In the face of tougher competition from the likes of Huawei, Xiaomi, and OnePlus, Samsung promised to unveil something entirely new for its next flagship smartphone, dubbed the Samsung Galaxy X. And on 7 November 2018, at the Samsung Developer Conference in San Francisco, it did just that.
Taking to the stage at the conference, Justin Denison, SVP of Mobile Product Marketing, first talked through the challenges of developing a folding display before producing a prototype of the Samsung Galaxy X from his pocket to applause from the crowd.
The phone itself doesn't have a name yet, but the display does. Samsung is calling it the Infinity Flex Display.
Recent comments by Samsung's President and CEO of IT & Mobile DJ Koh suggest the phone is going to be the first in a series of foldable handsets, so it's no exaggeration to say this is going to mark a big change in the market. Samsung also recently confirmed that it is working on foldable laptops. And its rumoured to be working on foldable tablets, too.
Well, if you've cracked the engineering challenge of folding screens – and it appears that Samsung has – then you might as well put them in everything. Folding 4K TVs next?
Read on to find out everything we know about Samsung's folding smartphone so far.
Samsung Galaxy X first look
The Samsung Galaxy X folding phone was shown off at Samsung's Developer Conference at Moscone West in San Francisco on November 7. Although we got a look at the phone in both its unfolded and folded forms Justin Denison explained on stage "we've disguised some elements of the design but trust me, there's a device inside here and it is stunning."
"The foldable display lays the foundation for a new kind of mobile experience," added DJ Koh.
Take a moment to watch the moment the folding phone was first revealed in the video below.
Samsung Galaxy X release date
At the November 7 unveiling, no release date was given for the new handset, but Denison did say "we'll be ready to start mass production in the coming months."
So all the release date rumours leading up to the event still seem right – the Galaxy X won't launch until 2019. Samsung previously hinted its first foldable handset might be unveiled on-stage at CES 2019 in early January, or MWC 2019 in late February, two of the biggest tech expos. But in terms of actually buying one? Immediately after CES reveal sounds extremely unlikely and after a MWC perhaps still a little optimistic. We're guessing a public release date of March/April 2018 at the earliest.
That gives you a bit of time to start saving because...
Samsung Galaxy X price
Again, Samsung declined to confirm the final price tag for the Galaxy X when it showed off the somewhat-disguised handset on November 7. But one thing is for certain – this is going to be a very expensive gadget. Considering this is the first foldable handset from Samsung, it isn't likely to be cheap.
According to a leaked report in the the Korea Times, sources suggest this new category of folding handsets could mean paying a premium for the limited initial run of devices. As a result, the Galaxy X price is expected to be around the 2 million Korean won mark, which is about £1,365 – and that's before taxes.
Given the maxed-out Galaxy Note 9 already costs £1,099 ($1,249.99) – and that only has one screen – the upcoming folding smartphone could go even higher than that.
Californian technology firm Royole recently launched a folding phone, which has a single OLED screen – not the two coming to the Galaxy X, and that still topped £999 ($1,300).
So if you want the coolest smartphone of 2019, you'd better start saving for it.
Samsung Galaxy X screen
Every smartphone is dominated by its screen, but the Galaxy X especially so. What we now know is that there will be one phone-sized screen on the outside of the phone and when you open the phone up, you'll get access to a second one that's twice the size. When the phone is folded, it will trigger the front-facing display that will function like a typical smartphone screen.
Samsung has not confirmed any of the screen's specs but Denison made some bold (if non-specific) claims:
"We've been living in a world where the size of your screen can only be as large as the device itself," said Denison. "Well, we've just added a new dimension. The Infinity Flex Display is the foundation for the smartphone of tomorrow."
He added that the phone can be folded “hundred of thousands of times” without getting damaged, and that the screen, when unfolded, measures 7.3-inches.
Samsung Galaxy X software
How will the Galaxy X adapt to users swapping between the phone screen and the tablet screen and will apps move from one screen to the other seamlessly? That'll be just fine, Samsung promises.
That particular task will be taken care of by Samsung's new interface called One UI, which was also announced at the 7 November event.
"The Infinity Flex Display together with One UI delivers a new kind of mobile experience allowing users to do things they couldn’t do with an ordinary smartphone," Samsung said in a press release. "Users now have the best of both worlds: a compact smartphone that unfolds to reveal a larger immersive display for multitasking and viewing content. The app experience seamlessly transitions from the smaller display to the larger display as the device unfolds."
One UI will also enable the Samsung Galaxy X to run three apps simultaneously when in tablet mode, while the redesigned icons mean that "the rounded corner of our hardware is reflected in our software," according to Jee Won Lee, Senior Designer of UX Design at Samsung Mobile.
Android will also be adding support for the Infinity Flex Display’s foldable form factor. That's not surprising given that there are more folding phones on the way from Samsung rivals.
One UI will be tested on the Galaxy S9, S9+ and Note 9 in open beta, which should help to iron out any bugs before the launch of the Galaxy X.
You can read more about One UI and how to join the open beta – which is open to participants in the US, UK, India, China, South Korea, Germany, France, Spain and Poland – at Samsung's new One UI website.
Samsung Galaxy X features
No features were shown off at the official Galaxy X debut in San Francisco, but previously, Samsung mobile chief DJ Koh said the long-awaited folding flagship would offer similar functionality to a tablet when the screen is unfurled, while the folding mechanism would allow the handset to be packed away to a portable and pocketable size.
In an interview with CNET, Koh talked about his ambitions for the new flagship phone, stressing that the foldability of the Galaxy X will not just be a gimmick, but will instead offer delicious new features and experiences for users.
Increasing the amount of screen real estate available on a smartphone is important, according to the Samsung chief. When the company first launched its Galaxy Note series back in October 2011, the 5.3-inch display was widely mocked for its size.
However, DJ Koh notes, after eight generations of the phablet, large-screen devices are now ubiquitous – with rival iPhone XS Max now offering a 6.5-inch display and Google Pixel 3 XL sporting a 6.3-inch screen.
"Possibly when we start selling the foldable phone, it may be a niche market, but definitely, it will expand," Koh said. "I'm positive that we do need a foldable phone."
"When we deliver a foldable phone, it has to be really meaningful to our customer," Koh revealed after the Galaxy A9 launch keynote earlier this year. "If the user experience is not up to my standard, I don't want to deliver those kind of products."
Interestingly, Samsung patents suggest Galaxy X will be compatible with its S Pen digital stylus – either the current Note one, or a new variant. That fits with rumours we've heard that the Galaxy S and Galaxy Note lines could merge next year.
Other features that could be included, although we have no concrete idea, are all the ones mooted for the other 2019 Galaxy – the Samsung S10. So there might be 5G connectivity and an in-screen fingerprint reader... or there might not. Given the amount of innovation already in the Galaxy X around its screen, Samsung might very well to keep the rest of the feature set more established.
That also goes for waterproofing: Samsung has mastered this on its other Galaxy phones, but getting it on a foldable display might prove tricky. One other thing that we hopefully will see is wireless charging, as once you've had that, it's hard to go back.
Samsung Galaxy X battery life
That folding screen could also do wonders for battery life as well, though we're not sure exactly how many mAh the Samsung Galaxy X is going to be packing. With one screen still visible when the phone is closed, it should mean less unlocking and a phone that goes longer between charges.
Reports in Asia suggest Samsung has been working on a flexible battery to go in a flexible phone, with sizes between 3,000mAh and 6,000mAh. Which one makes it into the final product is anyone's guess right now, but the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus comes packing 3,500mAh, for reference.
Samsung Galaxy X spec: processor, RAM, storage and camera
With production already underway, the Galaxy X is tipped to be using the successor to the Snapdragon 845 to power everything. Saying that, this is a completely new design, so maybe Samsung will opt for something custom-made.
The question here is whether Samsung will go all out to add bells and whistles to its most innovative phone, or whether it has decided screen innovation is sufficient, and that buyers will be able to live with a more basic (though still high-powered) spec.
If it is charging well over £1,000 ($1,000) for the smartphone, you'd hope it was going down the bells and whistles route, though.
In terms of RAM, we might see 4GB-6GB installed, and the usual 64GB and 128GB storage options, although 256GB must be a possibility, assuming it can be made to fit. That lines up with the rumours we've been hearing for the other Samsung phones due to launch in 2019.
One component that could suffer is the camera – cramming the tech into a flexible or folding phone isn't going to be easy. Considering Samsung makes some of the best smartphone cameras in the business, though, we're hoping it can figure something out here.
We're looking forward to seeing more of Samsung's folding screen tech and we have a feeling that Huawei already has a response planned...