Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 hands-on: Faster & smarter than ever

Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s big selling point is (still) the glorious folding screen. While the rest of the ingredients that make up the latest entry in the range could be considered basic, with incremental upgrades over the Galaxy Z Fold 3, it’s still backed up by the most powerful processor you can get, plus all-new multitasking tools for getting more done at a greater speed.

We spent an hour with Samsung’s largest folding smartphone, and this is what it’s like.

A new chip, display, and more

Before getting into some design changes, we should talk about the big specification change first. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor inside, and it’s applicable to the U.S. and the U.K. This is actually a key difference, as it skips the 8 Gen 1 entirely to offer more power and efficiency — and therefore more longevity. That’s important in a phone that costs this much! We’ve been impressed with the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 so far in phones like the Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro and the OnePlus 10T.

the open screen on the galaxy z fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Z Fold 4’s unfolded screen measures 7.6-inches, just like the Z Fold 3, but the aspect ratio is subtly different, which has enabled Samsung to reduce the size of the surrounding bezels. The 6.2-inch cover screen has been given a similar treatment, and the entire phone isn’t quite so tall and thin when folded up as before. In the short time I had with the phone, I can’t say it made a noticeable difference — it’s only a few millimeters — but if it is more natural to use, then it’ll become apparent over time.

What I did notice is that handling the closed phone felt more “normal” due to the subtle difference in overall size. It’s a touch lighter a 263 grams rather than 271 grams, it seemed to be better weighted, and the flatter sides reduced heft. However, these are not only quick initial impressions, but they’re very small differences — noticeable only if you’ve spent a lot of time with the Z Fold 3. If you handled the old phone and found it awkward, the difference in shape, size, and weight here won’t suddenly transform it into your dream foldable.

There’s good news on the durability front, though. Samsung says the Z Fold 4 is both stronger and lighter than before, with Gorilla Glass Victus and a new ultra-thin glass panel over the folded screen for a claimed 12% bump in overall toughness. Samsung’s tough Armor Aluminum material used for the frame returns with a few updates, plus the phone retains its IPX8 water resistance rating. The fewer chances of damaging the Z Fold 4, the more people will consider it as an everyday phone.

samsung galaxy z fold 4.
Joe Maring/Digital Trends

What about the crease? Samsung didn’t specifically mention any changes that would minimize the crease in the unfolded screen, and sure enough, it’s still visible at the right angle — but this is dependent on what’s being shown on the screen. To my eyes, in the short time I spent with the Z Fold 4, I didn’t notice the crease more or less than before, including when swiping across it with my finger. Samsung does call out a slimmer hinge compared to the Fold 3, but in my testing, it felt identical in use to its predecessor — well weighted and sturdy.

The Z Fold 4 has a new multitasking trick

The Z Fold’s big screen has always lent itself to multitasking, business, and art. The S Pen stylus support returns here, but there’s still nowhere to store it in the device. Android 12L with One UI 4.4.1 will be installed on the Z Fold 4, and with it comes the Taskbar — the primary new software feature highlighted on the phone at the moment. It’s aptly named, as it works like the taskbar on a Windows PC, letting you quickly swap between apps from a tray of icons at the bottom of the screen.

multitasking on the galaxy z fold 4.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The layout is dictated by the apps fixed to the bottom of your Home screen, and any others visible are apps used recently. It can be permanently shown with the Android buttons or hidden away until needed when using the full-screen gesture controls. There are definite speed advantages if you want to jump to an app that’s either already open or pinned to the home screen by using the Taskbar. I also appreciate the effort Samsung has gone to in making it versatile and usable in all situations. It disappears when watching a full-screen YouTube video, for example.

The new Taskbar is just one part of the phone’s supercharged multitasking ability. Three apps can be shown and used on the unfolded screen at one time, plus a fourth app can be shown over the top of them all, provided it can be used as a floating window. The size and shape of each app window can be altered to suit its task, and all this happens at lightning speed. Plus, it’s really easy to activate multitasking. If you regularly use multiple apps, the Z Fold 4 will suit your needs really well. That said, it’s hard to say the Taskbar will dramatically speed things up, particularly if your muscle memory is already trained to rapidly swap between apps by using Android’s helicopter view.

Using the Z Fold 4 to browse with Chrome, adjust Settings, set up multitasking, and a few more simple tasks certainly showed the Z Fold 4 has a very impressive turn of speed. The Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 may make the Z Fold 4 a genuinely worthwhile upgrade over the Z Fold 3, as there seemed to be a fluidity and snappiness that was missing from the Z Fold 3 during normal tasks. But, I’ll wait to use it more frequently and to play games before judging.

More capable cameras

Having spent time with the Z Fold 4 indoors, I haven’t tested the camera out enough to say if it’s better than the Z Fold 3, but the specification does suggest it’ll provide some improvements. The main camera has 50 megapixels, is new to the phone, boasts enhanced optical image stabilization (OIS), and has a 23% boost in brightness. The wide-angle camera is the same 12MP camera found on the Z Fold 3, while the telephoto camera has 10MP and 3x optical zoom, plus a digital 30x Space Zoom mode.

the galaxy z fold 4's camera modules.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Under Display Camera (UDC) has 4MP, and Samsung says it has worked hard to make it less visible than the one on the Z Fold 3. Like the crease, how much you notice the UDC will depend on how hard you look, the angle at which you do so, and what’s showing on the screen at the time. I found it fairly easy to spot, but more importantly, never found it distracting. The photo quality didn’t look dramatically different from the Z Fold 3’s UDC, but the lighting wasn’t particularly agreeable at the time of testing.

Quickly taking photos with the rear camera showed how fast the interface is, but didn’t reveal any new features in the short time I tried it, although there may be some that are hidden away or not in the software build I was using. There’s still something special about using the unfolded phone as a viewfinder, too, as it’s easier to compose shots compared to using the cover screen.

Is the Z Fold 4 a worthy upgrade?

The Galaxy Z Fold 4 will almost certainly be the best full-size folding smartphone available, taking the torch from the still mostly unchallenged Z Fold 3. If you’re new to foldables, the choice will come down to whether you prioritize multitasking or portability from your foldable, as the former will lead you to this phone and the latter to Samsung’s Z Flip 4. In the brief time I had to use the phone, I discovered the design refinements won’t make a massive impact on anyone’s life but do appear to help make the Z Fold 4 more usable.

samsung galaxy z fold 4.
Andrew Martonik/Digital Trends

The rest of the specification only reinforces the Z Fold 4’s familiarity. It comes with 12GB of RAM and a choice of 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB of internal storage, it’s powered by a 4,400mAh battery with 25W charging, both screens have a 120Hz refresh rate, there’s a side-mounted fingerprint sensor, all just like the Z Fold 3. Samsung has obviously refined and improved the Z Fold 4, and making it smaller and lighter is a serious achievement, but a lot of the core tech from the previous model remains.

If you own a Galaxy Z Fold 3, should you consider an upgrade? We won’t know for sure until using it more, but the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1’s performance and efficiency are up compared to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and therefore, it should provide a sufficient improvement over the Snapdragon 888 to be a temptation. It’ll come down to whether the camera has received a similar boost, and if the new Taskbar really can speed multitasking up enough to warrant the pricey change.

Yes, it’s pricey. Depending on where you live, the Z Fold 4 has increased slightly in price compared to the Z Fold 3. It starts at the same $1,800 in the U.S., but in the U.K., it goes up to 1649 British pounds (a 50-pound increase). There are three colors: Graygreen, Beige, and Phantom Black. Pre-orders are live between August 10 and August 25.

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