Samsung is not only the leader of the smartphone market in general, but also the leader of the foldable market, as it’s the only company to release a new Galaxy Z series every year. The new Galaxy Z Fold4 thus represents the best the company has to offer in terms of mobile devices, with the most powerful processor, the fastest screens and some of the best cameras.
Galaxy Z Fold4: minor design changes
At a quick glance, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 hasn’t changed hardly at all. Just put it next to an older Fold and you’ll see a few millimetres less on the edges and a slightly more compact hinge. The phone is also just a few grams lighter, but not enough to make any real difference. But the overall shape is unchanged. If you found the Fold 1, 2 or 3 big and heavy, the Fold4 will leave the same impression. Compared to a traditional flagship, it’s thicker, and the awkward centre of gravity will make it easier to feel in your pocket.
The phone is constructed of Corning’s Victus+ glass and aluminum, with slightly flatter edges and not at all curved screens. The back has a matte texture, and the front screen is slightly wider than in the past, but it comes without a factory plastic protector. The inner one retains the plastic protection and fragility of the past. Even at fourth generation, the Galaxy Z Fold4 can be scratched easily, it still has a prominent crease down the center, and the two halves don’t close completely. So dust particles or lint on the surface of the foldable screen can get into a pocket or bag. Samsung says it’s this crease-creating design that ensures water resistance.
As we’ve become accustomed to for a few years now, Samsung no longer ships bundled accessories with even the most expensive phone in its offering. In the box there’s only the USB-C cable.
The screens are slightly wider, but not fundamentally different
Samsung has equipped the Fold4 with two high-performance OLED displays with high brightness and 120 Hz refresh rate. Unfortunately, neither solves the shortcomings of previous generations. The outer screen is slightly wider, but still small and narrow enough for most normal smartphone activities. It remains, however, a sort of notification screen, from which you occasionally reply to a message or call.
The inner screen is a bit wider too, but the crease looks even more pronounced to me than in the past. Possibly placebo, and without a Fold2 or 3 handy, it’s hard to determine if that’s really the case. However, still videos are displayed with large black bars in either orientation, making this model hard to recommend for movies. Theoretically, it’s well thought out for displaying multiple apps simultaneously, but in practice, the situation is a bit more complicated. And this model keeps the camera under the screen, but the area masking the lens is very pixelated and draws attention in use… I would have preferred a classic cutout over this suboptimal solution, which also brings the disadvantage of a poor quality front camera. In reality though, that area is less obvious than it looks in photos or on video, because that pink tint isn’t actually present.
Top performance to be expected from a nearly €2,000 phone
When it comes to performance, the South Korean company has turned to Qualcomm’s most powerful chip: Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1. Being a powerful processor in a very small space, I expected overheating and throttling, but performance degradation under stress is not bothersome. In most cases you won’t even notice it. Maybe only in games with very advanced graphics, where after half an hour, sustained performance would be somewhere around 60% of full. However, even at half that, the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 can deliver better performance than a mid-range processor can deliver at full throttling.
Warming up, the phone gets just warm enough to feel it but never gets as hot as the Galaxy Note20 Ultra got two years ago. The phone’s 4nm manufacturing and large surface area help it dissipate heat more efficiently.
- AnTuTu – 932.480
- GeekBench – Single-Core: 1,304 / Multi-Core: 3,859
- 3DMark Wild Life Extreme – 2.791
- 3DMark Wild Life Extreme Stress Test – Best Loop: 2.823 / Lowest Loop: 1.731 / Stability: 61.3%
- PCMark – 13.907
Galaxy Z Fold4’s battery life exceeded expectations, but charging is slow
Although I was expecting a poorer battery life from the Galaxy Z Fold4, I have to admit I was surprised during use. Sure, we’re not dealing with a two-day phone, but a day, even with fairly heavy use, will deliver without any problems. With the 4,400 mAh battery and such a large screen at 120 Hz, the performance is at least decent. The Galaxy S22 Ultra is only slightly better in this respect, even with the larger battery.
Where I see a problem with the Fold4 is in fast charging, or rather, the near lack thereof. 25W when even the S22 Ultra comes with charging at 45W is too little for a top phone in 2022. Wireless charging is there, but it’s even slower at 15W, and reverse wireless charging for headphones or watch is unchanged from previous generations. Given that there have been 10-15 or maximum 20 minute charging phones already on the market for some time, Samsung is lagging behind.
OneUI software gets major changes
The most important changes in terms of functionality are at the software level, where Samsung tried something different this time: they implemented a dock, similar to the one on tablets. So you can quickly access a few frequently used apps, to switch between them, or to use them in split screen mode. Unfortunately, however, the new dock doesn’t solve the older problems of Fold-style phones.
However, even the dock has its limitations. You can put a maximum of 8 apps in there, and those are always the ones you also have at the bottom of the home screen. In general, that’s where you keep apps like the one for calls or SMS, the camera, and a few others you want quick access to. But the dock should make it easier for you to multitask, and these apps aren’t really for that. It’s also unclear why Samsung is also keeping the dock and Edge panel. The two functions are similar enough that you don’t need both, and sometimes, in use, you can activate the Edge panel by mistake.
Last but not least, the new app dock is extremely small, so you can accidentally tap on an app other than the one you originally wanted to tap. So the dock doesn’t solve all the problems, but it does make using Fold more enjoyable.
Personally though, as big as the screen on the Fold is, I still don’t find multitasking on it to be comfortable or solve too many problems. It’s ok as long as you’re just reading content from two sources, but as soon as you have to type something too, half the screen is covered by the keyboard and you can’t see much of the two or three apps displayed on the screen. In fact, everything in the bottom half of the screen is completely covered. The comparison to a productivity tablet on which you’d do something similar doesn’t hold water, as that’s usually used alongside a physical keyboard for typing.
Since the Fold4 is a phone, which you keep in your pocket at all times, and there’s no physical keyboard solution, you’re dependent on the keyboard taking up a large portion of the screen. So the idea of multitasking is indeed possible to implement on a demo level, but not as practical as Samsung is trying to present it. The Fold doesn’t seem like a device capable of completely replacing a tablet used for work, but it might allow for a few more instances where you can get something done quickly just by using the phone you already have with you.
Part of the problem is also the software, which even after three years is not fully compatible with foldables. Some apps are compatible with “Flex Mode” when you only partially fold the screen, but it’s hard to justify using it that way. For videos, you’re left with similar space as on the outside screen, i.e. very limited. And when switching back to tablet mode, many apps don’t resize correctly, or certain functions become temporarily inaccessible. And we’re talking about pre-installed apps like YouTube, not Google Play apps that don’t even offer foldable features. An example of an app that doesn’t even consider the big screen is Instagram, which offers an even worse experience than on a regular phone.
I still think this form of “Fold” is not the one to take the idea of foldable devices any further. Samsung’s Z Fold series is still facing the same issues even three years later, with no clear resolution. Being first to market, the South Korean company has set the direction for these devices, but perhaps a little more competition and innovation in this space is needed to discover the true potential of foldables. At the moment, the other players are just making Fold clones and not trying other formats, perhaps more suitable for multitasking or even entertainment consumption.
A clear advantage of Samsung phones is DeX, with an interface familiar to Windows 10 and 11 users. Curiously, in DeX mode, you can only join two apps rather than three like on the phone screen, but you can have multiple windows open like on a regular desktop. The DeX connection over wireless is still pretty shaky, even on a high-speed network with Wi-Fi 6, and the resolution on a 4K TV is very poor. For Dex I would recommend using wired only.
Another advantage Samsung has over other foldable and smartphone manufacturers in general is four years software support for system updates and five years for security updates. This is in an area where only Apple offers anything comparable.
Fingerprint sensor surprisingly weak
Though it’s hard to believe, the Galaxy Z Fold4 has probably the weakest fingerprint sensor on a premium phone. Even after repeated registrations, the sensor never wants to unlock my phone on the first try. Only the second is the lucky one, sometimes the third. I’ve tried various solutions, but none of them work perfectly. The sensor insists that there would be moisture on the button, or that I’m not using my finger correctly, but as soon as I press again, it unlocks without any problems. I’ve worked it out with facial recognition, which is less secure, but faster.
What makes the Galaxy Z Fold4 better than other phones from the company and many of the competition, however, is a powerful stereo speaker system. Sure, they won’t replace a dedicated speaker, and the low frequencies are pretty low, but at least they’re there compared to other devices.
The Galaxy Z Fold4’s camera gets its biggest upgrade yet
Probably the biggest upgrade the Galaxy Z Fold4 gets over the previous generation is to the camera system. Finally, the Fold4 has the same camera as the flagship Galaxy S22 and S22+. We get a 50-megapixel main camera with a large sensor, along with an ultra-wide camera with a 12-megapixel sensor and a 10-megapixel 3X optical zoom. Compared to the S22 Ultra, we don’t have the 108 megapixel camera and 10x optical zoom. Fortunately, these aren’t much needed either.
In daylight, all the cameras take very good pictures, and Samsung has tried as much as possible to colour-calibrate between the cameras to give as similar shots as possible in this respect. I did, however, feel the lack of a macro mode via the ultra-wide camera, something the S22 Ultra offers via the ultra-wide with focus. One advantage of the Fold series is that you can use the main cameras for selfies. That’s if you can manage to hold the phone with one hand without feeling like you’re missing it.
The front-facing cameras aren’t exactly impressive, though. The one on the outer screen is decent, comparable to those on the S22 series, but the internal 4-megapixel one hidden behind the screen is of poor quality. After initial processing, some flaws are corrected, but the results are still below expectations. I noticed that even for facial recognition, on the external camera, the process is faster and with fewer errors. Even for video calls I wouldn’t say that the indoor one is enough, as the images are not clear enough.
At night, it’s the main camera that carries the weight of the whole system in the back. The ultra-wide camera isn’t exactly suited to this, and capture on it is extremely slow, over five seconds per frame. The zoom camera doesn’t even activate at night, leaving the main camera to crop on the sensor for 3x zoom.
There are also some limitations when shooting. If you select 4K at 60 frames per second, for example, you can only shoot with wide and zoom cameras. It’s only at 30 frames that you can also shoot with the ultra-wide camera in 4K. And if you’re shooting at 60 FPS, you can’t switch between cameras. You choose either wide or zoom. The electronic stabilisation mode, Super Steady, is still limited to Full HD at 30 or 60 frames per second, but only on the main and ultra-wide camera, or only on the main one for high framerate. These inconsistencies are annoying and can result in important frames being lost if you don’t know them before you start a shoot.
The Galaxy Z Fold4 is the best foldable phone Samsung has released to date, but that’s not saying much. The differences between previous generations and this one are minimal, especially when you consider that new software features will most likely come to previous models via a software update. Aside from processor differences and improved cameras, the new Fold won’t offer a fundamentally different user experience.
The disadvantages that foldable phones had in the past, such as the very high price, the more fragile screen and the lack of apps that take full advantage of the screen format, still remain, even after three years and four generations of devices. So, in my view, Samsung’s Fold remains a technology demonstration, a sort of solution that is still looking for a problem to solve. I’m sure there’s a fairly small niche of users whose mobile way of working can be improved with a phone like this, but for the buyer of “traditional” flagship phones, the Fold-style ones might come with more headaches, offering a user experience too complicated to justify the high price.