Samsung's latest $2,000 folding phone actually works this time

Key Points
  • Samsung bets that the future of phones looks a lot like this: You carry a device in your pocket that looks a bit like today's phones, but you can just open it up and use its hidden larger screen like a tablet.
  • Last year's Galaxy Fold was a flop, after initial models broke during normal use.
  • This year's Galaxy Z Fold 2 shows Samsung learned from its mistakes. It's great, but also very expensive at $2,000.
You can fold it to sit up like a little computer.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung bets that the future of phones looks a lot like this: You carry a device in your pocket that looks a bit like today's phones, but you can just open it up and use its hidden larger screen like a tablet. It first proposed this idea with last year's Galaxy Fold, which broke during our review and was ultimately delayed while Samsung worked on fixes. That felt like a beta product.

This year's Galaxy Z Fold 2, which launches on Sept. 18, fixes pretty much every complaint I had with the original. It's proof that you really can have a regular phone that doubles as a tablet when you open it up. But this sort of gadget is still very expensive. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 costs $2,000, which is why Samsung's messaging this year is: It's for rich people who like neat toys.

Hey, at least this one works.

Here's what you need to know about the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

What's good

It's a bit fat but the hinge works really well this year.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

My first impressions of last year's Galaxy Fold were bad. The outside screen was tiny and basically unusable. The inside folding display was unprotected (before Samsung fixed it) and looked like glossy cheap plastic. My first impressions of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 were the opposite. It's clearly a very premium and well-built device. It's all metal and glass with a bigger, but skinny, screen on the outside. The more fragile inside display comes with a screen protector that seems to work well, and the edges are protected by plastic and metal. It doesn't seem like it'll break very easily if you take care of it.

The inside display is now made out of super-thin, but fragile, glass. It looks and feels light years better than the original, but you still have to baby it to prevent it from damage. Samsung has lots of warnings to let you know to do so.

There's a big screen inside that's like a tablet.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Sometimes you can see the crease in the middle of the folding screen, but it's not really a big deal. It's mostly visible if there's a lot of glare, and it usually just disappears into the screen. The display also has a higher refresh rate, which means everything looks smoother when you're scrolling through apps or websites. And the weird camera area on last year's model has been slimmed down to a single 10-megapixel camera cutout, which looks nicer.

The outside display is much larger, running from edge to edge, so you can use it like a normal phone now. Some things are cramped, like the keyboard, but I got used to it over time.

You can run two (or three!) apps side-by-side. Here, YouTube up top and CNBC on the bottom.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung and Google optimized the software so that you can easily run up to four apps on the inside screen at once. Most of the time this doesn't really make sense, since apps such as Facebook and Google News are too small to really use. It really shines when you're running two apps side by side, like on an iPad. I was able to talk with friends in a group chat while browsing Twitter at night, for example. And keep an eye on Twitter while interacting with colleagues in Slack. And I loved being able to use that big screen to watch "Hamilton" on Disney+.

You can automatically continue watching content on the outside screen.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Samsung and Google also take advantage of the hinge to give you some interesting software twists. You can start an app, such as Google Maps, on the outside screen and then continue using it on the inside when you open the phone. Or you can use "Flex Mode" and bend the device to prop it up in a laptop-style mode to video chat with Google Duo, edit photos or view comments on YouTube while watching a video. 

Samsung seems to pack everything you need into the Galaxy Z Fold 2. It has 5G, which isn't a huge deal now but will be in a couple of years. And it has five cameras, including one on the front, one on the inside big screen, and three on the back, with one for zooming, one for regular pictures and one for wide-angle shots that let you fit more in the frame.

There are five cameras, they're pretty good.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

They're not quite as good as the cameras on Samsung's Galaxy S20 or Galaxy Note 20 Ultra phones, but they're close. One cool feature: You can open the phone so it's flat and the rear cameras are facing you, and use the external screen as a viewfinder while taking a high-quality selfie with one of the rear cameras, which are better than the built-in selfie camera.

I liked propping it up like this to watch movies.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Finally, it has some really good stereo speakers that are perfect for watching movies and listening to music. I just found I had to flip the device around a bit when I was watching a movie so that I wasn't blocking them with my hands.

What's bad

It's a gorgeous phone. Three cameras are on the back.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

These are nitpicks because, really, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a nice phone that gives you everything you need. But at $2,000 I'd like to see twice the storage — 512GB instead of 256GB — since you can't expand it on your own with a microSD card.

You also probably shouldn't use the Galaxy Z Fold 2 out in the rain, like you safely can with mostly any other flagship phone. There's no water and dust rating yet, probably since that's going to be really hard to achieve with the folding screen.

The keyboard pops up like a little computer in messages when it's folded like this.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I'd also love to see support for Samsung's S Pen in future generations, just because the huge inside display would make a great notepad once it's strong enough to support constant poking with a pen. 

And it's a bit thick when closed. It feels like I'm carrying a king-sized Snicker's bar made out of metal in my pocket. But it needs to be fat to include the two batteries under the hood, which helped keep it running all day.

Should you buy it?

Watching CNBC on the big inside screen.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Look, if I had $2,000 to spare I'd probably buy the Galaxy Z Fold 2. It's finally proof to me that Samsung's folding phones aren't just beta-test products that show the world it can build screens that bend. It feels like it'll hold up for a long time, too, though we won't know for sure until months or years from now.

This is a lot of money to spend on a phone, no matter how you look at it. But the Galaxy Z Fold 2 isn't meant for normal people. It's for early adopters who have a lot of disposable income to spend on new toys. If you're one of those people, check it out. If you're not, get a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Samsung just released another foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 2
Samsung just released another foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 2