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Technology

Galaxy Fold hits South Korea after 'overcoming technological hurdles'

Following Samsung's foldable smartphone, Huawei to launch new device in September

Samsung's Galaxy Fold smartphone on display at a media event in Seoul, South Korea, on Sept. 5 (Reuters/Kim Do-gyun).   © Reuters

SEOUL -- Samsung Electronics finally launched its first foldable smartphone in its home country of South Korea on Friday, after months of delays due to durability problems with the display.

Samsung said that it had fixed the 7.3-inch display by strengthening the folding part of the handset after it caused screen problems during media tests in the U.S. in April. The company also attached a film layer to protect the organic light-emitting diode display, which folds down to 4.6 inches.

Hitting shop shelves in South Korea, the Galaxy Fold has drawn attention from customers who have been waiting for the cutting-edge device. It will be launched step-by-step in the U.K., France, Germany, Singapore and the U.S., with 4G long-term evolution or 5G network models.

Consumers lined up in a Samsung store in western Seoul to test the handset, checking it over and asking staff questions about its functions and quality.

"It's too expensive. I think 2 million won would be better," said one male customer, complaining about the 2.4 million won ($2,014) price.

Another customer asked about the durability of the display, raising questions over whether it was strong enough or whether he needed to take care handling it.

Despite their doubts, Samsung said the device was proving so popular that the first 200 orders in its offline shops had already sold out. "You will have to wait until mid-October if you order it right now," said Kim Ah-young, a salesperson at the company's store in Hongdae.

A Samsung CEO said he was sure the model would satisfy customers with its functions. "I am glad that we can show Galaxy Fold, which opens a new mobile category by overcoming many technological hurdles," said Koh Dong-jin, who is in charge of the company's mobile division, in a statement. "Galaxy Fold with Infinity Flex Display will offer meaningful innovation experiences to users by satisfying them with a big screen and portability."

Market watchers say that Samsung's foldable smartphone will urge its Chinese rival Huawei Technologies to quickly launch its own folding model. Huawei delayed the release of the Mate X foldable phone after the company was hit by operating restrictions by the U.S.

A Huawei spokesperson confirmed to the Nikkei Asian Review that it was postponing the launch of the Mate X foldable smartphone, and would launch it officially later this month. The company said it was conducting some extra tests and was simply being extra cautious after seeing Samsung's Galaxy Fold start to break under tests by reviewers in April.

Analysts say that the U.S.'s crackdown on Huawei will give Samsung the edge in its competition with the Chinese company.

"Huawei is also the biggest competitor of Samsung in the area of new generation smartphones such as 5G and foldable phones. U.S.-Huawei trade issues may give Samsung an opportunity to acquire an early lead in these markets, although this will depend on how long the sanctions will last," said Shelley Jang, a director at Fitch Ratings.

Nikkei staff writer Cheng Ting-fang in Taipei contributed to this story.

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