Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

After a trailblazing five-year run in the foldable market, Samsung in 2024 finds itself potentially losing its place on the leaderboard to the likes of Huawei, Honor, Motorola, and others, reports Display Supply Chain (DSCC) of Counterpoint Research.

Besides lower-than-expected sales numbers of the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5, I gave last year’s “Best Foldable Phone” honor to the OnePlus Open, which delivered a better multitasking experience, form factor, and camera performance than Samsung — all while undercutting the Z Fold 5 by $100.

Also: iPhone 16: Three changes I want to see on the next Apple handsets

With the Galaxy Z Fold 6 expected to launch as early as this summer, here are three features that could bring Samsung back to its former glory and keep its competitors fighting for second.

1. Built-in S Pen

S Pen Case for Z Fold 5

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

The biggest selling point of large format foldables has been the increased screen real estate, whether the end user leverages that for consuming content, multitasking with floating windows, or taking notes. Paired with a stylus, you’ve got the most futuristic version of a notebook and pencil. It just makes sense.

Good news: Samsung shares that vision and has made progress in creating an S Pen-supported case for the Z Fold line over the years. Bad news: Requiring an additional case — no matter how much slimmer it’s gotten — to have an always-ready stylus is still too bulky, cumbersome, and pricey to use with a device that’s already more complex than traditional smartphones.

Also: I tried a rollable phone for the first time, and it made even my foldable feel outdated

Though it’s easier said than done, Samsung should embed its S Pen stylus into the Galaxy Z Fold 6, similar to how it’s been done with the Galaxy Note line since 2011. This one feature alone would separate the Galaxy from the rest of the foldables on the market while making the transition for Galaxy S Ultra users — who I’d assume share similar power needs as Z Fold users — much more welcoming. 

2. Wider and lighter form factor

OnePlus Open with Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Google Pixel Fold

The Google Pixel Fold (left), OnePlus Open (middle), and Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 (right).

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

One of the reasons why I prefer the OnePlus Open over the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 is the difference in form factor. The OnePlus has a wider external screen that — when folded — feels more like I’m using a traditional phone. It’s also lighter than the Galaxy at 245 grams versus 253. Together, the reachability of the OnePlus Open, especially when used with one hand, makes the Galaxy Z Fold 5 feel like an ergonomic nightmare.

Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 leak reveals two design upgrades that’ll make Google and OnePlus sweat

With the next model, I’d like to see Samsung experiment with newer aspect ratios, preferably wider and shorter ones that make using the phone require fewer finger gymnastics. I shouldn’t have to stretch my thumb like I’m trying to elongate it in order to reach the logo of a webpage. Having a shorter display also means horizontal videos appear less cropped, with smaller letterboxing (black bars that fill in any gaps on the screen).

3. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 6 Lite

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5

Kerry Wan/ZDNET

For a twist, Samsung should release a “Lite” version of the Galaxy Z Fold 6, putting aside features like a telephoto lens, wireless charging, and under-display camera (which I’ve almost forgotten about); using an older but still competent chipset; maybe even reserving the built-in S Pen for the regular model; and selling it at a fraction of the cost. 

I’m not asking for anything less than $1,000; the Galaxy Z Flip fills that gap, but somewhere around $1,200, nearing the price of the more regular Galaxy S24 Ultra, would make the foldable a more enticing buy.

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