Samsung unveiled its first foldable phone, the Galaxy Fold, three and a half years ago in March of 2019. Since then, the company has made a lot of progress in refining its foldable devices to narrow down their market appeal, increase durability and longevity, and make them must-haves to those who still use standard slabs as their primary communicators.
This year, we got the Galaxy Z Fold 4, the most refined version of that initial Galaxy Fold vision yet. Announced alongside the Galaxy Z Flip 4, the Z Fold 4 doesn’t do much different compared to the Z Fold 3 from last year. It does, however, do a lot of things better, in ways that are meaningful and practical.
Which is ironic, because this is probably the least practical smartphone you can buy. It’s big, it’s heavy, it’s not as durable as normal phones (although some may disagree), and it’s expensive. Starting at $1,799 for the base 256GB model, Samsung is asking a lot from users to switch to the Z Fold 4.
This device category has found its market: those who want to do more on their smartphone, those who want a tablet-sized screen that fits in their pocket, those who like the idea of a super computer available to them at a moment’s notice. I’ll admit, all of these ideas line up with interests of my own. I always want to get the most out of whatever object I carry, whether it’s my smartphone, smartwatch, physical wallet, car keys, backpack, you name it.
But sometimes, too much can be just that: too much. I’ve spent the last few weeks testing the Z Fold 4, and in those few weeks, I’ve popped my SIM card back in my iPhone 13 Pro, one of the most normal-looking phones you can buy. I wanted to see how much I missed (if at all) the many advantages you get from having a 7.6-inch folding screen in your pocket.
In short? I missed it a lot, because of course I did. Who wouldn’t want a big screen to watch videos on, read books, and scroll social media with that isn’t a hassle to carry around?
On the contrary, what I didn’t miss were all the inconsistencies the Z Fold 4’s unique hardware introduces. There are certain sacrifices in the software you just have to make in order to live with the Z Fold 4, and the same can be said about the hardware (to an extent). Overall, it’s the least practical phone I’ve ever used, yet perhaps the coolest and most futuristic, and that alone is enough justification to buy one (assuming you can afford it).
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 specs
|Design||Gorilla Glass Victus+ on cover screen and back, plastic on folding screen, aluminum frame, 263g weight, fingerprint scanner on side|
|Displays||Cover: 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, 2316×904, 23.1:9, 1200 nits|
Folding: 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+, 2176×1812, 21.6:18, 1200 nits
|Processor||Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1|
|Storage||256GB/512GB/1TB, UFS 3.1|
|Cameras||Main: 50MP f/1.8, 1.0µm|
Ultra-wide: 12MP f/2.2, 123˚, 123˚
Telephoto: 10MP f/2.4, 3x optical zoom, 1.0µm
Selfie: 10MP f/2.2 (cover), 4MP f/1.8 (under display)
|Battery||4,400mAh split-cell with 25W fast charging, 15W fast wireless charging, 4.5W reverse wireless charging|
|Software||One UI 4.1.1 based on Android 12L|
|Water and dust resistance||IPX8|
Design: Beautiful, stunning, slippery, and hefty
Compared to the Z Fold 3, the Z Fold 4 doesn’t look much different. In fact, you really won’t notice a difference unless you hold each other side by side. It’s 3mm shorter this time around and 2mm wider when it’s unfolded. It’s also a hair thinner (and I mean a hair – we’re looking at about a millimeter unfolded).
While these changes are pretty insignificant on paper, in practice, they add up to a more finished-feeling Galaxy Z Fold. The device not being as tall as before makes it slightly easier to use with one hand, and the extra width helps with typing on the cover screen and consuming content on the larger one.
But despite being ever-so-slightly thinner, the Z Fold 4 is still a chunky phone. When folded, it’s 15.8mm at its thickest point, and it weighs 263 grams. That’s a far cry from the slim form factors of most modern flagships, but it’s a sacrifice you have to make if you want a phone that does… this.
Holding the Galaxy Z Fold 4, two things come to mind: it feels incredibly premium (as it should), and it’s incredibly slippery without a case. Samsung adds a frosted glass finish to the back of the device, along with glossy metal rails along the sides. This obviously makes the phone look high-end (very important if you’re charging $1,800), but it makes it perhaps the slipperiest brick you’ll ever pick up.
In fact, let me stress this a little bit more: if your hands are sweaty, remotely wet at all, chapped, covered in a pair of gloves, or you just set it on the arm rest of your couch, the phone will probably fly to the floor – it’s just the reality of using this phone case-less. I’m not sure what was going through Samsung’s head when it decided to avoid making the phone grippy in the same of glossiness, but there’s no way to fix it unless you get a case or skin.
To get a sense of what’s out there for the latest Z Fold, I tried out Samsung’s first-party S Pen case as well as a few from my friends at Spigen. The S Pen case is mostly fine, besides being a total fingerprint magnet itself and somehow being the best S Pen case despite adding an enormous bulge to the back. Meanwhile, the Spigen cases are just like every other folding phone case I’ve tried: mostly good, but dependent on adhesives to cling to the phone that make it hard to switch cases on the fly.
If you’re gonna drop this phone at all, chances are you will when you try to open it up. Samsung made the hinge on the Z Fold 4 much stiffer than previous generations, helping with the whole prop-it-up-to-watch-a-video-or-fold-it-slightly-to-read-an-ebook thing. While I appreciate the high build quality, it’s almost a little too stiff, to the point where you have to be mindful of gripping it properly so it doesn’t fumble out of your hands. Obviously, strapping a case to the phone will solve this problem, but it’s an interesting design decision nonetheless.
Around the Z Fold 4, there’s a typical arsenal of buttons and ports: a USB-C port sits on the bottom, a pair of stereo speakers flank the top and bottom (which are both rich and bass-y, mind you), a volume rocker sits on the right, and a power button/fingerprint reader is placed below it (which works exceptionally well and is damn near flawless – boy, do I miss physical fingerprint scanners).
The SIM tray is on the left side near the top of the phone, and there are antenna bands all around. I’m calling out these bands because I’ve been impressed with the reception I’ve had on the Z Fold 4. I’ve experienced much more stable LTE and 5G connections in locations where, for example, my iPhone 13 Pro struggles. Speeds weren’t necessarily better, but I had improved coverage overall.
In addition, the Z Fold 4 is rated IPX8, which is enough to protect it against water and not such much sand or dirt. I still think it’s a bad idea to bring this phone to places like the beach, but that’s more your call at this point (there are plenty of people who defend this phone and its durability, so do as you please).
Displays: Bright, vivid, awkward, and abnormal
There’s not much I have to tell you about the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s screens for you to understand whether they’re any good. They are both Samsung Dynamic AMOLED 2X panels on an $1,800 phone. You expect them to be great, and they are.
Samsung is sticking with the same sizes as last year – 6.2-inches on the front and 7.6-inches on the inside. Both offer slim bezels, 120Hz refresh rates, up to 1,200 nits of brightness, inky black levels, vibrant colors, and sharp resolutions (2316×904 and 2176×1812, respectively). Everything from watching videos to scrolling Instagram to reading articles is fantastic. They’re also both easy to see in direct sunlight.
The inner display remains the only one compatible with Samsung’s S Pen. I don’t quite understand why the company didn’t just throw in support for it on the cover screen, but whatever. Sketching, signing documents, and using the device with the S Pen on is great, as everything is responsive and virtually instantaneous from the second the pen tip hits the screen.
There are two downsides to using the S Pen with the Fold 4: the crease can get in the way of the smooth drawing experience, and you have to find somewhere to store the pen when you’re done. Samsung bundles the aforementioned silicon case with the S Pen so you have a home for it the second you receive your S Pen, but it’s far from as elegant as the S22 Ultra’s approach of including a dedicated slot for the stylus. Perhaps one day, we’ll get a Galaxy Z Fold Note.
On the cover screen, Samsung includes a hole-punch cutout for the selfie camera which becomes unnoticeable when you stop staring at it and start using the phone. The folding screen, meanwhile, sticks with the same under-display selfie camera concept as the Z Fold 3, this time with a slightly improved 4MP sensor that’s more well hidden than before. When apps with white backgrounds are open or you’re watching a video, you won’t notice it at all, but the right lighting can make the disrupted pixels appear in an instant. It’s not distracting or unpleasant, just kind of noticeable in some scenarios.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the camera’s still garbage. You should only use it if you’re on a video call (which is delightful on such a large screen).
If there’s one thing I dislike about the Z Fold 4’s screens, it’s the aspect ratios. The cover screen’s 23.1:9 aspect ratio is slightly wider than the Z Fold 3’s 25:9, and the foldable display is 21.6:18 compared to 22.5:18 from last year.
Admittedly, having that extra width on the cover screen can help make typing a lot more comfortable and spacious, and the folding screen being a bit wider makes watching horizontal videos great. But when you fire up an app that isn’t optimized for tablets or phone screens outside the normal 16-21:9 aspect ratio, things get weird. Instagram is a perfect example: it simply sucks on both of these displays. Content is cut off, UI elements are all over the place, descriptions trail off to the right side without wrapping – it’s all a mess.
The long-standing issue with this is that Android developers probably won’t get around to optimizing their apps for one device with weird aspect ratios. With so much fragmentation in the market, it’s hard enough already to keep up with the vast majority of phones with normal shapes and their various sizes, let alone one that has a candy bar-like cover display and a square-ish folding panel inside.
If you’re gonna buy this phone, you have to be willing to deal with inconsistencies across many applications, with no promise that any of them will actually work. Trailblazers and trend-setters will be fine with this, but everyone else will probably have a hard time.
If there’s one app that’s perfectly optimized for this form factor, it’s the Kindle app. Michael Fisher (a.k.a. MrMobile) is absolutely correct – this is the best phone for reading e-books. It feels exactly like a Kindle when you use it, and if you flick on airplane mode, do not disturb, and make everything grayscale, it gets even better.
Software: Super-powered multitasking on the go
Beyond the issues with third-party applications, the software on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is great. Samsung has gotten good at optimizing One UI for weird hardware like foldables, and the latest models are no exception.
This time around, the Z Fold is powered by One UI 4.1.1 based on Android 12L, Google’s version of Android 12 that’s meant to player nicer with foldable phones and tablets. You won’t notice any significant changes in how the software works as a result of Android 12L, but there is one new feature that’s pretty terrific: an app dock at the bottom of the screen that lets you flip between open applications and whatever you keep on your home screen. There’s an app drawer button on the left that lets you pick another app installed on your phone, and the entire thing can be dismissed if you want more screen real estate.
It’s a terrific edition to the Z Fold 4, one that makes it feel a lot more like the multitasking powerhouse Samsung wants it to be. There are also other multitasking tools like Edge panels, floating windows, and split-screen for running up to four apps at once (also known as the perfect way to induce hyper-activity anxiety). It all adds up to a set of tools that make you feel a lot more powerful and productive while you’re on your phone.
I like what Allison Johnson said in her review of the Z Fold 4 at The Verge. She concluded that a lot of what she’d normally be forced to do on a device with more power and a bigger screen (like a laptop), she was perfectly fine doing on the Fold. This is one of Samsung’s goals with the Z Fold line: make it versatile and powerful enough to feel like a computer you carry on the go.
Speaking of which, that’s basically what the Z Fold 4 is anyway thanks to its compatibility with DeX. Yes folks, for yet another generation of Galaxy Z Fold, Samsung has included support for its desktop operating system interface that works when you connect the phone over Thunderbolt. I used it briefly as I do with every new Samsung DeX-enabled phone that arrives at my desk, and I screwed around for about five minutes before I needed my laptop for something. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very cool in concept and even serviceable in practice, but it’s far from a laptop-replacement.
Samsung says the Galaxy Z Fold 4 will be supported for five years with software updates, four of which will feature major Android updates. That’s nice peace of mind to have when you spend $1,800+ on a phone.
Flagship performance, cameras, and battery life
I don’t usually group these categories together in my reviews, but they all share the same common denominator: each is flagship-level, and for a foldable phone, you sort of know what you expect.
The Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor is fast – really fast. Compared to the standard 8 Gen 1 in earlier flagships from 2022, this chip is noticeably snappier and more efficient. I was impressed with it when I reviewed the OnePlus 10T, and that same feeling extends to the Z Fold 4. It’s able to keep up with whatever I throw at it, whether it be four apps running at once or a graphics-heavy game with music in the background.
I ran Geekbench 5 for giggles and grins, so if you care about those scores, you’ll find them below. They’re behind the iPhone 13 Pro and similar to what I got on devices like the 10T and Galaxy S22 Ultra, so they don’t mean much considering how fast the Z Fold 4 is in real life. I also wanted to mention that during my time, the Fold 4 never got too hot, an issue that plagued the S22 Ultra and seems to be resolved thanks to the 8 Plus Gen 1.
There’s 12GB of RAM on the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and my unit came with 512GB of storage. Samsung includes a neat feature where you can borrow some of your storage and use it as virtual RAM, which I enabled and configured with 8GB of virtual memory. That means my Z Fold 4 essentially has 20GB of memory to play with, which is kind of nuts. You’ll never notice a difference if you keep virtual memory off since 12GB is already plenty for Android, but it’s a neat power-user flex to show off to your friends.
On the back of the Z Fold 4 are three cameras: a 50MP main camera with an f/1.8 lens, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, and a 10MP f/2.4 telephoto with 3x optical zoom. For a while, Samsung’s folding phones weren’t necessarily camera champs (you don’t buy foldables because the cameras are good, you buy them because they fold in half). But this generation, it’s safe to say that the company has cleared the barrier to entry for its Fold cameras to be considered flagship-quality.
These cameras are ripped right off the S22 Plus, so you know you’re getting great image quality in almost every lighting scenario with good detail and sharpness. Samsung will be Samsung, however, so it’s not ditching its aging habit of going a little too extreme with HDR and color warmth. Trying to take pictures of rose-colored flowers and sunsets remains a challenge with these cameras because of how much Samsung wants to increase saturation and dynamic range.
In low-light, the main camera performs the best since it has the extra megapixels to bin down and extract more detail. Meanwhile, the ultra-wide and telephoto fall apart pretty quickly, and Samsung’s night mode can’t quite save them. Video quality is solid, albeit not as good as something like the S22 Ultra or latest iPhones. You get 8K 24fps support on the Fold 4, but it’s kind of pointless since there’s still not enough screens on the market to play it back on.
The best part of the Fold 4’s camera system isn’t the cameras themselves – it’s the viewfinder. A 7.6-inch screen with a nearly 4:3 aspect ratio is a lot nicer to take pictures with than a regular phone display. Samsung even built cool tricks into the camera app, like using the rear cameras and cover screen to take selfies and offer your subject a mirror when taking their picture. You can even fire up a split-screen mode with the viewfinder on one side and a rolling photo feed on the other.
When it comes to taking pictures with your smartphone, it doesn’t get more fun than with the Z Fold 4. It’s also great to be able to fire up Lightroom after taking some pics and use the big screen to make more granular edits. By far, this is my favorite phone to take photos with. I just wish the cameras themselves were a bit better (here’s to hoping the S22 Ultra’s camera setup makes its way to the Z Fold 5).
Even with lots of photo capturing, full-screen video, and running multiple apps at once, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 has reliably last me a full day on a single charge. I was typically able to get 4-6 hours of screen-on time with about 20-40 percent left in the tank, depending on how much I used it during the day. That’s pretty good for a phone with two super-bright displays and a split 4,400mAh battery. It’s also as good as
Fast charging is capped at 25W which, admittedly, is a bit slow by today’s standards. Still, the Fold 4 can juice back up to 50 percent from zero after 30 minutes, which is pretty good. You also get fast wireless charging at 15W (with the right wireless charger, of course) and reverse wireless charging at 4.5W.
Should you buy the Galaxy Z Fold 4?
This is a lot of phone for $1,800. It is perhaps the most phone you can buy. It has a futuristic design, a huge screen that opens up a Pandora’s box of sorts in terms of multitasking possibilities, there are flagship-level cameras, all-day battery life, and great performance. There’s not a lot missing here.
But like I said at the top of this review, sometimes too much is just too much. If you want to live with the Z Fold 4, you have to be okay with a super chunky brick in your pocket or bag that’s slippery as hell and will beg to be placed in a case, a design that’s much more prone to water and dirt damage than normal phones, app support that’s far from perfect, cameras that are good but not as good as phones that cost $800 less, and a huge charge on your credit card.
Buying a normal flagship phone fixes virtually all of that. I’m never worried about bringing my iPhone or Google Pixel to the beach, for example, or counting on them to take a good picture. They also have better app support and don’t need to worry about weird aspect ratios or draining my bank account.
But you know what they can’t do? Double as a super computer in my pocket, and that’s where the Z Fold 4 shines. It’s just so capable.
The future of smartphones probably lies in the foldable market. That almost seems like a certainty. But these phones are still in their infancy, despite maturing so much that people now treat them like normal phones. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 is a normal phone for a lot of people, even though it doesn’t look like one at all.
Is the Galaxy Z Fold 4 worth buying? Only if you want to live on the bleeding edge of smartphone design. Is it practical? No. But is it awesome? Yes, and anyone who tells you differently is lying.
If they can afford it, I will never tell someone not to buy the Galaxy Z Fold 4. It’s a stupendous peak into the future where our phones aren’t just slabs of glass any more, and it’ll be interesting to see where they go next.
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