It’s easy to see the appeal of folding phones — they are big screen devices that get smaller to fit in your pocket. It’s also easy to see the drawbacks; as much as Samsung tries to hide it with trade-in promotions, there’s no denying the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s $1,800 price tag is too steep for the vast majority of people. The question of durability is also hard to ignore — it doesn’t take much searching to find tales of randomly cracked Fold screens.
But until you commit and start using a device like the Fold 4 for some time, it’s hard to see the value that a folding phone can bring. I’ve owned a Fold model since 2020’s Fold 2 (and owned the Fold 3 for a year before upgrading to the Fold 4 thanks to Samsung’s aggressive, if fiscally irresponsible trade-in offers) and it still took three months of time with the Fold 4 to really appreciate all it could do.
The 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 morph between form factors better than anything else out there. It’s truly the one gadget to rule them all.
It’s a phone
The first use case for a Fold 4 is the most obvious one — it is a full-fledged high-end smartphone. It makes calls, it sends messages, it takes pictures, it runs apps, it plays games, it connects to high-speed cellular networks — basically, anything you use a smartphone for, the Fold 4 does it.
The Fold 4 keeps up with other high-end smartphones in terms of performance and features (you don’t have to give up conveniences like wireless charging, for example), and while you can buy phones with better cameras, the Fold 4’s camera system is very capable on its own. Perhaps the biggest drawback to using the Fold 4 as a phone is its narrower front screen, which takes a bit of getting used to when thumb typing. It’s also about twice as thick as a standard phone, though that thickness enables the Fold 4’s versatility.
The Fold 4 is a good phone, if not an amazing one, but the point here is the Fold 4 story is just beginning to unfold.
It’s a tablet
Here’s where the Fold 4 starts to walk away from the rest of the smartphone field: you can open it up and you have a nearly eight-inch diagonal, almost square tablet screen to work with. Compared to Samsung’s other big phone, the 6.8-inch S22 Ultra, the Fold 4’s inner screen covers 28.42 square inches of area, versus the Ultra’s 17.98 square inches.
It’s hard to quantify how much more room that gives you in practical terms, but it’s a big enough canvas to make a wide variety of tasks easier and more comfortable than on a standard slab smartphone. Compared to the cramped split-screen you get on a slab phone, two apps can be displayed side-by-side at the same time on the Fold 4 without having to constantly switch between them for multitasking. Instead of limiting yourself to short video clips on TikTok, you can comfortably watch long-form video content either on YouTube or the streaming service of your choice, aided by the Fold 4’s best-in-smartphone-class speakers.
Using Google Maps on a screen this large is a completely different experience than the tunnel vision you get on a standard smartphone’s display. Typing out long emails is more comfortable when you have such a large area for your thumbs to roam.
Reading long-form articles or navigating large PDFs is much easier on the Fold 4 than other smartphones because of how much wider it is. Ditto for reading e-books — a folding phone has completely replaced a Kindle for me. As a portable, always-connected reading machine, the Fold 4 is unparalleled.
Basically, anything you might want to use an iPad mini for can be accomplished on the Fold 4, with the added benefit of it can then be folded in half and shoved in your pocket when you’re done.
It’s a notepad
Thanks to that large inner display and support for Samsung’s S Pen stylus, the Fold 4 is an excellent device for taking hand-written notes, which are then synced to the cloud and searchable. You can also mark up screen shots or just doodle and make artwork than you can then easily send anywhere. It’s incredibly convenient 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 doesn’t work on the outside 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 a lot of tasks. And I don’t mean you just do those things on the Fold’s screen, I mean you plug it into a desktop monitor and pair a wireless keyboard to it and use it like an actual PC. (You can also use Dex wirelessly with some supported Samsung displays, but if you’re going to be using it for any extended period of time, you’ll want it plugged in for power and the lowest latency.)
Samsung’s had the Dex feature that enables this on its phones for years, but it’s now gotten to the point where it’s far more usable. You can run multiple apps, have control over window sizes and placements, and access an extremely capable web browser that can handle many tabs with ease. And since the Fold 4 is a cellular-connected phone, you can use its built-in internet connection without having to rely 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 holdouts that can be improved — Slack’s interface on a large screen leaves a lot to be desired — there are fewer and fewer areas where Dex doesn’t just do what you expect it to and let you get work done.
Samsung’s Internet browser is particularly good — it’s fast, it 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 produced this entire article in it), or browse sites like Twitter and Feedly, which don’t have great Android app experiences on large screens.
You can pair a wireless mouse to the Fold 4 for cursor control, but it’s easier to just use the Fold’s inner display as a trackpad, complete with multifinger gestures for navigating 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 want them, you can resize them however you’d like, and you can even use keyboard shortcuts to snap windows to the left or right side.
Dex running on the Fold 4 isn’t going to replace a gaming PC and I’d be loathe to use it for heavier tasks like photo and video editing. If you really push the system with lots of running apps and tabs you will hit its performance limits and you’ll certainly see browser tabs reloading more often than on a full desktop OS.
Nor is it as convenient as a laptop that you can just open up and get working on, since it requires accessories like an external display, keyboard, and likely a USB-C hub. But for web browsing, communications, and other “basic” PC tasks with the right set up, it’s surprisingly capable. The best comparison is to ChromeOS — you might use a dedicated app or two while in Dex, but you’ll spend most of your time in the browser doing web-based activities.
And then when I’m done I can simply unplug my phone, fold it closed, shove 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 folding phone design and even the very first one could technically perform many of the same tasks.
But the Fold 4 is able to do all of this better than its predecessors because Samsung has iterated on all of these experiences over the years. Samsung’s typical order of operations is to bring an idea to market that’s good in concept, but lacking in execution, and then relentlessly iterate on it until all the rough edges are sanded away and what’s left is a genuinely good experience.
Having all of these options in a device that can fit in your pocket can’t be understated
Samsung still has work to do, though, including finding ways to make the price more accessible and addressing the concerns of reliability and durability. (I reserve the right to recant any praise for the Fold 4 if the inner screen on mine randomly cracks in the future.) There’s not a lot of competition out there for devices like this, especially in the US, but the few other folding phones that have hit the global market recently have sleeker and thinner designs that Samsung could learn from.
The first Fold felt very much like a proof of concept, but four generations in, the Fold 4 now provides 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 particular task, but it is good at all of them and having all of those options in a device that fits in your pocket can’t be understated. Future iterations (and hopefully some competition from other phone makers) will likely improve it further and perhaps one day we’ll all be carrying such versatile devices in our pockets. But if you want that future today, the Fold 4 is the way to get it.