Are foldable phones the future, or just a passing fad? The jury might still be out on that question. But after spending a couple of weeks playing with Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold5, I can see a lot of benefit in a phone that can evolve into a tablet at a moment’s notice—with a few caveats.
In its compact, folded form, the Z Fold5 is a smartphone that works much like any other. It’s surprisingly compact at 13.4mm thick—chunkier than its non-folding brethren, but slim for a folded foldable, a fact aided by the Z Fold5’s new gapless folding design. The cover screen can feel a little too compact, just 5.7cm wide with an “ultra-tall” 9:23.1 aspect ratio. It’s certainly usable, but can be a little awkward and uncomfortable, especially for those of us with big hands.
Unfold it, and suddenly you’ve got a pretty decent, versatile tablet.
A 7.6 inch AMOLED inner display with a sharp, vivid image turns the Z Fold5 into a nice portable video player. The unfolded screen packs an odd aspect ratio (1.2:1, slightly more square than the old 4:3 standard), which means most videos will leave some unused screen space. But even with those “black bars”, standard widescreen videos scale nicely. And if you want to watch your favourites from the 4:3 heyday, the screen size is near perfect.
Digital comics really pop on that screen, too, and it’s not bad as an e-reader, either, so long as you tweak the brightness and blue light filter to avoid eye strain. Being able to split the screen and show multiple apps at once (for those that support it) helps a lot with multitasking, and can turn the Z Fold5 into a decent pocket workstation, too.
With that large, crisp screen and a powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset under the hood, the Z Fold5 is an excellent gaming device, too. It can handle the most graphically demanding games with ease, from Genshin Impact to Grid Autosport, and the tablet screen offers plenty of real estate for games where a regular phone screen just won’t really cut it. Games optimised for tablet obviously come out strongest here—there’s no more convenient way to play Civilization VI, I’m now convinced—but even games designed with a smaller screen in mind get the benefit of less UI clutter.
Add a game controller, and the Z Fold5 turns into a portable game machine with the power to rival Nintendo Switch. Even if you just stick to the Google Play store, there’s an abundance of quality console-style games with controller support. Add Xbox Game Pass streaming and PS4/5 Remote Play into the mix, and the possibilities ramp up even further. If you want to go down the emulation route, the Z Fold5 coupled with a decent controller is a wonderful way of enjoying your favourite classics—especially with a screen that plays so nicely with 4:3 video.
The screen size and ability to easily rotate make it a versatile game machine, too. Vertical arcade games? Easy. Simulating a dual-screen game setup? No sweat. Playing a game on half the screen while using the other half to chat, follow a walkthrough, or scribble notes? A lot more useful than you might expect. That versatility is backed by great battery life—even with heavy use as a “regular” phone and a couple of hours of more energy-intensive gaming throughout the day, I never ran out of juice before bedtime.
But here’s the catch: all of the above is true for any good tablet, too. Grab a tablet running similar specs, like a Galaxy Tab S9, and it’ll do everything that the Z Fold5 can do. Well, everything except fold up and stash away in your pocket.
That is, ultimately, what the Z Fold5—and this whole foldable phone concept, more generally—depends on: the convenience to do double duty as both a smartphone and a tablet, all rolled together into a single device. That convenience is nothing to sneeze at, especially as smartphones increasingly become the high-tech Swiss army knives we never let out of reach.
But it’s a convenience that also comes at a cost. In a literal sense—the Z Fold5 will run you a cool three grand, notwithstanding any trade-in or mobile plan deals—but also in compromises. The folded dimensions and narrow outer screen make it just a little awkward to use as an everyday phone, especially after a good decade of Samsung and others finely tuning the form factors of non-folding smartphones. As a tablet, the odd aspect ratio and hinge crease in the middle of the screen—a mild nuisance at worst, but still there—hold it a step behind a dedicated, non-folding tablet.
Is the convenience of a foldable is worth those concessions? If your answer is yes, then the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 has a whole lot to offer: the high performance of a Samsung flagship that’s versatile enough to be a one-stop shop for most of your gaming, media, work, communication, and everyday use.
And even if that compromise is just a bit too much right now, the Z Fold5 shows the potential of a foldable future. A few more iterations to iron out the kinks and bring the price down, and I can see foldables being the new norm.
- Convenience of a tablet and a phone in one device
- Incredibly versatile, with good multitasking functionality
- Pair with a controller for a fantastic portable game machine
- Great battery life
- Narrow outer screen makes folded mode a little awkward to use
- Unusual aspect ratios for both screens don’t always play nice with apps and media designed for more typical formats
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 puts power and versatility into a pocketable form. Having a phone and a tablet in a single device is certainly convenient, but that convenience isn't without compromise.