Can you believe that its been five years since Samsung embarked on what, at the time, seemed like an impossible task; bringing a foldable phone to the mass market? While it wasn't exactly the smoothest launch in history, with an eyebrow-raising price tag and a screen protector that would render the handset unusable if you removed it, we can't deny that Samsung has since learned its lessons and succeeded in popularising the folding phone.
But enough reminiscing, we're looking at the latest and greatest Galaxy Z Fold 5, Samsung's leanest Z Fold phone yet. It's thinner, lighter, brighter and features a better battery life despite not using a bigger cell; so far so good. But what else is new? Well here is where the momentum begins to slow, as the Z Fold 5 is more of an iterative yearly update; Samsung has instead focused on bringing the Z Flip 5 up to date this year.
While we're not focusing on the Flip in this hands-on review, it's worth mentioning that most of the time and effort has been spent upgrading that device. This is understandable, however, as last year's Galaxy Z Fold 4 got most of the attention, so we'll let the Flip take the spotlight this year. The Flip 5 gets an expanded cover screen with interactive widgets and swappable home screens, a redesigned hinge to reduce the internal gap when folded (or flipped we should say), and is also thinner, lighter, has an improved battery life, cameras and a brighter screen.
So, after a brief time with the Z Fold 4 last year, we concluded that it was certainly the most convincing argument for folding phones yet, but it didn't capture our AV hearts thanks to a handful of issues. So has the Z Fold 5 changed this? While we can't say for sure quite yet, we think that maybe the problem isn't Samsung as such, but that folding phones just aren't ideal for AV.
Either way, we spent some time with Samsung's latest flagship foldable during an early hands-on preview and have managed to gather some first thoughts and impressions, with a full review to come down the line.
Price and build
As is the way with most phones right now, this year's model is more expensive than last year's. The Z Fold 5 starts at £1749 for the 256GB model, that's £100 more expensive than the starting price of the Z Fold 4 (£1649). Samsung is also set to release a 512GB model (£1849) and a 1TB model (£2049), although if you pre-order the phone you receive the next storage capacity up from the device you selected at no extra cost, thanks to a promotion by Samsung.
As for internal specs, it features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor with 12GB of RAM; on paper, these are the same specs as the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra which we reviewed earlier this year. You also get a 4400mAh battery, the same found in the Z Fold 4, although Samsung has supposedly squeezed even more life out of the cell meaning battery life has improved.
Moving onto the build of the Z Fold 5, it can be best described as a Fold 4 that's been on a diet. It's 10g lighter than the Fold 4 at 253g, and it's a touch thinner both in its folded and unfolded modes; the weight reduction was immediately noticeable when we first picked up the Fold 5 during the hands-on session. It's also visually very similar to last year's model, with a matte glass back panel serving as the only surface that isn't covered by a screen. It adds a welcome grip to what otherwise can be an uncouth slab of phone; elsewhere Samsung has used the same armour aluminium for the frame and hinge as last time.
Overall, the phone looks strikingly similar to last year's device, and two of the colours are even the same. The phone comes in Phantom Black, Cream and a new Icy Blue colour, although Samsung hints at further colourways that will be exclusive to its online store – justice for the Grey-Green of the Fold 4, a personal favourite of ours.
The clue is in the title here, and we may have mentioned it once or twice already, but just to clarify – this is a folding phone. It folds "book-style", with a 7.6-inch inner "main" screen and a 6.2-inch outer "cover screen". Both use Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology and feature adaptive refresh rates. The main screen can range from 1Hz to 120Hz and has a resolution of 2176 x 1812, while the cover screen goes from 48Hz to 120Hz and has a resolution of 2316 x 904. The main screen gets a boost in the brightness department compared to last year too.
While these screens are plenty sharp and responsive enough, there are a couple of immediate red flags when it comes to watching videos. There is still a notable crease in the middle of the display which becomes even more apparent in brightly lit rooms, where it attracts reflections. As well as this, both screens use awkward aspect ratios that mean any content played on them is either slightly squashed or surrounded by hefty black bars.
That being said, the Fold 5 does get some AV-focused features, including HDR10+ support on its display; a format favoured by Samsung as it is also used on its TVs. The Fold 5 is also equipped with Dolby Atmos support for both its speakers and headphones; however, you'll have to connect the latter option via Bluetooth or a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter, as there's no headphone jack.
Moving onto the other features of the phone, it has five cameras in total: three on the rear consisting of a 12MP ultra-wide, 50MP main and a 10MP telephoto; a 10MP 'hole-punch' camera on the cover screen, and a 4MP camera on the main display which is hidden under the OLED display and only shows when needed. We couldn't gauge the camera performance on the Z Fold 5, but the ultra-wide and telephoto lenses appear to be the same found on the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is once again compatible with the Samsung S-Pen accessory, although it is an additional extra, and there are two models to pick from. There's the standard S-Pen and a pro-level S-Pen which includes additional pen tips and a slightly thicker design for improved grip.
As we mentioned earlier, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 uses the same capacity battery as its predecessor, however, Samsung claims that it has optimised the system to squeeze some additional life out of the cell. We don't have a specific figure quite yet, but we've been told it's a fairly impressive upgrade in longevity.
The Z Fold 5 is also using Android 13, with Samsung's One UI skin on top, which now includes recent apps in the toolbar for improved multitasking.
Picture and sound
A quick disclaimer that is relevant to both the picture and sound portions of this hands-on review – we haven't put the Galaxy Z Fold 5 through our usual testing, instead taking it for a quick test drive during a special briefing event at the Samsung KX concept store. The devices didn't have many of the usual streaming apps downloaded, which we would normally use to review phones, and we couldn't log onto them anyways, so we turned to YouTube to gather some initial impressions.
We conducted most of our movie watching on the larger main screen, as the cover screen is a little bit cramped for watching content, and its aspect ratio isn't ideal for this either.
Using the trailers for Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1, Blade Runner 2049 and Barbie, it seems the performance is reminiscent of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, probably because the displays are both embedded with Samsung DNA; that's to say it's impressively vibrant, black depths are excellent, and the image overall is nicely sharp and well-defined.
Each of these films helped to portray the Fold's bold and punchy approach to colours, which in true Samsung fashion can appear a little too vibrant at times, but still impressive overall. The vibrant tones of the Barbie trailer served to highlight how punchy and vivid the Fold's display was, with the various shades of pink looking rich yet distinguishable from one another. That being said, the comparatively more natural-looking Mission Impossible did verge on overdone. You can, though, tone the display's colours in the settings which should help to remedy this somewhat.
Motion looked smooth throughout the fast-paced action scenes such as the short bursts of car chases shown in the Mission Impossible trailer and the energetic dance scenes from Barbie.
Rounding things off, we get a sense of the depth of the image with the trailer for Blade Runner 2049. As Officer K walks towards the abandoned city of Las Vegas, there was a good sense of three-dimensionality to the overall picture.
Moving onto sound, we could only really test the in-built speakers of the Fold 5, and in a noisy room full of people, it's not exactly ideal circumstances. That being said, we fired up Exile by Taylor Swift (also on YouTube) and gave the speakers a test drive.
Obviously, the Dolby Atmos wasn't in full effect here, but the sound felt wide and spacious enough; likely due to the physical size of the device, which helps spread the sound. The phone sounded clear and there was a semblance of dynamics, although they did sound slightly thin – this isn't a rarity when it comes to smartphone speakers, though. We obviously will need to wait and see how they sound when listening through headphones to really pass judgement.
It's too early to make a final judgement on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, but early impressions suggest it's like a Galaxy Z Fold 4, but a bit thinner and lighter. Last year was a big year for the Fold, whereas this year is undoubtedly more of an interim update while the Z Flip 5 gets to shine.
That's not such a bad thing though, as the Z Fold 4's improvements were plentiful, so further refinement is perhaps all we needed. It initially reminded us of the Galaxy S23 Ultra which too, was almost identical to last year's flagship model, while the cheaper S23 models saw updated designs and features.
Either way, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is yet another notch in the saga of foldable phones; but would we buy one? We're still not sure, which is why we're waiting to spend a bit more time with Fold 5. Stay tuned for our full review coming soon.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review
And our Sony Xperia 1 V review
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