Over the past few years, Samsung has enjoyed having the folding phone segment pretty much to itself. While there were rumours of others entering the fray, much of that was just gossip or prototyping, but in 2023 things are starting to change.
Sure, the competition is mostly from Chinese brands with limited global penetration – Honor, Vivo, Huawei, Oppo – and that sees Samsung with a pretty clear run. Except for one major model: the Google Pixel Fold. I’ve been using the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and it’s clear to me that it’s a better folding phone than the Pixel Fold – but it’s not quite that simple. Let me explain more in my full review.
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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is better than ever, the tweak in design making this phone fold better and feel better. In some ways this is an iterative update of the Galaxy Z Fold 4, but it’s clear that if you’re after a book-type folding phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is the one to choose.
- Great display quality
- Loads of power
- Upgraded folding design
- External display too narrow
- Some bloatware
Design and build
- 154.9 x 129.9 x 6.1mm (unfolded); 154.9 x 67.1 x 13.4mm (folded); 253g
- Armor Aluminum, Gorilla Glass Victus 2, IPX8
Glance at the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and there’s little that differentiates it from the Galaxy Z Fold 4. Put the two phones side-by-side and again the difference is incredibly subtle. There’s a repositioning of the LED flash on the rear to make the camera bump smaller; the camera lenses sit a little taller; there are fewer openings in the speaker grilles and if you look really closely, you might notice that the left-hand frame of the front display is slightly narrower on the older phone.
But flip these phones on their ends and you’ll see the huge difference. I say huge, but it’s only the case of a couple of millimetres difference: on the Galaxy Z Fold 5, the two halves of the phone fold flat together. Thanks to a hinge redesign, the 2023 version of Samsung flagship folding phone sees the two halves sit flush against each other, rather than leaving a gap at the hinge side.
The effect this has on the device is profound. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 now feels complete, whereas to me, the Z Fold 4 felt as though it was still a work in progress – it was compromised in that folding design. The new phone is slimmer when folded as a result, it sits better in the pocket and it feels better in your hand – and there’s no longer a gap down the middle of the phone that gathers dust on the screen as dramatically as it did before. Although virtually identical, when these phones are side-by-side, they are worlds apart.
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 unfolds flat, unlike the Google Pixel Fold that always feels as though it’s not open properly. It offers an IPX8 protection rating so it will handle some exposure to water, while it continues to use a high-quality Armor Aluminum frame, with Gorilla Glass Victus 2 front and back for protection. There’s a range of colours for the Z Fold 5 – Icy Blue (pictured), Phantom Black and Cream.
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is also lighter than the phone it replaces, as well as being a touch smaller in all directions – the important difference being that it’s now 13.4mm thick at the hinge end rather than 15.8mm.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 feels high quality and so it should given the $1800 / £1750 asking price, although the hinge feels just as solid as it did before. The fingerprint scanner remains in the frame, sitting in the power button for easy unlocking and I’ve found this reliable, unlocking the phone on demand when I’ve pressed it.
The speakers packed into the frame are capable, giving a wide sound stage with noticeable separation, so it’s great for causal gaming or watching movies without headphones.
What’s not included in the design is the S Pen. While there’s support for it, it doesn’t come in the box, nor is there a dock for it. I’m not too worried about that: having been a Note user and relished in the size rather than the S Pen’s skills, I don’t think that having the S Pen integrated into the design of the Z Fold is worth the compromise. There is an S Pen cover available that carries a slim version of Samsung’s stylus for you, and it works well enough with other styli, so you can always slip one into your jacket pocket if you’re that type of user.
- Cover: 6.2in, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 2316 x 904 pixels, 48-120Hz
- Main: 7.6in, Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 2176 x 1812 pixels, 1-120Hz
The size and aspect ratio of the displays on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 remain as they were on the Z Fold 4, with a 6.2-inch cover display at 23.1:9 and main folding display of 7.6-inches 21.6:18. Both are punchy AMOLED displays and both are bright and vibrant, however the main display is now even brighter, peaking at 1750 nits. This really helps it to cut through reflections when using it outdoors.
There’s still a noticeable crease down the centre of the display – but only when the display is off. As soon as it’s illuminated, you can’t see it. As previously – and with all folding phones – you can feel it when your fingers run over it, but this has never been a problem for me. It’s a folding phone, there’s going to be a fold in the screen – it’s not going to magically vanish.
The aspect of Samsung’s device means the internal display is almost square and this gives a great usable space. What’s more important than the aspect of the display is how Samsung handles apps – which to me makes it better than the Google Pixel Fold. My biggest criticism of the Fold is that you unfold it, open and app and you get the standard app letterboxed, because Google wants developers to enhance their apps for bigger screen use, rather than just making it bigger. While you’re waiting for all those developers to make those changes, Samsung has been pushing apps to fill the full screen and it offers a much better experience as a result.
Yes, some of those Google apps that were updated for the Pixel Fold now look a lot better, but there are some apps that really shine on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 compared to the Pixel Fold – and Instagram is the one that really stands out for me.
While we’re talking Pixel Fold, my favourite feature on Google’s phone was the external display and I think it remains the Galaxy Z Fold 5’s most challenging feature. Samsung is sticking to using a really narrow front display and while it does everything well enough, looks great and is perfectly responsive, I find it just too narrow. That makes text entry more difficult than it is on the Pixel Fold, so I found myself using the main display more.
There’s a decision for buyers here: go for the Pixel Fold for the more usable external display, or choose the Samsung for the better use of the main display. Having used both phones, I find the Samsung more compelling and mostly for the reasons I outline above.
Hardware performance and battery life
- Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, 12GB RAM
- 256GB/512GB/1TB storage
- 4400mAh, 25W wired, 15W wireless
Getting a power boost, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 now sits on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy. That’s the enhanced version of the Qualcomm hardware that gets a higher clock speed for a mite more power than other flagship devices on that platform. It’s the same hardware in the Galaxy S23 models, and here supported by 12GB RAM, with storage options running all the way up to 1TB.
That makes for a phone that’s more efficient while being more powerful, and while the 4400mAh battery is the same capacity as it was before, the boosted efficiency of the hardware means you’ll get more life from it – depending on what you do with it of course.
One of the changes to increase performance efficiency is a vapour chamber that is 38 per cent larger, so the hardware is better at cooling itself than it was before. I found the right-hand half the Z Fold 4 to get a little warmer than some phones when driving it hard – for example when using the hotspot and running intensive apps at the same time. However, the performance of the Galaxy Z Fold 5 has only been impressive, it’s a slick and fast performer and I’ve found it to continue to run smoothly when you have multiple apps open to take advantage of the larger display.
The battery life is good too, although this battery isn’t as capacious as you’ll get on any serious flagship phone. With that big central display there’s the potential to drain the battery especially if you’re doing something like gaming at full brightness – which is where a regular phone has a greater advantage. That also extends to the charging. While Samsung is offering “fast charging”, it doesn’t get anywhere near the charging speeds you’ll get from a lot of other brands.
But the performance overall isn’t something I can criticise. I’ve found everything – from phone calls and using the hotspot for prolonged periods through to gaming and using the phone to aggressively run lots of tabs in Chrome – to all be really solid. A lot of that comes down to refinement in One UI, which harks to Samsung’s long experience in Android devices: it might be heavily modified compared to something like the Pixel Fold, but I’ve always found the Samsung experience to be so much slicker than some of the other rival Android skins you might consider.
- Main (rear): 50MP, 1.0µm, f/1.8, OIS
- Ultrawide (rear): 12MP, 1.12µm, f/2.2
- Telephoto (rear): 10MP, 1.0µm, f/2.4, OIS, 3x
- Front: 10MP, 1.22µm, f/2.2
- Inner (UDC): 4MP, 2.0µm, f/1.8
There are five cameras spread around the Galaxy Z Fold 5, the array of three main cameras on the rear of the phone and then a front facing cameras for each of the other screens. Essentially, whichever way the phone is pointing, there’s a camera to use. The internal display has an under-display camera, which for the most part you won’t notice, although there’s a slight difference in the screen patterning where it sits.
The loadout of the cameras hasn’t changed from the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and for some that might bring disappointment, but in reality, it’s a comprehensive offering. The rear camera setup is basically the same as the Galaxy S23+ rather than the flagship Galaxy S23 Ultra. The performance is similar too, with the Galaxy Z Fold 5 offer great photos in most conditions.
The photos that you get from the Galaxy Z Fold 5 are typical of Samsung, with saturation in blues and greens to make things look a little better than they actually were at the time. This is something that’s really noticeable on Samsung’s saturated display, but isn’t so aggressive when viewing on another device. Snap a picture of a sunny landscape and the sky will be bluer and the grass greener than reality – but this has ever been the Samsung way.
The camera is effective in most conditions, recommending night mode when in low light, but still taking a longer exposure when the light dips. The results are pretty good, but Samsung can’t compete with the Pixel Fold when it comes to processing those images for the best results – and indoor low light photos do have some noise in shadows. The same applies to the telephoto camera. It offers 3x optical, which is a really useful, and good-quality camera, extending out to 30x digital zoom – although the results you get from the latter are a little mushy and blocky. I don’t think it’s again as capable as the Pixel Fold when it comes to processing the zoom images to make them look better – but there’s not a lot in it.
Generally speaking, it’s hard to see that anyone will be left wanting from the Galaxy Z Fold camera, because it performs in just about all conditions giving great photos you’ll be happy to share, with a full range of functions and capture options.
Of course this being a folding phone, you can use the main camera for selfies and this will give you better results – it’s a more capable camera overall and gives the phone more data to process to get the final image. This is especially useful for portrait mode, but being able to flip to the ultrawide for selfies is also a lot of fun – just be aware that the ultrawide doesn’t give you the quality of the main camera, especially in lower light, so you’ll get softer images and lower colour quality too.
It is a little fiddly to take a selfie with the main camera, holding the phone unfolded at arm’s length, but turning on the voice capture options means you can say the hotword (like “cheese” or “smile”) and you’ll capture the image without having to contort your fingers and press the button. There are options to have images displayed next to the viewfinder while taking so you can preview them when shooting with the phone unfolded, but generally I’ve found it most common to use the phone closed – it’s just easier to hold and you don’t feel like you’re about to drop it all the time.
Lastly, you can use the phone at some strange angles, because you can get the camera down low while previewing on the external display. Take a look at the reflected sky photos in the first gallery, taken comfortably without having to get physically down in the dirt.
- Android 13, One UI 5.1.1
- Four OS updates, 5-years security
Samsung now offers one of the best software update policies there is – whether you’ll still have your Z Fold 5 to receive the four OS updates or five years of security is another matter, but it does add value to the second-hand market for these devices. Launching on Android 13 with One UI 5.1.1, one of the great things about opting for the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is that it’s Samsung through and through. That makes it an easy choice for someone who has used a Samsung phone before, because everything looks and behaves the way you expect it to.
In fact there are only a few minor differences in the Z Fold 5 compared to something like the Galaxy S23 to account for the different camera arrangements and to let you get better use of that internal display. Whether you opt to use multitasking, split screen or pop-up views depends on what you’re trying to do – I often find that I don’t, I just enjoy the larger space.
One of the reasons not to use multiple apps, is that as soon as you deploy the keyboard, it basically eats half the screen anyway and then you’re looking at partial versions of the apps you were using. Samsung’s keyboard is fine and the phone comes equipped with Microsoft’s SwiftKey too, but I soon replaced the default keyboard with Gboard. The reason is that Samsung’s autocorrect when using glide input just isn’t as fast and accurate as Gboard – and glide input (where you swipe your finger over the keyboard) is the best option for the narrow front display because of the lack of space for conventional typing.
There’s some duplication of apps, of course, and Samsung does like to pack in an additional gallery, browser, calendar, dialler and other apps that you just don’t need – I much prefer the Google alternatives that are stock for Android. Fortunately, you can uninstall most things you don’t want these days. There are still some pre-installed apps aside from that – a collection from Microsoft, Facebook, Netflix, Spotify and a bunch of Samsung services – which some might see as bloat if not useful to them.
Some of Samsung’s services might be worth using if you’re in a wider Samsung ecosystem, like signing in to your Samsung account. Many of the services are now replicated on your Google account but it depends who you are and what you’re looking for.
There’s also a range of clever features, however, like Multi Control to link your other Galaxy devices, integrated link to Windows, and Samsung DeX to give you a desktop-like view when connected to a larger display. The latter option will allow you to basically connect a keyboard and mouse as use your Z Fold 5 like a computer – although this isn’t unique to the folding phone and many Samsung phones have this option.
That’s also true of some of the split screen and pop-up views offered. Samsung has long enabled a pop-up or floating window view on some of its devices and this is here as an additional option on top of split screen. This means you can be viewing three apps on the main display, if that’s what you want to do.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 has appeal in a number of areas. Of all the folding phones, I think it offers the most mature experience. It offers all those options that Samsung brings to its phones, while also handling apps better than Google’s Pixel Fold. I expect that to change over the coming year with developers optimising apps for a better experience, but at the time of writing, it’s the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 I’d choose from the two.
There aren’t huge upgrades here from the Z Fold 4. There’s still loads of power, great displays and a capable camera system – and that could make the Z Fold 5 feel little more than iterative. But it’s clear that the hinge redesign to make this phone fold flat is how the Z Fold should have always been. That makes the Galaxy Z Fold 5 look better, feel better and deliver on that folding phone promise.
Iphone Store – 2023-12-13 11:57:38 / www.pocket-lint.com