* Mobile chief says pre-orders 2.5 times versus Note 7 over 5 days
* Says China recovery to take time
* Says firm hopes to showcase foldable handset next year
* New iPhones to be unveiled Tuesday; Note 8 sales begin Friday (Adds pre-order amount, China business, foldable handset)
SEOUL, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co Ltd on Tuesday said pre-orders for its Galaxy Note 8 premium smartphone have hit the highest-ever for the Note series, beating its predecessor Note 7 over five days by about 2.5 times.
Samsung is banking on the device to protect its market dominance as it competes with Apple Inc's latest iPhones due to be unveiled later on Tuesday. Note 8 sales begin in the United States, South Korea and elsewhere on Friday.
Pre-orders reached about 650,000 Note 8 handsets over five days from about 40 countries, making the initial response "very encouraging," DJ Koh, president of Samsung Electronics' mobile communications business, said at a media event.
The device succeeds the short-lived Note 7, whose battery fires resulted in Samsung pulling the device from the market after just a couple of months at a cost of billions of dollars.
Its reputation tarnished, the world's biggest smartphone maker by market share nevertheless decided to retain the Note brand after a survey showed 85 percent of 5,000 Galaxy Note users expressed brand loyalty, Koh said.
The Note 8's U.S. price of $930 to $960, including dialing and data plans, begins an era of premium-priced handsets which analysts expect to be joined by $1,000-plus iPhones.
Apple is widely expected to unveil a special edition iPhone commemorating 10 years of the handset, equipped with edge-to-edge screen and augmented reality, that will compete with the Note 8 for pre-holiday season sales in Western markets.
In China, the Note 8 is tasked with reviving fortunes in the world's biggest smartphone market where local handset makers such as Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi Inc reduced Samsung's market share to 3 percent in April-June, showed data from Counterpoint Research.
Koh said it will take time to recover in China but expects changes this year such as appointing a new mobile chief, restructuring and focusing on key buyers to be effective.
Koh also said Samsung hopes to showcase a foldable handset next year but that technological hurdles must be overcome before a decision can be made.
"We are digging thoroughly into several issues we must overcome, as we don't want to just make a few, sell a few and be done. We want to hear that Samsung made a very good product."
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Richard Pullin and Christopher Cushing)