Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: How it started and how's it going

Desk setup with Xreal Air 2, Galaxy Z Fold 5, and Mokibo keyboard
(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)
Beyond the Alphabet

Android Central's LLoyd with a projection with a Google logo

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Beyond the Alphabet is a weekly column that focuses on the tech world both inside and out of the confines of Mountain View.

The year is already more than halfway over, and with that, we're nearing the launch of Samsung's latest foldable phones. Here in the States, Samsung continues to reign supreme with the Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip lineup, even with Motorola and OnePlus providing some pretty tempting alternatives. The Galaxy Z Fold 5 has been on the market for nearly a year, offering welcome improvements over its predecessors. Yet, as plenty more foldables reach consumers, the Z Fold 5 remains one of our favorites.

As we near the presumed launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 6, we thought it would be a good time to reflect on how the past year with the Fold 5 has gone.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: Design and displays

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 in flex mode

"From a surface level, the Fold 5 looks identical to the Fold 4. That quickly changes the moment you hold its thinner, lighter chassis though. It's clear this form factor is the best design on the market at the moment, even with the weird aspect ratio."

There are a lot of reasons for the Galaxy Z Fold 5 being as divisive as it is. Arguably, the biggest reason is the overall design, with the cover screen being about as long and barely wider than a King Size Snickers bar. The screen itself is about as good as it gets, with its 120Hz variable refresh and peak brightness of 1,750 nits.

However, it's quite a bit more narrow than practically any other smartphone out there, let alone the best foldable phones. It's something that I've flip-flopped between, seeing as it's perfect for one-handed usage or doom-scrolling social media.

It's even fine for responding to messages or emails in a pinch. However, the moment that you want to try and do anything else, you'll either think twice or need to unfold it to reveal the inner screen. It's a stark contrast to the way of thinking when using the OnePlus Open and its Cover Screen that is more like a phone on its own.

Picture frame in StandBy Mode Pro on Z Fold 5

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

After swapping between the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and the OnePlus Open for the past nine months, I think I've settled on wanting something in the middle. A Cover Screen that's still great for one-handed usage but is wide enough to do anything besides the most basic of tasks.

As for the inner screen, my biggest complaint remains the fact that Samsung's display is looking a bit outdated. It's not as bad as the Pixel Fold, but after using the OnePlus Open, it's clear that Samsung has some work to do. Not to mention the improvements that Vivo and others have been making to reduce the crease.

It's one thing when you're using the inner screen just to browse the web, watch a movie, or read a book. However, I've actually stopped reaching for my S Pen as much simply because I feel as though I have to use it on one half of the screen or the other. Trying to split the uprights results in just hopping over it all together to avoid even touching the crease.

"This display is simultaneously more vision-friendly thanks to the addition of more accessibility options, but folks sensitive to flickering lights or displays will have an even harder time using this due to the slow flicker rate and high brightness."

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5's flickering AMOLED display captured at high speed

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Although PWM issues don't affect me when it comes to using different types of displays, that's not the case for everyone. My colleague Nick Sutrich has done an absolutely phenomenal job at shedding light on this problem.

So, while Samsung might be able to tout that the Galaxy Z Fold 5 has one of the best displays, some of its potential customers can't even look at them. Unfortunately, this is the category that Nick falls into, as using certain screens for just minutes results in him feeling nauseous, leaving him with a splitting headache, or both.

The reason why I call this out is that despite his own attempts to find answers, he's largely been left "on read." It wasn't until recently that phone makers even started mentioning PWM rates. However, Samsung is not one of them, and from where I stand, it sure seems like these companies don't care. Instead, it feels as though companies are okay with losing a sliver of their potential customer base as opposed to actually solving the problem.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: Performance and battery life

Playing Minecraft on a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 using a GameSir X2 controller

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

"Samsung absolutely nailed both battery life and performance with this phone. It easily lasts into the second day on a single charge and the performance never falters, even when playing graphically-intense games for long periods of time. Plus, it doesn't even get hot."

What more can you really ask for when it comes to a device that's as fast and as powerful as pretty much anything else? Although the software section comes next, it's not like we're stuck in the TouchWiz days when every update would result in tremendous slowdowns.

To me, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is as fast and fluid today as it was when it first arrived in my mailbox. It's more than capable when it comes to mobile gaming, including Nintendo Switch and PS2 emulation. And when paired with a controller like the Razer Kishi Ultra or GameSir G8 Galileo, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is the "Super Switch" we've been hoping for.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 Cover Screen in tree

On the flip side, I can't say the same about the battery. Although my day-to-day life is much different compared to when the Galaxy Z Fold 5 was released, it's almost impossible to make it through an entire day. For reference, my day begins between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., and I'm usually not in bed until around 1 a.m.

That's a long day, for sure, and it's probably asking too much for a phone to be able to keep up with my needs. But I find myself needing to make decisions about what I want to do on my phone. Other times, I'll go to turn on the smart lights in my bedroom only to find that it's just given up the goose for the day.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: Software

Split-screen multitasking on Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

"No company makes better foldable phone software than Samsung. Even with the handful of small improvements this year, Samsung is miles ahead of the competition."

I can't help but feel that Nick's sentiments couldn't be summed up any better. Even after spending a lot of time with the OnePlus Open, there's just something that "clicks" with the Fold 5. The multitasking interface works more in line with how my brain works.

While Google continues to work on its own desktop-like interface, I have little doubt that Samsung DeX will remain supreme for a while. Really, the only thing that could change that is Samsung itself, as it's already been tinkering with DeX on tablets. I'm just hoping to see DeX left alone, giving people the option to use it as an all-in-one computing device.

My only real gripe in this department is rather mundane. I just wish Samsung would bake the "Theme Park" plugin from Good Lock into OneUI. Then, make it so icon packs automatically update whenever a new app is installed. All in an effort to get rid of the "squircle" icon that seems to be the inspiration for the rumored Galaxy Watch Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy AI

(Image credit: Samsung)

This brings me to the subject of software and feature updates for Samsung's flagship foldable. Google and Samsung are pretty much neck-and-neck when it comes to releasing regular updates for their devices, and the Galaxy Z Fold 5 has been no different.

The bigger question came following the Galaxy S24 Ultra launch, complete with Samsung's new "Galaxy AI" feature set. Not every feature from the Ultra has come to the Fold 5, simply due to the lack of the NPU paired with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy.

However, One UI 6.1 brought a bunch of new features, including Generative Edit, Instant Slow-Mo, Note Assist, Google's Circle to Search, and more. All of these features are cloud-based, ensuring that Fold 5 owners don't miss out on too much. So while a few features are still limited to the Galaxy S24, that likely won't be the case with the Galaxy Z Fold 6. At least, we hope. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: Cameras

Taking a photo with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5's telephoto camera

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

"The Galaxy Z Fold 5's camera has been marginally improved over the Z Fold 4's, but the improvements just don't feel like enough for an $1,800 phone in 2023. Thankfully, video recording quality is excellent and overall photo quality still feels good enough in most cases."

There's nothing inherently wrong with the cameras on the Galaxy Z Fold 5. They produce solid images, provided that the conditions are right or you're okay with using the Expert RAW app. Many of the same features found in other Samsung phones are also found here. And following the launch of the Galaxy S24, even more features are trickling down.

Both the inner and outer selfie cameras are fine, and get the job done, as long as you only want to snap a quick selfie. You can pretty much say the same thing about the rear camera setup.

But if you're even halfway serious about photography, why would you spend more money to buy the Galaxy Z Fold 5 over the Galaxy S24 Ultra? The former starts at $1,799 and only includes 256GB of storage. Meanwhile, if you max out the latter, you'll enjoy 1TB of storage, save yourself $140, AND have arguably the best cameras in a smartphone (at least here in the States.)

The camera viewfinder on the outer display of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The only conclusion that I can come to for getting the Galaxy Z Fold 5 is being able to use it without a tripod. As long as you have a level surface, the Fold 5 doubles as its own tripod.

On a recent family trip, we wanted to take a group picture before we left the rental property. I tried using my iPhone 15 Pro Max, but as soon as I thought it was steady and level, the phone started to fall. Despite having an inferior camera, I grabbed my Fold 5, propped it open, set a timer, and jumped into the frame. It didn't fall, and I could easily get everything set up thanks to the split-pane interface in the Camera app.

It wasn't a picture that was going to win any awards, but it offered a level of convenience that you just can't find on slab phones. The bigger problem arises in those times when you want a crisp and detailed photo, only to find that part of the picture gets blown out on the Fold 5 when that wouldn't be the case on the iPhone or Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: Is it still worth buying?

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 folded on patio ledge

(Image credit: Andrew Myrick / Android Central)

Rumors and leaks for the Galaxy Z Fold 6 seemingly reveal that Samsung is kind of giving up on foldables. The only two expected changes come in the form of a spec bump and a slight redesign. It appears as though everything else will remain the same.

Making the decision more difficult is that outside of carrier and trade-in deals, Samsung is still selling the unlocked Galaxy Z Fold 5 for its full retail price. Suffice it to say that if you spent the money today on Fold 5 without knowing that Fold 6 is around the corner, you'd probably be a little unhappy.

A Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 running YouTube Music next to a Greygreen Galaxy Z Fold 4

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

If it were my money, I'd wait for Samsung to officially announce the Galaxy Z Fold 6 before making a decision. Not only will we have concrete information, but Samsung also has a tendency to offer some mind-boggling trade-in promotions when new flagship phones are announced.

I also wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a bit of a "delay" between the announcement and when the Fold 6 arrives in stores. That should give you enough time to make a decision. While ultimately, it's your money and your decision, I'd probably still avoid buying the Galaxy Z Fold 5 in favor of the Fold 6.

Andrew Myrick
Senior Editor - Chromebooks and tablets

Andrew Myrick is a Senior Editor at Android Central. He enjoys everything to do with technology, including tablets, smartphones, and everything in between. Perhaps his favorite past-time is collecting different headphones, even if they all end up in the same drawer.