This week Samsung went all-in with foldable phones, unveiling its new Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 alongside the Galaxy Watch 4 and Galaxy Buds 2.
But, through all the clambering attempts to show just how great foldable devices are I only had one thought running through my head: how is this any better than a new Galaxy Note?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a well known foldable sceptic, but this thought was properly drilled home at the end of the Fold’s launch when Samsung started talking about the new phone’s S Pen stylus support.
To catch up anyone that missed the initial news, the Fold 3 is a phone that does what it says on the tin. It has a custom folding screen that lets you use it as a regular phone or tablet. The new version is the first to feature S Pen support, with Samsung selling two optional versions of the stylus as extras.
Specifically, there is a larger Pro version that supports Bluetooth and works across all supported Galaxy phones and then a smaller Z Fold 3-exclusive one that doesn’t support Bluetooth.
On paper, this sounds like a match made in heaven. I can personally attest to the productivity benefits of having a stylus on a tablet, having used multiple Surface devices and Apple iPads with Pencils over the years.
Even on the Galaxy Note phones, which I’ve conceded were too small to fully utilise the stylus effectively, had some great uses for it. All too often I’d use the S Pen to manage Excel sheets, or jot down shopping lists when out and about reviewing one of the phones. But, for me, the Fold doesn’t have the chops to really make the most of the S Pen for two reasons.
First, because whichever one you get is superfluous as the Fold 3 doesn’t have any way to dock the pens without investing in a separate case, which will make the already chunky phone even thicker and more cumbersome to use. I can also guarantee, based on my experience with the Apple iPad and Pencil, that the S Pen will go walkies fairly fast.
Numerous times I’ve grabbed my iPad thinking I’d spend some time sketching in Procreate, only to realise I have no clue where I’ve left the stylus. The same game of check under the sofa cushions to locate the missing pen will inevitably happen with the Fold 3.
Then there’s the screen. Sure it’s bigger, which will likely make it better in some instances. And yes it has impressive specs, featuring a variable refresh rate 120Hz OLED panel. But there’s one big problem: the aspect ratio makes it distinctly square.
This is problematic for a variety of reasons, chief of which is that most Android apps aren’t optimised correctly for the Fold’s screen. On top of that most digital painting and photo editing work is done on rectangular canvases, so a square isn’t exactly ideal.
I also can’t see Krita or Adobe tweaking their services to run properly on the aspect ratio just for the Galaxy Fold.
This is why, despite feeling Samsung never 100% nailed the Note, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sorrow at the Galaxy Note 21’s absence during the event.
Here’s hoping the line returns in 2022 with a new bigger and better Note that finally does the S Pen justice.
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