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Folding smartphones were heralded as the future of our mobile computing needs. It makes sense right? The ability to both have a big screen and a small form factor should mean the possibilities are endless. Yet what’s surprising to me is how quickly these smartphones became…well, boring. And if you want a good example, well look no further than Samsung’s latest Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4.
Now it’s imperative that I clear the air right away: when I say boring, I don’t also mean that these phones are bad. In fact, if you take these devices in isolation, it’s quite incredible what they’ve managed to do with a smartphone that can literally fold in half. But if we’re talking about what should be the future of mobile computing, it’s kind of disappointing how unremarkably similar the experience of using a folding phone is to any other smartphone.
There are subtle differences, of course. With Samsung’s brand new Galaxy Z Fold 4, you do get a little bit more substance to go with the rest of the phone. One new feature that I particularly enjoyed was the addition of the taskbar to the bottom of the unfolded screen. I’ve always been critical about how Samsung’s not really taking full advantage of having this larger screen on the previous Fold models, but this is absolutely a step in the right direction.
In concept, it’s sort of like an extension of Samsung’s Edge Panels. Only Edge Panels is still there so you now have double the quick access to your apps. What the taskbar does differently is that it’s always there unless you launch apps in multi window. In practice, it works very similarly to a Samsung DeX or iPadOS taskbar. There are a collection of apps pinned to the taskbar that you can quickly tap on to switch between. You can also drag them up to immediately set them into multi-window mode which just makes the whole user experience very intuitive.
If you want to access more of your apps, you can also tap the all apps button to bring up your app drawer the way you would with a n actual computer which is great. Something I’m sure power users will appreciate.
But beyond that, there wasn’t a whole lot that was new. Even from a design and build standpoint the phone is remarkably similar to its predecessor. They could have just shipped this software update to the Z Fold 3 and I think it would have probably performed just as well.
Yes, you do get updated internal specifications, and onboard storage does go all the way up to 1TB now. Plus, the gorgeous 120Hz Infinity Flex AMOLED display has a slightly better adaptive refresh rate now, with the ability to go all the way down to 1Hz. Samsung said that the new cover screen is slightly wider than its predecessor, but in my hands, it still looks a little too tall to replace the “regular smartphone” part of this in-folding device.
This new Fold also gets the Galaxy S22’s triple camera setup, but it’s not the quad-camera setup that comes with the S22 Ultra, so it’s still not the best camera system Samsung puts into their phone. In fact, the phone is not even particularly ahead of the curve when it comes to some aspects of regular smartphone development either. For example, in a world where the OnePlus 10T can push 150 watts of fast-charging goodness, the Galaxy Z Fold 4 tops out at…25W.
Honestly, they should have probably just called this the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3s because unlike the predecessors, I just don’t see a jump that’s big enough to deserve a whole new number. And if I’m being REALLY honest, I feel like a phone that you’re going to be marketing as boundary pushing shouldn’t have “tock” upgrades in the first place. It should always push boundaries.
Which is why I’m far more receptive to the Galaxy Z Flip 4, because if you wanted to ship a phone with a tock upgrade, it should be the folding phone for the masses.
Though, if you want to talk about new features, the Galaxy Z Flip 4 probably has even fewer. But, again unlike the Z Fold 4, I’ve always thought of this more like the folding phone for the people. So I can forgive the fact that the smartphone is still pretty much identical to its predecessor. They haven’t gotten rid of the thigh gap, nor have they gotten rid of the crease.
The shape and size still feels identical in the hand so it’s not like they’re making it more pocketable either. Its main screen is pushed a little more to the edges so you get slimmer bezels, but unless you’re looking at both the Flip 3 and Flip 4, I doubt you’ll be able to tell the difference.
There’s a new “signature” colour called Bora Purple, where Bora is apparently Korean for purple so the phone is called Purple Purple.
Build also feels largely the same, with the only major difference being that they swapped the glossy back for a frosted one, and the matte frame for a glossy one.
There is also still no telephoto camera so you’re stuck with a 12MP dual-camera system where one is wide and the other is ultra-wide. But, alongside the updated internals and new 512GB storage option, Samsung did address one of the Galaxy Z Flip 3’s biggest weakness—its battery. Now the new Flip 4 comes with a 3,700mAh cell which is 400mAh larger than its predecessor, and that’s not a small amount at all.
True, it still only comes with 25W fast wired charging and 10W wireless charging like the Galaxy Z Fold 4, but this larger cell is great news for the more demanding users like me who really like the Z Flip’s form factor.
Besides that though, there really isn’t much else for me to share about these devices. Partly because I was only given about 30 minutes with these smartphones, but mostly I think it is because there just isn’t a whole lot that’s new. And the saddest part about that for me as a tech enthusiast is that this probably won’t change anytime soon.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Samsung is the only smartphone maker that makes a usable folding device right now. Who else makes something that’s even close to comparable? Huawei? Maybe, but they’re still stuck in the no GMS hole and that really saps the desirability from their phones especially when something like the P50 Pocket costs even MORE than the Galaxy Z Flip 3.
Samsung has such a monumental lead on the competition that they can afford to rest on their laurels. They can afford to make “just a good folding phone” because everything else isn’t even close to being as capable, practical or usable as the Samsung Z series.
If that means we get basically the same smartphone year after year the way we already are with the mainstream flagship phones like the Galaxy S or iPhones, then I guess that’s what a world with no meaningful competition looks like.
Or maybe I’m the one that’s expecting too much from the folding phone form factor. Maybe this really is all you can do with it. In which case, I guess my next course of action would be to look for what’s going to come next.