The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 currently holds the 'best foldable phone' title in its grip - but it's a weak grip, that looks set to break very soon if the company doesn't strengthen it with its next gen foldable.
When the latest foldable Samsung phone came out in August 2021, we heaped it with loads of praise, and as the bending-phone market was anemic at that time it easily took our top spot in our rankings.
However, the next model, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4, can't just be an iterative update in 2022 - that's because the foldable phone market is changing, and Samsung might not be able to keep up.
Was the Galaxy Z Fold 3 really that good?
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is still at the top of our 'best foldable phones' list, but that doesn't mean it actually is the best in the world.
To add a phone to one of our 'best' lists, it has to be available in TechRadar's core regions: the United States, the United Kingdom or Australia. Samsung sells its devices in many regions around the world, so its Galaxy Z Fold 3 easily ticks those boxes.
Lots of devices don't launch globally though, so a product might get launched but never make its way into our buying guides. That's been the case with a lot of foldable phones, especially as some are limited to China.
The recently-launched Honor Magic V has a bigger screen and better chipset than the Z Fold 3. The Oppo Find N, which we tested out, has a much less obvious screen seam than the Z Fold 3, which makes for a dramatically better user experience.
Those two phones compete with the device closely, because they have the same form factor of smartphones that fold out into mini-tablets, but we've seen some exciting clamshell foldables too. These are phones that fold down to be easily-carryable or slip into a pocket.
The Huawei P50 Pocket, for example, has an impressive Super Spectrum camera, which sounds fantastic for artistic photography.
If the above smartphones had released globally, Samsung might not hold the top spot in our ranking - as it stands, it wins by default, for being the best phone our readers can buy. That's a rather hollow victory.
We've tested some, but not all, of the above foldable phones. When we used the Oppo Find N, the lack of a screen crease on the main display made the phone feel so much smoother to use, and we'd would potentially recommend it as the best foldable if it launched in our regions.
If I am a consumer who doesn't know anything about folding mobile phones, among these mobile phones, I don't like Fold3. Unfortunately, its design has fallen behind. pic.twitter.com/CdiCtWIev3January 10, 2022
Don't just take our word for it - popular leaker Ice Universe (opens in new tab) is very outspoken on Samsung's phones, and most recently called out the Z Fold 3 for being the worst-designed of the recent foldables.
While Samsung has previously benefitted from the limited availability of foldables from other companies, it can't rest on its laurels forever - sooner or later, one of these phones is going to launch worldwide.
What can the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 do?
The aforementioned foldable phones are just the vanguard of many more to come.
In the case of Honor and Oppo, they're debut devices, and other rumored foldable phones include more first-timers like the iPhone Flip, Google Pixel Fold, Realme GT Fold, and ones from TCL and Vivo, as well as follow-up foldables like the Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 and Motorola Razr 2022.
So Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 4 can't be an iterative update on the Z Fold 3, with improved cameras, a newer chip and some other changes. It's going to take lots of work for the company to keep up.
The most necessary improvement, which we'd put at the #1 spot in Samsung's to-do list (and also underline several times, and circle in red pen, and possibly highlight it for good measure) is the screen crease.
All foldable phones have creases in the screen, which is where they fold when you close the device - it's only natural due to the form factor. However, not all screen creases are equal.
Some foldable displays have subtle creases, which are really hard to notice, and only become apparent if you're looking for them... and then there's Samsung. Z Fold and Z Flip phones have very obvious creases, which at best are annoying, and at worst ruin the experience of using the device.
Samsung needs to fix its screen crease problem pronto, because its rivals are putting out phones that are much better in this respect.
That's not the only problem with its phone design though - just look at the image we shared earlier from Ice Universe. The Z Fold 3 is noticeably very long and thin, with a chunky bezel around the edge - it really looks like it needs to get a good night sleep and eat a bit healthier.
In comparison, the other phones have much more premium-looking designs.
While design is our main issue with the Galaxy Z Fold 3, the Fold 4 could do even more to be competitive. We'd love to see an affordable foldable phone, and while that doesn't mean we're expecting a device that's as cheap as your average budget smartphone, it'd be great to see a flagship foldable for a more affordable price than the Z Fold 3's asking cost.
There's so much that competitors are doing in the camera, charging speed and software spaces too, that Samsung also needs to keep up with if the Z Fold 4 is going to be competitive.
The Galaxy Z Fold 4 needs to be a huge step up from its predecessor if Samsung is going to keep its neck in the foldable game - the company can't keep relying on the limited availability of its rivals' devices forever, especially if Apple and Google are working on devices too.