I ditched my iPad for a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 — and it was better than I thought

An iPad Pro 2020, Apple Pencil, Galaxy Z Fold 4 and S Pen Fold edition sitting on a blue metal table
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The flexible Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 blurs the line between phone and tablet, but while I've read plenty about the Z Fold as a phone, I wanted to know how well it and its large inner display could perform as my trusty sidekick for a week's worth of work.

After putting away my refurbished iPad Pro for seven days, I was pleasantly surprised at how the Z Fold 4 provides an honest challenge to tablets, be it the iPad Pro 2020 like mine, the latest iPad Pro 2021 or any of the other best iPads or best tablets. There are some hurdles to overcome because of the Z Fold's unique design, but the main limitation to using the Z Fold as a tablet is the fact it's still primarily a phone, and if you're not using that part of it, you're not getting your money's worth.

Making the switch from the iPad to the Z Fold 4

First thing to note was how simple the transition was once I'd made sure my apps and any outstanding notes were copied over. Key apps like Trello, Google Docs or TickTick work well both on Android and iOS/iPadOS, and while they're laid out a little different, using Samsung Notes is not much different to using Apple Notes or my preferred Goodnotes 5. With no difference in basic functions, the Z Fold 4 was off to a strong start.

The reason that the Z Fold 4 is uniquely suited to be a tablet replacement is that unlike other foldables — or most other phones generally — the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and the Galaxy Z Fold 3 before it, are stylus compatible. I use my iPad for a lot of note-taking, so once I acquired an S Pen Fold Edition, my test began in earnest. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4

(Image credit: Future)

The Z Fold 4 also has a big immediate advantage over the iPad: it fits in a pocket. No iPad, not even the iPad mini can do that. I personally didn't get much benefit from this, since most of my work tablet use takes place at my desk, but it was nice to have the Z Fold 4 within reach when I want to jot something down — including the notes I was taking for this article.

Note taking

After a couple of days, the more subtle differences between tablet and foldable came into focus. The Z Fold 4's smaller writing area makes it more like a notebook instead of a full notepad, but it's still got enough room, unlike the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which I found too narrow to write on. The Z Fold's square inner screen can prove useful too, since it provides more width to work with for its size, but remains easy to hold. I only ever write on an iPad vertically, since holding it horizontally in one hand can get quite tiring.

One mistake I kept making during my initial time with the Z Fold 4 and the S Pen was trying to write on the outer display. On the Z Fold 4, the S Pen only works on the inner display, which means you can't note-take or draw, or especially annoyingly open a quick note with a stylus tap on the lock screen, without opening the phone up. It's something I adapted to, using the outer display for quick checks of my notes when I didn't need to make changes. But the fact my intuition made me want to write on the cover screen makes me think it would be an excellent upgrade for future Z Folds.

Watching videos

Something I occasionally use my iPad for outside of productivity is to watch video, mostly product launches so I can keep an eye on new announcements without taking up space on my main monitors. A smaller size does mean watching video on the Z Fold 4 isn't always quite so enjoyable though. It's great for a phone-size device, but it can't act as an unofficial second display as well as my iPad can.

Stylus stowage issues

Video viewing on an iPad is made much easier with one of the many cases that doubles up as a stand. You can get similar cases for the Z Fold 4, such as the Standing Cover with S Pen that I used during my test, but it revealed a particularly irritating problem: there's no easy place to store the stylus.

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 doesn't have integrated S Pen storage like on the Galaxy S22 Ultra, nor is there a magnetic attachment point like you get on the iPad or a Galaxy Tab S8. Instead your best option is to get a case with an S Pen slot, but then you can't use both the stand and the S Pen silo at the same time, since they both require slotting into the same single space on the back of the case. 

I kept both the stand and S Pen pieces of the case with me during my week with the Galaxy Z Fold 4, and it wasn't that taxing to swap the pieces over when I needed. But this isn't really in keeping with the all-in-one dream I had that made me consider the Z Fold 4 an iPad replacement in the first place.

Going back to the iPad

At the end of my week with the Galaxy Z Fold 4, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the stylus experience. Even with the S Pen Fold Edition having a sprung tip to make sure you don't press too hard on the display, it writes smoothly and responsively. You do have a crease down the center of the display to contend with, but it works fine even if it feels odd to have a noticeable dip as you move across the phone. I do quite like the sharper nib that Samsung uses for its S Pen too, as trying to draw small things with the blunt Apple Pencil tip is difficult unless you zoom in.

My final lingering thought as I transferred the necessary data back to my iPad though was how much of the Galaxy Z Fold 4's features I didn't use during the test. The Z Fold 4 is marketed as a phone, and comes by default with a SIM tray, has an earpiece speaker for normal phone calls (on tablets it's loudspeaker only without headphones), and carries a versatile triple rear camera system just like the Galaxy S22.

I barely use the cameras on my iPad outside of video calls, and even though my iPad Pro has both a main and an ultrawide camera on its back, I won't be taking it on any scenic walk any time soon. So having that flagship-grade camera array on the Z Fold 4 was a complete waste when I was only using it for scribbling down notes, checking emails and writing articles.

Can the Z Fold 4 replace a tablet?

I was really happy overall with how the Galaxy Z Fold 4 performed as a replacement tablet during my week with it, ignoring the few bumps in the learning curve. If you're thinking of getting a foldable, or are looking to replace your tablet, the Z Fold 4 would definitely look after your tablet needs as well as your smartphone ones.

But it's the smartphone side of the Z Fold 4 that makes it a niche product. I didn't need its strong cameras or 5G capabilities because I was still using my regular phone. Therefore swapping is only really practical if you're ready to ditch your tablet and your phone; otherwise the Z Fold would make a needlessly expensive tablet upgrade.

I personally will be sticking with my iPad since I don't need the Galaxy Z Fold 4's full range of features for my needs. But I know that if I ditch Apple in the future, or someone asks me if buying a Z Fold is worth the money, I know it's possible to comfortably kill two birds with one stone by getting a stylus-compatible foldable instead of a separate phone and tablet. 

Richard Priday
Staff Writer

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.

  • GoGoGriffster
    Would be interesting to hear your app experience with your usual apps on Android vs iPadOS? Did they all work as expected or are they better on your iPad?
    Reply