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Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff
Not only am I impressed with the Galaxy Z Flip, I think the design is inspired. I enjoyed using it as a normal-sized smartphone and loved folding it up and dropping it into my pocket. Its versatility makes it something more than just a folding phone. The Z Flip is a new kind of device and one that I think a lot of people will want.
Considering what it is, the Galaxy Z Flip is, at $1380, fairly priced. It’s a bleeding-edge product with a leading-edge price.
It’s not a gimmick. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is a crafty harbinger of the future of mobile. The equal but competing desires of having a big screen and something that fits neatly inside a pocket are essentially solved in the folding-glass-screen Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.
It’s been a while since I’ve held a mobile phone that generated any kind of real excitement, but more than one person whom I let hold and fold and unfold the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip ($1,380) declared themselves “obsessed” with the wallet-sized (when folded) smartphone.
One important caveat to this review. Samsung gave reviewers 24 hours or less with the new devices. I had time to try much, but there are also many capabilities I didn't test out. My final rating reflects that somewhat incomplete experience.
Depending on how you count, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip is either its second or third folding-screen device. The first was the original Galaxy Fold, a 7-inch flexible OLED tablet (with a plastic screen) that folded down to, more or less, chunky phone size. It was torn apart by reviewers, literally, and Samsung was forced to pause and re-engineer the screen and folding technology. So, that’s basically two folding devices.
From a design perspective, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip solves many of the issues found in the Gen 1 Fold. Unfolded, it’s a 6.7-inch screen that’s neither oddball nor kludgy. There’s no weird lip of plastic around the front-facing cameras and sensors. I’d say that, at a glance, you could easily mistake the Z Flip for a standard Android 10 smartphone, albeit a relatively thin (6.9 mm) and light (183 grams) one.
The only indications that this is not your typical smartphone is a raised lip that runs around the outer edge of the 2636x1080 Infinity Display and a subtle wave that spans horizontally across the screen, from one edge to the other.
Even the back of the device is mostly unremarkable. The attractive, glossy Midnight Black (also available in Midnight Purple and, outside the U.S., Midnight Gold) back of my test unit features a pill-shaped camera array (two 12 MP: wide and ultra-wide) and an LED flash. There’s a tiny 1.1-inch super AMOLED screen, but I’ve seen other smartphones with secondary screens on the back. The bigger tell might be the seam across the center, but if you didn’t know that hid a hinge, you might not realize this is a folding device.
I’ve covered glass technology, especially that of Corning, over the years and my understanding has always been that you can flex and even bend thin glass, but full-on-folds were out of the question. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip changes that fundamental bit of glass chemistry and physics. I wish I could tell you how Samsung did it but the only thing the company will share about what it trademarked as “Ultra Thin Glass” (UTG) is that they developed it with a third-party partner.
Regardless, this polymer-covered glass is the first I’ve ever seen that folds 180 degrees. The top edge of the phone meets the bottom edge. A pair of rubber bumpers along one narrow edge of the device keep you from slamming the phone closed and possibly damaging the glass. In addition, the fold does not create a crease in the glass; there remains on the inside of the hinge area a small gap to accommodate a very small glass curve.
Samsung spent a lot of time on engineering. Underneath the hideaway hinge is a dual CAM mechanism and to keep debris from working its way into that intricate system, Samsung built in a sweeper system consisting of tiny bristles that push out debris as you open and close the phone. When I held the Galaxy Z Flip up to my ear and folded the phone, I could hear the sweeper bristles doing their work.
Yes, I can detect the fold ripple at the center of the screen, but only when the screen is dark. With the screen on, I can’t see it, but if I run my finger across that space, I can feel the ripple.
Since Samsung also encourages you to use the Galaxy Z Flip in Flex Mode, which basically has you fold the phone 90-degrees and place it on a flat surface. I can detect a different light refraction at the bend, which creates a brighter bar along the fold.
For what it’s worth, during my limited time with the devices, I folded the phone as often as possible, but barely made a dent is Samsung’s promised 200,000 fold lifetime.
While you can use the Z Flip like any other smartphone, the fold gives you other options. As I noted, Flex Mode lets you place it on a surface like a tiny laptop. In camera mode, the screen automatically splits into two displays, with the top half serving as the viewfinder and the bottom half the controls. You can tap the shutter to take a photo or, as I did, use gestures to take a selfie. You can also use the multi-active controls, which you access by swiping in from the right side of the screen, to run multiple apps in the mode.
Folded, the Z Flip is the perfect size for my hand or pocket. It reminds me just a little of my old Motorola StarTac. I truly enjoyed the Z Flip’s folded form factor and was especially pleased that I could still use a number of the phone features while it’s folded. The tiny Super AMOLED screen has notifications, time and temp, phone call alerts and can serve as a camera view finder. I switched between lenses by swiping left and right on the screen. Thanks to continuity, the camera activity on the outside continues on the inside when I unfold the phone.
The overall utility of the outside screen is limited, though, by the screen’s size. I hope future Z Flips treble the size of the external display.
While the foldability is intrinsic to the Z Flip’s identity, it’s also still an adroit Android 10 smartphone and replicates much of Samsung’s latest mobile technology, especially in the cameras.
The 12 MP Wide, 12 MP Ultrawide, and 10 MP cameras are all good, taking bright and color-rich images. As is typical with the Galaxy line, the phone defaults to enhancing images and I had to remember to turn off that feature to see, for instance, what I really look like.
The 123-degree ultra-wide had a habit of distorting objects and people at the edges of the frame and I think I would’ve preferred Samsung included a 2X optical zoom instead. This is not, by the way, the same camera system you’ll find in the new Galaxy S20 series. I’d say it aligns more closely with what you found on the Galaxy S10.
There is the new Single Take mode, which snaps 12 pictures and video in a matter of seconds to help you get the absolute best shot. Sure, I got a couple of nice images out of it, but Single Take still seems like an unnecessary gimmick, one that eats up a lot of storage space and that I would rarely use.
Still, even in the photography space, the Z Flip’s foldability sets it apart. The ability to fold it at a 90-degree angle and set it on any flat surface with the rear camera facing out at your subject, a landscape, or the sky means you can leave the tripod behind. It’s an excellent live-streaming platform. With built-in Google Duo (basically an Apple FaceTime competitor), you can conduct a call without having to hold or prop up the phone.
Even though this is the most cutting-edge screen I’ve ever seen, it doesn't have all of Samsung’s latest technology. There’s no IR sensor next to the selfie camera (though the system does support effective facial recognition technology) and no ultra-sonic fingerprint reader under the screen. Instead, you’ll find the fingerprint reader on the right edge, right on the power/sleep button. I had no trouble registering my finger and using it to unlock the phone. Face unlocking worked well, too, but it’s not the most secure form of biosecurity.
Running a Qualcomm 7nm 64-bit Octa-Core processor, the Galaxy Z Flip turned in Geekbench benchmark numbers more or less in line with those of the Galaxy S10 series. That mobile CPU is supported by 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. There’s no micro SD card slot, which means you cannot expand storage.
I didn’t have enough time to fully test battery life, though I would expect 10 hours of mixed use out of the 3,300 mAh battery.
In addition to fast charging through the USB-C port, the Z flip supports wireless charging and can wirelessly charge other Qi compatible devices with Wireless PowerShare.
The Galaxy Z Flip also ships with a pair of AKG USB-C headphones.
I really like this phone and wish I had more time with it. If I have any concerns, they revolve around the durability of the screen. The products ships with a lengthy warning about screen care, “Do not press the screen or front camera lens with a hard or sharp object, such as a pen or your fingernail,” Samsung warns, “Doing so could result in scratching or puncturing them.” Never before have I considered my fingernail a “sharp object.”
Samsung also warns against getting anything caught in the device when folding it and about the lack of water and dust resistance. It’s also pretty clear you cannot put your own screen protector on top of the folding screen.
All of this is a reminder about the fragility of this new screen technology. I used great care in my time with the Galaxy Z Flip and, yet, I somehow scratched the screen. I don’t know how I did it, but the curved etch was clearly visible with the screen off. I worry what would happen after a few months with the device.
And, no, I did not drop the phone.
Even in my limited experience with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, I walked away impressed and think the design is inspired. I enjoyed using it as a normal-sized smartphone and loved folding it up and dropping it into my pocket. Its versatility makes it something more than just a folding phone. The Z Flip is a new kind of device and one that I think a lot of people will want.
There are concerns about the screen and how well it can hold up to normal life, but with a bit of care, I think it might last for years, or at least until you’ve folded it 200,000 times.