Samsung may not produce a cheaper Galaxy Z Fold model this year — why that's a missed opportunity

 Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5.

Can you be in mourning for a product that may not have ever existed? I may will find out with the Galaxy Z Fold 6 FE, the rumored lower-cost version of Samsung's flagship foldable that may have been scrapped before it ever saw the light of day.

Here's what we know. Samsung is most definitely working on a Galaxy Z Fold 6, the next entry in the Z Fold lineup, and that model will likely debut over the summer — quite possibly as soon as July 10 at a not-yet-announced Galaxy Unpacked event. Initial reports surrounding the Z Fold 6 suggested that a lower cost version was also in the works, which some had taken to calling the Galaxy Z Fold 6 FE. (Samsung has a habit of sticking FE at the end of product names when it comes out with a scaled-down version that's a bit cheaper than its namesake — see the Galaxy S23 FE as an example.)

The notion of a lower-cost foldable from Samsung certainly fits within the company's own stated goal of making foldable devices more mainstream. One of the biggest roadblocks to that happening remains the price that phone makers charge for foldable devices.

Finding the right price for foldables

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 Flex mode video call
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 Flex mode video call

Samsung has done a remarkable job making the flip phone-style Galaxy Z Flip phones more affordable, as you can now grab a Galaxy Z Flip 5 for a little less than $1,000. But the Fold, which opens up like a book to reveal a larger screen inside — hasn't really budged on price. It's still a lofty $1,799. The one consolation for Samsung is that the Fold's competitors aren't that much cheaper — the OnePlus Open is listed at $100 less than Samsung's device, while the Pixel Fold from Google costs the same.

The Galaxy Z Fold 6 FE was going to change that. Rumors suggested the phone would drop support for Samsung's S Pen and feature a lesser processor, display and battery specs than the regular Galaxy Z Fold 6. If that sounds like a lot to give up, the rumored price may well be worth it. One report claimed Samsung was shooting to sell its scaled-down Fold for less than $800.

Such a price would certainly put foldable phones in the hands of more people. While some people may not want to settle for a phone with lesser specs, others would happily make that trade-off. As an example, I tested the Motorola Razr (2023) last year. And while that flip phone certainly made some changes from the more expensive Razr Plus — most notably a much smaller cover display — I didn't find them so significant as to overshadow the $300 difference in price.

Alas, it seems like the notion of a sub-$1,000 Galaxy Z Fold was too beautiful a dream to exist in this cruel world. A recent report in The Elec claimed Samsung was re-evaluating its foldable phone plans. Apparently the phone maker was having a hard time making the phone thin enough to compete with rival devices out of China. Other concerns about product differentiation and market uncertainties may have sunk the Galaxy Z Fold 6 FE as well.

If you want to find a ray of hope in that report, it may only reflect Samsung's plans for this year, and not a permanent decision to stop pursuing cheaper foldable devices. Samsung could always revisit an FE or Lite version of the Galaxy Z Fold in the future. But I think Samsung's missing an opportunity if it doesn't get more aggressive about adding more accessible foldables to its lineup.

The case for a cheaper Galaxy Z Fold

Galaxy Z Fold 6 render
Galaxy Z Fold 6 render

It's not my place to tell Samsung its business. Executives there have the spreadsheets and forecasts that tell them whether or not a cheaper version the Galaxy Fold is a good bet. But I do know that in the past year, a lot of different phone makers have come out with foldables on their own, and Samsung's stranglehold on this segment of the market isn't what it was just 18 months ago.

Put it this way — neither the Galaxy Z Fold 5 nor the Galaxy Z Flip 5 would be our recommendations for the best foldable phones. We think the OnePlus Open is the best foldable phone overall, and for people looking at a flip phone, we'd recommend the Motorola Razr Plus. Now obviously, Samsung's new models are going to challenge those devices — the Galaxy Z Fold 6, in particular, is supposed to get thinner and feature a wider cover screen, which could make that phone more appealing. But there's no disputing things are more competitive than ever among foldable phones.

You'd also figure that other device makers might see that opportunity to make a splash with a cheaper foldable device that offers a Fold-like design. If Samsung doesn't come out with such a device soon, its competitors certainly will.

So if Samsung feels it has to sit this year out when it comes to releasing a cheaper option like the Galaxy Z Fold 6 FE was supposed to be, that's the company's prerogative. But it shouldn't plan on sitting out the move to cheaper foldables for long if it wants to remain a dominant player in this segment.

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