Samsung has an idea how to make its expensive, alpha-tech folding phones more appealing to mainstream customers who might be worried about durability. Unfortunately, it’s one of the worst ideas: add more glue.
The Verge has an exclusive interview with Samsung engineers regarding the redesign of the company’s Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip phones, launched today. Samsung put a lot of thought into hardening and waterproofing the device: rubber gaskets, nylon brushes, double-sided tape, and a “special type of lubricant” for small parts. But Samsung seems most proud of its solution for waterproofing the cables that fold around the hinge of these phones: “cured in place gaskets.” In other words, glue.
“When it’s dispensed, it’s in the liquid or fluid format,” Hee-cheul Moon, principal mechanical engineer at Samsung, tells The Verge’s Dieter Bohn. “Once it’s exposed to air, it becomes solid.” This creates a gummy, semi-solid seal around the cables, but allows them a bit of wiggle room when the phone is opened and closed. Bohn guesses that this is not promising for anybody who needs their Z Flip 3 or Z Fold 3 fixed:
Is all of this a repairability nightmare? Absolutely. Adhesives are the bane of fixing up phones, and with the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3, Samsung has introduced no fewer than three new kinds of sticky materials. Samsung itself offers extended warranty services, and unfortunately, it seems like they might be a very important part of buying these phones — third-party repair shops are going to have a hard time dealing with all that double-sided tape and custom glue.
We have to reserve our full judgment for when we get these phones in for a full teardown—that’s why we do them. But Samsung’s efforts to convince the world that their folding phones are more durable, more water-and-dust-proof, ignores the reality that every phone needs a fix at some point. Usually it’s a battery, after a couple of years. Sometimes it’s a screen. Adding more tape, lubricants, and “cured in place gaskets” that need to be delicately removed, then painstakingly replaced, makes those common repairs more difficult, and could make more intensive repairs impossible.
Also, just to clarify: no phone is really waterproof. Glue eventually breaks down. Maybe, especially, glue that’s subject to constant physical displacement.
All Samsung phones suffer for their glue. Were it not for the fiendishly strong glue, Galaxy phones, even with their curved glass, would not be so difficult to repair. The same goes for their batteries, which are glued down such that you have to apply heat through the screen on the other side. Screens, too, are so tough to un-stick from the frame that some Samsung replacement screens are sold while still attached to a phone chassis. It’s easier to transplant all the internals of your old Galaxy into a new frame than it is to reliably remove the screen.
Durability and waterproofing are good things, especially in an $1,800 Z Fold 3 or $1,000 Z Flip 3. Apple has long argued that it focuses on durability over repairability. Even if Samsung has engineered its way past its first folding phone PR debacle, this either/or mentality implies a certain fealty to mandatory upgrades. You pay a lot for your heavily sealed device; when you think there’s something wrong with it, your best bet is probably to buy the next sealed slab.
We’ll let you know what that glue looks like when we get our units delivered. At a glance, though, it does not look good.