Earlier this week Samsung took to the stage at Galaxy Unpacked, and announced two new foldables, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5. But, despite a few redeeming features, both phones are, by all accounts, rather dull.
Iterative upgrades are nothing new, but over the past couple of years Samsung’s foldable phone series has pushed that idea to the very limit. In the past that didn’t matter so much, but now? Other phone makers are starting to release foldables of their own, just in time for Samsung to release its least impressive upgrade ever. And that's saying something, considering our own disappointment with how little the Galaxy Z Fold 4 changed.
If Samsung wants to remain relevant in the foldable phone business, it’s going to have to go all in on the Galaxy Z Fold 6.
Galaxy Z Fold 5 has some actual competition — and more is coming
In the past, Samsung was mostly unopposed in the foldable phone business. Few companies were actually willing to bother with the segment, and the ones that were weren’t offering much in the way of competition. Not that they were bad phones, but the likes of Huawei, Oppo and others didn’t have a major foldable presence outside of China — and didn’t even sell their phones in the U.S.
Only Motorola had an American presence, but even the Motorola Razrs of days past didn’t do much to make a dent in Samsung’s market share — with the company controlling 80% of foldable phone sales in 2022.
This year is a very different story. The Google Pixel Fold arrived at the end of June, and proved itself to be an excellent device — enough to knock the Galaxy Z Fold 4 off the top of our list of the best foldable phones. Then we have the OnePlus Open coming later this year, which we hope will be able to undercut both the Pixel Fold and Z Fold 5 on price — as OnePlus is known to do.
On the flip side, you also have the fact Motorola really stepped up its game with the Motorola Razr+. It has a larger cover screen than the Galaxy Z Flip 5, and doesn’t place restrictions on which Android apps can run on the exterior screen.
You also have to consider the fact there may be a foldable iPhone at some point in the next few years. We don’t know a lot about it, and the latest rumors can’t even decide what form Apple wants the phone to take, but it’s bound to arrive in the near future. And, this being an Apple product, it’s likely to outsell Samsung foldables by a considerable amount — no matter how good or bad that year’s Galaxy Z devices may be.
A new report even claims Samsung is well aware of the impending threat of an iPhone Flip, and is working on foldables that cost significantly less money — possibly under $800. But if cheap foldables were enough to draw people in, Motorola would be king of the flip phones by now. Which means Samsung’s going to have to do a lot more if it wants to stay relevant.
The Galaxy Z Fold 6 needs to knock it out of the park
The main issue with the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is that it includes a very boring set of upgrades. The new Flex Hinge is impressive from a mechanical standpoint, especially since it introduces a gap-free design. It’s also not the kind of feature that’s likely to sell phones by itself.
The same goes for including the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor. It may be powerful and more efficient, but “new chipset” is the absolute bare minimum upgrade. Skipping that is only going to lead to widespread derision, which is exactly what happened after Apple released the iPhone 14 with a similar A15 Bionic chipset as the iPhone 13. Unless that chip can do something special, like unblur all your photos at the push of a button, then it isn’t really a selling point
In Samsung’s case, the Z Fold 5 is so similar to last year's model that reports claimed Samsung’s own employees were mocking it behind closed doors. To the point where one source allegedly claimed you couldn’t call the phone a Z Fold 4 Plus, let alone a Z Fold 5. Looking at the phone, you can kind of see their point. It has the same screen specs, the same basic design, virtually identical camera hardware, and so on.
The Z Flip 5 is in a slightly better position, since it has the enlarged Flex Window cover display, but it still falls flat in many of the same ways thanks to the hardware similarities with the Z Flip 4.
It’s imperative that Samsung doesn’t fall into this same trap again next year. While we don’t know what the future holds for other foldable phones, Samsung can’t just carry on doing the same thing, hoping that someone else messes up their attempt at foldable supremacy. That means the Galaxy Fold 6 is going to have to be something radically different, and truly exceptional. Otherwise the company is just wasting its four year advantage.
Thankfully the early rumors point to Samsung making a bunch of changes to the Z Fold range in 2024. It’s been claimed that Samsung will introduce a brand new form factor, which will hopefully add a bit of spice to the increasingly bland foldable recipe Samsung has used thus far. Likewise the Z Flip 6 is expected to come with a 50MP camera, rather than the meager 12MP lens it’s had for the past two generations.
There’s no further information on what this new design could involve, but it is a tiny glimmer of hope for the future of Samsung’s foldable brand. Really, though, a simple refresh isn’t going to be enough. The Z Fold 6 is going to need a complete overhaul if Samsung is committed to foldables in the long term. A new design, exciting features, top of the line cameras and so on will pave the way for the future of Samsung’s foldable dominance.
Whether you love the Galaxy Z Fold 5 or hate it, there's no denying that Samsung should have done better. At the very least I’d have hoped it could throw us some better camera hardware alongside the software improvements we’ve already spotted in action during our Galaxy Z Fold 5 hands-on review.
The Galaxy Z Fold 6 can’t afford to suffer the same fate. If the company continues to pump out a number of mediocre, iterative upgrades while acting as if the gimmick of a foldable screen is enough to drive sales, then it doesn’t deserve to be on top.