Commentary: It would be another sign that the Galaxy Z Fold lineup is replacing the Galaxy Note.
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 just launched in August, but rumors about the Galaxy Z Fold 5 have already surfaced. If a report from Korean news outlet The Elec turns out to be true, one of the Z Fold 5’s biggest upgrades could be the addition of an S Pen slot. It would be a small but important change that addresses one of the Z Fold 4’s shortcomings and cements its place as a successor to the now-extinct Galaxy Note family.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra is Samsung’s Note replacement in a literal sense, considering it has the Note’s signature embedded S Pen and the largest screen of any non-folding Samsung phone. But the Z Fold is the Galaxy Note’s successor when it comes to the purpose it serves in Samsung’s lineup.
More importantly, making the S Pen a more integral part of the Galaxy Z Fold could further define its purpose. While Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold and Z Flip phones have drastically improved over the last two years, foldable phones feel like a solution in search of a problem. Seemingly small changes like the addition of an S Pen port could go a long way in defining exactly who and what the Fold is for. That’s especially true since Samsung is pitching the Z Fold as a productivity-oriented device, as evidenced by new features like the ability to use the bottom half of the phone as a mini trackpad when folded halfway.
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 James Martin/CNET
The Elec’s report doesn’t outright say the Z Fold 5 will have an S Pen slot, but suggests it’s being heavily considered. Samsung reportedly cited the introduction of an S Pen holster as a key challenge that needs to be overcome to make foldable phones more popular, along with making the phone lighter and minimizing the screen’s crease. Samsung did not respond to a request for comment on The Elec’s report.
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Z Fold 3 are both compatible with the S Pen, but the stylus must be purchased separately and there’s no mechanism for attaching it to the device. Embedding the S Pen likely presents a challenge because it would add more thickness to a device that’s already chunkier than the average phone when closed. But in his review, CNET’s Patrick Holland said he wished the pen could at least magnetically stick to the Z Fold 4 the way Apple’s Pencil does with the iPad.
It’s a conundrum that I hope Samsung solves on the Z Fold 5, as The Elec suggests, and not just for convenience’s sake. The Galaxy Note debuted in 2011 and set the stage for today’s large-screened phones in our pockets, and Samsung has similar ambitions for its foldables lineup.
“Just three years ago, this category didn’t even exist,” TM Roh, president and head of Samsung’s mobile experience business, said during the company’s August keynote before announcing the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and Flip 4. “Now we are leading it into the mainstream.”
A more seamless S Pen experience could help it get there, which is important considering foldable phones are only expected to account for 1.1% of global smartphone shipments in 2022, according to the International Data Corporation.
Even without a fully integrated S Pen, the Galaxy Z Fold is increasingly beginning to feel like the new incarnation of the Galaxy Note. The Galaxy Note was never meant to be for everyone; that’s what the Galaxy S lineup is for. Instead, Samsung positioned the Note as an option for those willing to pay a higher price for extras you couldn’t get on most other phones, like a bigger screen, the latest processor and the ability to take handwritten notes.
The Galaxy Z Fold’s story is similar: It comes at a premium price, but does something few other phones can. In a sense, both phones represent Samsung’s attempt at blending the smartphone and tablet experience. The Galaxy Note was sometimes referred to as a “phablet” in the years following its 2011 launch because it had a 5.3-inch screen that was abnormally large for a smartphone at the time. The Galaxy Z Fold is a more modern twist on the same idea.
The Galaxy Note was successful in part because it came at the right time. As smartphones became ubiquitous and the app economy boomed, we began relying on phones for everything from reading the news to playing games, paying bills and hailing a cab. It seems logical that people craved larger screens as they started spending more time on their phones. The Galaxy Note ultimately paved the way for the direction that Samsung’s premium smartphones eventually took, as evidenced by the fact that it was absorbed into the Galaxy S line.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Angela Lang/CNET
Samsung certainly expects its Z-line to fill the gap left by the Note. The company even said on its second quarter earnings call that it wants sales of foldables to surpass those of its Galaxy Note series.
Even though the Galaxy Z Fold is four generations old, it’s unclear whether Samsung will stick with the same approach over the long term for its book-shaped foldable phones. The company showcased new concepts at CES 2022, suggesting Samsung has many ideas for where foldable phones could go in the future. “It’s everything you saw [at CES] plus more,” Samsung’s TM Roh said to CNET in August when asked about upcoming foldable designs.
But getting to the future that Samsung envisions ultimately starts with refining today’s foldables. And for now, that means making refinements to the Z Fold and Z Flip — as small as they may seem — that give these devices a more intentional purpose.