Review: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 offers minor upgrades and one deceptively major one

The Galaxy Z Fold5 with S Pen.
The Galaxy Z Fold5 with S Pen. Photo credit: Newshub.

As the foldable smartphone market continues to grow, Samsung is looking to cement its position as the leader.

But this year when it announced its new foldables, it wasn't the Z Fold5 but the Z Flip5 that won most of the attention - including from myself.

I've always preferred the Fold format, but this year's Flip has the most obvious upgrades, especially its impressive, much larger front screen.

The Galaxy Z Fold5 looks almost identical to last year's Galaxy Z Fold4 and much of the hardware is the same.

But after having used the device for a few weeks, it's a deceptively bigger upgrade on last year's model and, for people who can afford its extremely high price, this latest Fold is the one I'd most highly recommend.

Samsung launched the Z Fold5 at $2849 for the cheapest version here in Aotearoa, which is 3.5 times the cost of Samsung's best mid-range phone currently on the market. The acclaimed iPhone 14 Pro range starts at $1999 in New Zealand at the moment, so keep in mind the Z Fold5 is way, way, way up there.

But temper that with this device being a small tablet as well as a phone - an in-between unit that will be a two-in-one product for some consumers.

The Galaxy Z Fold5 open, showing the internal main screen.
The Galaxy Z Fold5 open, showing the internal main screen. Photo credit: Newshub.

With the screen open, it's an ideal size for reading ebooks or anything else on the world wide web. But the multi-tasking ability is what really sets this apart from other smartphones - having two or three apps open at once is really handy at times. You can even push it to four if you have the fourth floating over the top.

I really like saving apps in pairs so you can open them together from a single icon on the homescreen or taskbar. Such a handy update.

Speaking of the taskbar, this is another big advantage of the Z Fold5 over pretty much any other smartphone. It can now showcase up to four docked apps at the bottom of the screen so you can quickly access them from within another app, without having to go back to the homescreen.

Features like that are more common on an actual tablet or laptop than a phone, setting this device apart.

Stylus support is back with a smaller S Pen, but again you can't store it inside the phone itself, so you need to buy a special case that conveniently fits it internally on the back of the phone but still allows it to lie flat. That's good, but it's a frustrating extra cost on top of the nearly $3000 one must fork out.

The Galaxy Z Fold5 closes completely shut, leaving no gap.
It's the first Fold that can fully shut, with no gap. Photo credit: Newshub.

Samsung's fifth Fold is most obviously the best yet in terms of its hinge. It's the first that is able to close completely flush with no gap, and it feels really nice to use - sturdy but not too stiff, and satisfying to clack shut.

But what's harder to see as an upgrade in this device is its better chip. It's powered by the Gen 2 version of the Snapdragon 8 chipset - the same one that powered the S23 Ultra - and 12GB of RAM.

This means it's super powerful and ultra fluid as you swap between apps, fire them up and do anything demanding, like play graphics-heavy games.

However, I found it also means it can take better, more detailed photos than the Z Fold4, despite having the same camera hardware. They're still not of the quality of what the S23 Ultra can produce, but something about the gruntier chip means better image processing, to my eyes at least.

The Galaxy Z Fold5 shut with the front screen on.
The Galaxy Z Fold5 shut with the front screen on. Photo credit: Newshub.

More power also means more efficiency, so the 4400 mAh battery will last longer - extra important with a phone powering such a large screen, especially with the extra brightness the Fold5 can crank out.

This power bump could easily mean the difference between having to recharge your phone during the day and having it go all the way through to bedtime, which is a major thing for many users.

It's definitely not as instantly noticeable as other upgrades, but this extra power and efficiency is really important and only becomes apparent after using the phone quite a bit. It makes it worth the extra investment over a cheaper, older unit for future-proofing, too.

My least favourite thing about the Z Fold5 is an issue I've had with every Fold so far: the shape of its front screen. The internal screen is perfectly sized for what I want to use that mini-tablet for, but the trade-off is an awkwardly long, tall front screen.

The rival foldables from Oppo and Google - neither of which are sold in New Zealand yet - both have a more traditional smartphone shape for the front screen, which I think I'd prefer, but haven't had the chance to check them out yet.

But five generations in and with no changes yet, it seems Samsung isn't keen to change up the form factor of its flagship foldable.

The Galaxy Z Fold5 being used for a phonecall.
The Galaxy Z Fold5 was released in New Zealand on August 11. Photo credit: Newshub.

It's understandable the company isn't too keen to change things up much, but rather apply subtle annual upgrades on the same device.

It's the market leader for a reason - this is a brilliant foldable phone that is for me the best available in Aotearoa.

Newshub was supplied a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 for this review.