Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 review: Evolving innovation eases off for incrementality
Samsung is developing this foldable form factor in the right direction, and now, Google must fix Android’s tablet ecosystem and developers have to widen app support
They’ve been around for nearly three years now, but there is no letting up on the novelty of a foldable phone. In particular, the unfolded tablet-esque format that the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 deploys. All this while, Samsung in particular has ebbed away, improving the little things that matter.
Let us give you this, for illustrative purposes. The corrective Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 from the latter half of 2020 weighed 282 grams. Less than a year later, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 followed, tipping the scales at 271 grams. Here and now, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 is the lightest in this line of foldables, at 263 grams. This while the screen sizes have remained consistent (resolution has gone up) and protective layer has seen a bump too – from Corning Gorilla Glass Victus to Victus+.
The refinements and durability improvements wouldn’t be lost on anyone who has experienced the previous generations too. That said, we have to point out the as yet unknown quantity that pertains to the longevity of foldable phones, and indeed this form factor that melds a phone and a tablet (well, sort of). Will this still work as brilliantly 3 years or 5 years from now? How well will it hold against rough use?
After all, how many open and close cycles will the hinge manage in the real world? Mind you, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 and indeed the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 have held up well. But as more people buy foldable phones, there will be a much larger user base which proportionately increases the potential complaints and concerns. That’s true for any piece of tech.
At the same time, all this (while factoring in various other factors including currency fluctuations and global supply chain issues) adds to the cost. The entry spec (12GB RAM + 256GB storage) variant of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 has a sticker price of around ₹1,39,999. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 bumps up your monetary splurge to ₹1,54,999 for the same spec – while the higher spec variants cost ₹1,64,999 (12GB + 512GB) and ₹1,84,999 (12GB + 1TB).
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 shaves off a few millimeters with thinner bezels, though both screens are the same size as before – the 6.2-inch cover display, which in itself affords a full-fledged smartphone experience, and the unfolding 7.6-inch screen which has the same pixel density as before but reworked the calculations for horizontal and vertical placement. The front facing camera that sits beneath the folding display, is better masked too.
There is still the crease running down the middle of the screen which you’ll likely notice when the visual on the screen involves dark hues, but credit where it must be given, this remains nicely hidden away the rest of the time. Your fingers won’t notice this crease as you swipe on the screen, and neither will this bother you while gaming, reading, browsing the web, or watching a TV show.
Samsung has made some important changes with the interface to make better use of the display real estate that’s there. There is the very useful taskbar that now sits at the bottom of the screen, bringing the experience closer to a typical computing platform you’d be used to on a laptop or desktop (or perhaps even an Apple iPad). This makes it incredibly convenient to get to your most used apps faster.
Screen space sharing between apps is better too. Again, this sort of display size must take complete advantage, allowing apps to open side by side. Now you can either simply drag and drop another app (while one app is open) or split the screen with a two-finger swipe gesture (this needs to be enabled in settings, if not already).
Even four generations in, there are still quirks with how some apps are geared to handle this screen size, space, and aspect ratio. Instagram for one (this is a sore point for the iPad and Android tablets too) doesn’t look as it should, with a heavily cropped interface. And refuses to support the spit screen mode too. Gmail too, doesn’t have the two-pane view in the inbox till you rotate the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4. Which doesn’t achieve anything else. At least Google has promised updates to make its apps work better on tablets, and tablet-esque screens.
Samsung has a very clear, no-compromise approach with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4, and nothing has been left unimproved. That also extends to the processor as well – that’s the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen1. Common across all specs and variants is 12GB RAM, which is nigh enough (for heaven’s sake, you don’t need more RAM in a phone). What do we say about the top-notch performance, except that it is top-notch?
Battery life is the recipient of all of this Qualcomm chip’s generational improvements (corrections, more like it, considering the predecessor’s foibles). The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 does very close to 6 hours of screen time (most of this being on the large foldable screen, mind you) and a 100% charged battery at 8am still holds just more than 20% charge by 8pm. This’ll get you through the heaviest of workdays, without battery anxiety.
Samsung has still not joined the smartphone charging speed battles, in earnest. None of the 150-watt or 120-watt stuff that rivals do with conventional Android phones, has bothered them. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 retains the 25-watt wired charging speeds, though wireless charging is slightly quicker at 15-watt instead of 11-watt. The caveat there is, you’ve got to use a compatible charger.
The one trick that Samsung has missed with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 was the camera system. It wasn’t in any way flagship grade. That’s inferiority isn’t a criterion this time around. Leading the troika is a 50-megapixel wide sensor along with a 10-megapixel telephoto and a 12-megapixel ultrawide sensor. While this isn’t remarkable (you can categorize this as a necessary correction), beyond the required upgrade of specs, the results are impressive. Detailing definitely is one of the benefits across lighting situations. And so are the colours, which look much better than in last year’s phones.
Samsung’s perseverance in the face of a complete lack of competition has to be complemented. This generation of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold series needed incremental tweaks to improve ergonomics, experience and longevity. It has on its part delivered a Fold device that’s the lightest it’s ever been, thinner than it’s ever been and more powerful than it’s ever been. While making genuine improvements to the software.
But what cannot change is physics. It will still very much remain a prominent fixture in your trouser pocket. If you use the cover display, this becomes a phone that’s too thick to comfortably use. When unfolded, we are yet to find the sweet spot for hands free viewing (the Flex mode positions don’t have the desired impact) and it isn’t easy (neither is it for the faint hearted) to simply prop the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 against something.
Neither do any of the improvements made the impact of the price tag on the wallet, any lesser. It is quite a bit more expensive than the predecessor, variant for variant. But a school of thought here is, the audience that can (and will) afford the uniqueness of a foldable phone, wouldn’t be too bothered about how much money they are parting with. That cannot be argued against.
To make a very good phone truly great needs a whole bunch of things to fall into place. Pieces of a jigsaw if you may. Some apps still need to adopt these screen sizes and aspect ratios – the fact that common apps don’t fit properly on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 doesn’t reflect badly on Samsung in any way. It is done on individual app developers. We are looking at you, Instagram (but not just Instagram – Amazon, Flipkart, Microsoft Edge and Gmail all need work, to name a few). Just make a tablet app, already?
This is where Google’s role becomes important. To fix the Android tablet ecosystem. Much in the same way Apple did with the iPad – when it was running iOS as the iPhones, and subsequently the shift to iPadOS. Rarely do you see an app on those platforms misbehave the way Android apps do on larger screens.
We can safely say that the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 is an evolving achievement. Everything about it is better than its predecessor, and nothing tells us the next iteration won’t have even more thought go into it. Samsung has fixed a lot of the rough edges and improved aspects of multitasking for instance. At the top of the agenda for this year must be shaving off the bulk. That’ll likely mean a redesigned hinge mechanism. It’ll greatly improve ease of use as a daily use phone. That’s the destination, isn’t it?