This story was updated on August 23rd. Update below.
The last three Samsung Galaxy Z Fold phones I have reviewed were quickly replaced by a Pixel, iPhone or whatever standard-shaped handset I was using regularly after the review had finished. Not this time, though, because the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is a near-perfect smartphone
Despite the technological accomplishment of each Fold, there was always something holding each device back. The Fold 3’s camera was average, the Fold 4 didn’t fully close, and all previous iterations were just too big. Samsung has shaved millimetres off of the Fold 5 in comparison to the Fold 4 (154.9 x 129.9 x 6.1 mm Vs. 155.1 x 130.1 x 6.3 mm), removed the gap, made it lighter and slimmed down the bezels.
Combined, this tipped the phone’s design into a zone that feels comfortable and normal to use on a regular basis, rather than being a cumbersome hunk of metal stretching out my pockets.
Folded, it measures in at just under two Pixel 7 Pro’s plopped on top of each other. It doesn’t sound great, but this is an improvement on previous Fold’s that were truly two stacked phones tapped together. It’s also shorter than the 7 Pro and, folded, less wide. That chunkiness is now perfectly palatable because the Fold 5 houses a giant 7.6-inch foldable screen. Samsung has finally found a balance, and trade-off, that it couldn’t quite figure out for earlier devices.
That 7.6-inch screen has captivated me for the last few weeks. It coincided with the start of the new Fantasy Premier League season, so I have been reading tips, watching highlights and transferring players—all at the same time—within three windows on one screen. The thinner bezels mean the main display has a slightly higher screen-to-body ratio than the Fold 4, which adds to the immersion. More 4:3 content would be the icing on the cake.
The multi-tasking is a refined experience now. Commuting into the office this morning I had Google Docs open on one side, with Chrome on the other. I clicked a link in Docs and Chrome gave me the option to “open in the other window”, which I didn’t know was a thing. The new customisable taskbar across the bottom that gives you quick access to apps is also a nice touch.
The app combinations when multi-tasking are infinite and within that are small, helpful, features that you will discover as you overload with information. I have watched videos on photography skills as I was taking pictures. I have YouTube cooking recipes up with ingredient substitutes, via chrome, running in a separate window. I can go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole without losing the original story I was reading. This is a unique experience to book-shaped foldable phones and Samsung has been in the game long enough to be the best at it.
All of this is underpinned by excellent battery life. This has been the Achilles heel of the Fold range since inception because a regular sized battery (4400mAh) has to power two screens, one of which is unusually large. I make full use of the phone, without restriction, and it comfortably lasts 24 hours. Battery life isn’t always an exact science, bigger doesn’t always mean better.
The Pixel 7 Pro has a 5000mAh battery and it never quite hit 24 hours on a single charge like the Fold 5. Owners have also been complaining about rapid battery drain after the July update. Out of the box and with a fresh install, my Fold 5 lasted longer than the Google phone, which is impressive.
It’s not all rosy. I said this was near-perfect, not perfect. The camera doesn’t match up to the snapper on the S23 Ultra or the Pixel 7 Pro, with the latter being the best money can buy right now. At $1,799, that is criminal. The viewfinder function (which shows a preview of your photo subject on the cover screen) always wows people when turn it on. The resultant picture doesn’t elicit the same response. A phone that is this much of a powerhouse deserves the best camera technology that Samsung has.
It’s also slightly awkward to use one-handed when unfolded. There may be a case out there that solves this, but if you’re using it without protection, it might be a stretch for people with small digits. Finally, it doesn’t come cheap. If you didn’t get one of Samsung’s limited time trade-in deals, the phone will set you back at least $1,799, rising to $2,159 for the 1TB version. It’s an investment for a device that isn’t for everyone. For me, though, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is comfortably one of the best phones the year so far.
August 23rd update. Samsung is again trying to entice iPhone users with more troll-like marketing tactics against Apple. The Korean company has launched an iOS experience called “Try Galaxy” that mimics using Samsung One UI on an iPhone, complete with a hacked together folding experience. The idea is that iPhone users put two phones together and the app will demo something similar to the folding experience of the Galaxy Z Fold 5, which includes demoing the multi-tasking abilities like dragging and dropping, or running two apps side-by-side. There appears to be an option to try a regular, non-folding, Galaxy experience too.
Samsung Health, Samsung Pay, Notes and the Samsung camera app are included in the demo too. According to The Verge, there’s also an option to test out the Flex Cam feature on the Flip 5 and Fold 5, which is where the stiff hinge allows the phone to act as its own stand. This makes it easier to take selfies, or capture different angles. Although without the hinge I’m not entirely sure how well this feature can be tested using two iPhones. The multi-tasking demo is probably the most compelling feature for non-foldable phone users and, as I say in this story, Samsung has nailed that experience. I don’t know if it’s possible to convey that through a demo app.
This marketing ploy is a less expensive version of the “ultimate test drive” program the Korean company launched in 2015. This let iPhone users borrow a Galaxy Note 5 or S6 Edge for 30 days for $1, which Samsung claimed was successful enough to quickly run out of all test drive units. Although despite the claimed success, Samsung didn’t bring the program back. iPhone owners who managed to get an (almost) free Galaxy had largely mixed experiences.
Samsung has a history of going directly after Apple and trying to win over iPhone buyers. In 2012, the Korean company’s “next big thing” campaign featured iPhone buyers queuing up outside of an Apple store to buy the latest Apple handset, while being amazed at the big screen of a passer-by’s Galaxy S2. The latest advert, which employs some cheesy 90s horror-movie storytelling, mocks iPhone owners who try to avoid seeing how apparently great Samsung’s new Flip phone is. The theme across all of these marketing campaigns is that Samsung’s tech is more advanced, which is partially true for foldable phones. But Apple’s dominance in the market is as much cultural is it is about which device has the better specifications.
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