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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 review: the best foldable of its kind


A person opening the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

MSRP $1,800.00

“The futuristic folding Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is thinner, lighter, and more powerful than ever before. It’s the best big-screen folding smartphone you can buy.”

Pros

  • Thinner and lighter than ever
  • Silent, high-quality hinge
  • Strong multitasking tools
  • Fun, social media-friendly camera
  • Inner screen is perfect for games and video
  • IPX8 and durable chassis

Cons

  • Battery life hasn’t dramatically improved
  • Slow charging

Where do I start with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5? At first glance, and unless you see them next to each other, it’s practically indistinguishable from its predecessor. This is partly a good thing, as last year’s Z Fold has been the best big-screen foldable you can buy since its release. But it’s also potentially bad, as it will make some people question how new it actually is, and that’s a problem for Samsung as the Galaxy Z Fold 5 has a lot more competition this year.

But as I’ve come to discover, the Z Fold 5 is also fantastic and the closest we’ve come to a mainstream, big foldable smartphone that, for most people, will be usable every day, all day long. Where does this leave you, the eager buyer? With a very tough decision to make, but I’m going to try and make it easier.

About our Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 review

This review was published by Andy Boxall on August 7, 2023, after using the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 for a week in the U.K. It will be updated in the coming weeks and months after additional use and testing.

The review was updated on August 13 to account for the Galaxy Z Fold 5 now being available for immediate purchase.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: design

A person holding the open Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung’s engineering team has worked its magic to reduce the thickness and weight of the Galaxy Z Fold 5 considerably, and it now measures 13.4mm thick when closed, weighs 253 grams, and its new Flex Hinge mechanism allows the phone to close without a gap. It makes a surprising amount of difference, with the Z Fold 5 proving to be more ergonomic, easier and more comfortable to hold, and less bulky than its predecessor.

There’s a significant difference between them, with the Z Fold 5 being 2.4mm thinner and 10 grams lighter than the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and it’s even 0.2mm thinner unfolded too. These are small changes on paper, but they alter the phone a lot. I’ve carried the Z Fold 5 around for more than a week, it has been less noticeable in my pocket, and unlike the Z Fold 4, I’ve not had any scary, potentially expensive moments where I juggle the phone because it’s too heavy and a little unbalanced.

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, showing the top.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The new Flex Hinge is absolutely silent and perfectly dampened. It gives the entire phone a fantastic, high-quality, luxurious feel. It holds itself open at various angles — which is great for watching video — and has bedded itself in quicker than the Z Fold 4 too. Within a day of use, the initial stiffness had disappeared, leaving a confidence-inspiring, superbly engineered motion. There’s no longer a gap between the sections, so there is less danger of debris getting in-between them. It blows every other foldable hinge on a smartphone today out of the water.

The 6.2-inch, 2316 x 904 cover screen and 7.6-inch, 2176 x 1812 inner screen are both the same size and resolution as on the Z Fold 4, with the same variable refresh rate too. The chassis is made of Samsung’s Armor Aluminum material, and the Z Fold 5 has an IPX8 water resistance rating as well. There are some subtle upgrades, with Gorilla Glass Victus 2 glass and higher peak levels of brightness. This is genuinely noticeable, with better white balance and sharper text when viewed in direct sunlight, and the screen also adapts automatically when it recognizes difficult lighting.

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, showing the fingerprint sensor.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Yes, the Galaxy Z Fold 5’s overall design is basically the same as that of the Galaxy Z Fold 4, Galaxy Z Fold 3, and even the Galaxy Z Fold 2. But the tall, thin cover screen makes a lot of sense now that the chassis is thinner and lighter, and it’s actually far more usable when closed than wider folding smartphones that promise “normal” phone ergonomics. Samsung could change the design, but it doesn’t need to change it. A big-screen foldable phone is always going to take on this basic design unless it chooses to adopt the outward folding design of the Huawei Mate Xs 2.

If you are craving a radical redesign, I understand. But now that I’ve lived with the phone, the evolutionary alterations are far more meaningful than I expected. They’ve improved the Galaxy Z Fold 5 in crucial ways that will appeal to people who didn’t like the size and bulk of previous versions, and that’s going to bring it another step closer to mainstream acceptance. Add this to the incredible high-quality engineering and build quality, and you’ve got hardware that fully backs up its massive asking price.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: watching video, playing games, and reading

The Pocket City game on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5's open screen.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I don’t play that many games, but I do watch quite a lot of videos, and I read books. I’ve already talked about how the Z Fold 5’s lower weight and thinner chassis change the way you hold and use the phone, but I want to expand on why I love to use it. The open screen is glorious; matched to the solid hinge and huge power, it’s fantastic to watch videos, read books, and play games.

Samsung has placed the volume controls on the same edge as the camera module, so the phone has a flat panel to rest on a desk, yet still remains perfectly usable. The hinge holds the screen at different viewing angles, and it’s perfect for casual viewing. I’ve used the Galaxy Z Fold 5 to catch up on long YouTube videos I’ve not had time to watch, as it can stand up on its own, and I can move around the room and still pay some attention. I have even used it in portrait orientation, not just landscape, and it works surprisingly well.

Use the Z Fold 5 on a flat surface, partially folded, and Samsung’s Flex Mode shows media controls on the lower half of the screen. Watching videos on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is fun and quite unlike doing so on any regular phone. It’s the same story (no pun intended) with reading books. The larger screen is bright enough to read outside, but also dim enough to comfortably use in darker rooms. Although you can see the crease with a dark background, change it to cream or white, and it mostly disappears. Reading on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is more like reading on an Amazon Kindle or a small tablet than doing so on a non-folding phone, and far more relaxing and natural.

While I don’t play games as much, it’s impossible to ignore the joy of gaming on the Z Fold 5’s massive screen. I’ve been used to playing Pocket City on a normal phone screen, so seeing it large scale and with so much detail has been amazing. It really made the game more immersive, fun, and playable for longer.

Videos on the main screen are gorgeous, and the versatility of the design facilitates watching them. Reading books comes close to doing so on a Kindle, and don’t underestimate the Z Fold 5’s gaming ability either. This big-screen foldable is made for media, and the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is the best you can get.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: camera

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5's camera module.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Where the Galaxy Z Fold 5 differs from Samsung’s other top phone, the Galaxy S23 Ultra, is the camera. It can’t quite compete, and if you want Samsung’s best camera experience, then the S23 Ultra is the way to go. If it’s not quite so important, does the Galaxy Z Fold 5 let you down? Like the Z Fold 4, it has a 50-megapixel main camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a 10MP telephoto for a 3x optical zoom. The Z Fold 5 uses new lenses, a new image signal processor as part of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip, and various software changes to improve quality.

You won’t feel let down by the Z Fold 5’s camera, provided you understand it’s not going for all-out realism in every shot, and it does have a few shortcomings. However, there are some improvements over the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s camera. The Z Fold 5’s photos are lively and full of bright colors. When the sun is shining, you’ll see that familiar, overly saturated tone from other Samsung phones like the Galaxy A54.

However, when you look more closely at photos that aren’t taken in such environments, the Z Fold 5 also displays a natural and realistic tone, along with excellent white balance and more carefully controlled exposure, as well as less noise. Happily, this extends to the wide-angle camera too. An area where the new Galaxy Z Fold 5 improves over the older model is the 3x optical zoom, which is way better than before, offering more detail, better color balance, and more accurate exposure.

There are a few problems, though. The camera doesn’t seem to enjoy focusing up close, either in 1x or 3x mode, and is far worse than the Z Fold 4 for this. The focusing may also contribute to some issues shooting in lowlight, as the camera seems to get confused about where it should focus. I am using the Z Fold 5 ahead of its full release, and software updates may fix this problem later on. It doesn’t ruin the camera, but it can cut down on some creative opportunities. The editing suite makes up for some of this, as it has a comprehensive array of effective tools and filters, plus the Object Eraser tool that rivals Google’s Magic Eraser.

There are various options for selfies. You can use the 10MP selfie camera on the cover screen, the 4MP Under Display Camera (UDC) on the inner screen, or the main cameras with the cover screen acting as a viewfinder. The 10MP camera shows enough detail, and skin tones look realistic, plus the portrait effect is accurate. The UDC’s photos are a little soft, but it’s fine for video calls, producing quality that’s no worse than the average camera on a laptop.

The Galaxy Z Fold 5’s camera is good, but it has a problem. It’s a very expensive smartphone, but the camera isn’t as good as those on some of Samsung’s other phones. Not just the Galaxy S23 Ultra (because that’s pretty obvious), but the standard Galaxy S23 in some situations too. If you’re really into photography, the Z Fold 5 probably won’t satisfy you, but if you’re happy with attractive, colorful photos to share online and with other people, it will be more than enough. It has improved over the Galaxy Z Fold 4, but the camera on its own isn’t a reason to buy the Z Fold 5.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: software and performance

Multiple apps running on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5's open screen.
Three apps and one floating window running at the same time on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 has Android 13 with Samsung’s One UI 5.1.1 installed, along with the July 1 security update. Samsung has barely touched the software, so it looks and feels extremely similar to the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and the Galaxy S23 series. The most notable change is on its Taskbar, which now shows up to four recent apps instead of two. The Taskbar is most useful to enable the Z Fold 5’s multitasking, where apps can be dragged onto the main screen.

The phone can run three apps plus a floating window at the same time. When there’s more than one full-screen app running, you can quickly turn one into a floating window too, and I like Samsung’s pinch-to-zoom gestures throughout the system, which are fluid and accompanied by smooth animations. There’s a new drag-and-drop feature, where you can take a photo from the Gallery and drag it to a new Samsung Notes file, which will be helpful only if you use Samsung Notes and attach a lot of photos.

Samsung’s One UI requires some patience to set up, but once you’ve got it running the way you like, it’s fluid, logical, and never a burden. What needs to be done? Samsung’s stuck in the past, and the three Android buttons are the default navigation choice, so this needs changing to gestures. The always-on screen is off by default, I prefer Chrome to Samsung Internet, and Samsung’s hateful Over the Horizon theme is set for the ringtone and notifications so I always alter these additional settings immediately. I’ve also got no idea why Samsung still includes a quick view Edge Panel on the side of the screen in addition to the Taskbar. They perform the same function, and it’s just another thing to turn off in the Settings app.

Samsung’s version of Android is more heavily customized than on the Google Pixel series, and even Motorola’s version of Android on the Motorola Razr Plus. While it’s not too intrusive, there are a lot of preinstalled apps. The software never pushes you to use or explore them, though. Once you’ve got One UI working how you like it, the software is low-maintenance, reliable, and quite logical. I don’t mind putting in the effort to get it working well when the end result is so pleasing to use. It also comes with Samsung’s industry-leading five-year update schedule, so the software will stay up to date throughout most reasonable ownership periods.

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor as the Galaxy S23 Ultra, with 12GB of RAM and 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of internal storage space. It’s immensely powerful, and it seems to be very efficient too. I’ve not had any issues with heat or unusual battery drain, which is likely assisted by the new vapor chamber cooling inside the phone. I’ve played (too many) hours of Pocket City and enjoyed some Asphalt 9: Legends too, and it remains smooth, fast, and totally in control at all times.

This is a true flagship phone that will happily handle the latest games, and you can enjoy them on an almost tablet-sized screen on a device that folds up to go into your pocket. It may sound like a very obvious benefit, but it can’t be overstated how futuristic this still feels. The Z Fold 5 directly competes with the Galaxy S23 Ultra in power and uses the same software, leaving you with a decision to make: choose a phone with a folding screen, or don’t. The Z Fold 5 is a genuine alternative to Samsung’s massive non-folding phone when it comes to performance and software, and — happily — there’s no wrong decision. But if you multitask a lot, then the Z Fold 5 is the way to go.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: battery and charging

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 on charge.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Samsung has fitted the same capacity battery in the Z Fold 5 as in the Z Fold 4 — specifically, 4,400mAh — but the company says it has squeezed a little more use time out of it. In my tests so far, with between three and four hours of screen time — mixed-use with video watching, camera use, light gaming, and connected to the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic — it ends the day with around 35% to 50% remaining. It won’t last for two full days, but a single day plus a little more is achievable. Push the phone harder with a lot of gaming and 5G connectivity, and it should still have the guts to last a single day. I’d also expect the battery life to continue to improve as the phone learns my daily use.

Samsung does not include a charging block in the box, and to get the fastest 45-watt Super Fast Charging speeds, you need to either own or buy a compatible charger. I’ve been using Anker’s 313 GaN charger and USB Type-C to Type-C cable, which supports the required Power Delivery PPS standard, and it takes approximately 80 minutes to fully recharge using it. If you use a lower-power charger, it may take up to two hours to recharge the battery, so it’s worth making sure you have a fully compatible charger. There is wireless charging and reverse charging too.

The Galaxy Z Fold 5’s battery life hasn’t caused me to fret about it running out in a single day.

This isn’t quite the same level of performance you get from the Galaxy S23 Ultra and its larger 5,000mAh capacity battery. The OnePlus 11 charges far faster, and it should provide a little more use time. The Google Pixel Fold’s battery lasted for around a day in our tests and recharged to full in 90 minutes. The Galaxy Z Fold 5 outperforms Google’s foldable in battery life and charging. The Galaxy Z Fold 5’s battery life hasn’t caused me to fret about it running out in a single day, and is further evidence the folding phone is reaching maturity and becoming a genuine proposition for more people.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: S Pen and more

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 with the S Pen case.
Galaxy Z Fold 5 and S Pen case Andy Boxall/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 doesn’t come with an S Pen stylus, but it is compatible with one. Samsung has released a new version specially for the phone — called the S Pen Fold Edition — and it has been upgraded with a thinner tip, 4,096 pressure levels, and IP68 water and dust resistance. This optional extra costs $55, but there’s no slot in the Z Fold 5’s body to store it, unlike the with Galaxy S23 Ultra.

Samsung has produced a new case to get around this, which adds a slot on the back of the phone to store the stylus. It is thinner than the similar case for the Z Fold 4 but still adds bulk. It costs $100 and comes with the S Pen, and is available in several different colors. It’s not the most attractive case, but if you really want to have the stylus available all the time, there isn’t a better solution (outside of buying the Galaxy S23 Ultra instead).

A person wearing the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Throughout my review period, I’ve been using the Galaxy Z Fold 5 connected to the new Galaxy Watch 6 Classic. It requires the use of Samsung’s Galaxy Wearable and Samsung Health apps, but the setup is easy, and the connection has been faultless.

While the smartwatch hardware is fantastic, the software has not been as reliable or as seamless to use as an Apple Watch and iPhone combo. If you want a smartwatch to go with your new Galaxy Z Fold 5, take a look at it, the standard Galaxy Watch 6, and the Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: price and availability

A person holding the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, showing the back of the phone.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 starts at $1,799, and it comes in Icy Blue, Cream, or Phantom Black colors in stores. If you order from Samsung itself, you get the choice of two additional exclusive colors, blue or gray. In the U.K., the Galaxy Z Fold 5 starts at 1,749 British pounds. It’s available to buy right now through Samsung, most carriers, and other retailers.

In the U.S., the Z Fold 5’s direct competition comes from Google with the Pixel Fold, which also starts at $1,799. In the U.K., the Pixel Fold starts at 1,749 pounds, but you could also look at the Honor Magic Vs, which is considerably cheaper at 1,399 pounds, or about $1,760. However, it wasn’t a match for the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and therefore won’t be for the Galaxy Z Fold 5 either.

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is undoubtedly the best big-screen foldable you can buy today.

Interestingly, the Z Fold 5’s most compelling alternatives come from within. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 has a variety of hardware and feature changes that elevate it beyond the Galaxy Z Flip 4. The compact phone serves a different purpose than the Z Fold 5, but some may find its small size more useful in everyday life. It’s also a lot cheaper at $999 and isn’t such a serious financial investment if you’re keen to try out your first folding smartphone.

If you’re still not set on a folding smartphone, but awant a phone made by Samsung, the Galaxy S23 Ultra is an absolute monster with its huge screen, fantastic camera, and the same chip as the Z Fold 5. The S Pen stylus hides in its own slot too. It’s still a very expensive smartphone, but at $1,199, it’s much cheaper than the Z Fold 5. It is a superb smartphone, and if the whole folding screen thing (and perhaps the lack of a major update over the Z Fold 4) doesn’t draw you to the Z Fold 5, you’ll love it. If you already own the Galaxy Z Fold 4, there’s not much in the Galaxy Z Fold 5 to make you upgrade. It’s worth holding on to it and seeing what 2024 brings.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: verdict

Main display on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

In my review, I said the Galaxy Z Fold 4 was so good it should be your next phone. I’m now going to say the same about the Galaxy Z Fold 5. If you’ve been eyeing a foldable phone, then it’s absolutely worth buying, and I think you’ll be shocked at how much it will change the way you enjoy and use your phone. Even if you dismissed the Galaxy Z Fold 4, you absolutely should still go out and hold a Z Fold 5 because the hardware alterations have made it feel more “normal” in your hand.

Elsewhere, there are few major upgrades, but the ones that are there — faster processor, slightly improved cameras, and brighter screens — make the phone better to use every day. This is what we’ve been waiting for, right? A big folding smartphone that’s suitable for most people to use every day, all day? The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is very nearly there, with broader appeal due to Samsung’s sensible focus on ergonomics and performance rather than flashy features or pointless redesigns.

However, an unequivocal “must buy” label is a little more complicated than last year because there is more competition. The Google Pixel Fold may not be quite as polished or powerful, but it does have some distinct differences in design that some people may prefer, and the draw of Google’s software can’t be underestimated. Motorola’s brilliant Razr Plus folds differently, but is highly recommended. Samsung is also its own worst enemy, with the Galaxy Z Flip 5 proving extremely tempting and the Galaxy S23 Ultra being so fantastic at everything. Both are a lot cheaper too.  The Galaxy Z Fold 4 didn’t have anywhere near as much genuine competition as the Galaxy Z Fold 5 does, and that makes a buying decision far harder this year.

The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is superb, I’ve loved using it, and I haven’t come across any major downsides that make me think twice about recommending it to you. But before handing over so much money, take a long, hard look at the alternatives I’ve mentioned, as while the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is undoubtedly the best big-screen foldable you can buy today, there are equally brilliant compact foldables that provide high-performance folding thrills in a different way — and you may find one of them is a better, more financially accessible gateway into this exciting new mobile world.

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