One doubts the Samsung one beliefs of own responsibility. The company will be the first to point to the OG Note phablet as the ultimate expression of this phenomenon. The line may have died out after being absorbed by the flagship Galaxy S, but its impact on the industry is still being felt a decade after its launch, leading experts to wonder if the company has lost it entirely.
A strong argument can be made that the Note also birthed Samsung’s foldable ambitions. While it’s true that the company has done an increasingly good job of reducing the screen-to-body ratio, there is a very practical limit to the size of a smartphone’s screen. At a certain point, one simply runs out of pocket, and 6.8 inches can be just that figure.
When the first Galaxy Fold arrived in late 2019, it delivered on the promise of a pocketable 7.3-inch screen. Whatever problems the first device had (and there were many), it had cracked the code. For that reason alone, it felt like a taste of the future. At the very least, it’s long been clear that foldable displays point the way forward in a stagnant market. The biggest question, however, is how long it will take to get there.
For its part, Samsung was ready to start calling the Fold its new flagship almost immediately. The company jumped the gun, plain and simple. Adopting a new form factor isn’t something that happens overnight—certainly not when it costs nearly double the price of an existing flagship phone. In the company’s defense, adoption was faster than many expected. Samsung recently noted that it shipped around 10 million foldable devices in 2022. Obviously, we’re not talking about the Galaxy S or the iPhone here, but the momentum is undeniable.
There are still many question marks, of course. The first is how much sales are driven by novelty versus practicality. This will be resolved over time if the numbers plateau or decline. In the short term, however, healthy growth seems possible as more consumers become aware of the form factor and manufacturers continue to refine their offerings. A potential foldable device from Apple is, naturally, the huge wild card in this discussion. If a company feels confident enough in the technology to bring a product to market, there is bound to be a seismic shift.
The Galaxy Fold wasn’t the first foldable to be announced (though no one would mistake the FlexPai for a mainstream consumer product), but it had enough of an early lead to provide the template for the form factor. It’s a large (albeit narrow) device that gets bigger and thinner when unfolded. As I noted in recent Galaxy Flip reviewhowever, big phone fatigue is like a real phenomenon – not enough to catapult Small Android phone up to 50,000 answers, but real nonetheless.
I think we’d all be happy to allocate less pocket space for a giant device without sacrificing screen real estate. Once you’ve lived with a bigger screen, it’s hard to go back. I think that’s a big part of why users have overwhelmingly gravitated towards the Flip form factor so far. It’s a more compact way to put a big screen in your pocket, when most people don’t have much of an expectation — or need — to carry a 7.6-inch screen in their pockets.
In the end, though, Flip won the battle, but not the war. The Fold is currently hampered by the large, bulky phone around its 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 “can” than the “why” of foldables. As Samsung continues to get better at fitting a large foldable phone screen into a (relatively) compact footprint, it’s not hard to imagine that narrative changing.
As with previous generations, I’ve enjoyed my time with the Fold, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d buy one for myself. With Flip, on the other hand, there were plenty of moments where it made sense. I’m in no rush to replace my existing phone with the product, but it’s not as far-fetched a scenario as I might have thought a few years ago.
These bigger issues will stick with the device until Samsung makes some radical upgrades to the hardware — perhaps when or if it starts to see serious competition in the category. But the Z Fold 4 looks a hell of a lot like its predecessor, the company has addressed the issue of the small front display some time ago. But the product finds Samsung continuing to improve the device in some significant ways.
It’s 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. Multitasking is understandably the focus here, and the bookmarking feature is a new app toolbar that sits at the bottom of the display.
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 clever implementation that lets you hold an icon and drag and drop into a split-screen view. Overall, Samsung is light years ahead of the competition when it comes to multitasking on a (relatively) small screen. Whatever form future foldables take, the foundation the company has built here will almost certainly prove valuable.
I also found, much to my surprise, that I came to appreciate the narrow 6.2-inch front screen. This brings to mind the strange GEM device Essential showed up shortly before his death. It’s not ideal for most things from the standard display aspect ratio, but it fits comfortably in the hand and I really think there’s a lot of room for innovation here. I’d like to see more developers create experiences specifically for this front screen as the popularity of these devices continues to grow.
Performance is boosted by Qualcomm’s latest flagship, the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 — the same as the Flip. Samsung continues to excel with its rear camera system – this is where the Fold easily beats the Flip. It’s still a three-camera matrix, although the main 12-megapixel sensor has been replaced by a 50-megapixel one. The real difference between the two foldables, however, is the move from 2x to 3x telephoto. It’s optical zoom — and it makes a big difference in that it doesn’t degrade the image as you press harder.
For the second year in a row, Samsung has used below the display for the internal camera. The company has gotten a little better at masking the blemish, which looks like an area of enlarged pixels. That means it’s definitely noticeable when you look at it. Existing technology means the 4MP camera’s image quality is still degraded and struggles in low light. Although, as noted, given that you can also take selfies with the 10-megapixel front-facing camera, the interior exists almost exclusively for teleconferencing purposes.
Meanwhile, the battery is 4400mAh — the same as before. That should get you through a day, no problem. Although given the demands of the big screen, if you’re watching videos and the like, anything more than that is probably pushing it. Plus, like its predecessor, the system is IPX8 waterproof — so you shouldn’t have a problem getting it wet. Dust is again a non-starter, which is mostly due to the hinged mechanism.
A few generations later, Samsung has settled into a more iterative approach to updates for the Fold. Nothing here screams “update” from last year’s model (certainly not at $1,800). The system is a triumph for small-screen multitasking, but for the majority of users looking to get on the folding bandwagon, there’s little reason to recommend the Fold over the Flip.