We've tested the latest foldable smartphone from Samsung.
"Meet the mobile phone that has a screen so big it feels like a private cinema. It is both an exciting games console and a multi-screen perfect for multitasking and working. Plus a powerful, top-of-the-line camera. And all this can be easily folded and carried in your pocket."
That's how Samsung themselves describe their Galaxy Z Fold 5 and it's a half-truth in my opinion. It is absolutely a large and lovely screen that is a dream to play and work on, but I don't agree at all that it would be easy to carry in your pocket. Rather, it has been a huge challenge to find a suitable way to carry the phone, so much so I ended up deciding to keep it exclusively in my laptop bag when travelling.
Unlike the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5, which can be carried just about anywhere, It has mostly been at home where the Fold has impressed me. These are of course two completely different phones, even though both are foldable, they are aimed at two completely different target groups. Where the Flip appeals to a young audience who are constantly on the go and can't be without their mobile phone for a single minute of the day, the Fold is more of a workhorse, perfect for multitasking. Granted, it works perfectly well for both film viewing and gaming, but at the same time I find it hard to warrant spending near £2,000 for that purpose. If you belong to that target group, you'd probably be better off investing in a tablet instead. No, I still see Fold as a work phone in the first place, which was also the purpose from the beginning when it was launched in 2018.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is a solid piece, both folded and in full screen mode. It's not just that it weighs 253 grams, but it's also how that weight is distributed. When the device is folded, it feels mostly clumsy and downright uncomfortable to hold for long periods, and when it's unfolded, it becomes unwieldy in a completely different way, as it requires a two-handed grip. However, this is something you have to live with when it comes to this type of phone and, as I said, it's more flexible than its predecessors and not only that, it's actually also lighter and thinner than both the Google Pixel and Vivo X Fold 2.
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However, if you go from previous models in the series, the fifth generation has become both lighter and thinner. This is largely thanks to the new hinge, Flex Hinge, which is also found in the Galaxy Z Flip 5. A new technology that allows the phone to close completely in the folded position. Previously, there has always been a small gap between the screens, but this is now gone. Just like its sister phone, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is IPX8 rated. That is, it is water resistant to reasonable limits but lacks a rating for dust.
I can have up to three windows open at the same time, which is actually quite impressive. This means that I've been able to check my emails while surfing the internet and sitting in a video meeting at the same time. With the S-Pen accessory, I've also been able to make notes while doing so and quickly and easily browse the apps in the activity bar at the bottom of the screen. There are now twelve apps there and the four most recently used are always there. Another new feature is that I can drag and drop content between different apps. For example, I can uncover a subject in an image and then place it somewhere else, just like you can do in the iPhone XS and above.
In Flex Mode, i.e. with the screen half folded, I can also turn my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 into an entertainment centre. If I make full use of the Super AMOLED screen and watch a movie, it is displayed on the upper half while the lower half acts as a control centre, where I can play, pause, fast forward and so on. I even get a trackpad which is especially useful if I choose to surf the web in Flex Mode. If I want to play a game, however, I choose full screen mode and enjoy the full 7.6-inch screen with a resolution of 2176 x 1812 and 120 Hz refresh rate. In closed mode, I still have a full 6.2-inches on an OLED screen with 2316 x 904 pixels and 120 Hz. However, I can't use the S-Pen here, which is a bit of a shame as much of the flexibility of a pen is lost. For example, I can't write my notes without having to open the phone in full-screen mode or navigate apps as quickly and easily, but have to use my fingers instead. This definitely feels like a missed opportunity and I really hope it's fixed in the future. I mean, the technology is already there, so it shouldn't take much effort to implement it on the outer screen. It may sound like a small thing in the context, but to me it's an important detail and it's often these small quality of life details that ultimately separate the good from the great.
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The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 comes with triple cameras and there is nothing wrong with them, but considering that we are talking about a mobile phone priced over £1,500, it is still a bit of a disappointment. The rear main lens of 50 Megapixels with optical image stabilisation gives absolutely good, sharp images but it is far from world class. The 12 Megapixel wide-angle lens is also okay, good for capturing nature scenes but again, nowhere near the best mobile phone cameras on the market. The 10MP telephoto lens has three times the optical zoom and, like the other cameras, performs at a clearly acceptable level, but the fact is that camera-wise, not much has happened between the latest models of the Fold. You're still stuck in the same place. The outer screen is, just like on the Flip, excellent for taking selfies and there is a 10 megapixel camera.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 performs excellently and with high energy efficiency, which has resulted in a stable battery life, especially considering the fantastic screens that are actually in the phone. But it's also difficult to measure exactly as it depends very much on how it's used. I first tried "mixed driving", that is, some work with calls, video conferencing, administration and other little things interspersed with pleasure in the evening with a film, a TV series episode and then some games on it and managed a whole day without having to plug in any power cable. When I chose to only play, it was of course faster to run out of battery but that was also expected and how performance-demanding the current game is of course also affects the battery life.
There is no doubt that this is an extremely capable phone, well-built and robust and with an impressive performance, where not least the screens are in the upper echelon of the market, but at the same time I find it difficult to see the broad target group for the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5. Of course, as I said, it is both a powerful multimedia package and a stable workplace, but on the other hand, I already have a work computer and at home I have both a home cinema system and a game console.
When travelling, a regular smartphone or, in some cases, a tablet is usually enough, and I guess I'm not alone in feeling this way or in having a similar set-up. In a way, this kind of mastodon handset feels like a remnant of the past, with Nokia and Ericsson at the forefront, but then there were few alternatives. We had desktop computers and landlines at work and welcomed something portable that combined the two technologies. Now, as I said, I have had a hard time finding a really good use for the Galaxy Fold that justifies the high price tag, but if you belong to the target group for vertically foldable mobile phones, there is probably no better alternative on the market right now.