The Galaxy Z Fold5 Review: Jack Of Many Trades, Master Of Most

By Patrick Moorhead - October 4, 2023

Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Fold5 smartphone at its Unpacked event I attended a few weeks ago in Seoul, and now I want to follow up with a detailed review. (You can read my coverage of Samsung’s Unpacked event here.) Samsung made some significant improvements to the Z Fold5, including a new hinge design, a powerful new Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor and improved multitasking features.

Every year, Samsung has improved the experience, functionality and durability of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold smartphone, making it the unquestionable top-tier foldable phone in North America. I can attest to these improvements because I have tested and reviewed every generation of the Z Fold since its debut back in 2019. Reviewing these phones has been a blast, and now I want to give my two-week review of using the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 as my main device. I usually give my review from a business perspective, but for this review I want to share my experience using it for every use case: the camera enthusiast, the gamer, the multi-tasker and the reader. Let’s dive in.

My review device

Many of the specifications on the Z Fold5 have stayed the same since last year’s Z Fold4 and even the Z Fold3. On paper, the biggest spec upgrade from the Z Fold4 is the new Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and the 1TB storage option. The 4,400 mAh battery and 12GB of memory have stayed the same since the Z Fold3, and the five cameras have stayed the same since the Z Fold4. While these are specifications that you would expect to improve generationally for a flagship device, the Z Fold smartphone is not a normal device.

Where Samsung has been focusing—and rightly so—is on the software and the durability of the Z Fold. Because of the Z Fold5’s tablet-like 7-inch display, it needs software and apps that support both a tablet and phone experience. And that is hard. A proper tablet experience on Android is still a work in progress in my opinion, but Samsung has done a great job of refining its One UI flavor of Android OS for the larger display. Every year, Samsung has also improved the durability of the Z Fold, and this year the hinge has become more compact, with fewer moving parts. The Z Fold5 is a durable device that feels good in the hand and in the pocket thanks to its more compact design.

My review device came in the Icy Blue color with 256GB of storage. I used it for two weeks alongside the new Galaxy Watch6 Classic. (For my review of that watch—which I liked a lot—click here.) I also extensively used the S Pen and the Icy Blue Slim S pen case.

The improved S Pen experience

In 2020, Samsung strategically merged the Note brand into its flagship S series of smartphones. The Note lineup had been one of Samsung’s most innovative and successful smartphone brands, showcasing the company’s most innovative features, including the S Pen. The reason it was so strategic for Samsung to merge the Note brand was because Samsung’s vision for the S Pen outgrew the Note series, as we can clearly see in devices like the S23 Ultra smartphone, Samsung’s Tab S series of tablets and, you guessed it, the Galaxy Z Fold series.

The S Pen on the Z Fold5 made its debut with the Z Fold3. The thing that makes the S Pen so special on the new model is that the pen is more compact on the new Slim S Pen case; it is very similar to the S Pen that goes with the S23 Ultra smartphone. Although some may not like the smaller size of the S Pen since it makes writing less comfortable, it is the perfect size for carrying in the case and convenient enough to pull out and use. More than that, the S Pen experience is now really good on the Z Fold5. Let me share some scenarios.

Galaxy Z Fold5 with S Pen case.
Jacob Freyman

I was reading a book in the Readwise Reader app and taking notes in Samsung Notes side-by-side in landscape view. I was writing over the horizontal crease and did not even notice it until later, when I realized that my writing on the crease came out as illegible. While the crease is unnoticeable when writing, the device can be inconsistent in capturing writing that crosses the crease. This was not a big deal to me, and I see it as a positive that the physical writing experience was so smooth.

The pen also makes multitasking in multiple apps much more practical and more useful. With the ability to write with the S Pen in text boxes, there is no need to have the keyboard pop up and obtrusively cover part of the screen. This is a huge win when every bit of the seven-inch display counts for something For times when I am going to write more than I comfortably can with the new S Pen, I return to the very well-designed S Pen Fold Edition, which is a bit larger and more comfortable. Also, the “convert” feature that converts handwritten notes to text in Samsung Notes is reliable. Apart from occasionally losing some formatting, it is very accurate.

Three apps open on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold5 and using the S Pen.
Jacob Freyman

Out of the three major platforms with stylus support—Apple iPadOS, Surface Pen on Windows and S Pen on One UI—Samsung’s is the only one that has seamless multitasking and the ability to write in a text box. After using Samsung’s multitasking and write-into-text-boxes feature, having one and not the other seems silly. Good job, Samsung.

Gaming and entertainment

At one point, I was able to play a 20-minute game of Wild Rift and drain just 4% from a full battery. The battery drains slower when fully charged, but this still means five to seven hours of continuous gameplay from a full battery. All the games I tried ran smoothly. The Z Fold5 is great for playing games as a tablet because the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 has many efficiency improvements for gaming, plus Samsung has optimized its own software for gaming.

Gaming on the Galaxy Z Fold5.
Samsung

The Z Fold5’s 7-inch display was also great for long reading sessions with the true black color and Eye Care Display turned on. When I went to the Samsung Unpacked event at the beginning of the year in San Francisco, I could see how effective Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X display is at blocking blue light, a kind of light that’s not good for our eyes long-term. The Z Fold5 also has the highest-ranked smartphone display in the world with a DXOMark score of 152. The biggest con for the DXOMark score was that the crease is noticeable in most situations, but I found that to be true only when an external light source directly hit the crease. Even then, it was only bothersome when watching videos; I did not find it noticeable or bothersome when using it for other tasks. The display is one of the best displays I have ever seen on a smartphone, with true black, bright colors in broad daylight and comfortable viewing angles.

Demo of Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X display.
Patrick Moorhead

The camera

The five cameras on the Z Fold5 have not changed much compared to the Z Fold4. The most significant difference is in the AI processing of the photos which are noticeably faster than its predecessor. Since Samsung has not had much competition with its Z Fold, there have been few smartphone camera systems to compare it to, apart from ultra-premium devices. This lack of competition has given Samsung some lead and the ability to try different things with its five cameras, one of which is its under-display camera (UDC). Now that Google has entered the competition with the Pixel Fold, Samsung could have some serious competition with its cameras.

The UDC on the Z Fold5 is the most improved camera from generation to generation. The AI enhancements to the UDC after the picture is taken are much better than previous generations and make the photos quite good for selfies—which they weren’t in earlier models. That said, even with the improved picture quality, the UDC is probably still the most sub-par feature of the Z Fold5. I would never use it for a video call, and there are very few scenarios where I would prefer it over the camera on the front display.

The price

The Galaxy Z Fold5 has an ultra-premium starting price of $1,799—a price point that has not changed since Samsung’s first-generation Z Fold. The high price communicates the ultra-premium experience that the Z Fold5 delivers more than it speaks to a niche target market. I would recommend this phone to just about anyone who can afford it, not only as a productivity device but also for gaming, streaming, reading, journaling and, in some cases, photography. I give this recommendation at the retail price of $1,799, let alone when it goes on sale like it did at Best Buy near Labor Day to a more reasonable $1,399.

Let’s compare this to Apple’s ultra-premium iPhone 14 Pro Max, the best and biggest iPhone you can get, which should be on sale as Apple prepares to release its next generation. It has a price tag of $1,199 for 128GB of storage or $1,399 for 256GB of storage. On sale at $1,399, the Z Fold5 is the same price as an iPhone 14 Pro Max with much less functionality, and $400 less than the Pixel Fold, its closest competitor in North America.

Wrapping up

The Z Fold5 is an incredibly fun and versatile device. It shows the heritage of decades of innovation across Samsung’s premium lineup of smartphones and tablets. The device has unmatched S Pen features that make multitasking on its large 7-inch display truly seamless. The under-the-hood AI enhancements such as resource optimization make it great for gaming and give it good battery life for a foldable. It has a very crisp display, making it good for streaming a show or reading a book.

Samsung has done a great job of updating the Z Fold5 every year and addressing the biggest hiccups to its foldable design. The Z Fold5 is the most powerful and capable smartphone on the market, despite its few hangups, like the poor quality UDC and the visible crease. I recommend the Z Fold5 to just about anyone who can afford it and that goes for all use cases. Although I did not write much on the productivity experience of the Z Fold5, I will dive into the Z Fold5 from a productivity perspective in a separate piece.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.