When we first picked up the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4, we felt like it shouldn’t be real. It was clearly the most innovative and advanced piece of smartphone technology available to consumers at the time. But then, in the month or so that followed, Apple released an entirely new slate of iPhone 14 devices, which changed…. well, absolutely nothing.
Despite Apple’s best efforts, in our humble opinion the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 is still the most innovative and advanced smartphone on the market, harnessing a bucketload of imagination and ingenuity to create something that challenges both what we expect from and how we interact with the devices we rely on every single day.
No amount of fancy animation coming from a so-called “Dynamic Island” is going to change that, and while this foldable technology may not be for everyone (just yet), the Fold4 and its more accessible sibling – the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip4 – make a compelling argument that now is in fact the right time to jump on the foldables train. And for those who aren’t ready just yet, these devices are paving the path towards a very near future in which foldable devices will have absolutely become the norm.
Design & Screen
The core philosophy behind Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold range has always been to condense a smartphone and a tablet into a single form factor, but the Fold4’s refined aesthetic – including a completely rebuilt-from-scratch hinge mechanism – makes this by far the most elegant embodiment of the phone/tablet hybrid we’ve seen so far.
If you want a device that turns heads, the Fold4 really does the trick. There’s an air of the impossible when you open its generous internal screen in public and its new hinge design provides both a slimness to the form factor and a firmness to the opening and closing of the device that puts an end to the sense of fragility previous Fold generations suffered from.
The quality of the internal screen also reflects this. While the Fold category started with displays that felt decidedly plasticky, this latest generation’s unfolded panel absolutely feels like a piece of high-quality glass not dissimilar to the screen of a Galaxy S22 or – Apple fanboys, cover your ears – an iPhone.
The Galaxy Z Fold4’s unique build means your experience of it will be like no smartphone you’ve ever had before. While we probably used the front screen about 60 per cent of the time – we quickly adjusted to its narrowness and have grown quite fond of it – for the other 40 per cent we’d unfold it, either completely flat in order to use it in its tablet form or partially so as to provide a stand for either the 7.6-inch internal or 6.2-inch external screen.
Opening it in full, the Fold4 offers an authentic tablet experience. While more square in its dimensions than your standard tablet, multitasking is a breeze and there’s more than enough screen real estate to have multiple apps operating simultaneously. We found it more than comfortable to have YouTube, Netflix or some other video streaming service running while we also browsed the web and made notes using the Samsung Notes app.
The Fold4 also makes changing between apps incredibly easy thanks to Samsung’s introduction of a task bar at the bottom of the device’s open screen which displays your most recently used apps. Using Google Chrome is similarly handy as the open-screened version of the app uses tabs not unlike those you’ll find on your desktop.
Watching videos on the Fold4 is a singularly handy experience. It sounds silly, but there’s just so much flexibility. You can watch them on the front screen with the phone either closed or open at up to around a 70-degree angle, using the other half of the phone as a handy stand. You can also open the Fold4 completely to watch your content in full screen – with black bars at the top and bottom, mind, due to the square-ish nature of the display – or you can sit the Fold4 at an angle, with your video playing on the top half of the screen while you scroll to find something to watch next on the bottom half.
No matter which approach you choose to take, you’ll always enjoy a crisp, clear viewing experience with plenty of brightness and vivid colour.
You might think that switching back and forth between screens would have a draining effect on the Fold4’s battery life, but we found that a single charge of the 4,400 mAh battery was more than enough to get us comfortably through the day and then some.
It’s probably fair to say we use our smartphones more than most and in our time with the Fold4 it was rare for us to find ourselves scrambling for a charger. When that did happen it was more likely due to the fact that we had plenty of juice left over from the day before, so didn’t bother charging it overnight, and then got caught out mid-afternoon.
While Samsung sells a number of cases for the Galaxy Z Fold4, we (quite courageously, we think) faced the world using the new foldable as it arrived straight out of the box. Now, you might think a device like this would be less hardy and perhaps more prone to droppage than its more traditional smartphone counterparts thanks to its unusual form factor and moving parts. Not so.
In fact, in one of the brief moments the Fold4 was out of our grasp, a friend who’d asked to inspect the device (he shall remain nameless, but knows who he is) dropped it on some hard tiles from a reasonable height. The Fold4 took this punishment with only the slightest of scuffs to its chrome edging. While luck is always a factor in these kinds of incidents, we’d argue most smartphones we’ve encountered would not have fared so well.
It’s also worth noting that in addition to this real-world test of the Fold4’s hardiness, the phone comes with an IPX8 rating, which makes it water-resistant (as opposed to waterproof). Theoretically the Fold4 can be submerged in up to 1.5 metres of freshwater for up to 30 minutes, however we were not overly eager to put this to the test.
When it comes to taking snaps, the Fold4 has a lot of options with a grand total of five lenses across the device. You’ll find one on the external screen, another hidden beneath the internal screen, and three on the back of the device (the ones that really count). These three consist of a 12MP ultra wide lens, a 50MP wide-angle lens and a 10MP 3x optical zoom telephoto lens.
You’re unlikely to use the one under the internal screen much, unless you enjoy seeing your mug reflected back at you on a tablet-esque display. That’s a hard pass for us. The one exception is if you’re making a video call, in which case your face is someone else’s problem and the lens is perfectly serviceable. We do appreciate that it’s under the screen though, rather than punching a hole in the display. And much the same goes for the front-facing external camera in terms of quality. It more than gets the job done, although that one does create a small hole in the display.
The lenses on the back of the Fold4 are a more serious proposition and we found them comparable to those of the Galaxy S22 and S22 Plus. They’re not quite as impressive as the S22 Ultra – a phone which is all about the camera – but they still deliver sharp images with naturalistic if slightly punchy colour and contrast. What sets the Fold4 photographic offering apart most actually has nothing to do with the lenses whatsoever. It’s the fact that the device’s design enables it to act as its own tripod. You can also use the rear camera for selfies if you’re so inclined and the external screen will act as a viewfinder thanks to the Cover Screen Preview functionality. Handy.
What we didn’t like
Our only consistent critique of the Fold4 experience is that very occasionally apps aren’t 100 per cent optimised for this new form factor. However, such issues are rare and only very minor when they do occur – the one we encountered most consistently was that Instagram captions would sometimes be cut off on the front screen. Simply clicking on these posts would remedy this, so hardly a deal-breaker.
That, and sometimes the internal screen would collect a light coating of dust while placed in a pocket. This was easily removed with the brush of a hand, so we questioned whether or not we should mention it here. It seems we have. Oh well.
The Fold4 also isn’t cheap. Pricing starts at AUD$2,499 for the 256GB model, rises to AUD$2,699 if you want 512GB, and maxes out at an eye-watering AUD$2,999 for 1TB. In fairness, when holding the device you can see where every single cent of that money went and in no way feel short changed. For those looking for a foldable device who don’t have that much dosh knocking around, the Galaxy Z Flip4 is a considerably more accessible option.
If we didn’t make it entirely clear, we’re big fans of the Galaxy Z Fold4. We appreciate that Samsung is pushing the smartphone envelope in genuinely useful ways, while other brands seem more than happy to just deliver incremental upgrades from one year to the next. The Fold4 is offering revolution while the rest of the market is settling for evolution. We understand that some people are more than happy with that Darwinist approach to their technology – the Galaxy Z Fold4 isn’t for them, anyway – but we’re excited at what this device is offering in the here and now as well as what it means for the future of smartphones.