People doubt Samsung’s convictions at your own risk. The company will be the first to point to the OG Note phablet as the ultimate expression of this phenomenon. The line may have disappeared, as it was included in the flagship Galaxy S product, but its influence on the industry is still felt a decade after its release, leaving experts to wonder if the company had lost it altogether.
A convincing argument can be made that the Note also spawned Samsung’s folding ambitions. While it is true that the company has done an increasingly good job of reducing the screen-to-body ratio, there is a very practical limitation in the screen size of smartphones. At some point you just run out of pocket, and 6.8 inches might be just that number.
When the first Galaxy Fold arrived in late 2019, it delivered on its promise of a pocket-sized 7.3-inch display. Whatever problems that first device had (and it had plenty), it had cracked the code. For that reason alone, it felt like a foretaste of the future. At the very least, it has long been clear that foldable screens point the way forward in a stagnant market. However, the biggest question is how long will it take to get there.
For its part, Samsung was ready to call the Fold its new flagship almost immediately. The company jumped on the gun, plain and simple. Taking on a new form factor isn’t something that happens overnight – especially when it’s nearly double the price of an existing flagship phone. In the company’s defense, the adoption has gone faster than many expected. Samsung recently noted that it shipped about 10 million foldables by 2022. Obviously we’re not talking about Galaxy S or iPhone numbers here, but the momentum is undeniable.
There are, of course, still many question marks. First is how much sales are driven by novelty versus usability. That will be answered over time, if the numbers stagnate or fall. However, in the near term, healthy growth seems possible as more consumers are made aware of the form factor and manufacturers continue to refine their offerings. A potentially foldable Apple device is, of course, the big joker in this discussion. If the company is confident enough in the technology to bring a product to market, there is bound to be a landslide.
The Galaxy Fold wasn’t exactly the first foldable to be announced (although no one was about to mistake the FlexPai for a mainstream consumer product), but it had enough of an early lead to deliver the form factor template. It’s a large (albeit narrow) device that gets bigger and thinner when unfolded. However, as I noted in the recent Galaxy Flip review, big phone fatigue is a real phenomenon — not enough to catapult the tiny Android phone to 50,000 responses, but real nonetheless.
I think we would all like to spend less pocket space on a giant device, without sacrificing screen space. Once you’ve lived with a bigger screen, it’s hard to give it back. This, I think, is a big part of why consumers have been overwhelmingly drawn to the Flip form factor so far. It’s a more compact way to put a big screen in your pocket, while most people don’t expect – or need – much to carry a 7.6-inch screen in their pocket.
In the end, however, the Flip won the battle, but not the war. Currently, the Fold is hampered by the large, bulky phone around the screen. As it stands, it’s just too much phone for too much money for most users. It’s a device dedicated more to the “look” than the “why” of foldable devices. As Samsung continues to get better at cramming a large foldable phone screen into a (relatively) compact footprint, it’s not hard to imagine this story changing.
As with previous generations, I have enjoyed my time with the Fold, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I would buy one for myself. With the Flip, on the other hand, there were plenty of times when it made sense. I’m in no rush to swap my existing phone for the product, but that’s not nearly as far-fetched a scenario as I might have considered a few years ago.
These bigger issues will stay with the device until Samsung makes some radical upgrades to the hardware — perhaps when or when it starts to see serious competition in the category. But the Z Fold 4 is very similar to its predecessor, the company addressed the small front display issue a while back. But the product feels that Samsung is continuing to develop the device in some meaningful ways.
This is the first device to get Android 12L – a forked version of the operating system designed specifically for the emerging large-screen category that includes products like the Fold. Understandably, multitasking is the focus here, and the marquee feature is a new app toolbar located at the bottom of the screen.
It’s similar to what you’d traditionally find on a desktop or tablet, albeit with extremely reduced icons. It’s a nice addition, and the 7.6-inch screen is JUST big enough to make sense. It’s a smart implementation that allows you to hold down an icon and drag and drop to a split screen view. All in all, Samsung is light years ahead of the competition when it comes to multitasking on the (relatively) small screen. Whatever form future foldables take, the foundation the company has laid here will almost certainly prove valuable.
I’ve also found to my great surprise that I’ve come to appreciate the narrow 6.2-inch screen on the front. It’s reminiscent of the bizarre GEM device that Essential showed shortly before its demise. It’s less than ideal than a standard aspect ratio for most things, but it fits comfortably in the hand and I think there’s a lot of room to innovate here. I would like to see more developers create experiences specific to that front screen as these devices become more and more popular.
Performance is supported by Qualcomm’s latest flagship Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 – the same as the Flip. Samsung continues to excel with the rear-facing camera system – that’s one place where the Fold handily surpasses the Flip. It’s still a three-camera array, though the main 12-megapixel sensor has been swapped out for a 50-megapixel sensor. However, the real difference between the two foldables is the switch from a 2x to 3x telephoto. That’s optical zoom – and it makes a big difference, in terms of not deteriorating the image when you press harder.
For the second year in a row, Samsung went under the screen for the indoor camera. The company has gotten a little better at masking the spot, which looks like an area of magnified pixels. That is, it definitely stands out when you look at it. Due to the existing technology, the image quality on the 4-megapixel camera has still deteriorated and it struggles in low light. While, as noted, you can also take selfies with the 10-megapixel front-facing camera, the interior exists almost exclusively for teleconferencing.
The battery, meanwhile, is 4,400 mAh – as before. You can get through a day with that, no problem. Though given the demands of the big screen, if you’re watching videos and the like, there’s probably more than that. Also, like its predecessor, the system is IPX8 water resistant – so you should have no problem getting it wet. Dust is again a non-starter, mainly because of its hinge mechanism.
A few generations later, Samsung has become accustomed to a more iterative approach to updates to the Fold. Nothing here screams “update” after last year’s model (certainly not for $1,800). The system is a triumph for little on-screen multitasking, but for most users looking to hop aboard the folding train, there’s little reason to recommend the Fold over the Flip.