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With no real competition, Samsung is already coasting on its foldable lineup
Samsung holds almost all the cards in the world’s foldable phone market. Its dominant 88% market share is just a roll away from building hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. However, like an overconfident Monopoly player, Samsung seems content to let its competition take another trip around the board before it bankrupts them. An ill-timed trip to jail or an unfortunate chance card could spoil the lead, but Samsung is willing to risk it. It’s coasting on the strength of its foldable lineup, and it’s about time for some real competition.
Skip a turn
After two generations as wildly expensive, niche products, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Galaxy Z Fold 3 made foldable phones into household names. It was rare to see a foldable in the wild before 2021, but they’ve slowly started trickling into everyday life. Updated designs and (slightly) more approachable price points lead the charge, along with a healthy dose of nostalgia. That charge brought the Galaxy Z Flip 3 to the top, with the Z Fold 3 on its tail.
Now, we have the fourth generation on our hands. Samsung announced its Galaxy Z Flip 4 and Galaxy Z Fold 4 as part of its August 2022 Unpacked event, though you’d be forgiven for the sense of déjà vu. The builds are more durable than ever, with Armor Aluminum and Gorilla Glass Victus Plus throughout, yet both foldables appear almost entirely unchanged from their predecessors. The internals are improved, thanks to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1, though it would be fair to expect an annual processor upgrade no matter how large the update.
Samsung's minor updates maintain its place atop the foldable standings, but they don't strengthen its grip.
Perhaps the most significant upgrade in the latest pair of foldables is the Galaxy Z Fold 4’s new camera array. It now sports the same set of shooters as the Galaxy S22 and Galaxy S22 Plus, a nice change from the 12MP trio of years past. The new cameras ensure support for Samsung’s Expert RAW app, but you won’t find the same love for the Flip. It’s stuck with a pair of 12MP lenses and no real zoom option to speak of.
Samsung’s modest updates improve the world’s most popular foldable phones, yet they largely ignore the main issues. After all, the modest cameras were never the top complaint for the advanced form factors. Instead, the glaring, obvious crease gets much of the hate. Unfortunately, it’s still there. Your mind can ignore it — much like Samsung has — but it’s bound to be the first thing anyone asks you about when they see you have a folding phone. It’s a worthy question, too, as the crease is directly related to one of the other lingering flaws: the hinge.
Samsung's rivals are well on their way to eliminating the hinge gap altogether.
The hinge has always been an important piece of Samsung’s puzzle. It has to be durable enough to put up with everyday use yet slim enough so as not to bulge in your pocket. With that, there’s always been a gap between the halves of the folding panel. It’s meant to allow dust and fine particles to tumble from one side to the other without damaging the display, yet Samsung’s top rivals are well on their way to eliminating the gap altogether.
Instead of rolling doubles to finish the game, Samsung is sitting comfortably in Just Visiting and watching the rent money roll in (alright, that might be a house rule). It’s working for now — at least until the other players start catching up.
Samsung has most of the properties, but there are a few neglected railroads left for its competitors to carve out their own rival empires. None of Xiaomi, Oppo, or Huawei has landed the perfect roll yet, but each one feels like it has a chance to make up some ground.
Take Oppo’s Find N, for example. It sports a wide, stout design in place of Samsung’s tall, thin form factor. The external display feels usable as a standalone device instead of a simple complement to the larger screen that hides inside. It even draws from the sleek, spacey design of the Find X5 Pro — one of our favorites from the last year. The Find N folds nearly flat, and we could barely detect a crease during our time with the device. Of course, the Find N’s limited availability — it’s next to impossible to get in the US — sharply limits its potential as a rival to Samsung’s worldwide distribution.
Each of Samsung's foldable rivals has a fatal flaw, namely availability, allowing the top dog to coast to the finish.
Xiaomi’s own next-generation foldable, the Mix Fold 2, broke cover in China almost immediately after Samsung’s announcement. Like Oppo’s offering, the Mix Fold 2 is designed with an external display large enough to stand independently. Xiaomi even found a way to make its foldable thinner than the Galaxy Z Fold 4, though it misses out on an IPX8 rating as well as a rival to Samsung’s Flex mode. It also suffers from limited availability outside of China, strictly limiting where it can do battle with its Galaxy foe.
Finally, there’s Huawei with its Mate X series. Obviously, its main limitation is the lack of access to Google’s services and Android apps. The company’s devices have to turn to an in-house (and so far inauspicious) solution in Harmony OS 2. However, the Mate Xs 2 is the main foldable bearing the “outie” torch in a world where most would rather look inward. Instead of an internal and an external display, it offers just one massive panel that stretches to 7.8 inches when unfolded.
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Samsung’s rivals have their advantages. Like a well-stocked crew of Monopoly tokens — one with a stack of cash, one with a “Get out of Jail Free” card, and one with just enough luck to get by — each can strike a blow against the leading player. However, as long as their availability remains limited, Samsung has to feel like its lead is unassailable. Even Motorola has shifted its latest Razr to a China exclusive instead of testing Samsung’s resolve.
A few more turns and the Galaxy Z Fold and Galaxy Z Flip could be the only properties left. Unless some real competition comes along, we might have to get used to Samsung coasting a little bit longer.