For the last 18 months or so I’ve been using a OnePlus 8T and Microsoft Surface Duo. As of this writing, I’m now using a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 4 as my only device. Why?
Because Samsung got it right when it comes to an adaptable device.
This quote, unquote phone is a phone, tablet and laptop for me. It is a converged form of every mobile device I’ve used to date, including a laptop.
I’ve watched, patiently, while Samsung slowly and steadily worked their way towards this destination of foldable phones that can also be a tablet or laptop. With the Z Fold 3 they crossed into ’that will be my next device’ territory and I was 100% correct in this assessment.
When my OnePlus 8T and Surface Duo got their Android 13 updates, all hell broke loose and most, if not all of the advanced features I used the devices for, stopped working well enough to be useful to me. These advanced features were my primary life-hacks for accessibility and being able to get a lot of my day to day needs accomplished. Key among them: being able to have an ultra portable laptop that did not require me to keep a 2nd, full compute environment up to date at all times.
As soon as I lost my true utility and accessibility with the OnePlus 8T and Surface Duo, it was game over and I started shopping. I started with the Samsung offerings and stuck to them for a key reason: they have a desktop mode called DEX that actually works and has worked well enough since their Android 11 or 12 release based on the reviews I skimmed. They also have support for dual SIM via eSIM and nano SIM being present on some devices like the Z Fold series. These were critical factors for me. I can have both my T-Mobile and ATT lines on a single device that I know will have a solid desktop environment available.
For the desktop bit, the Z Fold 4 works amazing. DEX is what desktop Android should feel like and this device is perfect for my Death of the Laptop needs (link to more detail). It’s a good desktop environment that’s lean but useful and I love using this as a laptop. It fits the needs I layout in the previously linked blog post wonderfully.
For the tablet bit, everything I put forth in my “Digital Coloring and Drawing” post (link) holds up and I had to update the post to include more info as the Z Fold 4 works better than the Surface Duo for my approach to drawing, coloring and handwriting. I’m not super duper fond of the S Pen Fold as it can be a little fiddly but on the whole it works, gives me a competent hardware stylus and gets out of my way. I’ve spent more time in Krita and Sketchbook since I received the Z Fold 4 than I had in the last 12 months combined. It’s been lovely getting back into basic coloring and Zentangle.
For the phone bit, I really like the narrow display. Reviews tend to bitch about it but I think it’s great. I don’t have long thumbs and on this device I actually use the ‘full’ keyboard option instead of the ‘right handed’ one in SwiftKey (my preferred keyboard on Android). It’s also slightly tall so you have some wiggle room to move the keyboard up from the bottom of the screen for an easier one handed hold. Aside from that a few apps can be goofy about the narrow nature of the screen but they do work and are rare. Plus when you fold open the screen most apps will be able to use the bigger display and you can get more info if you desire.
They did a really great job making this a cohesive experience and making some quirks with resizing apps less painful. For example: if an app doesn’t say it can be resized, it won’t try to auto-size the app and instead will stop it so you can resume the app on the new screen in a way that forces it to resize without getting glitchy. It’s not perfect but it works really well day to day. They also took the DEX UI bits for window splits and made it a first order support option for the tablet display. You can very easily slice and dice windows in tablet mode. Even better is the unfolded display is 2x as big as the phone screen so you get consistent window sizes by default when doing splits.
One major downside of having a converged setup is that if I’m inside full screen apps I use for drawing, writing my blog posts and reading… whenever someone sends me a message I have to more strongly context switch. I can’t just grab the other device and respond like I could when using 2 devices. I now have to flip between two apps. If I’m drawing that also means flipping one hand from stylus use to the on-screen keyboard. This can be super annoying at times with async chat. It does, however, speak to the more focused nature of what I’m trying to accomplish at times. In the end I expect to spend some time thinking about how to better manage notifications so I can better choose when to engage rather than be interrupted to engage. Especially with async chat that I maintain with a number of humans.
Another downside that I’m still looking into is that the DEX screen is zoomed out super far in some apps. The fonts are absolutely tiny and near impossible to read on a 1080p screen. This rarely happens in my experience and I have a hunch there is a config somewhere I need to change. So far the only app that has been 100% a problem is JuiceSSH. All the other apps I’ve been using lately like Termux, Remote Desktop and Firefox have reasonable font sizing or options for zoom that solve the issue.
Despite these downsides, I’m a huge fan of the device. It does exactly what I said we’d get back in 2003: a computer ‘brain’ that hooks up to varied human interface devices and we just move that around instead of having 10 different things scattered across our desk.
Yes, individual and specialized kit is very important if you have a need. However, most of us don’t have that kind of need day to day and a converged device like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold does exactly what we need. Day to day.
This device is my phone, tablet and laptop. That’s amazing and allows me a degree of accessibility and freedom I only recently achieved (see my “Death of the Laptop” post linked above for when and more detail). Being able to maintain that freedom and gain more accessibility has been great.
This quote unquote phone facilitates a lot, it’s worth considering if the above sounds similar to your desires.