A metal and glass smartphone was never meant to bend. It happens too often by accident, but when building phones that are intended to be folded over themselves, engineers have a whole new set of potential problems to figure out.
That’s why the one thing I was happiest to see from the Galaxy Unpacked event was a new hinge design for the Galaxy Z Fold 5. It might not be the sexiest feature or a flashy change that gets people excited, but it is something that companies that make phones that fold have to keep working on.
Of course, Samsung isn’t the only company that makes folding phones. But it is the company that can figure out the best way to keep them from falling apart. Not only did Samsung invent the entire category when it released the first Galaxy Fold, it has the resources to survive a disaster. Remember the Note 7?
Thankfully, the inherent problems with folding glass and moving metal parts aren’t the same as a thermal runaway in a sealed battery. They’re probably just as tough to “fix,” though. Maybe even tougher.
Nobody wants their phone to break because getting them fixed can be a complete nightmare — even if you pay extra for a “Care Plus” package from a company the size of Samsung. What happened to AC’s own Andrew Myrick might not be because it’s a Fold 4, but in any case, nobody wants to go through this just to get their phone back in working order.
When your phone is a foldable one, nightmare scenarios involving things that break “for no reason” are far too common. The bulk of these involve the Galaxy Fold and Galaxy Flip simply because Samsung sells the bulk of foldable phones, but it really is across the board, Whether you have a Samsung foldable, a Pixel Fold, or one of the foldables from Xiaomi or another brand that we’ll never see in North America, bending things not meant to be bent means more problems.
I’ll say it again — it is up to Samsung to figure out new ways to do things, like build a hinge that protects a fragile display that’s being bent in half. That’s not easy because nobody wants a Galaxy Fold that’s thick as a brick, so it all has to fit in a device meant to be as thin as possible.
What’s good about this is that Samsung is in a position to figure it out. Samsung doesn’t just build phones or watches. While the people designing something like a washing machine or military equipment aren’t working in the mobile division, mechanical engineering and R&D are part of the company’s DNA.
We see this with the Fold 5’s new hinge. It uses a new design that puts less pressure on the display while closed and has several benefits. You and I will notice that it’s less likely to create a crease right down the middle of the interior display, but it also means a lesser chance of developing a weak point where that crease would be.
Equally important, the new flex hinge uses fewer moving parts. Moving parts means wear and tear, which eventually means failure. Using less of them means a longer life for the whole assembly.
I don’t think this is the holy grail of foldable hinges just yet. There is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to making a phone fold in half. This could even make everything worse in some way nobody imagined, though I doubt it.
The important thing is that Samsung isn’t resting on its laurels. We see a new hinge design every year, and so far, each has been an improvement over past designs. The Fold 6 hinge will be better than the Fold 5 hinge, and that will continue until it helps make a folding phone just as durable as one that doesn’t fold.