Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 review: A step closer
An upgrade, not a revelation.
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For most of us, myself included, the folding display technology at the heart of Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold4 is the stuff of wonders. Despite the fact that this is the fourth Galaxy Fold, and there are several other devices with foldable screens that you can touch and use, it is truly wild to crack open your phone and see the tablet-esque 7.6-inch inner screen open. It’s important to keep in mind that folding screens are, conceptually, still new and a bit magical. The Fold4, launched Aug. 26, is largely defined by design tweaks and improved components that improve its flagship-tier performance, though not always in ways that the average person will care about. And yet, unless you are one of the few upgrading from an older Fold, using one will likely feel entirely new and exciting.
But, like the previous models, that experience comes with a few tradeoffs versus a conventional phone. Having a very large screen that’s genuinely pocketable feels great when you’re scrolling at home or sitting on a train, but it’s thicker, more delicate, and a little bit awkward compared to the standard smartphone design. Samsung has taken measures to mitigate those issues in the Fold4, especially around durability. The result is powerful and appealing, but not necessarily a big enough change to make the folding handset a viable choice for the average phone fan.
What is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4?
The Galaxy Z Fold4 retains the book-style folding form factor that its predecessors popularized. When you pull it out of your pocket, it’s a thick, tall, and skinny riff on the conventional smartphone, measuring 2.64 x 6.11 x 0.62 inches (WHD) with a 6.2-inch 2316 x 904p Dynamic AMOLED 2X screen. You can open the phone from the right side, like a book, revealing the larger 7.6-inch 2176 x 1812p Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. At 5.12 x 6.11 x 0.25 inches unfolded, the Fold4 demands two hands to handle the larger “tablet” mode comfortably, so it’s really reserved for when you can give it your full attention.
Using the Fold when closed feels more or less like your standard smartphone, though the form factor is definitely less than ideal. The external screen makes most apps look scrunched together. Text in apps like Twitter and Facebook is small, so it can be harder to casually look at apps at a glance. It’s fine when you need to bang out a quick text or take a call, but you wouldn’t want to spend time using it this way.
Of course, when you have time, you’ll open up the phone and use the larger screen, which greatly enhances watching, playing, and doing anything where you give the phone your full attention. I’ve never been one to watch a movie or TV on my phone, but the screen fills your field of vision to the point where you can watch videos comfortably without bringing the screen in close. Games, especially those with small text like League of Legends: Wild Rift or Teamfight Tactics, look better and are easier to navigate. (If nothing else, the Fold4 feels more like a “gaming phone” than anything else I’ve tried.)
It also offers the best version of app multitasking on a phone. You can open and simultaneously run up to three apps across the 21.6:18 inner screen. I find it works best keeping it to two so nothing gets too small, but it feels much better to move information between two apps you can see than to copy something, close an app, then open another and paste, as you would on most phones. Sometimes you’re transferring info from a Google doc to a spreadsheet. Other times you’re adding something to your calendar based on a note or a text that Android doesn’t recognize as a potential calendar event. As streamlined as our phones are, we all still do these little manual data transfers from time to time and it feels better on the Fold, once you get the hang of split-screening apps using the “Multi-Window” tab on the right side of the screen.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4’s design and features
To optimize its strengths, and overcome a few of its weaknesses, the Fold4 features a few structural design tweaks. The phone is just under 3mm shorter than the Galaxy Z Fold3, and 2mm wider when unfolded, which goes a surprisingly long way to make holding the phone more comfortable, especially in “tablet” form. Its smaller bezels get out of the screen’s way, allowing it to loom large in the shorter, wider phone.
The unconventional form factors of both screens still present their own issues, though. Since neither display fits the conventional dimensions of a smartphone or a tablet, you’ll find many apps feature crunched display text, plus large black bars around widescreen videos and other apps not optimized specifically for the Fold. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Netflix and games look sharp and beautiful on the large unfolded screen (or the cover screen, if you choose), but it sometimes minimizes the benefits of having a maximal screen.
In fairness, though, Samsung is steadily getting more and more developers to create Fold-native versions of their apps, including the Google suite, the Microsoft Office suite, Spotify, Facebook, and more. Most recently, they’ve added Twitch, YouTube, and Microsoft Teams.
So durable, but not durable enough
To combat the general perception that the Fold is fragile, Samsung has taken steps to make it more durable. It features a reinforced frame and a cover display made from Corning Gorilla Glass Victus+. It also features a redesigned hinge, which allows for a smoother opening. Samsung also claims that the new hinge makes the “crease” in the middle of the display disruptive, but it’s still very noticeable in most apps.
While those changes may have reinforced the phone against drops, the phone still feels more delicate than a Galaxy S22 or an iPhone 13. The hinge opens smoothly, but slowly—you cannot whip it open the way you can with a laptop or an old-school flip phone. As a result, I was still afraid of opening it forcefully and snapping the phone in half, even if that wasn’t a real possibility. Also, the phone remains susceptible to dust—it features an IPX8 water resistance rating, but no dry particle resistance—so there you do need to be somewhat mindful of where and how you handle it. (Also, at 9.6 ounces, it drops like a rock. So … don’t drop it.)
One of the Galaxy Z Fold4’s largest improvements is its new and improved Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor. While it’s only half-step over the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 in the Galaxy S22 line, it has seemingly delivered a larger-than-average performance boost, at least on paper. In benchmarks like Geekbench 5 for CPU and general processor performance, the Fold4 outperformed the Galaxy S22 and S21 Ultra by a small but notable margin. It beat out Samsung’s other foldable, the Galaxy Z Flip4, which has the same chipset. It also outdid the standard Galaxy phones in 3DMark’s Wild Life tests for GPU performance and was neck and neck with the Flip4.
All things being equal, the Fold4 offers best-in-class speed for an Android phone. You may notice it in games, which should feel snappy and look sharp, or when taking and editing either high-resolution photos and video. It also ensures smooth scrolling in 120Hz without flickering, and seamless transitions when using two apps in split screen mode apps, or bending the inner screen into the half-folded “flex” mode.
The camera is the centerpiece of most smartphones, and the Fold4 is the first folding model where the hardware feels like it’s in lock-step with the standard Galaxy phones. Its primary back cameras match the S22 and S22 Plus—a 50MP wide-angle camera, a 12MP Ultra-wide camera, and 10MP tele-photo camera. That’s a notable step up over the 12/12/12MP lenses on the Fold3 5G. It also offers up to 30x digital zoom and 3x optical zoom, the latter of which is an upgrade over the S22.
For video, the Fold4 can record in 8K at up to 24 frames per second (fps), or in 4K at up to 60fps. The Fold3 couldn’t record in 8K, so you are getting a fidelity bump, albeit a largely unnecessary one. (I don’t own any 8K devices, do you?)
Of course, the actual performance of these cameras increasingly comes down to the AI that magically blends multiple pictures together behind the scenes. Again, the Fold4 receives an upgrade that enables parity with the S22, including Samsung’s new “nightography” for low-light photos. As someone who’s very critical of photos, but only an okay photographer, I found the Fold4 makes it very easy to take the best possible photo in any given situation, though I would say that some colors appear a bit oversaturated in very bright settings. That shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone familiar with Samsung’s camera systems.
It’s also worth pointing out that the folding screen is especially useful when shooting photos and video. In “flex” mode, with the screen half-folded, the viewfinder appears on the upper, vertical half of the screen and the buttons appear on the lower half. This makes it much easier to take a clear photo while raising your phone high or lowering it without bending down, since you can still see what you’re shooting.
In addition to the primary rear cameras, the Fold4 has two selfie cameras, a 10MP camera on the cover screen and a 4MP under the unfolded display. These cameras are largely unchanged from the Fold3: Both are fine, but a far cry from the excellent rear cameras. That said, Samsung has made it so the under-display camera successfully fades into the display when games and apps don’t use it. It’s a nice quality-of-life improvement, though a small camera dot doesn’t feel like a huge impediment in a tech world full of camera notches.
Battery life and other features
For all of its many improvements, some aspects of the Fold4 are identical to the Fold3. It features a 4400mAh battery that will get you through a day of intermittent use, though you will burn through it much faster playing a game on the big screen for an extended time, maybe 4-5 hours. It still can handle up to 25W fast-charging, which can juice up your phone from dead to 50 percent in 30 minutes. It also supports the latest networking standards—5G from your carrier and Wi-Fi 6E on a home network.
Aside from battery life, which can always improve, these are top-of-the-line specs. We would expect nothing less from the only phone that costs more than a Galaxy S22 Ultra.
So, who should buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4?
Though it’s the best version of the Galaxy Fold yet, the Galaxy Z Fold4 still feels like a device reserved for tinkerers, early adopters, and those who are willing to pay more for an exciting, if sometimes flawed experience. Its streamlined design looks more svelte and feels better in your hand. In many ways, it is more durable. It offers smoother performance and much-improved cameras. These are all great things, and they allow the Fold4 to retain its place as the premiere folding phone (even if the Z Flip series is more popular).
Despite the positives, two things hold the Fold4 back: First, even with its enhancements, many aspects of the Fold4 feel more delicate than another phone. In some cases, those fears may be imagined, like snapping the hinge. Others, like concerns about getting dust in the phone or breaking the inner screen, are not, though. Real or not, anxiety over breaking the phone adds some real baggage to the experience.
That perceived fragility is only enhanced by the Fold4’s sky-high price. With a starting launch price of $1,799.99 for an unlocked phone, it’s considerably more expensive than a Galaxy S22 Ultra, a Pixel 6 pro, or an iPhone 13 Pro Max. At that price, I expect a special phone that excels in ways others do not and delivers superior performance without any compromises. The Fold4 nails the first part, but falters on the second. One of these days, the Fold will either fix those issues or drop to a low enough price that it can become a practical recommendation. It isn’t ready today, but Samsung is one step closer.