Samsung and fans still can't agree on where the S Pen should live but there's only one right answer

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Slim S Pen Case for Z Fold 5 angled
Samsung Slim S Pen Case on the Galaxy Z Fold 5 with the S Pen to one side (Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

With July's Samsung Unpacked now out of the way, we've been presented with a septet of new mobile products, including the company's latest top-shelf foldable, the Galaxy Z Fold 5, which despite maintaining the S Pen support of its predecessors, still doesn't give the company's signature stylus a place to call home; a conundrum the fans and Samsung itself can't cook up a consistent solution for.

The introduction of S Pen support on 2021's Galaxy Z Fold 3 was a surprise addition that marked the final nail in the coffin for the Galaxy Note line as a standalone product series. Even just one year later, Note branding had all but faded from Samsung's product marketing, only living on in the form of the Samsung Notes app, but the S Pen itself endured.

Even though the addition of stylus support is unquestionably impressive on a display that also has to accommodate an under-display camera and has to fold in half when stowed, Samsung maintains that the feature should be viewed as an optional extra, it would seem. The same year that the Fold 3 gained S Pen support, so too did the Galaxy S21 Ultra, marking the end of an era for Samsung's once class-leading Galaxy Note line. Unlike the Note series, however, in both cases, the Ultra and the Fold supported S Pens but didn't offer a place to put them, save for an included adhesive sleeve that you could stick... somewhere or specialized cases that had them jutting out the side.

One year on and Samsung realized that if it wanted people to enjoy the benefits of using the S Pen, the stylus needed to be more convenient and accessible – a problem the Galaxy Note series had already solved, so well in fact that they simply reworked the design for the S22 Ultra and its subsequent successor, this year's S23 Ultra, with both phones once again making room for an S Pen that slots in and out of the bodywork of the phone itself.

Making a case for the S Pen

For the Folds, meanwhile, Samsung continues to refrain from making any such allowance. You could purchase the 'Galaxy Z Fold 3 Flip Cover with Pen' for $79.99 at launch and that added protection for your pricey new foldable while also integrating an S Pen slot along the spine of the phone, meaning you couldn't readily lay it down on a flat surface without removing the cover first. The following year the equivalent case for the Z Fold 4 – the 'Standing Cover with Pen' moved the S Pen to the back of the phone, with the option to swap out the holster for a detachable kickstand that meant you could once again lay your Fold flat with the case on, provided the S Pen wasn't attached; highlight just how awkward external S Pen placement is on the Fold line.

And now we come to 2023's Galaxy Z Fold 5 and the 'Slim S Pen Case for Z Fold 5' (pictured) which launches alongside it. This year's Fold-compatible S Pen is 40 percent thinner than previous iterations and now latches into the back half of the case with a significantly lower profile, however, the hard case itself still adds considerable bulk, negating the main design improvement Samsung has managed to bring to the Fold 5's profile this year (the company has finally eliminated the gap when the phone is closed, so the two halves now sit flat and perfectly parallel to one another), not to mention you lose that kickstand functionality that last year's case offered.

Fans are divided on the S Pen's place too

It's clear that the members of the Galaxy Z Fold's design team are clearly scratching their heads year after year figuring out new ways to integrate the S Pen without physically integrating the S Pen and it's a puzzle that tipster IceUniverse also raised with his followers as a vote, with interesting results.

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While the crowd were generally divided, it seems that the majority think a truly integrated S Pen is, in fact, the way to go and while Ice Universe's original query was more about the unreleased Galaxy S24 Ultra, it was framed through the lens of the Z Fold 5's current implementation.

Beyond casting votes, some of the several hundred followers who voted even gave reasons as to why Samsung's case-based S Pen solutions just haven't satisfied users to date. User @Igorlt said, "that's one of the reasons I stop[ped] using my Fold 4," while user @NicoBolaz stated, "I'm not using those ugly ass cases and they're bulkier. So no."

Other users criticized being required to buy a case in order to have the S Pen readily available at all times, with some explaining that they then can't use any other case that suits their style or preferences, while other users simply don't want a case at all.

Adding the S Pen would fix the Fold's longest-standing issue

So right now, despite Samsung's efforts, the S Pen remains an awkward additional accessory that's required in order to benefit from one of the foldable's most unique selling points.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Slim S Pen Case for Z Fold 5 top down angled

The Slim S Pen Case for the Z Fold 5 tries to solve the ongoing issue of where to house the S Pen stylus. (Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

There's an obvious solution here, however, ape the transition made from the S21 Ultra to the S22 Ultra and beyond, by making a cavity for the S Pen inside the body of the next Galaxy Z Fold, doing so would make the phone larger, sure, but is that actually a bad thing?

Not only would users finally have an ever-ready S Pen to hand, but since its creation, the Fold series has always sported an oddly tall and narrow aspect ratio – especially when closed – makes the usage of some every apps awkward. While they may not be as svelte by comparison, broader book-style foldables like the Oppo Find N2 and Google Pixel Fold have been praised for the comfort and familiarity the more squat proportions of their folded down forms present to users and for the greater user experience this offers up to apps.

Whether you're still sold on the separate S Pen experience of the newly-launched Fold 5 or you aren't in the market for the foldable's stylus at all, and just want the company's shiny new phone, check out our rundown of the best Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Flip 5 deals to nab one for yourself.

Alex Walker-Todd
Senior Phones Editor

Alex joined as TechRadar's Senior Phones Editor in June 2022, but brings over a decade's worth of experience to the role, with an expertise in smartphones, tablets and wearables. He's covered keynotes hosted by the biggest brands and attended the launches for some of the most influential mobile products of the last few years. His experience was amassed at some of the most reputable consumer technology publications out there, including GSMArena, TechAdvisor and Trusted Reviews.