Trust me, a foldable phone is not a tablet replacement

Open the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 home screen

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

There’s an old saying, “Technology that forgets its history is doomed to repeat it.” That’s not the exact saying, but bear with me. Every few years, a piece of technology is tapped to replace another, no matter how ingrained the original device is in our everyday lives. Tablets came first after laptops. Now, after tablets, comes foldable phones. As someone who has spent time with both big-screen devices, I’m here to put an early end to that idea. A foldable phone is not a replacement for a tablet.

The power of portability

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 Standing Foldable Phone

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4

Unless you have the largest bags in the world, you probably don’t carry a full-size tablet every day. However, thanks to the compact form factor, you can easily carry a foldable phone with you. It acts as a phone for those times you need one, but doubles as a tablet when you’re busy.

I regularly reach for my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 when traveling to a new place. The large display has more than enough space for Chrome and Google Maps to coexist, allowing me to locate a restaurant and browse the menu at the same time. I could multitask the same way with a Galaxy Tab, but then I’m bound to stand out when I’d rather integrate. There’s no discreet way to pull out and check a tablet on a busy sidewalk.

Have you ever tried using a tablet as a GPS? Or as your camera at a children’s concert? Of course I hope not.

Then there’s the matter of the cameras. Foldable phones are coming after, well, phones, while tablets are adding rear cameras just for looks. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 borrows its cameras from the flagship Galaxy S22 Plus, but the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra – Samsung’s top tablet – offers a lens setup on par with the more down-to-earth Galaxy A11. You can use the Fold’s cameras like you would any other smartphone, but if you try to take pictures with the Galaxy Tab, you’ll probably get laughed out of your kid’s gig.

streaming star

Samsung Galaxy Tab A8 Netflix

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

No matter how powerful the foldable phone is, when I want to sit down and stream a movie or TV show, I reach for a tablet. The crease in the middle of a foldable display has nothing to do with it either – it’s all about the aspect ratio here. Where foldable phones offer near-square aspect ratios as a by-product of the foldable rectangular design, tablets welcome the widescreen world with open arms.

Get ready for a lot of numbers, but I promise it will explain how difficult it is to watch a movie on a foldable phone.

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 4 has an internal aspect ratio of 21.6:18, which we round to 5:4 for simplicity. The Galaxy Tab family, on the other hand, offers a 16:10 ratio, which is much wider, as seen above. It’s tuned to modern ratios like 1.85:1 and 2.35:1, so most movies and shows find a way to skip — or at least minimize — the effects of letterboxing.

Letterboxing isn’t everyone’s best friend – especially the Galaxy Z Fold 4.

You can, of course, watch videos on a foldable phone. It’s my first choice when surfing YouTube on the train, but I’m aware of its shortcomings. The Galaxy Z Fold 4 loses up to half of its display to letterboxing — black bars appearing above and below your content — sometimes resulting in an image no larger than that on a Galaxy S22 Ultra or other traditional device. It also doesn’t appear that the Galaxy Z Fold 4 is ready to adapt to aspect ratios where it should shine.

If anything, I thought Robert Eggers’ film The Lighthouse – shot at 1.19:1, or about 4.8:4 if you widen the ratio – would be perfect for The Fold. Instead, you get the following:

Galaxy Z Fold 4 The Lighthouse

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

Right, even thicker black bars, and not just on two sides. The entire movie is nested into an even smaller frame, and squeezing to fill the screen comes at the expense of clarity. On the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra, however, The Lighthouse extends to the top and bottom of the display, ironically resulting in an image that’s almost exactly the size of the Galaxy Z Fold 4. There are still bars to the left and right, but I’ll take the bigger picture each day.

replacement of replacement theory

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 foldable phone lying flat open

Ryan Haines/Android Authority

I am not against tablets nor against foldable phones. What I object to is the idea that one piece of engineering has to replace another point. Tablets and foldables share their strengths, just as tablets and laptops shared some strengths at the peak of their competition. However, they are also unique enough to stand on their own and meet different needs.

Finally, Google developed Android 12L so that both tablets and foldable devices can make the most of their large displays. The taskbar puts the extra real estate feel at your fingertips, and improved app layouts keep you from feeling like you’re using a bloated smartphone. Still, curated software can’t overcome hardware choices. It won’t let the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra’s cameras compete with a phone, and it won’t make a modern widescreen film fit perfectly on a square Galaxy Z Fold 4.

Ultimately, it’s about having the right tool for the job. If I’m going on a road trip or trying to catch up on House of The Dragon in bed, I’ll reach for a tablet. When I’m on the go and need portable multitasking power, the foldable phone has my back. Having multiple big screen devices in our lives, why can’t we all be friends?

Continue reading: Foldable laptops make more sense than foldable phones Trust me, a foldable phone is not a tablet replacement

Chris Barrese

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