There’s a problem with Samsung’s folding phones, and it’s ugly

Unfolding the Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Samsung is just a few weeks away from putting its fifth-generation foldable phones on the shelves. Of course, faster silicon, better cameras, and larger batteries are some of the iterative upgrades we’re all expecting. But more than anything, I hope Samsung has made the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 5 a tad more durable.

It’s an obvious request, but a quick look at the real buyer experience with Samsung’s foldable phones adds a bit of urgency. Earlier this month, a Digital Trends reader wrote to us about a Galaxy Z Flip 4 that was used sporadically for merely two months before the pre-applied screen protector started peeling off, bubbles forming along the hinge crease, and the hinge making “a loud crackling sound.”

Images and posts depicting issues with Samsung foldable phones

A friend of mine also regaled a similar issue to me. On a trip, his Galaxy Z Fold 4 started making crackling noises every time he tried to open or shut the device, unsure whether it was the hinge parts that were malfunctioning or the foldable screen assembly on the verge of collapse.

Within a month, the hinge gave up as the phone refused to open fully flat. There was no sign of a drop or any external physical damage to the phone, which only made the whole situation more perplexing. Thankfully, insurance cover saved him a lot of money, but not many buyers have that luxury.

Repairing foldables in 2023 is still a chore

The Galaxy Z Flip 4 open next to a Galaxy Z Fold 4's box.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

These are not isolated incidents. I reached out to authorized Samsung service centers in four of India’s biggest metro cities – Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata – to inquire about foldable phone problems.

The employees were unauthorized to reveal any inherent hardware problems with Samsung’s foldable phones. However, we got insights about the foldable fragility woes after putting a broken Galaxy Z Fold 4 through the repair process and discussing the problem with experts at the service outlets.

Comment from an expert at an authorized repair center Digital Trends

The general consensus is that sophisticated foldable engineering also happens to be extremely fragile. One of the service center personnel told me that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 had issues with the hinge mechanism, but Samsung polished those flaws a year later with the Galaxy Z Fold 4. But despite the boost in durability, these phones are still notoriously damage-prone.

“Even if the device has no external signs of damage, an accidental bump above the hinge ridge or a shallow fall is enough to misalign the hinge parts. I have seen cases where accidentally putting load above the phone in an unfolded state caused the hinge to give up,” said one of the service center employees, who asked to stay anonymous to protect his job.

Complaints about Samsung foldable phones online.

Another employee at a Samsung-authorized retail outlet in Kolkata bluntly told me that if the two screens on a tablet-style Samsung foldable are fine and you are only having issues with the hinge, continue using it as it is. “If you plan a servicing, it is going to cost you around INR 52,000 (roughly $633). So unless you are covered under warranty, I won’t recommend a repair unless you are afraid of further damage.”

The issue with expensive foldable repairs is that, unlike a regular glass slab phone, if your Galaxy Fold or Flip is malfunctioning, the entire foldable screen and the underlying hinge assembly has to be replaced.

Comment about Samsung foldable phones from an expert at an authorized service outlet.
Comment from a Samsung service expert in Bengaluru Digital Trends

At least five Samsung service outlets confirmed to me that you can’t perform standalone screen or hinge repair, as the replacement would require a fresh integrated display-hinge assembly.

Broken displays, hinge issues, and more

Hardware issues on Samsung Galaxy Flip phones.
Reddit / Samsung Community Forum

A quick look at Reddit and Samsung’s own community forum reveals a long history of concerning display and hinge-related issues with Samsung’s phones. I focused my research on complaints popping up within the last 12 months, and it took me merely a few minutes of crude keyword search to unearth at least 30 complaints covering Samsung foldables.

But it’s not just the Galaxy Z Fold series tablet-hybrid phones that are troubling buyers. There are scores of Galaxy Z Flip customers who have complained about display and hinge issues on the official Samsung Community Forum and Reddit.

In some cases, it’s a random black dot appearing on the screen and lines appearing across the crease, while others report the hinge popping out due to misalignment, display flickering on one half of the foldable panel, and a purple hue on the cover display, to name a few.

Comment about Samsung foldable phones from an expert at an authorized service outlet.
Comment from a repair expert at an authorized Samsung service outlet in Delhi Digital Trends

The glass cracking alongside the seam in the middle appears to be one of the most common problems, followed by dead pixels or a colorful line of pixels running from one edge to another. Multiple user posts also mention that one-half of the screen got unresponsive soon after dead pixels or lines appeared on the foldable screen.

While display and hinge issues are the most frequently-reported woes, there are multiple complaints about sound and wireless connectivity issues, as well. One Samsung service center expert told me that the ribbon cables connecting the hinge and screen assembly can also cause a handful of other issues, as well, including Wi-Fi connection problems.

Broken screen on Samsung Galaxy Z Flip series phones.
Reddit / Samsung Community Forum

Miffed users again report that their phone never dropped or had a brush against a solid surface, but their warranty claims for replacement were declined, citing external damage. Going back a couple of years into the Galaxy Z Fold 3 or Flip 3 generation – and beyond – one can unearth even more durability-related complaints.

Digital Trends reached out to Samsung for comment on this story, and a spokesperson for the company said the following:

“Samsung is committed to providing the best possible mobile experience to customers and conducted a series of rigorous, industry-validated tests designed specifically to simulate real-world conditions. We encourage customers with questions regarding their Samsung device to contact their local customer service representatives at Samsung Care.”

Embrace a risky luxury, or abandon ship?

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

I’ve extensively used and reviewed Samsung’s foldable phones ever since the first Galaxy Fold came out, with a ton of durability issues in tow. But it wasn’t until the Galaxy Z Fold 4 that I was no longer afraid of using a foldable phone without a protective case.

But that doesn’t mean these phones are without their fair share of hardware problems. Similarly, calling out for a class-action lawsuit against Samsung – as many angry posts on Reddit do – is neither reasonable nor a cakewalk. The screen and hinge-related issues on the Samsung foldable aren’t because the company served half-baked hardware or poor quality checks.

Comment about Samsung foldable phones from an expert at authorized service outlet.
Comment from a repair expert at an authorized Samsung service outlet in Kolkata Digital Trends

In reality, the issues have more to do with the fragile nature of foldable phone engineering. There are just way too many sophisticated tiny parts at play here to deliver that “wow” folding phone experience. Even one misfiring element can break the entire assembly, and replacing it isn’t really forgiving on your wallet.

And as we’ve seen recently, this isn’t a Samsung-specific issue — but rather one that affects the entire foldable form factor. The Google Pixel Fold is an all-around great device, but it’s also received its own reports of damaged screens and concerning hinge issues.

A person holding a partially open Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Does that mean you should stop buying foldable phones? No. On the contrary, you should definitely experience their wonderful versatility if you can afford them. Samsung happens to be particularly good at making foldable phones, and among the many devices I’ve tested so far, the Galaxy foldables have offered the most refined and fulfilling experience.

But before you pledge over a thousand dollars towards a foldable phone, make sure that you invest a few extra bucks on a sturdy case and treat your phone like a prized heirloom. Then, you must take the absolute best care of it — unless you don’t mind forking a fortune on foldable phone repairs or seeking to upgrade your phones frequently. Either way, it’s not a great situation.

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