Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 hands-on: It’s what you don’t see that makes the difference

It’s hard to believe how far Samsung has come with the Galaxy Z series. Just three years ago, when the original Galaxy Fold launched, the idea of ​​a working phone-tablet hybrid with a bendable screen seemed like a pipe dream. But despite a rocky start and durability issues, Samsung is today launching the fourth generation of its foldable flagship. Having ironed out most of its quirks and adding fan-favorite features like S Pen support to last year’s model, the company has become the reigning king of foldables, keeping competition from the likes of Motorola, Huawei and Oppo at bay.

In fact, Samsung has achieved so much with this category that it’s not surprising that this year’s updates are mostly minor hardware tweaks and software additions. The biggest differences this time are improved cameras and Android 12L – an interface designed for larger and foldable displays.

But just because most changes are small doesn’t mean they’re undesirable, and many of them bring significant benefits. The Fold 4 has a slightly wider aspect ratio and stronger display panel, as well as a repositioned taskbar and touchpad surface.

From our brief hands-on experience at Samsung’s recent demo event in New York, I couldn’t tell if these tweaks will result in a significant improvement in long-term usage. But I can say the Fold 4 feels less uncomfortable in one hand thanks to its slightly wider shape.

The internal 7.6-inch display now has an aspect ratio of 21.6:18 compared to the Fold 3’s 22.5:18, while the external screen is a 23.1:9 format instead of last year’s 24.5: 9 has. The difference is pretty minimal, but I felt it was easier to stretch my thumb across the cover display and tap apps that were previously a bit out of reach.

Another update that might make the Fold 4 more comfortable to use with one hand is its weight. It’s just 8 grams (or 0.28 ounces) lighter than its predecessor, and while I didn’t really notice the difference when holding a Fold 3 next to the new phone at the Samsung event, I imagine that even the smallest reduction will make a big difference in the real world.

A hand holding up a closed Galaxy Z Fold 4 with the external display facing the camera.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

More importantly, the Fold 4’s internal display is now 45 percent stronger than that of the last generation. This should provide more reassurance for those worried about scratching the fragile panel of their expensive foldable screen, although based on my colleague Sam Rutherford’s long experience with a Fold 3, it looks like you might need to be more concerned about the durability of the screens make protection. Samsung told Engadget that while the material of the protector hasn’t changed, stronger adhesive has been used and the application has been improved. A company representative said it “should help minimize some of the peeling issues our users were facing… six, seven months after launch.”

The demo devices I’ve spent hands-on time with appear to be pristine, which is to be expected, and we’ll have to wait until we have a pattern for real-world testing to better evaluate the more durable display.

Samsung said the new Fold has a narrower hinge and bezels, but honestly, even when I placed a Fold 3 and 4 side-by-side, I could barely tell the bezels around the internal screens were different. Our video producer Brian Oh said it seemed like the bottom bezel on the latest device was a bit thinner, but if the company hadn’t pointed out this tweak, none of us would have noticed.

The same goes for the Fold 4’s under-display camera (UDC), which Samsung says is better camouflaged and “less visible” thanks to a new “scattered sub-pixel arrangement.” But here, too, I didn’t notice any difference, even in a direct hands-on comparison. The lack of discernible improvement isn’t a big deal, though. More importantly, I wasn’t distracted by the UDC when watching a full-screen video on the Fold 4. Samsung also said it would result in better selfies captured with the camera.

A Galaxy Z Fold 4 is a little more than half unfolded, with the internal screen facing out.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

As usual, Samsung has served up a gorgeous display here, with the AMOLED panels on both the inside and outside of the Fold 4 delivering luscious blacks and saturated colors. I wish the 6.2-inch cover display was a bit sharper, as it runs at a relatively low 2,316 x 904 resolution. But the company doesn’t seem to expect people to use the outer display that much anyway.

In fact, most of the Fold 4’s improvements are about improving the big-screen experience and making it better for multitasking. The most obvious change here is the relocated taskbar, which Samsung has moved to the bottom of the page instead of the sides. This takes the row of icons at the bottom of your Android home screen and turns them into a Windows-like bar that shows up when you open an app. Go back home and this bar will disappear.

In this row you will not only find your recent and most used apps, but at the bottom right you will also see shortcuts to find all apps, return home or go back. You can drag and drop icons from this bar to launch apps in split-screen or full-screen views, and run up to three apps side-by-side. Fans of Samsung’s floating Edge control panel can still activate it, and it docks to the left or right of the display, offering additional shortcuts.

The company has also updated Flex mode, which bisects the screen when the phone is slightly folded and turns the bottom part into a kind of control panel for the top of the display. This year, Samsung added a touchpad tool that lets you control a cursor at the top by swiping and tapping the bottom panel. The Fold 4 is meant to feel more like a laptop when you fold it up and place it on a table, but honestly, even in my short hands-on session, it was so much easier to just tap what’s on the screen instead of trying , move a cursor over it, and click. This might be more useful when navigating a document with one hand, but when you can poke the screen, this touchpad feature is pretty much useless.

Samsung is also working with developers to help third-party apps make better use of the bigger screen, and that alongside the fact that the Fold 4 uses Android 12L makes for a promising premise. In theory, the Fold 4’s internal display will be content that are better organized – like a two-column notification shade or, as Samsung showed us in its demo, customizable columns in Microsoft’s Outlook app. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to spend much time with Android 12L or trying out the Outlook app during my practice, so I can’t yet judge how much more productive I would be with the Fold 4. This is also something we can better evaluate in a review, where we would have more time to gauge how useful small UI tweaks would be.

A trio of Galaxy Z Fold 4s standing on a surface with the triple rear camera systems facing outwards.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Other things we would need to test in the real world are battery life, charging, performance and camera quality. Like its predecessor, the Fold 4 has a 4,400mAh cell and supports both fast wireless charging and Wireless Powershare, so you can use the foldable to charge your Galaxy Watch or Buds. It uses a Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chip and has a respectable 12GB of RAM. Just like last year’s model, the Fold 4 supports input from the S Pen Pro and the S Pen Fold Edition on its inner screen.

One final area that received a serious upgrade is the Fold 4’s rear camera system. Instead of last year’s trio of 12-megapixel sensors, the new model has a 50-MP primary sensor, a 12-MP ultrawide, and a 10-MP primary sensor -MP telephoto camera. The UDC and selfie cameras on the front (where the cover display is) are the same 4MP and 10MP setups, respectively.

With the new imaging hardware, Samsung has been able to bring a combined 30x zoom to the Fold 4 thanks to a 3x optical zoom via the telephoto lens. There wasn’t much room in the demo area for me to really judge the quality of the zoomed-in images captured with the Fold 4, but I was actually able to get super close up on slightly distant subjects like hapless Samsung reps hovering near us bring to . The company said it also improved its portrait mode and “nightography” to provide clearer images in low light, and while it was difficult to find a faint spot in our brightly lit room, the photos I got came from a got made relatively dark corner, bright out and crisp.

However, as I said before, camera performance is one of the features I would rather test in the real world. However, if you’ve already sold the Fold 4, you can preorder it from Samsung, Amazon, or other retailers for as little as $1,800. It’s available in black, grey-green, and an oddly boring beige. Check out our Fold 4 pre-order guide to secure the best deals from Samsung or your favorite carrier. However, as always, I’d recommend waiting until we get a review unit to put the Fold 4 through its paces before actually buying one.

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Russell Falcon

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