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Gadget of the Week

Gadget of the Week: Samsung Z Fold 5 does the big job

Once you’ve unfolded your screen life, it’s hard to go back to a half-screen, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Once you’ve unfolded your screen life, it’s hard to go back to a half-screen, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

What is it?

Many centuries ago, in 2011, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note, a smartphone with a giant screen. It was mocked in Apple ads and memes for its unfeasibly large display. Compared to the iPhone’s 3.5-inch display, it offered a ludicrous 5.3-inches, and it came with a built-in stylus.

But business users and power users loved the “big” screen, and the stylus cemented its role as a productivity device. it was a revolution, and became the handset that helped Samsung become the world’s biggest smartphone seller for the next seven years.

In 2014 Apple surrendered and introduced a 5.5-inch phone, almost drawing level, and then tracked the Note’s increase in size every year after that.

In short, the Note made large screens not only acceptable, but mainstream.

Which brings us to the new Galaxy Z Fold 5. 

A foldable smartphone with a 7.6-inch main display and a 6.2-inch cover display, it represents the fifth generation of a format that has not made a significant impact, but refuses to go away. Samsung and Huawei are neck-and-neck in innovation and quality of each successive version of their flagship foldables, and for the last few years there has been a palpable sense that the format is ready for a Note-level breakthrough.

There is one thing holding it back, though, and that is price. At current levels, none of the big foldables has a chance of mass acceptance. On the other hand, the Fold’s smaller sibling, he Galaxy Z Flip, has taken off in a big way, appealing in both its format and pricing.

That all adds up to an understanding that the Fold, like the original Note, will appeal mainly to business users and power users. It is on that basis that it should be considered, rather than as a replacement for a regular smartphone.

In that context, it shines. I’ve been a user of the Z Fold 3 for some time, and was eager to see if the Fold 5 built on its positives and reduced its negatives. Two years on, the improvements are dramatic, but drawbacks remain.

The biggest enhancement is the fact that the Fold now closes completely flat, as opposed to leaving a visible gap at the hinge, which both contributed to the bulk of the device and was aesthetically unflattering. That’s not the only feature reducing the weight of the device: it has dropped from 271g to 253g, via a Fold 4 edition that weighed 260g. In other words, each successive version is thinner and lighter.

The second big change is that the processor has evolved from the Snapdragon 888 in the Fold 3 to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 in the Fold 5. That means both snappier performance and better battery efficiency. Over time, the single biggest drawback that emerged from the Fold 3 was its short battery life, especially when used unfolded. The big screen simply gobbles up power, and could kill the phone in a few hours of continual use. 

The Fold 5, when folded, now lasts a full day, while one can get up to half a day of continuous unfolded use out of it. Turning down the brightness of the screen does help extend that life, but one of the great strengths of the handset is its bight display, and it is a shame to lose out on it. Maximum brightness now goes up to 1750 nits, compared to 1200 nits on both the Fold 3 and 4.

The rear camera has been given a significant upgrade to the Fold 3, but maintains the Fold 4’s array of 50MP main sensor, 12MP ultrawide sensor, and 10MP telephoto sensor. Its 3x optical zoom is the same as the Fold 4, but a step up from the 2x version of the Fold 3. The front camera system features a 10MP main sensor and a 4MP ultrawide sensor. All of these camera features can do with a further upgrade.

The main display remains a 7.6-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 2176×1812 pixels, 373 ppi density and a refresh rate of 120Hz – little changed over two generations. The cover display remains a 6.2-inch OLED screen, with the same 2316×904 pixel resolution of the Fold 4, although slightly bumped up from the Fold 3. The refresh rate remains 120Hz.

This brings us to the most significant shortcoming of this sequence of Fold handsets. While a 6.2-inch screen sounds big – especially when one considers the Note only got there with the Note 8 – this is not about size but about format. The front screen is too narrow to serve as much more than monitoring what is coming into the phone. Some of the apps one includes in themed groups on the main display do not appear in those groups on the front screen, and groups themselves vanish. This forces one into unfolded mode even when it is not convenient or desired. A slightly wider screener could make for both a comfortable front display for general use, and an even more expansive unfolded display for productivity-type use.

That, then, brings us to the main benefit of the Fold 5. When opened up, it looks and feels like a mini tablet, and allows for comfortable composing, writing and creative work, as well as more practical use of the likes of spreadsheets and presentations. Despite the claustrophobia of the front screen, after a few weeks of unfolded use, it was extremely difficult to go back to a regular smartphone.

The 7.6-inch screen now feels like a regular screen to me, and a standard screen now feels like a half-screen. This is not merely about aesthetics or comfort, but about real-word productivity. Increasingly, I have found myself not needing to take out my laptop while working during travels, as the Fold 5 has taken care of the job at hand.

What does it cost?

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 retails from R45,999.

Why does it matter?

While the Z Fold 5 is expensive, it potentially does the work of a laptop, tablet and smartphone combined. For productivity power users, then, the price may not be excessive, and it creates a new option for filling the gap left after Samsung combined the features of the Note with the Ultra in the Galaxy S range. Multitasking comes into its own, with the ability to have multiple apps open side by side.

What are the biggest negatives?

  • Expensive.
  • Battery life still limited when used in unfolded format.
  • Front screen too narrow to give full smartphone functionality.

What are the biggest positives?

  • Slimmer than any previous foldable from Samsung.
  • Wonderful productivity space, while being ideal for portable entertainment
  • Possibly the best multi-tasking handset on the market.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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