Seoul: It’s a homecoming that’s been a long time coming. After ‘unpacking’ its latest tech innovations at global venues including Berlin, London, New York, Barcelona and San Francisco, Samsung’s Unpacked event returned home to Seoul, Korea on 26 July.
This comes at a time when Samsung, despite dominating foldable mindshare for the last several years, now faces increasing competition in the foldables space from the likes of the Moto razr 40 Ultra and the book-style foldables from Google, and, by the looks of it, OnePlus. Samsung’s response in the Galaxy Z Flip5 and Galaxy Z Fold5 launched at Unpacked is a story packed with some bold design moves, some expected performance improvements and a lot of all-round refinement.
In the days leading up to the launch, I received early hands-on time with the new devices, along with the new Galaxy Watch6 series and the Galaxy Tab S9 series, to bring you my initial impressions.
Samsung saved its biggest leaps forward for the Z Flip 5, and it begins with the new ‘Flex Hinge’ with a teardrop-style, dual rail structure that enables the phone to open thinner at 6.9mm and close totally flat (with no unsightly gap to allow pocket lint and dust to creep in), but it also makes the phone more durable under impacts from a drop. Of course, there’s also the much-bigger-by-comparison 3.4-inch external cover display, up from the Z Fold 4’s 1.9-inches. The upgraded external display lines the Z Flip 5 alongside the new razr in terms of a much more usable, functional display, one that skirts around the camera module instead of wrapping around it in the razr.
The Z Flip5 leverages the extra screen space by running small, screen-friendly widgets when the phone is in closed state – widgets for weather, music control, stock markets, etc – with the ability to pinch and zoom out to see all the widgets at one shot. With the screen closed, the larger external screen not only allows notifications and quick settings to be changed from the external screen, but you can also respond to text messages with a full-sized keyboard -- a big step from the canned responses available on the Z Flip 4.
If you’re looking for whether the new Flip supports running full apps on the external display, it doesn’t, out of the box. There is, however, a Good Lock app from Samsung that enables that capability somewhat, but it’s not something Samsung brings up as a feature.
Elsewhere, the Z Flip5 has the expected upgrades – a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset that should do wonders for performance and battery life – while retaining some of its most redeeming features – IPX8 water protection, 3,700mAh battery with 25W wired charging/15W wireless, 12-megapixel primary and ultrawide cameras and the folding 6.7-inch 1080p 120Hz OLED panel with a lesser visible ‘folding crease’ than before.
It also gets a storage bump, with the entry level model offering 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage, and a second variant with 512GB of storage ( ₹1,09,999).
It may not have seen the big changes its smaller sibling saw this year, but the Z Fold5 sees plenty of nip-and-tuck improvements that make a difference to the hand-feel of the device.
The zero-gap Flex Hinge makes an appearance on the Z Fold5 as well, allowing it to close shut without a gap as well as reducing the thickness (from 6.3mm to 6.1mm when open and from 14.2mm to 13.4mm when folded) and weight (10 g) when compared to the Z Fold4. The S Pen is thinner as well, but it’s still to be stowed in the external case. Same IPX8 rating as before, but the hinge should be better for wear.
The story of refinement continues inside, with an improved peak brightness of 1,750 nits on the 7.6-inch main screen and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset that we’ve seen do wonders for the performance and battery efficiency of the S23 series.
Samsung says it’s included a bigger vapour cooling chamber for better sustained gaming performance -- a claim I’ll test in the coming weeks. The Galaxy Z Fold5 will be available in three storage variants, all of which sport 12GB RAM with varying amounts of storage – a base 256GB, a 512 GB ( ₹1,64,999) variant and a top-end model with 1TB of storage ( ₹1,84,999).
Samsung’s physical rotating bezel is back, with its new Galaxy Watch 6 Classic. Available in 43mm and 47mm sizes and playing with the Classic reminded me of exactly why Samsung’s biggest differentiating factor on their smartwatches was such a great design choice in the first place. It allows you to precisely navigate through screens and menu items, stopping at exactly the one you need with a mechanical click.
Both the Classic along with the standard Watch 6 feature 20% larger and 2000 nits peak brightness displays protected by sapphire crystal, along with a new 1.4GHz Exynos W930 chip with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage.
Both the watches will ship with Wear OS4 with updates to sleep tracking, personalized heart rate zones, irregular heart rhythm notifications, and fall detection. Battery life should also see a bump up – the smaller versions of both watches have 300mAh batteries, while the larger versions have 425mAh batteries, and eight minutes of charge should yield eight hours of battery life.
Samsung makes the most credible lineup of premium Android tablets, and this year saw the three variants (in 11, 12.4 and 14.6 inches) see the expected upgrades – 20% larger speaker setup, better adaptive brightness, better performance via the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 – and one rather unexpected feature addition – IP68 water resistance. Yes, no longer do you have to baby your tablet when you’re at the poolside or stepping out in the monsoons.
In the demos I’ve experienced, the tablet was submerged in a small water tank, and one scribbled text on the tablet using the waterproof S-Pen. A genuine user-friendly move, and one that will open up these tablets to far more outdoorsy use cases than ever before.
Note: All products are now available for pre-booking. Sale starts 18 August
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar. The author was invited to attend Unpacked by Samsung India.