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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 hands-on review: Three upgrades that make a notable difference

As the folding phone race suddenly heats up again, Samsung has perfected key elements of its top-of-the-line foldable.
Written by Jason Hiner, Editor in Chief
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

If you've previously owned a foldable phone or you've long been tempted to make the switch from the flagship phone you carry every day, then the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is aimed at you. 

At first glance, the Fold 5 doesn't look much different than last year's model, but there are significant changes that make this a more usable, durable, and productive foldable phone than the others on the market.

Review: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5: 3 features I like (and 2 that I still wish for)

It still may not be worth buying for you, but it's likely going to be more tempting than any foldable you've seen so far. Samsung President TM Roh said that 50% of smartphone users are considering an upgrade to a foldable, according to data Samsung follows closely. If that's accurate, the new version of Samsung's flagship foldable is refined enough to be a tipping point for a lot more buyers.

Let's talk about what's new in the Fold 5 and who can benefit from it the most.

View at Samsung

The 3 key upgrades

The Fold 5 doesn't have flashy new features like the Flex Window on Samsung's new Flip 5 or major design departures like the square-ish form factor of Google's Pixel Fold. But while those kinds of big changes grab headlines, they can turn out to be more gimmicky than useful over time. 

Instead, Samsung gave a vote of confidence to the candy bar form factor of its high-end foldable that first launched in 2019. With the fifth generation of this phone, Samsung focused on three key improvements:

1. Completely redesigned folding mechanism

The tech at the heart of any foldable phone is the hinge and the Fold 5 has redesigned and rebranded its mechanism as the "Flex Hinge," which makes the Fold 5 feel like the way foldables always should have been. 

It now folds completely flat with no air gap and it's smaller and less bulky, which has contributed to the phone being almost 20% slimmer when folded. 

Also: Samsung just fixed its most important Galaxy Z Fold accessory

The Fold 5 is also almost 5% lighter than last year's model at 253g, but it actually feels like an even bigger difference -- partially because the recently released Google Pixel Fold is so much heavier at 283g by comparison. 

The crease down the middle of the Fold 5 is still just as noticeable and so that's the next frontier for Samsung to improve in future models.


The hinge on the Fold 4 (left) versus the Fold 5 (right).

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

2. Battery and photography improvements from Snapdragon

The Fold 5's physical battery capacity and the camera hardware are exactly the same as last year's model. The Fold 5 does have a new coating for its camera lenses that's aimed at reducing lens flare, but I already found the Fold 4 to have less lens flare than the iPhone 14 Pro. 

Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 vs. Galaxy Z Fold 4: Should you upgrade?

The biggest upgrades for both camera capabilities and battery life come from Qualcomm's Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy. Samsung says the chip will boost battery life and bring better AI-powered photography features for low-light photos, segmenting out people and objects, and other camera features. 

Those things all sound reasonable based on the impact the same chip has had on the Galaxy S23, but ZDNET will test them to confirm.

3. Productivity upgrades with software and the S-Pen

Samsung has put a lot of energy into software features that take advantage of the extra real estate on the main screen, including new multi-window and two-handed drag-and-drop options, as well as app optimizations from software and app makers. 

Again, that's not flashy, but like the hinge, battery, and photography updates, they're things you'll benefit from every day when using the Fold 5. As we've seen with devices like the Microsoft Surface Duo and Google Pixel Fold, when the software optimizations aren't there, it creates a less satisfying user experience. 

Also: Every new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 feature (and what hasn't changed)

The other productivity boost comes with the new S-Pen Fold Edition and Slim S-Pen Case. This year's S-Pen is thinner and more compact (although not as small as the built-in S-Pen in the Galaxy S Ultra line). Its case is also much more practical than last year's, which had a larger S-Pen and a huge bump on the case that made it less practical to slip into your pocket. The next improvement for Samsung will be to dock the S-Pen Fold Edition into the phone the way it does on the Galaxy S Ultra.


S-Pen case for the Fold 4 (left) versus the Fold 5 (right).

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

ZDNET's buying advice

If you're considering the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 as your first foldable then it's better to think of it as a 7-inch tablet that you fold up and put in your pocket than to compare it to phones like the Galaxy S23 Ultra or the iPhone 14 Pro Max. If you've ever had experience with 7-inch tablets like the iPad Mini, Google Nexus 7 or Kindle Fire 7 and loved the form factor because it's more portable than most tablets and more versatile than most phones, then the Fold 5 could be a great option for you.

If you've already owned a foldable phone and been bummed out by limitations like the durability, bulkiness, and awkwardness of the hardware and software, then the Fold 5 is arguably the most refined foldable released so far. Compared to other foldables, it feels much further along in the process of becoming a polished consumer product. The fact that the Galaxy Fold has so much momentum in the enterprise -- with 105% growth year over year in 2022, according to Samsung -- is further evidence that its reputation as a powerful productivity device is expanding.

Also: Best Samsung phones you can buy (including the new Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5)

While some professionals and tech enthusiasts have been attracted by the more book-like form factors of the Microsoft Surface Duo and the Google Pixel Fold, Samsung has stuck with its candy bar form factor that is easier to operate with one hand when it's folded. 

Clearly, Samsung believes that the long, slim outer display is great for checking notifications, quick messaging, and making phone calls. But, it still thinks you'll want to spend most of your time on the full 7.6-inch screen. And that makes perfect sense because it's the main benefit of buying and using a foldable phone. 


The gray and blue online-exclusive colors have a matte finish on the back and the metal that makes them more tactile to hold and less likely to need a case.

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

With that in mind, those of you who will most benefit from using a Fold 5 will be those who spend time a lot of time on the go, such as commuting on a train or bus, sitting in the car waiting to pick up your kids, and/or zipping around town for meetings or gigs. If you have complex work to do while you're on the go -- such as video calls, handling spreadsheets, working in project management docs, and other forms of complicated multitasking where you are communicating and looking at docs at the same time -- then the Fold 5 could save you time, make you more efficient, and help you function at full capacity on the go. 

Also: Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 5 has a new screen layering design, and it's a big deal

If you spend most of your time at your desk and use a computer all day long to handle your most important tasks, then you probably won't get much benefit out of the Fold 5 and are better off with a traditional smartphone

If you do decide to buy a Fold 5, then there's a version I'd recommend above the others after going hands-on with the various colors and finishes. Order the online-exclusive color of either gray (closer to off-white) or blue. In addition to the blue or gray matte finish, these two colors also come with a deep gray finish on the metal parts of the phone that also has a matte finish. 

Also: Samsung Unpacked: Where to preorder and find the best deals

In my experience handling the phones, the matte finish attracts fewer fingerprints and has a more tactile and less slippery feel than the standard glossy finishes. With the matte versions, you could probably get away without using a case, which would let you fully benefit from the slimmer form factor of the Fold 5.

Disclosure: The cost of Jason Hiner's travel to South Korea for Unpacked was covered by Samsung, a common industry practice for long distance trips. The judgments and opinions of ZDNET's writers and editors are always independent of the companies we cover.

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