The best thing about the Galaxy Fold is tactile. There’s a gleeful, almost indescribable joy that comes from the act of opening, closing, and hearing that snap.
But that joy is shortlived, particularly when you get down to the business of actually playing games with the thing.
When Samsung held a local briefing for the launch of the Galaxy Fold, their $3000 foldable smartphone and the first device of its kind in Australia, the firm talked up the device’s capacity for gaming. But the briefing was pretty absent on actual games to play bar Mario Kart, so when an opportunity came around to give the phone a more thorough test, I was all on board.
While you can get games running on the Fold’s front screen, the real experience is on the unfolded 4.2:3, 7.3-inch main AMOLED screen. It’s designed to provide the space of a tablet — the iPad Mini is just 7.9-inches — in a mobile form factor, and for vertical apps, like Monument Valley or Wanderlust Travel Stories, the effect works really, really well.
But as nice as those games are, you want the larger screen size for bigger games, if you catch my drift. So over the course of the week, apart from the occasional dabble with an old favourite, I tried the following:
- Call of Duty Mobile
- Arena of Valor
- World of Tanks
- Tiki Taka Soccer
- Through the Ages
- San Juan
- Pokemon Masters
- Black Desert Mobile
- Mini Metro
- Titan Quest
- Dota Underlords
- 7 Wonders
- NBA 2K19
- Cricket Captain 2019
Action RPGs like Titan Quest tended to get the most out of the Fold. Being slightly older meant there wasn’t any particular performance issues, so there wasn’t any problem with the phone getting irrationally hot during gameplay, and the extra screen space improved the overall visibility of the game, even though the view stopped at the Fold’s notch.
The THQ Nordic title fared better, however, than Hearthstone, which had hideously ugly black bars on either side of the screen. I couldn’t even force the Blizzard card battler to use the Fold’s full screen, an option that has to be set on an app-by-app basis in the Android settings.
Games that use the full width of the Fold’s screen, however, tend to run into two main issues. The most noticeable issue is that you’ll see UI prompts get stuck behind the Fold’s notch, making games like Call of Duty read like “LL of uty” on the loading screen.
Which is funny, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re playing something like Arena of Valor in fullscreen, part of the mini-map is permanently obscured by the notch. To avoid it completely souring the experience, I stuck to the bottom lanes — because that was the half of the mini-map I could see.
It doesn’t come up in screenshots, but it’s a genuine detraction from the experience. It’s also less than ideal having to navigate through menu prompts and a UI when half of the button to close a screen is obscured by the notch.
Games like Call of Duty Mobile and Armello fared a little better, although the Fold’s larger screen also exposed two notable problems. In something like Call of Duty, the standard positioning of the buttons is designed for a smaller screen so that everything is accessible millimetres from your thumb.
When blown up on the slightly larger screen of the Fold, there’s more space between those buttons — making them a fraction harder to press in the heat of battle. It’s something you can get used to with time, but instinctively, I found my smaller Mate 20 Pro or iPhone 11 more comfortable to control.
Playing something like Armello really exposed the Fold’s weakness, though. Armello is a beautifully crafted game that looks stunning on desktop, consoles and mobile. But on the Fold, because the screen blows up the mobile graphics to such a degree, I feel like I’m playing the Switch version of the Australian indie.
Armello on the squarer Galaxy Fold
Armello on the iPhone 11
The smaller screen of the phone helps mask some of the jaggier textures and the lower detail on things like grass, trees, and parts of the hero models. That’s blown up to an uncomfortable size on the Fold, because it has no other choice: you’re viewing mobile games on a screen that’s substantially bigger than what developers originally intended. Certain things that would have flown by without a second glance on smaller devices are easier to spot when you’re essentially playing on a tablet.
The squarer view isn’t always helpful, either. Armello‘s UI was designed around a more normal, wider aspect ratio, and the squarer frame of the Fold really cramps the UI and the action on-screen. A game like Call of Duty doesn’t have as many issues, and certain board games (Patchwork, Istanbul, Tokaido) are minimalist enough that there’s not much disruption.
But right now, the reality is that games aren’t optimised for the Fold. And the Fold isn’t really optimised for the current crop of mobile games. Designers build the whole experience around the screens people play on. A lot of crucial UI elements are shunted to the sides for precisely this reason — Hearthstone, Dota Underlords being perfect examples — and games feel more claustrophobic when that middle area, the playable viewing space, is shrunk.
There’s also the Fold’s natural size issue. Unless you have monstrous hands, most people will find dual-stick shooters or other games that need dual thumb inputs a little more comfortable to play on a smaller screen. You can alleviate this a little by manually adjusting UI elements, if the game allows, but most people don’t want that from their mobile games. It’s the opposite of the experience people expect.
So while I wouldn’t call the Fold a bust for mobile gaming, it wouldn’t be my first preference either. I still love looking at it and marvelling at the technological accomplishment that made the Fold possible. But at the end of the day, you have to live with a device. It has to fit into our daily lives. It has to solve problems we face today. The Fold doesn’t quite do that, but it at least proves foldable phones can work.