Samsung’s next folding phone needs to feel more normal

Today, Samsung is going to announce a giant pile of new gadgets. Here’s what to expect: Two Note 20 phones, a couple of Tab S7 Android tablets, a new Galaxy Watch, and Galaxy Ear Buds Live. I am on record that Samsung should have the guts to call those earbuds Ear Beans because tech needs to have a little more fun but also look at them.

The event kicks off at 10AM ET and although it’s an online-only affair, we’ll be doing a liveblog with real-time commentary — so you can find it all in one place instead of trawling for takes on Twitter.

If you ‘d rather just get the highlights, here’s a story stream that will have all the big news: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 event: all the latest rumors, news, and more.

When Samsung first announced the event, I wrote in this newsletter that the company needs a certifiable flagship — the kind of device that is the best thing Samsung can make, one that will put a halo on the brand and draw people in to buy the other phones. Of the contenders, I put my money on the Galaxy Z Fold 2.

The leaks in the past week or so have shown that the Note 20 Ultra isn’t going to be a sleeper, though. AT&T just whiffed and put out a video confirming nearly every feature in it. But the Z Fold 2 looks impressive in other ways: the smaller hole punch and the gigantic front screen resolve two of the many issues I had with the first one.

Rumor has it that the Fold 2 may be somewhat delayed (there’s a lot of that going around this fall), however, so we may just get a tease today. Late breaking rumors say we should expect “some real hype shit” about the design.

Something interesting has happened in the world of tech YouTubers and Android writers in the past couple of months: they love the Galaxy Z Flip folding phone. Granted, that’s an audience you’d expect to be into a fancy device like that — but also I think that it’s the only audience that really should be buying a fancy device like that. The people I see using folding phones the most are starting to advocate for them. That doesn’t mean you should get one, but it’s interesting.

If Samsung can make the Z Fold 2 just a little more durable, I think it has a shot at getting a small cadre of dedicated users who love it and advocate for it — something more than the YouTubers and writers, but enough normal users to form a community around the device. That’s not far from what happened with the original Galaxy Note, the phone that was panned as a “phablet” until its size became the new normal.

Every folding phone to date has been too expensive for me to feel comfortable recommending. Unless Samsung absolutely shocks me with the price, I’m sure that the Z Fold 2 will also not be something I think is a good value. Objectively, it’s only fair to expect it to be a thing for the very wealthy (or somewhat foolish).

Tech companies very much want to make folding phones just another option in the smartphone ecosystem. To get there, they need to be approachable not just in terms of price but also in their durability and technology.

It’s going to take a little more than a few devices from Samsung. Microsoft needs to get its Duo out the door (it’s not a folding screen, but it’s a similar idea). Motorola needs to make a Razr that doesn’t creak like a door in a bad horror movie. LG needs to, well, let’s not ask too much of LG right now it’s been a rough half decade.

I’d also like folding phones to become a normal part of the smartphone world, simply because I think diversity of form factors is good and leads to more innovation. One of the reasons the original Fold’s failures were so disappointing is they threatened to poison an otherwise promising new well.

The Z Fold 2 doesn’t need to singlehandedly make folding phones feel mainstream — but it does need to push them in that direction.

The course I’m describing here is one of slowly building momentum. It could fall apart at any moment if the phones themselves fall apart physically. But the Z Flip’s very modest success is something to build on. Here’s what I wrote at the end of that review:

If folding phones are ever going to stop being just expensive curiosities, they have to start being normal. I need to be able to just tell you about the screen and performance and camera, not spend the majority of my time explaining why this time maybe — maybe — the screen and hinge won’t explode. They also, obviously, need to start having much more normal prices.