It’s rather difficult to believe that Samsung’s foldable phones are already into their fourth generation. The first Fold was released in 2019 and immediately ran into trouble with the fragility of its display. Incredibly, Samsung addressed this and other issues with remarkable speed and before we knew it we had a greatly strengthened Z Fold2. I and a friend took a leap of faith with this one and bought our Folds the first day that they became available. These devices are still working perfectly well.
With the Fold3 came a huge upgrade. The hinge that opens the gadget like a book was reengineered, water resistance was added, the front camera was hidden out of sight, and support for the S-Pen was added for anyone who opted to buy the digital stylus separately. The cover screen was made a little more usable. All specs were, of course, moved up. The smaller Flip also went from being a shiny bauble to very usable and attractive clamshell-style smartphone that would open up and because a regular Android phone. Snapped shut, it lets the user access many categories of information through a more usable cover screen. The camera worked specially uniquely on this smaller display.
Foldables up ahead
Now, in 2022, despite a pandemic disrupting everything, interest in foldable phones is strong. Over 2021 Samsung sold 10 million of these fairly expensive phones. Research firm Counterpoint’s latest Foldable Smartphone Forecast, says the global foldable smartphone market will grow 73 per cent this year .The strong growth defies current economic headwinds as the premium market shows steady demand. Counterpoint forecasts strong growth through next year too, with foldables expected to grow to 26 mn units in 2023. Right on the heels of Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event, Motorola has released its Razr clamshell for 2022 and Xiaomi its MIX Fold 2 — both only in China for now. Unwittingly they may be doing Samsung a favour by giving it some competition in the foldables space they currently dominate and all but own.
This year the new Z Fold4 and Z Flip4 don’t come with any step-change upgrades but with deep refinements that make them both very solid, compelling, finessed products that are miles ahead but there’s always the danger of settling down too comfortably with no real competition to keep up the challenge.
As a long-term user of the Fold, my first hands-on with the Fold4 I couldn’t help comparing with my own device. The Fold4 feels a little lighter and sleeker in-hand, but only just. New things generally do. But the bezels seem thinner and the metal rails reshaped. The new GrayGreen and Phantom Black are beautiful elegant colours - and so is my own pale gold. The front camera is a little less visible and defined which leaves the expanse of screen free of distractions. That’s rather nice because this is meant to be a screen for multiple apps, after all, and you need every millimetre of space you can get. The front screen feels like it has more space and the keyboard less cramped. Samsung says the hinge has been reimagined - or should I say re-re-imagined, and is stronger. The crease in the middle is neater and less visible, but again, that could be a factor of the newness of the device. The Gorilla Glass on both screens has been strengthened. All specs are upgraded including the camera which is now closer to the S22 flagships.
Some of the changes to the Fold4 are in the software. There’s now a very handy taskbar which is really a mini version of the sticky bar of icons already on the phone. It is always now available at the bottom of the screen no matter what app you open up, including the camera. This bar encourages multi-tasking because all you need to do is press and drag up to three icons to fill the display with what you want to work with. There are many other refinements that make it more intuitive to call up and dismiss app windows and I think this is something that will truly reduce hesitancy and the learning curve while using this innovative device.
Self-expression with a snap
I unfortunately don’t own a Flip but would of course have loved to even in addition to the Fold. I have the beautiful purple matte finish unit to check out and althoughnot visibly changed from the Flip3 it has similar refinements. The smaller cover screen has more widgets and now supports the camera in Portrait mode. As before, the ‘Flex’ mode lets you set the device down open like a miniature laptop and you can shoot some creative photographs or vlog in angles that regular phones won’t allow. All you have to do is lift your palm up to shoot. For some reason everyone forgets there’s always been voice commands for that. The Flip4 in all its available colours and funky cases and even a bespoke edition is a true object of desire. Shut it with a confident snap because it is strengthened as well. The Flip has been dubbed the most popular foldable in the world. Of course there aren’t very many to choose from, but with all the refinements, Samsung is definitely trying to make the best of the lead it has in this space.
India prices will become evident closer to the India launch, though the devices are up for pre-order. Meanwhile, more time spent with these two gadgets will allow us to see just how well they actually work.