Samsung’s latest book-style foldable phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 5, has made headlines for its thinner design, which includes a hinge that lets the phone fold completely flat. But its key accessory, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 S Pen Fold Edition, has shed some weight, too.
During a press roundtable I attended in Seoul, South Korea, Samsung said that the stylus’ radius dropped from 7.4mm to 4.35mm, which is nearly the same size as the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s S Pen. That’s 41% thinner than last year’s S Pen Fold Edition. Samsung said it achieved this by way of an internal push to determine “whether or when” it could embed its S Pen into a Galaxy Fold phone.
Still, Samsung said it’s exploring whether it can create an even skinnier stylus than the new S Pen Fold Edition for a number of reasons, most notably to find a way to fit the accessory in a slot within the foldable itself.
“We’ll also look into it, but not just from a technology perspective, but from a user experience perspective,” Won-Joon Choi, head of Samsung R&D Office Mobile Experience Business said Thursday at the press roundtable. “Because when you’re writing, you need to feel as if you’re writing with a pen. If it [the S Pen] gets too thin, that feeling may not be desirable.”
Although Samsung’s support for the S Pen dates back to 2011 with the original Galaxy Note, Choi said, designing a stylus for a foldable phone poses a different set of challenges including scouring for new tip materials that don’t damage the foldable’s flexible display as well as avoiding magnet interference from the phone.
Choi also highlighted how creating the S Pen presents unique considerations compared with designing a foldable phone. For a foldable phone to take off into the mainstream, Samsung believes portability is one of three prerequisites it must meet. But with the S Pen, portability could come at the cost of usability, since Samsung’s stylus was designed to provide the experience of writing with a real pen.
S Pen doesn’t have a home (yet)
When the Galaxy Z Fold 3 debuted with stylus support in 2021, it elevated the perception of the Fold lineup from being an experimental concept to a phone aimed at productivity. However, it still drew pushback because the Z Fold 3 requires an S Pen to take full advantage of the $1800 phone. But it wasn’t included in the box. You had to buy it separately. Another drawback was that the Z Fold 3 had no way to store the S Pen: You had to buy a special case from Samsung to house it.
Fast forward to 2023, and the S Pen still doesn’t have a home. While the new Galaxy Z Fold 5 is thinner than previous Fold models, there’s still no built-in way to store the S Pen like the Galaxy S23 Ultra has. Samsung’s current solution is the $100 Galaxy Z Fold 5 Slim S Pen Case, which allows you to latch the stylus on the back half.
One of the obstacles Choi highlighted in the roundtable was the need to appease people’s conflicting desires about the future of the Z Fold design. One camp wants an even thinner book-style foldable phone, he said, but such a design would require Samsung to create an even leaner S Pen to embed. Then there are people who want the next Z Fold to be thicker, which will allow it to integrate the S Pen. A thicker foldable would make the phone less portable, however, which is one of Samsung’s core design philosophies for the category. There’s also a group of people that want a thinner phone as well as the option to embed the S Pen into the device.
“What form factor and experiences are we going to deliver to our customers to meet various needs? What is the right balance? Those are the areas we need to decide carefully which way to go.” Choi said.