Samsung's new foldable has a gapless hinge and a faster processor, additions that modestly push the Z Fold forward.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
The new Galaxy Z Fold 5, announced on Wednesday at Samsung's Unpacked event in Seoul, is a modest improvement over its predecessor, the Z Fold 4. Samsung is gradually refining the design of its foldable phones and attempting to reduce the compromises that come from prioritizing a foldable screen over battery life and photography.
The Galaxy Z Fold 5, along with the newly announced Galaxy Z Flip 5, Galaxy Watch 6 series and Galaxy Tab S9 family, launches on Aug. 11. It starts at $1,800 (£1,749, AU$2,559) just like the Z Fold 4, proving foldable devices that double as phones and tablets are still a luxury.
Watch this: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 Hands-On: Same Phone, Better Design
The biggest change I noticed in my short time with the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is the new hinge, which enables the new phone to fold completely shut without a gap. The redesigned hinge, which is also found on the Galaxy Z Flip 5, makes Samsung's new foldables look and feel sleeker than previous models. Samsung says the new hinge should provide better durability since it has fewer moving parts, although both the Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5 still have an IPX8 water resistance rating like their predecessors.
The ability to close more seamlessly makes a significant difference, especially on a device like the Z Fold that's already bulky when closed. It's also a notable change since Google's Pixel Fold, which is likely to be the Z Fold 5's biggest foldable competitor in the US, also has a gapless design.
During my time with the Z Fold 5, the 7.6-inch folding screen's crease was still very visible. But it felt flatter when I scrolled and swiped on it.
Samsung also says the internal screen's brightness now matches the Galaxy S23 Ultra's peak brightness, making it the brightest display on a Fold device. It was difficult to tell during the limited time I had with the phone, but I imagine this will be more noticeable when using it outdoors. Samsung's displays are already usually very bright in my experience, especially compared to Google's Pixel phones, so I'm looking forward to seeing how this change pushes that further.
On the Galaxy Z Fold, that internal screen is the star of the show. Using the Galaxy Z Fold 4 as my main phone made me see the benefit of having a larger screen that fits in your pocket. Samsung knows this, which is why it's improving the way multiple apps work on the Z Fold 5. You can now use two hands to drag and drop, which should make it easier to move content between apps without stretching your fingers. Samsung says TikTok is now optimized for the internal display, which should make browsing video clips more satisfying.
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 5 both get a processor upgrade to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy, the same chip that powers the Galaxy S23 series. The new processor is expected to bring improvements to battery life and image processing, a claim that I found to be true when I reviewed the Galaxy S23 series. Hopefully that holds true for the Galaxy Z Fold 5, because the camera hardware and battery capacity are otherwise the same as last year. There's also a thinner new S Pen for the Galaxy Z Fold 5, although you'll still have to buy it separately.
While the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is an improvement, there's still plenty of room for Samsung's book-shaped foldable phone to further evolve. That's especially true now that Samsung is facing more competition from Google and others. The $1,800 price, for example, is likely to be a major barrier for most shoppers. Samsung should also bundle the S Pen with the Galaxy Z Fold 5 at that price, much like it does with its tablets. In its fifth generation, I was also hoping to see a less visible crease.
However, some of these criticisms come from the notion that foldables are still relatively niche and expensive to produce. But Samsung's early start in the foldables arena should give it an advantage when that eventually changes.
And based on data from market research firms, it looks like foldable phones are slowly but surely gaining traction. While foldables only accounted for a fraction of global smartphone shipments in 2022, according to the International Data Corporation, the worldwide foldable phone market grew by 64% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2023, according to Counterpoint Research. Samsung is leaning into productivity and entertainment to convince shoppers that the $1,800 Galaxy Z Fold 5 is worth the price, as evidenced by the device's more luminous screen and minor software updates.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 specs vs. Google Pixel Fold, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3