The Samsung Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 are the most normal foldables so far

The Flip and Fold turned a corner last year. Earlier versions of Samsung’s foldable phones were more tech demos than anything else — clunky, very expensive, and too fragile for just anyone to consider against a garden-style plate-style phone. That started to change in August 2021 when Samsung figured out how to make foldable phones waterproof.

This year, Samsung has made some major upgrades that make the foldable line even more equivalent to the S-series flagships. If you pick a Z Fold 4 over the S22 Plus, you won’t have to make as many sacrifices as in the past (except, you know, an extra $800 or so). But there is still a lot to prove whether foldables will really go mainstream.

For starters, screen repairs for the Flip and Fold are slightly cheaper this year, if you subscribe to Samsung’s Care Plus service. Previously, Samsung charged a $249 deductible for repairing a screen on an out-of-warranty Flip or Fold. that is of the $11 per month Care Plus plan. Samsung reduced the deductible this year to match the fee for basic phone screen repairs, so a cracked foldable screen could cost you as little as $29. It’s a small thing, but one less consideration when you have to choose between a foldable and a flat phone.

The camera hardware is also closer to what you get on the major flagships this year. The Fold 3 had a 2x telephoto lens, while the main series S21 Plus offered a 3x zoom. (It was a hybrid 1.1x optical/digital combo, but it was good.) This time things are simpler: The Z Fold 4 has more or less the same rear camera specs as the S22 Plus, including a 3x telephoto lens (which is the usefulness of 2x?) and a main camera of 50 megapixels on the back.

The Fold 4’s rear camera array matches what the S22 Plus offers.
Photo by Allison Johnson / MovieUpdates

There’s another camera feature on this year’s Fold that wasn’t available last year: space zoom, also known as digital zoom. The Fold 4 offers up to 30x digital zoom; the Fold 3 only allowed up to 10x. Sure, it’s no substitute for good old-fashioned optics, but Samsung’s digital zoom technology isn’t bad in a pinch.

So those are a few pain points that have been addressed, but Samsung hasn’t quite reached parity yet. At the very top, there’s the cost. Yes, the $999 Flip 4 costs about the same as the main S22 phones, but it also lacks the telephoto lens. If you want the chicest, most foldable flagship, you’ll have to pay $1799, which is out of reach for many people. It makes the $1199 S22 Ultra look like a steal.

It’s also unclear how the phones will hold up in the long run. There’s the problem of screen protectors coming off, which Samsung has tried to address in the Flip and Fold 4. And as waterproof as they are, neither phone is dustproof. It’s impossible to say how a Fold 3 or 4 will hold up in a few years – is dust intrusion an unavoidable reality after four years of use? And what problems will it cause? We don’t know because this is a brand new product category.

Samsung has to convince us that the unique form factor is worth the extra cost and unknown long-term durability. Not until now. Its foldable devices are the best-selling devices in the game, but the 10 million (ish) units it sold last year still make up a small fraction of the more than 270 million phones it shipped in 2021. Given its tenacious persistence through the Fold’s early problems, though, I’m willing to bet Samsung will keep trying for the foreseeable future.

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