Saturday, February 24, 2024

7 features we want to see in the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4

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Of all the phones that came out in 2021, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 was my favorite. It took the Z Fold 2’s design and added water-resistance, S Pen support, better built-in screen protectors, and a better outer display with a higher refresh rate. But foldables are still a pretty new concept and, as such, there are plenty of things to improve.

Surprisingly, most of the things I want to see improved from the Galaxy Z Fold 3 are not hardware-related changes — although there are still a few improvements I’d love to see. Mostly, though, it’s the software that I want to see improved and refined. Android 12L was made with foldables in mind and I expect those improvements to carry on to foldables that debut in 2022, like the Galaxy Z Fold 4.

Flattening the crease

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There’s little doubt that most Galaxy Fold users — no matter if that’s Galaxy Fold 1, 2, or 3 — would agree that they could go without the giant crease in the middle of their smartphone’s screen. I said the same thing on the Galaxy Z Flip 4 wish list for a reason: that crease needs to go.

The OPPO Find N proved that large foldables don’t have to have a display crease.

While Samsung significantly improved the look and feel of its displays on Z Fold phones over the past few years, the crease itself hasn’t gotten any better. Understandably, the past few years have had Samsung’s engineering team working more on keeping dust and water out of this hinge than anything else, eventually leading to the first real water-resistance rating of IPx8 on the Fold 3.

Now that this has been achieved, I’d love to see Samsung begin working on a hinge that doesn’t leave a crease in the ultra-thin glass when the phone has been opened. The OPPO Find N that was released in China at the end of 2021 proved that larger foldable form-factors can, in fact, eliminate the crease in the same way Motorola did with flip phones on the 2nd-gen Moto RAZR 5G.

This is, obviously, easier said than done. Figuring out where to place all those lovely high-end components and big batteries inside a case and still leave room for a teardrop hinge that eliminates the crease isn’t a simple task. It would have already been done, otherwise. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen as soon as this year, especially given that several other key players have done it — albeit, of course, without the water or dust resistance ratings.

S Pen improvements

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While you could argue that water resistance was the biggest upgrade from its predecessor, I think the Z Fold 3’s biggest improvement was the inclusion of S Pen support. In a year where no new Galaxy Note model debuted, adding S Pen support was the single most important thing Samsung could have done.

The Z Fold 4 should be the phone to take up the Galaxy Note mantle.

Unfortunately, unlike the Galaxy Note, the Z Fold 3 has nowhere to store the S Pen.

That all needs to change with the Z Fold 4 which, in all honestly, should be the phone to take up the Galaxy Note mantle. As a foldable phone that is shaped more like a notebook than anything else, this just makes sense.

Even if it’s just a small divot in the hinge or on the side of the phone with a magnetic clasp, it would behoove Samsung to not only add a place to store the S Pen but also to include one with every Z Fold 4. If we’re going to lean into the Note’s legacy of pushing cutting-edge specs and the next big form factor (literally), Samsung might as well go all the way.

Better cameras

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When you’re spending $1,800 on a new smartphone, the last thing you want to hear is that the device has average cameras. Unfortunately, that’s what the Galaxy Z Fold 3 delivered, despite its eye-watering price.

No one wants to spend $1,800 on a phone with average cameras.

With the Galaxy Z Fold 4, Samsung needs to really step it up a notch with the cameras. While the Galaxy S series has Space Zoom with a minimum of 30x zoom — even the much cheaper models like the Galaxy S21 FE — the Z Fold maxes out at 10x.

To make matters worse, the sensor is only 12MP and the lens tops out at 2x optical zoom, further reducing the quality as you zoom in. We’d love to see Samsung not only increase the sensor size for the Fold 4 — thus, bolstering the digital zoom detail considerably — but also transform the telephoto camera to a periscope style. The Fold 3 already has a camera hump, so why not use the fact to drop bigger, badder sensors and lenses on it?

Easier multitasking

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The Z Fold 3 launched with a slew of new features that focused on making the Fold feel more like a tiny laptop or another personal computing device. This included being able to pin the app tray to any side of the screen, similar to the Start Bar in Windows or the dock in macOS or Chrome OS.

Multitasking on the Fold 3 often feels clumsy. Samsung needs to take cues from OPPO here.

But multitasking was still a bit of a bear if you weren’t dragging from this dock. There’s no easy way to snap windows to sections of the screen from the Overview multitasking screen and it, generally, feels pretty clumsy just trying to open multiple apps at once.

OPPO did a better job making it easy to multitask on the Find N by dragging and dropping app tiles, floating windows, and using multi-finger gestures to get the job done. I’d love to see Samsung adopt similar ideas with the Fold 4 (and previous Folds via a software update) to make this one truly feel like the multitasking powerhouse it should be.

Better app scaling

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With the Galaxy Z Fold 3, Samsung introduced forced scaling for all apps, no matter which screen you viewed them on. That was important since the cover screen and the larger inner screen are completely different sizes and aspect ratios, but it didn’t always translate well in apps like Instagram.

Given that it was a brand new feature, it was easy to forgive Samsung for it not being quite so perfect. The next time around, however, I’d love to see some better handling of scaling for apps. Being able to change scaling on the fly in a simpler way is, probably, the most important thing.

I’d love to be able to quickly swap aspect ratios with a quick three-finger pinch.

Sometimes it’s nice to have an app full-screen for some functions while others might not work as well. Instagram, for instance, is nice to use full-screen while editing photos but looks absolutely terrible full-screen while scrolling through your feed.

Having a quick way to swap between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios for apps — with a quick three-finger pinch, for instance — would be amazing. As it stands right now, you need to go into settings, advanced features, labs, app scaling, then select the individual app to scale. It’s tedious and really just takes too long to get it done.

I’m also hoping that Android 12L and the swath of incoming foldable devices encourage developers to work on better tablet-like interfaces for their apps. Not to beat a dead horse but Instagram, for instance, would benefit immensely from having a desktop or tablet-like interface pulled up when viewed on the large inner screen of the Fold 3.

Battery tweaks

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Since the Fold 3 made its debut in late Summer 2021, I’ve heard plenty of complaints about battery life. While the battery life isn’t bad by any means, it’s not great, either. Samsung shrunk the battery a slight bit when compared to the Z Fold 2 and that minor 100mAh difference can be felt by the end of a long day.

It’s time to increase the charging speed on Galaxy phones so we can quickly top up and forget all about that low battery icon.

The Fold 3, at least, supports pretty fast 25W charging and even wireless charging so you can keep topped-up throughout the day, but it still doesn’t stem the disappointment of having to watch your battery drain more quickly than you’d hoped.

While I’d love to see a larger battery inside the Z Fold 4, something’s got to give. I want S Pen storage and a better hinge that erases the crease, both of which take up precious space inside the Fold’s body. Knowing that, it’s probably not realistic to also hope for a larger battery.

On that note, Samsung could do one of two things. First, introduce additional battery-saving measures out of the box, like having dark mode enabled to take advantage of the OLED display’s ability to individually turn pixels off when they’re displaying true black.

Secondly, Samsung could hop aboard the super-fast charging train. 25W isn’t bad, but it’s not quite the 65W or higher that other flagships have had for some time now. Samsung, it’s definitely time to increase the charging speed on Galaxy phones so we can quickly top up and forget all about that low battery icon.

More control over screens and cameras

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One of my favorite things about the Z Fold 3 is the ability to relatively seamlessly move between the smaller cover screen and the larger inner screen without interrupting what you were doing. If you’ve got an app open on the cover screen and you fold open the phone, the app automatically gets rescaled and, sometimes, even presents a tablet-like version of the app.

I’d really like to have the ability to send content to separate displays at any given point in time and to use any camera that makes sense for the scenario.

But what if you wanted to use both screens at the same time? This function is certainly nuanced, but it could make itself useful in more than one scenario.

While using the camera, for instance, you can use the cover screen as a “preview” window for the main rear camera, but swapping to the selfie camera immediately turns this screen off. While Flex mode is great for group shots, it would be even more convenient if I could use it with the front-facing selfie camera and the cover screen.

Samsung launched Flex Mode alongside the Z Flip 2 since that hinge could stay open when only partly folded, but the uses for this mode are somewhat few and far between.

What I’d really like to see is the ability to send content to separate displays at any given point in time and to use any camera that makes sense for the scenario. It’s a niche request that would make a huge difference when the need arises.

Folding the future up

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Over the years, smartphones have become an inescapable part of our daily lives. Foldable phones — especially ones like the Galaxy Z Fold series — combine two devices in one, giving you the convenience of a smaller smartphone screen on the outside with a giant tablet display once you unfold it.

We fully expect Samsung to launch the Z Fold 4 this Fall and, along with it, a slew of hardware and software improvements. The recent release of Android 12 with One UI 4 on the best Samsung phones was mostly focused on adding colors and new features to all phones in the Galaxy line, but we want to see more foldable-specific improvements with the next big One UI update with the Z Fold 4.

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