Galaxy Z Fold 4 launched – why Samsung wants to mainstream foldables

For the second month of August in a row, Samsung executives will take to a virtual stage and try to convince us that we need to give foldable phones a chance. Of course, the argument will go to the Samsung Unpacked event this week that foldable phones may cost more, but their expansive screens let you do more. And when you’re done working, you can fold this device into a more compact and portable size than a laptop or tablet would. What’s not to like about that?

The thing is, as we get closer to the planned launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4, the case for foldables is one that Samsung seems to be starting to win. Or at the very least, it finds a surprisingly receptive audience.

“Foldables are already a big niche, and Samsung said its Galaxy Z Flip3 has sold around 7 million units, making it a mainstream option at its price point,” noted Avi Greengart, president of Techsponential. Indeed, if you look at our ranking of the best foldable phones, it’s clear that Samsung dominates this niche market.

But the key word there is still “niche”. While Samsung’s TM Roh announced a few weeks ago that his company was responsible for a large chunk of the 10 million foldable smartphones shipped in 2021, that’s a drop in the bucket at 272 million smartphones sold. by Samsung last year, according to Counterpoint Research (opens in a new tab).

Foldables are inherently more expensive and unlikely to fully replace bar form factors anytime soon, but Samsung has refined the hardware and software with each generation, opening up the category to more consumers.

—Avi Greengart, Techsponential

Nonetheless, Samsung is continuing to make foldable phones the focus of the upcoming Samsung Unpacked event on Wednesday, August 10. “Both [Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip] users have enthusiastically adopted what we have created. Their response is our greatest motivation moving forward, and it’s why we’re embarking on this journey of finding new possibilities for mobile innovation,” Roh said in a blog post. (opens in a new tab) arguing that the mainstream moment for foldable phones has arrived.

“This year, we’ve made progress in every detail and opened up the new experiences made possible by these behavior change devices,” Roh added. “I’m excited to see people discovering new ways to do more of the things they love with the new foldable.”

Yet despite the positive reaction the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 are receiving at this week’s Unpacked event, they’re unlikely to usher in an era where people are turning their backs on more conventional phones for fully embrace foldables. Again, this may be irrelevant.

“Foldables are inherently more expensive and unlikely to fully replace bar form factors anytime soon, but Samsung has refined the hardware and software with each generation, opening the category up to more consumers,” said Greengard.

In other words, this year’s foldable launch might be less about turning foldables into mainstream devices and more about Samsung continuing to assert itself as a device maker setting the bar for this kind of device. handsets – an important identity to have when rival companies start rolling out foldables of their own.

What to expect at Samsung Unpacked

Rumors of the next foldable announcement underscore Samsung’s desire to create devices that appeal to a wider audience. Both the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Galaxy Z Flip 4 are designed to get a redesigned hinge, which could result in thinner and lighter devices that are easier to carry. That would be especially welcome in the case of the Fold, which doesn’t slip easily into a pocket with its current design.

Galaxy Z Fold 4 render

(Image credit: Waqar Khan)

We’ve also seen photos that allegedly show newer versions of the Flip and Fold where the crease running across the screen where the screen folds is less noticeable than it was on previous versions. While not a game-breaking feature, it’s definitely a cosmetic flaw that suggests foldables still have a ways to go before they’re fully polished devices, so it’s essential for Samsung to respond to this complaint.

Meanwhile, other rumors suggest Samsung isn’t about to cut features to make its foldables more appealing to phone buyers. Both the Galaxy Z Flip 4 and the Galaxy Z Fold 4 would turn to Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, Qualcomm’s most powerful chipset. This would place both phones among the most capable Android devices currently available, whether foldable or not.

An unofficial render of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4, showing one partially open facing the camera, and the other mostly closed and placed in a tent-like position

(Image credit: 91Mobiles/OnLeaks)

Other moves outside of Samsung point to a brighter future for foldable phones. Google’s Android 13, for example, includes optimization for large-screen Android devices. While these changes seem largely tablet-focused, you’d imagine foldable-screen devices would benefit as well. And giving users an enhanced experience that really takes advantage of the expansive screen real estate of a device like the Galaxy Z Fold would go a long way to boosting this handset’s appeal.

What’s holding foldable phones back?

The durability of foldable phones and their ability to withstand repeated opening and closing was a concern when the first devices appeared, especially after the shaky debut of the original Galaxy Fold. But Samsung has made great strides here, and rumors of a hinge redesign suggest work is progressing.

Still, other concerns about foldables remain. Neither the Flip nor the Fold impressed with battery life, and in the case of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 specifically, that’s a fact that kept us from recommending the phone more fully. It’s unclear how Samsung plans to address this issue with its upcoming foldables – one rumor even suggests the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s battery will be smaller. But until devices start lasting longer on a charge, it’s hard to imagine them taking a wider foothold in the phone market.

Galaxy Z Fold 3 Under-Display Camera

(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)

Of course, the big issue is the price – foldable phones are some of the most expensive handsets you can buy. Samsung solved this problem to some extent with the Galaxy Z Flip 3, dropping the price of that phone to $999 last year. However, the Fold remains an expensive proposition, with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 debuting at $1,799.

Some rumors have hinted at a price drop for the Fold 4, with Samsung possibly offering less storage on the base model to bring the price down. (It’s hard to see the price of the Galaxy Z Flip 4 dropping much below $999.) Even a drop of a few hundred dollars would make Samsung’s first foldable a nicer buy for people.

For Greengart, however, the biggest obstacle to Samsung’s vision of a mainstream market for foldables remains convincing people that this new form factor offers a better phone experience.

“Samsung needs to explain why foldables are special — the use cases are different for the Flip and the Fold — and reduce the risk of trying something new by emphasizing usability and durability,” said Greengard.

Samsung asserts its position

It remains to be seen if this is the year Samsung pulls off this feat, but clearly there’s no looking back on the company’s commitment to foldables. The August Unpacked event was once dedicated to showcasing the latest edition of the Galaxy Note, Samsung’s cutting-edge phablet.

But with other phone makers finally realizing what Samsung had discovered – there’s a market for big-screen phones – the Note has become just another big phone. Samsung has since dashed all hopes of a Note return, instead focusing on the Ultra model of its Galaxy S line and its foldable devices to meet the demand the Galaxy Note once commanded.

By stepping into foldables now, Samsung hopes to repeat some of the Galaxy Note’s success – establishing itself as the go-to brand for this type of device, even as other phone makers try their luck on foldables.

And other phone makers are coming. Motorola is set to launch a new version of its foldable Razr, which would fix the flaws that plagued early versions. Both Google and Apple are rumored to have foldables in different stages of development, although nothing has been officially announced or confirmed.

If these rival foldables ever show up, Samsung wants to be ready for them. And what it shows this week will help set the stage for how ready Samsung will be.