to be sold as a finished product, which was not the case with the first generation Fold that left me totally speechless. Let’s get this straight: the Fold 2 is still as inaccessible as ever to the mass market, given its price, and therefore has no interest for 99% of consumers.

However, we are witness to a technological leap compared to the first generation. It’s a rare thing these days, especially when it comes to flagship devices. When was the last time a new model delivered a quantum leap in improvement over its predecessor?

As I’ve been able to discuss with some readers, the last example I had in mind was the iPhone 11. It wasn’t really innovative but it marked real progress compared to the previous generation, like the iPhone X before it. Except that this was an update from Apple in terms of hardware that were already commonplace on Android handsets.

The trickle-down effect is still waiting to happen

At the beginning of the article, I explained that the promise of the flagships (to sell themselves at the sweet price point in order to make it accessible to the masses over time) was only half fulfilled by the Fold 2.

Indeed, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is absolutely not cheaper than the first generation Galaxy Z Fold. We can’t say that the €2,020 ($2,390) price tag will enable Samsung’s foldable technology to become mainstream in 2020. Even the Galaxy Z Flip sells for €1,500 ($1,775). You will have to bend over backwards in order to pick up a foldable smartphone.

At the same time, I was talking about a path of hope, not a miracle that made me totally change my mind about the relevance and future of flagships. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is an ultra-high-end smartphone and Samsung seems to perfectly assume its positioning.

Logically, the initial surprise and amazement at the release of the first Fold faded a bit where the Fold 2 is concerned. By delaying the trickle-down effect of such technology, where it is more accessible to consumers, “early adopters” risk missing out on improvements year after year.

As a matter of fact, during the briefing given prior to the Fold 2 launch conference, Samsung explained that it had conducted a survey among users of the first generation Fold in order to obtain some feedback. The number of respondents was…a mere 476 users.

476 in South Korea and the United States! Samsung has obviously more than 500 Galaxy Fold devices in a single year, as anything less than that would be absurd. But this very small sample is still an indication of just how small the consumer base that this brand can potentially rely on compared to its other products for such high-end devices, or should I say, experiments?

It is therefore absolutely necessary to broaden this base. Instead of lowering its price, Samsung has to bet everything on the quality of the Fold 2. It is not more accessible, but far more refined and capable. After the beta that was the Fold 1, the Fold 2 is the finished product that should see Samsung doubling down.

I’m just hoping to review the Galaxy Z Fold 2 to see if Samsung played its cards right.

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