The Galaxy Fold might be playing to the FOMO crowd first and foremost, but at a briefing before the phone’s launch on October 30, Samsung were also touting the foldable’s gaming credentials. After a quick hands-on, it’s certainly an interesting device to game on – but I’m not so sure the gaming world is exactly ready for it.
The 7.3-inch or 4.6-inch display — depending on whether it’s folded out or not — launches in Australia on October 30 for $2999. It’s a special beast, in that you have to physically pick up the phone in-store and get a briefing from Samsung staffers instead of just getting the phone shipped. “We do want the initial experience for customers to be the best,” a Samsung representative said during the briefing.
And while the folding experience is physically seamless, the app-to-app experience is a different thing entirely. Most apps can transition seamlessly between landscape and portrait mode on a regular phone. But the experience on the Fold is whole different matter. The front screen has a 21:9 aspect ratio, something only matched by this year’s Sony Xperia phones which aren’t available in Australia, while the main screen has a 4.2:3 ratio that’s never been used before.
It doesn’t stop apps from full-screening on the main view, but how well they display depends on their UI and design. Something like Mario Kart Tour, which was preloaded onto the sample device I handled, displayed perfectly fine, and Crossy Road ran without a hitch. Another colleague tried loading up Call of Duty: Mobile, however, only for some of the UI to be hidden behind the main screen’s notch.
Games that play vertically, like Crossy Road, displayed the best in fullscreen. Landscape games that park UI elements in the corners, especially the top right, will have the most trouble with the Fold unless the developer has specifically optimised the game for the unusual aspect ratio.
What you’re not getting from these screenshots is the experience of holding the Fold. It’s about 7.6mm thick when unfolded, making it a lot easier to wrap your hand around than a lot of modern phones. The front screen is particularly retro in that there’s a huge amount of black space around the device.
Samsung’s argument is that it wants you to open the fold and interact with apps that way, but if you need to have something on the unfolded screen then you can do that. The most practical application is for answering calls or navigating with Google Maps somewhere, but some regular apps and games can work on the front screen too.
I gave it a shot with Mario Kart Tour, which opened and played just fine (albeit in a very, very small window). Opening the Fold up mid-race expanded the game to a slightly larger view — but apps and games won’t fully display while unfolded until you restart the app. If you open an app on the Fold’s smaller screen, and then unfold the device, and fold it back up again, the app will crash.
The phone’s phablet-like capabilities were touted as a great way to watch videos or YouTube, so I fired up a few videos from the Kotaku Australia YouTube channel. Most YouTube videos are shot in 16:9, so watching back Untitled Goose Game and Control footage added large black bars on the top and the bottom.
I didn’t get the chance to try out longer sessions of gaming, particularly with something like Fortnite or PUBG, games that would have taken advantage of the larger screen. Samsung also has their own game streaming software, PlayGalaxy Link, which you can use to stream games to any S10, S10+ and now the Galaxy Fold from your PC.
That’d certainly be an interesting use case, albeit a supremely expensive one. And there’s also the question of what experiences like Stadia would be like on the Fold, although it’s worth noting that the Australian version of the Fold is only a 4G device (Samsung argued that not all carriers are 5G enabled for mobile yet, and the coverage is still quite thin on the ground).
Either way, it’s certainly a different way to play mobile games. Is it the console-quality like experience Samsung are touting? For that, I’d want to test it for longer and play some games that aren’t Crossy Road or Mario Kart Tour. But it’s one of the most interesting gaming hardware experiences I’ve had this year, which is saying something. Sure, it’s definitely not affordable and it’s certainly not something I’d recommend anyone rush out and buy. But when phones make so little iterations from year to year, and the limits of silicon make it challenging for innovations going forward, interesting is worth something.