From left, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 and Z Flip 4.
Samsung’s older Z Flip and Z Fold phones are about to be able to perform a few new tricks. On Tuesday, the company said features from its operating system update One UI 5.1.1, which debuted with its new Z Flip 5 and Fold 5, will begin trickling down to older phones, starting with the Z Flip 4 and Z Fold 4 this month.
The rollout suggests Samsung wants to create a consistent experience across its Z Flip and Z Fold phones as it seeks to make foldable phones mainstream. The announcement follows Samsung’s Unpacked event in late July, where the company introduced the Galaxy Z Flip 5, the Z Fold 5, the Galaxy Watch 6 series and the Galaxy Tab S9 family.
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The updates are minor changes that should add some polish to the Z Flip’s and Z Fold’s software experience in Flex Mode. This mode enables apps to shift to the top portion of the screen when the Flip or Fold is folded halfway, while displaying device controls on the bottom portion of the display.
With the update, Samsung is hoping to improve the way buttons and controls appear on the screen’s bottom half, so they’re easier to reach and customize. Flip and Fold owners will be able to show or hide Flex Mode controls on the bottom screen, and the media play button will also appear in this panel when streaming videos.
Samsung says that in addition to arriving on the Z Fold 4 and Z Flip 4 this month, the update will come to the Z Fold 3, Z Flip 3, Z Fold 2 and Z Flip. However, it didn’t specify a time frame for these devices. These additions fall in line with Samsung’s tendency to support older devices with new software. For example, it provides its phones with four generations of Android updates while its rivals typically offer only three.
Samsung is also expanding new software features from the Galaxy Tab S9 series and Galaxy Watch 6 family to older tablets and smartwatches. For the tablets, this includes two-handed drag-and-drop and the ability to more easily switch between Samsung’s pop-up and multi-window modes. Pop-up window opens an app in a smaller window, while multi-window is Samsung’s version of split-screen mode. There’s also an upgraded task bar that lets you access up to four recent apps.
These features will arrive on the Galaxy Tab S8 family, Tab S7 family, Tab S6 Lite, Tab A8, Tab A7 Lite, Tab Active 3 and Tab Active 4 Pro. The new tablet features should work on the Galaxy Z Fold 4 as well.
Galaxy Watch 5, Watch 5 Pro, Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic users will get an updated user interface with more-detailed sleep data, personalized heart rate zones, a new mode for recording runs on tracks, and support for running and walking in the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro’s Route Workout mode, among other features. Notifications of irregular heart rhythm are also arriving on the Galaxy Watch 5 and Watch 4 series.
The updates are another sign that tech giants are delivering more meaningful new features through software as hardware upgrades have felt less dramatic year-over-year. The biggest update in the Galaxy S23 series, for example, is the Ultra model’s 200-megapixel camera sensor, while the S23 and S23 Plus received modest updates to performance and battery life.
Apple has taken a similar approach, particularly with the Apple Watch, which gained useful updates like low power mode and a suite of new workout features in last year’s WatchOS 9 update.
By bringing fresh updates to older devices, Samsung is putting more emphasis on software, hoping to breathe new life into aging products as it continues its efforts to establish a device ecosystem that rivals Apple’s. That’s especially important with devices that are as expensive as Samsung’s Z Flip and Z Fold, which start at $1,000 and $1,800 respectively.