Samsung, the Galaxy Z Fold and Flip Could Be Even Better
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 Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 are Samsung's best foldables yet, but there's room for improvement when it comes to design, camera quality and battery life.
Why it matters
Companies like Samsung are betting big on foldable phones being the next major evolution of the modern smartphone. But high prices and other setbacks have limited their appeal so far.
Samsung is hosting its next Unpacked event on Aug. 10, where it could unveil the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4.
Foldable phones have come a long way since 2019, when Samsung debuted its original Galaxy Z Fold. Last year's $1,800 Galaxy Z Fold 3 and $1,000 Galaxy Z Flip 3 are the most polished versions of the company's foldable devices yet, with improvements to their software and cover screens.
But there's a lot that Samsung could do to make these devices even better, and I'm hoping to see such changes in the upcoming Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4.
Both phones are expected to debut during Samsung's Unpacked event on Aug. 10. They'll represent Samsung's latest gambit to hold its position as the frontrunner in the nascent but growing foldable phone market.
These figures suggest foldables are starting to appeal to more than just early adopters and tech enthusiasts. But there are still some obstacles that Samsung and other companies need to overcome before foldables can become as ubiquitous as standard smartphones.
Samsung's foldables come at a premium compared to their standard smartphones, which can make them a tough sell. That's been changing in recent years, with the Galaxy Z Flip 3 in particular being one of the most affordable foldables yet. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 starts at $1,000 without a trade-in, making it the same price as the Galaxy S22 Plus. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is considerably more expensive, with a usual starting price of $1,800 without a trade-in, although that's still a welcome improvement from the $2,000 Galaxy Z Fold 2.
New software features
The Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4 foldable designs certainly set them apart from most phones. But the software needs to catch up to the hardware.
Samsung is off to a good start in this regard. Both the Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip have a feature called Flex Mode, which reorients and optimizes certain apps to fit the device's screen when folded halfway. For example, Flex Mode shifts some compatible apps to the top half of the screen while displaying navigation and playback controls on the bottom portion.
My favorite example of this mode being put to good use is in the Galaxy Z Flip's camera app. When the device is propped open halfway, the shutter button, photo settings and other controls sit on the bottom half of the screen while the top half serves as a viewfinder. Flex Mode combined with the Z Flip's ability to stay open on its own make it a great camera-tripod combination.
Other than Flex Mode, the Galaxy Z Fold can also run multiple apps on screen at once to take advantage of its tablet-sized screen.
These are great additions, but there's plenty of room for Samsung to do more. It feels like the software is conforming to the hardware when it should be the opposite. While Flex Mode and the Z Fold's multitasking features are a great start, they're not enticing enough alone to justify buying a foldable phone.
I'd like to see Samsung develop more compelling software features. Even though I wouldn't recommend buying the Surface Duo 2 because it doesn't work very well as a regular phone, I think Microsoft is on to something when it comes to software.
The way the Surface Duo 2 splits compatible apps between screens almost feels like you're using an app in an entirely new way. The Amazon Kindle app transforms the Duo into a digital book, Xbox GamePass turns it into a Nintendo 3DS-style handheld gaming console and Outlook's split-screen view turns it into a mini-laptop. There's a lot of promise with foldables, and I hope Samsung finds more ways to tap into it.
Longer battery life
Battery life is one of the most important characteristics of any phone, and foldable phones are no exception. Unfortunately, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 both had underwhelming battery life. My colleague Patrick Holland could barely get through a day with the Galaxy Z Fold 3's 4,400-mAh battery capacity. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 only made it about 11 hours before requiring a charge.
I'm hoping Samsung will improve the battery life or develop new ways to work around it on the next iterations of the Z Fold and Z Flip. And by "work around it," I mean Samsung could boost the devices' fast charging speeds or make improvements to their power saving modes. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 charges at up to 25 watts while the Z Flip 3 charges at 15 watts, neither of which is anything special. The Galaxy S22 Plus and S22 Ultra, for example, both have a 45-watt charging speed.
Camera quality is right up there with battery life when it comes to what matters most in a phone. The cameras on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 are good, but there's room for improvement. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has a 12-megapixel wide and 12-megapixel ultrawide main camera setup, which as my colleague wrote in his review is "the equivalent of the cameras you'd find on a $700 phone." The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has a triple camera system that adds a 12-megapixel telephoto lens in addition to the 12-megapixel wide and ultrawide lenses.
These cameras are fine for most people. Anyone who's considered buying one of these phones is obviously most interested in the display rather than the cameras. But for the price, I'd like to see camera quality that at least matches, if not exceeds, Samsung's best non-folding phones. As my colleague Patrick puts it: "the Z Fold 3 has B+ cameras at an A+ price." That especially holds true for the Galaxy Z Fold 3's under-display camera, which is the selfie camera for the phone when being used in tablet mode.
Luckily, rumors suggest the Galaxy Z Fold 4 will come with some serious camera improvements that bring it up to speed with the Galaxy S22 lineup.
Even though the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 are Samsung's most refined foldables yet, phones with bendable screens are still relatively new. As such, it takes time to get the ergonomics just right, and Samsung still has some work to do here.
Let's start with the Galaxy Z Fold. The Z Fold's biggest drawback is that it still feels somewhat awkward to use as a regular phone when closed. Samsung made some design improvements to the Z Fold 3 that make it both lighter and slimmer than its predecessors. But it's still an abnormally bulky phone when closed, which can cause some inconvenience when using it in one hand.
Anyone who has purchased the Z Fold has likely done so because of its large interior screen, not the cover screen. But consider how many times you take out your phone to quickly check a notification or respond to a text message. In some situations, these tasks are much more convenient to accomplish when the Z Fold is closed, such as when you're on the go and unfolding the device feels impractical.
Another design upgrade I'd like to see on the Z Fold is the ability for the S Pen to magnetically connect to the device's hinge. A stylus storage slot like the Galaxy S22 Ultra's doesn't seem like a plausible solution since it would add to the Z Fold's thickness.
The Galaxy Z Flip already feels a lot like a standard phone, but one improvement I'd like to see is a larger cover screen. The Z Flip 3 is a major upgrade compared to the original Z Flip in this regard. While Samsung's first foldable flip phone had just a tiny pill-shaped cover screen, the Z Flip 3's is big enough to fit widgets for the weather, music, alarms and more.
But I'd still like to be able to see more lines of text and widgets on this screen. A larger display would also make it easier to quickly take selfies without unfolding the phone, since the cover display can serve as a camera viewfinder. Thankfully, rumors suggest Samsung is planning to increase the cover screen's size with the Galaxy Z Flip 4.
I'm also hoping Samsung will find a way to make the crease less obvious on both the Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip. The creases on Samsung's current foldables aren't too distracting but they're definitely noticeable -- both to the eyes and the touch. Chinese tech giant Oppo found a way to work around this on its Find N foldable by implementing a "water drop" hinge, which makes the device's crease harder to see and feel when opened. Motorola's teardrop fold hinge design similarly makes the foldable Razr's crease less noticeable.
Samsung's Z Flip and Z Fold phones are gradually inching closer to standard, non-foldable phones in terms of price, and I'm hoping that trajectory will continue. Foldable phones will likely always require some type of trade-off, whether it's to their camera quality or device thickness. I'm just hoping the list of compromises will get smaller over time, starting with the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Fold 4.