Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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I know how Samsung can make the Galaxy Z Fold 5 perfect


A person holding a partially open Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I recently spent a wonderful week using the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, and I stand by my original review assessment: This phone is so good that it should be your next smartphone. However, time is running out for me to say that, as the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is almost certainly going to launch soon, and a new model always changes things.

Spending time with the Z Fold 4 has revealed whether the Z Fold 4 is still worth buying today, even as the sequel’s release draws near — and also shown me how Samsung can make the Galaxy Z Fold 5 close to perfect.

Can the Galaxy Z Fold 5 be perfect?

The back of the Galaxy Z Fold 4, held in a person's hand.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Samsung’s job with the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is, in my mind at least, very simple. It only needs to refine the Z Fold 4 if it’s to continue to stay ahead of the growing number of challengers. What does that entail?

I swapped from the Honor Magic Vs to the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and although I appreciated the Magic Vs’ wider cover screen (it’s 6.45-inches compared to 6.2-inches), it didn’t really make much of a difference to my use, so I don’t think widening the Z Fold 5 — and therefore changing the design — is a necessity.

Instead, it needs subtle refinement. Making the Z Fold 5 thinner when folded will help with its usability and hopefully lower the overall weight. The Honor Magic Vs actually feels heavier than the Z Fold 4 because it’s physically bulkier when, in reality, it’s basically the same in terms of weight.

There’s something really pleasing about the Galaxy Z Fold 4.

The phone’s girth may make it look more standard, but it doesn’t enhance the ergonomics. Samsung can retain the tall, thin look with the Z Fold 5, but if it can shave a hair off the thickness, it’ll change people’s perception of the phone’s size — not just when holding it, but visually too.

There’s something really pleasing about the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s width. It’s comfortable to casually grip in a way the wider Magic Vs isn’t, and the flat sides make it really easy to open and close. These aspects don’t need to dramatically change — they just need to be refined so they get even better. It’s a similar story with the hinge, which has a fantastic motion and just the right level of dampening. What it needs is further refinement to the durability and perhaps a slight tweak to its stiffness when opening, but that’s all.

Wait, am I saying don’t change it at all?

A person holding the open Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I don’t think the design, shape, or hinge of the Galaxy Z Fold 4 are in need of a complete overhaul. When I used the Motorola Razr (2022), it was clear the hinge did need changing for the Razr (2023) and Razr Plus, and even though the Magic Vs’ hinge is good, it could also still be improved. The thing is, Samsung is much further down the development road than these companies, and it has reached the point where either small refinements will keep it ahead of everyone else — or a total redesign will push the technology forward. I’m not sure we’re at the point where, technically, a total redesign is possible yet.

Samsung has already made great strides forward with overall durability, providing an IPX8 water-resistance rating, and using its Armor Aluminum material for the chassis and thinner, yet still tough glass on the inner screen too. If Samsung can find a way to add a degree of dust resistance, it would go a long way toward increasing consumer confidence, as would updating Armor Aluminum and detailing exactly why it is better than other materials. I still think people need convincing that a folding smartphone is going to last, and emphasizing improvements in durability and toughness will help a lot.

If the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is a little bit thinner, a little lighter, with even better durability and toughness than before, Samsung is already on to a winner. I think the design looks great, and after using the Honor Magic Vs and the Oppo Find N2, the supposed allure of a wider cover screen simply hasn’t paid off enough for me to hope Samsung adopts it too. Honestly, there’s more than enough room in the big screen foldable space for both styles.

What about the camera?

The Galaxy Z Fold 4's camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

I’ll come right out and say it: I really like the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s camera. I accept it’s not a flagship camera phone, and if I want the best, I should buy the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The wide-angle and 3x optical telephoto zoom are versatile enough, and the quality of the main camera is great. Obviously, all this needs to be updated on the replacement device to keep pace with advancements in technology, but there’s something else Samsung needs to do with the camera in order to really improve it.

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 isn’t likely to take on the S23 Ultra, but the Fold 5 camera’s tone, color balance, and HDR bias should edge more toward that of the Ultra’s, as at the moment, it’s often more like the Galaxy A54 than the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Colors can really pop, often too much, and I’d like to see slightly more natural tones and colors this time around. I really like the effects produced by the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s camera, but there are a lot of times I’d like to apply a filter or tuning instead of seeing it directly from the camera.

It almost goes without saying that the under-display camera needs the most attention, as it’s not very good at all. Elsewhere, I would hope Samsung continues to leverage its relationship with Qualcomm and use a tweaked version of its chosen Snapdragon chip, just as it did with the Galaxy S23 series.

Not once over the past week did I become frustrated with the software, and I really look forward to seeing how many additional features it introduces that make use of the screens this time around. Even the battery has lasted a decent amount of time, and with 2 to 3 hours of screen time per day, it’s still going strong at the close of day two.

The Z Fold 4 is still worth buying

The back of the Galaxy Z Fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The fact that I struggled to find major problems with the Galaxy Z Fold 4 when using it again shows what a great device it is, and Samsung’s considerable investment into research and development of folding smartphones has absolutely paid off. It’s still a great purchase, there’s nothing about it that feels old in any way, and the compromises that are there are to do with big folding phones in general. The Honor Magic Vs, on the other hand, introduces compromises in the software and the camera, so I hesitate to recommend it.

Samsung is expected to announce the Galaxy Z Fold 5 in July, so it’s obviously prudent to wait until then before pouncing on an expensive Galaxy Z Fold 4 unless you absolutely must have a new phone right now. But even if you can’t (or simply don’t want to) wait, then I don’t think you’ll feel crushed about your decision when the Z Fold 5 is announced. The Z Fold 4 is so good, even many months after it was released, that all Samsung needs to do to stay at the top of our recommendation list is to refine what it has already made.

None of this means I don’t want Samsung to pull off a big surprise with an innovation-filled reimagining of the big-screen foldable, though. Before I close, I’ll add one caveat because the Google Pixel Fold has been in the back of my mind throughout my return to the Galaxy Z Fold 4. It’s still a wait-and-see device, and I’m really keen to try it out, but it has the potential to ruin Samsung’s year if it’s really good. Either way, there has never been a better time for folding smartphones.

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