"A fascinating and interesting review. Truly enjoyed your take on it."
- John Gruber (author of Daring Fireball)
(A word of warning, by the way: this is a very long post. Get ready to read.)
Man, do I love the thrill of new technology: unboxing a new device, uncovering what it can do over the course of days and weeks, finding workarounds for its weaknesses, and eventually settling into a configuration that makes it feel just right.
↑ Me, sniffing a newly-unboxed router, many years ago
The early days of mobile phones were stellar. Every year, we would get a new crop of devices that reimagined some aspect of what a mobile phone could be: from square displays and rotating screens to physical keyboards and little plastic styluses. Change was constantly in the air, and it felt good.
One of my favorite devices of all times has to be the Danger Hiptop, what with its flippable screen and tight integration among hardware, software, and a (way-ahead-of-its-time) matching web portal. And as Android was the spiritual successor to Danger OS, I fell hard for early Android devices like the Motorola Charm, Motorola Cliq 2, and the original Google Nexus One.
↑ The Motorola Charm with three aspirational stock photo people messaging you
Eventually, however, I got pulled into the orbit of the iPhone, like most everyone around me. I had a special affinity for the oddball iPhones, like the tiny iPhone 4, the original iPhone SE, and (after a poorly-advised detour through the resoundingly bland iPhone XR) the iPhone 13 mini. But as the years progressed, the fundamentals of their phones didn't: a slab with a virtual keyboard, somewhat better cameras, and a few interesting but esoteric features. Dynamically shape-shifting camera cutout, you say? Eh.
Desperate for something novel, I kept dipping my fingers back into the Android waters. I bought the (surprisingly capable and fun) original Motorola moto g stylus (massive screen, endless battery, utilitarian stylus), borrowed a Cosmo Communicator (physical keyboard, aging OS, wonky display layout), and requested a Samsung Galaxy at work instead of an iPhone.
↑ Selling the Cosmo Communicator with a blond in leather - but of course
However, for one reason or another, the siren song of the iPhone just kept dragging me back. It was the 'right' solution, but not the exciting solution. And then there's the fact that nearly all of my family and friends are blue bubble people.
For the past few years, I've watched with great interest the introduction of folding phones. In part due to the idea of having a larger screen in my pocket, but in part just because they're finally the advent of something new in the space.
I so wanted Microsoft Surface Duo when they first came out: Passport-sized, two separate screens, and an interesting 360º hinge. But, unfortunately, the Duo and Duo 2 never really hit the mark in terms of cameras, wireless charging, or software maturity - and pricing stayed stubbornly high, even for used ones, unless they had been run over by a truck.
↑ The ill-conceived Surface Duo (source)
The other device worth watching had always been the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold series: roughly the dimensions of a normal phone (but twice as thick) that opened up to a larger screen. But each generation came with showstoppers for me: a tiny outside screen, issues with the folding glass, lack of water resistance, underwhelming cameras, poor battery life, and high pricing.
But then, sometime in 2022, Apple released a new version of iOS. As is common for most iPhone users, I quickly updated my trusty iPhone 13 Mini to the latest version. And, as expected, everything worked great and I got most of the new features. But there were two little things that annoyed me:
First, they replaced the little row of dots on the home screen with the word "Search". Sure, you can undo that change, but for some reason just bugged me. It seemed less elegant.
↑ Removing the search text on iOS 15 (idownloadblog)
Second, when I searched (by swiping down on the home screen, natch, rather than hitting the Search button), the rest of the screen painted first, and then the keyboard showed up. I don't know why it bothered me, but it just felt janky – like they didn't optimize iOS 15 for my little buddy.
In sum, neither of these was enough to make me switch phones, not by a long shot. It did pique my interest to see if the newer iPhones were faster - but my research quickly told me that (a) there was to be no iPhone 14 Mini (RIP), and (b) there was little difference (that mattered to me, at least) between the iPhone 14 and the iPhone 13 (or the iPhone 12, for that matter).
And that, my friends, was the tipping point.
I started looking around to see what else was happening with phones these days, besides Apple's offerings. The newer Motorola moto g stylus (2022) (yes, that's actually what it's called), for instance, was really compelling - especially at under $200. But at the end of the day, it was still largely the same form factor of thousands of phone models prior: a slab of glass and a few buttons, albeit this time with a stylus.
And then I happened across the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 (Yes, that's actually what it's called: Fold4, not Fold⎵4. What's with these product names anyway? I'm going to call it the Fold 4.). I wasn't too hopeful, given that the Fold 3, Fold 2, and the original Fold all seemed to fall short.
↑ MKBHD on YouTube: The State of Foldables 2022: Samsung vs The World!
However, I kept checking out the reviews, and things started to sound good. Their largest external screen yet. Waterproof in 1.5 meters of fresh water for up to 30 minutes, although not dust-resistant (IPX8). Much improved cameras, with 3x optical zoom. Android L multitasking. Stylus support. And an internal screen that, despite being smaller diagonally, is actually 5.6% larger than that of my iPad Mini 5th generation:
• Fold 4: 7.6" diagonal, 130.1mm × 155.1mm = 20,178.51mm² (source)
• My iPad Mini 5: 7.9" diagonal, 159.57mm × 119.68mm = 19,097.34mm² (source)
• Overall size: Fold 4 ÷ Mini 5 = 20,178.51 ÷ 19,097.34 = 1.056 × larger
But what about durability? I mean, the original versions of this phone had lots of media coverage about how fragile the display was. I'm typically really careful with my devices, but to even consider the Fold 4, I needed to be convinced.
↑ A broken Galaxy Fold 1 display (Macrumors)
Two things made me feel better:
1. This horrifying video where JerryRigEverything goes at a Fold 4 with scribing tools, knives, and sand. Yes, the phone failed. But it made me feel much better about everyday use.
2. Samsung's willingness to sell insurance that covers damage to the screen. Would it actually come through if needed? Who knows. But it exists, and that means Samsung is betting that the screens will survive under normal usage.
So, after a lot of thought, I decided to take the dive and get myself a shiny new Fold 4 in their graygreen colorway - prompted in no small part by the massive discounts Samsung was offering in late 2022, and a bit of finagling with my wife around it counting against my birthday and holiday presents. So I bought it on the Samsung website, went to the nearest BestBuy, walked up to the online pickup counter, and moments later walked out with my very own Fold 4.
That aforementioned thrill of new technology? It was back, in spades.
Just like it says on the tin, this phone folds.
One of the interesting things about emerging technologies is that, once they become sufficiently available in the market, people start to accept them as a baseline, a given. We no longer take a step back to marvel at what humanity has created, but instead measure it against the yardstick of "what if it were perfect?"
But if you take that step back for a moment - especially within the context of the phones that came before - a folding phone is a marvel of engineering. I can carry around a phone that is more or less normally-sized (albeit extra thick), which weighs (263g) about the same as an iPhone 14 Pro Max (240g), but opens up into an entirely usable tablet.
↑ Re-engineered hinge in the Fold4 (xda-developers)
If I were a teenager when I got this phone, I'd probably never have left my parents' house. Ten years later, I'd still be sitting on my childhood bed, folding and unfolding my phone, never meeting and falling in love with my wife nor moving across the country with her in search of sunlight and warm temperatures.
In short, I am very satisfied with the folding screen. It's large, very bright, with nicely saturated colors. It works quite well when viewing webpages, especially for image-heavy sites like Dwell or The Verge. It's also entirely useful when you want to bring up two apps side-by-side. I was worried that this was going to be more of a parlor trick (as I've never really found dual apps to work well on the iPad), but I actually find myself using this feature repeatedly - for example, looking at an itinerary on the left and Google Maps on the right.
😕 All that said, for some reason when I open my Fold all the way, it makes a disconcerting creaking sound. It doesn't sound like metal or grit, but rather almost sounds like two surfaces are ungluing from each other. Even weirder, it only happens when I haven't opened it for a while, after which it opens and closes soundlessly. But I've signed up for the Samsung repair program, so I believe I'm covered if anything goes wrong.
Yes, it has a crease. Yes, you can see that crease sometimes. Yes, you can feel that crease. And you know what? None of that has mattered at all in my daily use. The vast majority of the time, the crease either actually disappears (when looking directly at the screen) or I just tune it out. The crease is a non-issue for me.
↑ You really can't see that crease (zdnet)
It also works great with the S Pen Fold Edition (for my purposes, it's every bit as sensitive and fast as my iPad with an Apple Pencil). I was concerned that running the S Pen across the crease would feel odd, or screw up the tracking algorithm, but it's just not an issue. I actually weirdly enjoy it when the stylus crosses the crease, because it reminds me I'm using something that I can later fold up and stick in my pocket.
😕 What I don't like, however, is that there is no cavity in the phone for the stylus when it's not in use. Sure, you can buy a case (the Samsung Standing Cover is about as good as it gets), but it makes the phone laughably thicker and creates a massive bump on the back. I've ended up resorting to carrying my stylus separately in my pocket which is a workable solution but much less ideal than the stylus cavity in other Samsung flagship devices.
There's a layer of plastic on top of the inner screen which is often referred to as a 'screen protector'. However, it's tightly bonded to the display, and Samsung strongly suggests against removing it, so for all intents and purposes, it is the screen that we interact with.
Overall, the screen protector is ok. It's nicely fitted. It's slightly soft, which works nicely with the S Pen to give a wee bit of a textured feel.
😕 But the screen constantly collects fingerprints and dust throughout the day, like nothing else that I own. Granted, when the display is on, these largely disappear. But when it's off, it's ugly. I'm forever wiping it down with a microfiber cloth or cotton tee, which I think is starting to leave faint swirl marks in the plastic.
😕 Update: I've managed to get a small scratch in the screen protector, about 3/16" (5mm) long. Unsure how I did it. Perhaps it was over-zealous screen wiping, or leaving it open on my desk while working on a (physical) project. Largely disappears when it's on, but it does highlight just how soft the plastic protector can be.
Speaking of dust, one concern that some people surface is that there is a gap between the two halves of the internal screen when closed - and that gap may serve as a way for dust and dirt to get onto the screen while it's in your pocket. Surprisingly, that isn't a problem that I've run into.
↑ The gap at the hinge (digital trends)
Other than that hinge creaking from time to time, the build of this phone feels surprisingly sturdy. I handled it pretty carefully for the first few weeks, but over time I began to trust the hardware as much as I did my iPhone 13 mini. The body is solid, it doesn't flex (well, except that whole folding thing), it doesn't sound hollow when you tap on it, and the side rails give a sense of hardware quality.
And, like I noted above, this video convinced me of how much of a beating the Flip 4 can take before failure. So much so, actually, that I've taken it snowboarding for the past couple of weekends - without a case, even - and had no problems with it riding along in my pocket.
All that said, this is truly a large phone. I'm a tall guy with large pockets in my jeans, and this phone does take up a substantial amount of space. Glad I'm not into the men's tight performance pants/technical trousers thing.
What can I say? It's another high-quality display from Samsung. Bright, punchy colors, and butter smooth. It has a hole-punch camera that's absolutely serviceable for taking selfie shots. A nice feature is that it can automatically switch to a wide-angle mode when you're taking selfie shots of more than one person, which I often do with my long arms.
There is one oddity, though. It's narrow. Other folding phones (including previous generations of the Fold) have had quite small external displays, good only for checking the time, seeing if you have any messages, switching music tracks, or the like. With the Fold 4, Samsung has expanded the display to cover the entire face of the phone - and with that, we start to judge it not as a 'really nice big external display' but as a 'weirdly narrow phone display'.
For consumption activities that don't involve horizontal video, it's a reasonable size and shape. If you're reading an article on the web, scrolling through your social media feeds, or checking incoming emails, the format works great. And when you do need to bring up the keyboard, it only takes up a small area at the bottom of the screen.
I understand that the Fold 3 external display was a few millimeters narrower, which made it fairly hard to type on for a lot of people. With the Fold 4, it's j-u-s-t wide enough to type, especially if you go with swiping instead of pecking.
↑ Slightly wider Fold4 on the left, compared to the Fold3 (duchuy mobile)
But there's a real benefit to the narrower display, and it's actually a core reason why I bought the phone. The display is just wonky enough that it causes me to pause before picking up the phone: Do I want to deal with a smaller keyboard? Do I want to unfold it and use the big screen? And in both cases, sometimes I end up doing nothing - which is the analog break I need. (That's part of the reason why I've always had an affinity for small iPhones: a tiny screen introduces enough friction into the process that I end up spending less time fondling my phone.)
It's quite reasonable for my needs. On days where I am not obsessing with the phone, I end up with about 50-60% of the battery remaining at bedtime. On days where I'm really actively using it, I'll end up with 10-20%. This includes having the screen brightness where I want it (fairly bright), a mix of using the internal and external screens, and staying connected to WiFi for most of the day. That said, your mileage will vary. I am fairly aggressive about closing apps (more of a psychological 'keep things tidy' thing than an attempt to save battery), and I don't spend a lot of time with power-intensive apps like YouTube or games.
Let's be realistic. If I go back through my camera roll for the past few weeks, it's mostly pictures I took to remind me of something: a dinner with colleagues, a worrisome crack in the plaster, things to sell, dogs in beds. None of those needs to be a perfect photo.
For me, the cameras are awesome. So were the cameras in my iPhone 13 Mini. So was the Apple QuickTake 100 (Well, ok, I'm kidding with that last one. Mostly.) From the reviews I've read, the Fold 4 uses effectively the same cameras as the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus, which were flagship phones when released. In other words, the Fold 4 has great cameras.
And yes, they take great photos. I am particularly enjoying the 3x zoom, which is surprisingly more useful than a 2x zoom. They can gather a ton of light for nighttime shots. Being able to use the primary cameras along with the cover display as a viewfinder is great for taking group selfies (interesting phrase, that).
😕 That said, I am not happy with the camera bump. Well, to be precise, it's not the camera bump itself that bothers me. Instead, it's the fact that the bump makes the phone wobbly when on a table - which is especially noticeable when using the stylus. I've taken to laying the phone on a pad of paper, with the camera bump hanging off the side, to address the problem. But I'd really like to see a small bump in the bottom corner of the phone that makes it rest evenly:
But what about that front-facing camera that's hidden underneath the internal screen? It's a fascinating piece of tech: The camera itself is underneath the display, behind some special pixels that can make themselves largely invisible when it's in use. When it's not active, the camera is barely noticeable, to the point that I frequently forget it's even there. And when it is active, a circle of pixels above the camera disappear so the camera can work. Picture quality is ok enough for video calls, but that's really about it.
↑ Now you see it, now you don't (computerbild.de)
This phone is thick. Even without a case, it already feels like I'm carrying two phones in my pocket. And with a case? Even a fairly slim Samsung case takes it up to .8in/20mm (about the same as a bare iPhone 14 mini sitting on top of a Samsung Galaxy S22 in a normal case).
What's even worse is that the selection of cases on Amazon and other sites tends towards one of two extremes: thick 'super shiny flowery pink and glitter' (not my thing) or even thicker 'Navy Seal-certified EPIC™ XTREME™ protection' cases (also not my thing).
So for now, I'm carrying the most expensive phone I've ever purchased ... without a case.
The best part of all is that this phone just keeps on giving. It has a ton of interesting technologies and capabilities, and even after a few months I still feel like there is a lot more left for me to explore. I still need to spend time really understanding the cameras, I want to get deeply into the DEX desktop mode, and I've only started to play with the Secure Folder - just to name three.
A lot of people at Samsung put years of effort into building this phone, and it is bringing me significant enjoyment and utility. Thanks, and hats off to you.
Android Central: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 review: Ultimate Android
Android Central: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 camera review: They really are better!
CNET: Galaxy Z Fold 4 Review: Why I Can't Get Enough of Samsung's New Phone
PCMag: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 Review: The Ultimate Portable Computer
Techradar: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 review: a compelling do-it-all device
The Verge: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 review: incremental innovation
Tom's Guide: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 review: A smarter foldable
XDA Developers: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 Camera Walkthrough
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