It’s easy to see the appeal of foldable phones – they’re big-screen devices that shrink down to fit in your pocket. It’s also easy to see the downsides; as much as Samsung tries to hide it with trade-in promotions, there’s no denying that the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s $1,800 price tag is too high for the vast majority of people. The issue of durability is also hard to ignore – it doesn’t take much searching to find stories of Fold screens cracking randomly.
But until you commit and start using a device like the Fold 4 for a while, it’s hard to see the value a foldable phone can offer. I’ve had a Fold model since 2020 Fold 2 (and had the Fold 3 for a year before I upgraded to the Fold 4 thanks to Samsung’s aggressive, if fiscally irresponsible trade-in offers) and it still lasted three months with the Fold 4 to really appreciate everything it could do.
Fact is, the Fold 4 is the most versatile gadget you can buy. It may not be the best at every task, but it can change between form factors better than anything else out there. It’s really the one gadget that rules them all.
It’s a phone
The first use case for a Fold 4 is the most obvious: it is a full-fledged high-end smartphone. It calls, it sends messages, it takes photos, it runs apps, it plays games, it connects to high-speed mobile networks – basically anything you use a smartphone for, the Fold 4 does it.
The Fold 4 keeps pace with other high-end smartphones in terms of performance and features (you don’t have to compromise on conveniences like wireless charging, for example), and while you can buy phones with better cameras, the Fold’s camera system is 4 is very capable in its own right. Perhaps the biggest downside to using the Fold 4 as a phone is the narrower front screen, which takes some getting used to when typing with the thumb. It’s also about twice as thick as a standard phone, although that thickness allows for the versatility of the Fold 4.
The Fold 4 is a good phone, if not a great one, but the point here is that the Fold 4 story is just beginning to unfold.
It’s a tablet
This is where the Fold 4 starts to walk away from the rest of the smartphone field: you can open it up and you’ve got a nearly eight-inch diagonal, almost square tablet screen to work with. Compared to Samsung’s other large phone, the 6.8-inch S22 Ultra, the Fold 4’s inner screen covers an area of 28.42 square inches, versus the Ultra’s 17.98 square inches.
It’s hard to quantify how much more space that gives you in practical terms, but it’s big enough to make a wide variety of tasks easier and more comfortable than on a standard tabletop smartphone. Compared to the cramped split screen you get on a flat phone, the Fold 4 allows two apps to run side-by-side at the same time without having to constantly switch between them for multitasking. Instead of limiting yourself to short video clips on TikTok, you can comfortably watch long video content on YouTube or the streaming service of your choice, aided by the Fold 4’s best-in-class smartphone speakers.
Using Google Maps on such a big screen is a completely different experience than the tunnel vision you get on the screen of a standard smartphone. Typing long emails is more comfortable when you have such a large area for your thumbs to roam.
Reading long articles or navigating large PDFs is much easier on the Fold 4 than on other smartphones because it’s much wider. Ditto for reading e-books – a foldable phone has completely replaced a Kindle for me. As a portable, always-connected reading machine, the Fold 4 is second to none.
Basically, anything you’d want to use an iPad mini for can be accomplished with the Fold 4, with the added benefit of being able to then fold it in half and slip it into your pocket when you’re done.
It’s a notepad
Thanks to that large internal display and support for Samsung’s S Pen stylus, the Fold 4 is an excellent device for taking handwritten notes, which are then synced to the cloud and searchable. You can also mark up screenshots or just doodle and create artwork that you can then easily send anywhere. It’s incredibly useful to have a digital note taking system in your pocket.
There’s certainly room for improvement here – there’s currently no way to store the S Pen on the Fold 4 without a bulky and annoying case, and the pen won’t work on the outdoor display at all. But compared to any other smartphone, the Fold 4 is a better device for notes and drawings.
It’s a desktop computer
Perhaps the most surprising thing about the Fold 4 is that it can replace a computer for many tasks. And I don’t mean you just do those things on the Fold screen I mean you plug it into a desktop monitor and hook it up with a wireless keyboard and use it like a real PC. (You can also use Dex wirelessly with some supported Samsung displays, but if you’re going to be using it for any length of time, you’ll want it plugged in for power and the lowest latency.)
For years, Samsung had the Dex feature that allows this on its phones, but it’s now gotten to the point where it’s much more usable. You can run multiple apps, have control over window sizes and placements, and access a highly capable web browser that can handle many tabs with ease. And since the Fold 4 is a mobile phone, you can use the built-in internet connection without relying on Wi-Fi or other available networks.
Google’s work to improve tablet support in Android has made Dex much better than it used to be. (The Fold 4 launched with Android 12L, but has since received an update to Android 13.) Many apps now support larger layouts, and more and more are adding things like keyboard shortcut support. Dex itself also offers a growing list of keyboard shortcuts for app control and window management. While there are still a few points that could be improved – Slack’s interface on a big screen leaves a lot to be desired – there are fewer and fewer areas where Dex doesn’t just do what you expect and get your work done.
Samsung’s Internet browser is particularly good: it’s fast, supports extensions, loads desktop versions of apps, and offers multiple ways to manage tabs. I can use it to write, edit, and publish articles in our CMS (yup, I made this whole article in it), or browse sites like Twitter and Feedly, which don’t have great Android app experiences at large screens.
You can pair a wireless mouse with the Fold 4 for cursor control, but it’s easier to just use the Fold’s internal display as a trackpad, complete with multi-finger gestures to navigate open apps and windows. There are even configurable gestures to go back with a three-finger tap or use four fingers to pull up the app launcher.
Unlike Apple and its adventures with Stage Manager on the iPad, Samsung isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to a windowed app environment. Apps and windows can be placed and layered however you like, you can resize them however you like, and you can even use keyboard shortcuts to snap windows left or right.
Dex running on the Fold 4 isn’t going to replace a gaming PC, and I wouldn’t like to use it for heavier tasks like photo and video editing. If you really push the system with a lot of running apps and tabs, you’ll hit the performance limits and you’ll definitely see browser tabs reload more often than on a full desktop OS.
It’s also not as convenient as a laptop that you can just open up and get to work, as you’ll need accessories like an external display, keyboard, and probably a USB-C hub. But for web browsing, communications, and other “basic” PC tasks, with the right configuration, it’s surprisingly capable. The closest comparison is with ChromeOS: you might use one or two dedicated apps while in Dex, but you’ll spend most of your time in the browser doing web-based activities.
And when I’m done, I can just unplug my phone, fold it up, put it in my pocket, and walk away.
None of these various capabilities are particularly new to the Fold 4 – Samsung is now four generations into this foldable phone design and even the very first could technically perform many of the same tasks.
But the Fold 4 can do all of this better than its predecessors, as Samsung has repeated all these experiences over the years. Samsung’s typical order of works is to bring an idea to market that’s good in concept but not in execution, then relentlessly repeat it until all the rough edges have been sanded off and what’s left is a really good experience.
Having all these options in a device that fits in your pocket cannot be underestimated
However, Samsung still has work to do, including finding ways to make the price more accessible and allay concerns about reliability and durability. (I reserve the right to withdraw all credit for the Fold 4 if mine’s inner screen randomly cracks in the future.) There isn’t much competition for these types of devices, especially in the US, but the few other foldables phones that have recently hit the global market have slimmer and thinner designs that Samsung could learn from.
The first Fold felt very much like a proof of concept, but four generations later the Fold 4 now offers a very good experience that you just can’t get from a standard smartphone. It’s not that the Fold 4 is the best at any given task, but it’s good at it and having all those options in a device that fits in your pocket can’t be underestimated. Future iterations (and hopefully some competition from other phone makers) will likely improve it further and maybe one day we’ll all carry such versatile devices in our pockets. But if you want that future today, the Fold 4 is the way to get it.