As we rapidly approach the fifth anniversary of the original Galaxy Fold next year, it's hard to believe how quickly foldables have evolved from an ultra-expensive, ultra-niche product category into… well, something just as expensive, but a little less niche. While Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold series has yet to dip below an $1,800 starting price — not including the occasional sale on aging hardware, of course — it has developed into something you could expect your average Android user to actually consider when it's time for a new phone.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 doesn't just avoid rocking the boat — it barely makes a wake. But if you're new to the world of foldables, Samsung doing the bare minimum here won't matter. The company has paired its thinnest design yet with an ultra-bright inner panel, bringing it closer than ever to parity with the comapny's flagship S23 Ultra.
- Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
- 7.6" 2176 x 1812 120Hz OLED primary, 6.2" 2316 x 904 120Hz OLED cover display
- 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB
- USB Type-C 3.2, OTG
- Operating System
- Android 13 (One UI 5.1.1)
- Front camera
- 4MP f/1.8 under-display camera (80˚ FoV, 2.0μm pixels), 10MP f/2.2 cover display camera (85˚ FoV, 1.22μm pixels)
- 5G (inc mmWave), LTE, up to Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC
- 67.1 x 155 x 13 mm folded, 130 x 155, 6.1 mm unfolded
- Ice Blue, Phantom Black, Cream + Samsung.com exclusive Gray, Blue
- 253g (8.92Oz)
- IP Rating
That relatively rapid movement, from luxury status symbol to enthusiast workhorse, hasn't been without its fair share of bumps along the way. After an initial rough launch, Samsung has spent the last few generations relying on iterative changes to smooth out the edges of what makes a foldable tick. In 2021, former AP editor Ryan Whitwam referred to the Galaxy Z Fold 3 as "perilously close to being ready for prime time;" one year later, former AP editor Ryne Hager referred to its successor as "the future of mobile productivity."
It's interesting to look back at both of those phones in the shadow of the Galaxy Z Fold 5. The Z Fold 3 felt like a real step towards developing something you'd want to replace a standard Galaxy S-series device with, bundling a real IP-rating for water resistance and S Pen support. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 took everything that worked with the Z Fold 3 and made it better. Samsung improved its photo quality, did a better job hiding the under-display camera, made the battery last longer on a charge, and perhaps most crucially, introduced a wider, more comfortable outer screen.
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 doesn't do anything like that. It is Samsung's most iterative update to the Z-series by far, in a year where the company is facing more competition than ever. The foldable space is no longer limited to its Chinese rivals; Google has already introduced a first-gen Pixel Fold priced identically to this particular phone, and with OnePlus likely introducing its own foldable sometime this summer, US-based buyers will finally have more choice when they walk into a carrier store. Of course, that raises an obvious question: what do we really want out of our annual smartphone updates in 2023?
Let's look at what's new with the Galaxy Z Fold 5 this year, because unlike the dozen small changes introduced last year, the changes in play here are few and far between. Hold Samsung's latest foldable in your hand, and you'll struggle to really tell the difference between it and the Z Fold 4, especially if the 2022 model isn't right next to it. It's about ten grams lighter, an appreciated change that, nevertheless, you're unlikely to notice in daily use. It comes in a few new colors, though nothing particularly groundbreaking. And — oh yeah — it folds completely shut, a first for the series.
It's tough to praise Samsung for redesigning its hinge after years of stagnation; we've seen nearly all of its rivals from Google and Motorola to Oppo and Honor adapt this design style. At 13.4mm, the Z Fold 5 remains thicker than the Pixel Fold when closed, although it's significantly lighter than Google's 283g foldable. That's also a couple of millimeters thinner than last year's model, but a far cry from Honor's Magic V2.
The other changes are as predictable as they are boring. The main display is brighter than last year's, matching the Galaxy S23 Ultra's excellent panel. The phone is now powered by the Galaxy-exclusive variant of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, though the leap between the Z Fold 4's Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 to this chipset isn't as grand as the leap the S23 series saw earlier this year. And… that's it. Like I said — pickings are slim this year.
Honestly, the biggest change for foldable fans might not be to the phone itself, but its accessories. While Samsung has once again opted against building the S Pen into the actual frame of the Galaxy Z Fold 5, the stylus-equipped case is all-new this year, and it's a huge improvement over last-gen's model. Thanks to a dramatic reduction in size, the S Pen now folds flat into the back of the cover, allowing the phone to lay normally on a table without the stylus bulging outwards. It's one step closer towards the dream of squeezing it into the phone Note-style, but that reality is at least one year away.
This is a huge improvement over last year's bulky, awkward case.
The time I spent with the Galaxy Z Fold 5 kept bringing me back to the same question: who exactly is this model for? If previous Z-series devices have been targeted at early adopters and enthusiasts above all else, I think this may be the first year Samsung is swinging for the fences in trying to bring in a new audience. While I'd be surprised if general consumers weren't won over by the sheer fun of the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and its attention-grabbing front display, I really think Samsung is looking to expand outside pre-existing foldable converts with this year's device. Whether that'll happen, frankly, remains a question worth answering in my upcoming review.
On the whole, it's been a very iterative year for the smartphone industry. It's tough to feel too excited about updates as minor as these, but again — this phone doesn't feel like it's for you, the average Android Police reader. It's for your friends and family; people who have caught word of the foldable craze and are finally interested in trying one out for themselves. The only real question remains is whether that $1,800 price tag is just too high of a boundary. Of course, between carrier deals and trade-in values, it feels like very few shoppers will actually drop that kind of cash on the Galaxy Z Fold 5.
And as for you early adopters? While I'll have to spend some real time with the device to give a final judgment, my gut feeling is simple. If you're using a Galaxy Z Fold 4 — or even a Z Fold 3 — and you're still satisfied with its performance and battery life, I'd hold out for something more substantial in a new model. With competition really heating up, I wouldn't be surprised if Samsung is saving a full Z Fold redesign set to launch in 2024.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 might not make sense if you just picked up a discounted Z Fold 4 during Prime Day, but for first-time foldable buyers, it's the best generation yet. A lighter, thinner chassis makes for something much easier to carry in your pocket, while the upgraded display is more visible in direct sunlight.