You can look at the new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 one of two ways – either what’s changed over last year’s model, which is essentially a new hinge which enables an overall thinner profile, a brighter main display and some performance and battery efficiency upgrades courtesy the new Snapdragon chip. Oh, and some multi-tasking upgrades and a slimmer S Pen, but that’s about it. You can stop reading now…if you’re reading this on a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4.
Of course, this overly simplistic lede will have you miss the nuance of what these seemingly minor upgrades mean for someone using what is arguably the best book-style foldable out there -- not to forget that this is not a device meant for Z Fold4 users.
I’ve been using the Z Fold5 ( ₹1,54,999 onwards) for the past couple of weeks, which has allowed me to see the true impact of the upgrades this year and how well the new device measures up as a foldable for buyers in 2023. Spoiler alert: very well, but it’s not without its flaws.
From a distance, there hasn’t been much of a visual change, a slight repositioning of the LED flash on the rear, a slightly more pronounced camera bump and a new Icy Blue color. Now, all this may not seem much, but Samsung employing the new Flex Hinge on the Fold has had a significant impact beyond what’s visible – the ability to close the phone without a gap, as it did on the Z Flip5.
It allows the Z Fold 5 to be 2.4mm thinner and 10 grams lighter than the Z Fold4 when folded, which may seem too small to discern, but its far easier to hold and use simply on account of being more ergonomic and less bulky (13.4mm, 253g).
I’ve used each version of the foldable since the original Fold, and cutting down on the size and weight are key to making these devices more accessible and ‘everyday usable’, like their candy bar counterparts – for reference, the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra and the Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max, that weigh 240g and 233g, respectively.
The hinge feels self-assured, holding itself open at a multitude of angles, which is great for watching video, and folding flat has the added benefit of less pocket lint getting in between.
Don’t get me wrong, this is still a hefty device to carry around, but it’s got a noticeably better and less fatiguing ‘hand feel’, not to mention it feels much more of a finished product, particularly when you have the luxury of placing it side-by-side with the Z Fold4.
It still meets the Fold standard for durability, with the premium and high-quality Armor Aluminum frame and Gorilla Glass Victus 2 front and back for protection, though one wishes that the IPX8 water protection rating would have been upgraded to some modicum of dust protection as well. What’s also missing is the S Pen – the Z Fold5 supports the stylus, but it doesn’t come in the box, nor is there any place to stow one on the body a la the S 23 Ultra.
While the larger inner canvas does lend itself well to note-taking and sketching, the compromises it would have likely led to in battery or thermal management aren’t worth it for this form factor. Samsung retails an optional S Pen cover with a slim version of the stylus, if you’re so inclined.
Samsung has retained the size, variable refresh rate (up to 120Hz) and resolution of the displays on the Z Fold5 – a 6.2-inch 2316x904-pixel outer and 7.6-inch 2176x1812-pixel inner – and both are punchy, AMOLED displays.
The inner, main display goes even brighter this year, with a peak brightness level of 1750 nits, which helps with legibility in outdoor lighting and while watching trickily lit HDR content. The 21.6:18 almost-square aspect ratio of the main display gives it great usable space, particularly for productivity applications, playing games and reading books.
With apps that fill that expansive display, the experience is super immersive, and Instagram in particular stands out. Despite the aspect ratio, this is a screen meant for multimedia consumption, aided ably by the speakers which give it a wide soundstage with good stereo separation. Widescreen videos on YouTube work really well with Samsung’s Flex Mode (laptop mode), which shows media controls on the lower half of the folded screen.
Aside from split screen multitasking, there are a few new multitasking features as well, including the ability to create a floating pop-up window from any app, have more apps available on the taskbar and perform two-handed drag and drops for images directly into messaging and note taking apps. Previous Folds already handled multitasking like a champ, and the Z Fold5 just raises the bar.
Despite the new hinge, there’s still a noticeable crease down the center of the display, and it’s most noticeable when the display is off or if you run your finger over it. Could the crease have been made more subtle, such as on the Oppo Find N2 Flip? Sure, but I much prefer the tighter hinge on the Fold5 which allows for the screen to stay open at practically any angle.
It's the tall, thin cover screen that will continue to remain somewhat divisive among users. It is a solid AMOLED display, as displays go. Yet, the narrow dimensions do require a bit more effort while typing since the keyboard is a bit narrower than usual, say about the width of what you’d get on an iPhone 13 mini - not for everyone’s pudgy fingers, that’s for sure.
Globally, we’ve seen phones with wider cover displays like the Oppo Find N2 and the Google Pixel Fold that promise a more ‘regular phone’ experience on the cover display, but Samsung has committed to this form factor since the original Fold. At least it makes the phone easier to grip in one hand, and quickly unlock via the power/fingerprint scanner on the right frame.
The Z Fold5 uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 ‘For Galaxy’ chipset as Flip5 and the Galaxy S23 Ultra, and it comes with 12GB of RAM and 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of internal storage.
No surprises that it is a powerful phone, and with the chip’s performance chops and the new, larger cooling chamber inside the phone, I faced no heating or throttling issues while playing Call of Duty or Asphalt 9 on the bigger, inner display. Even with the dual large displays with high refresh rates and the same 4400mAh battery capacity as last year, the boosted efficiency of the hardware means you’ll get similar or better performance. I regularly saw the day end with about 30 percent in the tank despite preferring to use the bigger main display. No compromises at all even when compared to Samsung’s flagship S23 Ultra – it just comes down to whether you want the bigger display and the multitasking-on-steroids or not.
Charging speeds are a step down, though – with the Fold5 supporting a glacial-by-Android-standards 25W charging speed.
The Fold5 goes the whole nine yards when it comes to cameras – a 50MP primary, a 12MP ultrawide and a 10MP 3x telephoto on the rear along with 10MP selfie and 4MP under display camera on the inner screen – pretty much everywhere you point the Fold5, there’s a camera to service that direction.
The photos are typical of Samsung, with a saturated feel to the images shot in good light and good noise handling in low-light shots. Improvements in image processing and the better image signal processing on the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip also yields better details in images and you really won’t complain about the shots you take on this device. That is, until you realize the price point at which this phone retails - if photos are your game, the S23 Ultra is still the pick of the family, for a significantly lower outlay. It just does better on the trickier shots, not to mention that zoom that simply cannot be beat.
Across the many quality of life upgrades that one has experienced with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5, what hasn’t changed is the premium pricing, even though Samsung has some excellent launch offers.
It’s better in many ways, some by way of the tweaked design, while others are courtesy the stellar work Qualcomm has done with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. The Fold5 feels like the mature product that would earn an easy recommendation if your pockets and your wallet could stretch this far.
The competition is looming on the horizon, but for now, the Z Fold5 remains the best big-screen foldable you can buy. Yet, as we’ve seen recently, if you want to dip your toes into the world of foldables, there are excellent and equally mature options that might fold a different way but are far more fiscally accessible.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar.