A few short months ago, Samsung held one of the last in-person events of 2020 before the lockdown. There were two flagship smartphones launched on the day, the Galaxy S20 (a selection of three variants), as well as the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.
While the Galaxy S20 range was to be expected, the latest in the decade-long lineup of the Galaxy S series, it was the Galaxy Z Flip that drew most of the attention.
Yes, the device looked great, but I didn’t see anything of particular value in the ‘fold-away’ smartphone. That said, I was excited to get my hands on the smartphone when the opportunity arose.
But, has the two-week review period been enough to change my skeptical mind?
Build and Design
Typically, I would leave the discussion about the screen in a separate section of the review, but given that it plays a huge role in the unique form-factor, the design aspect of it will be discussed. I’ll leave the underlying screen specifications for that.
I wasn’t able to get my hands on a review unit for the Galaxy Fold, but managed to experience a number of hands-on sessions to have a reasonable idea of what to expect from the folding screen perspective. The original drew quite a lot of attention due to many reasons relating to the creases and the likes.
With the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, however, the design is quite a lot different. For starters, it’s not a standard-size smartphone that folds out into a larger, tablet-sized device, but rather a standard-sized smartphone that folds away into a more compact design. It doesn’t close completely, however, with a small gap right at the fold to account for the bend.
There is a visible crease at that point too. When looking at the screen head-on, you won’t notice the crease. You’ll have to tilt it slightly for it to be more obvious. In use, though, you can feel it as you swipe passed the point with your fingers.
The hinge performs some sort of magic in the background. For most users, I suspect they wouldn’t even take a moment to consider its practicality. Watching it fold and unfold without seeing what’s actually happening makes it even more appealing, especially with the Samsung logo proudly on display on the hinge. I did this over and over again, paying close attention to how the screen itself flexes. There’s no real stretching of the screen either, even though it cannot fold flush against itself.
I didn’t mind the gap within the fold as a result of this. What did put me off, however, was the flex slightly beyond flat. Placing it on a flush surface, you’ll notice it doesn’t lie flat, instead extending slightly beyond this point. In terms of longevity, I’m not quite sure how this will play out for owners, but it is a point worth noting.
The rest of the device, when open, plays out like your everyday smartphone.
You have the power button on the right-hand side, along with the volume rocker slightly above it. I say power button, but it really only turns the screen on and off, with a long press reserved for Bixby. The button does also double up as a fingerprint sensor. With the unfolded device a significant amount slimmer than most other phones, I imagine there wasn’t sufficient space to include the underlying technologies to allow for the embedded fingerprint sensor.
The new sensor on the power button, however, is far from ideal, with the embedded versions much better than that fitted on the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. I found myself needing to unlock using the pin far too often as I used up the five attempts to unlock.
Initially, I thought the slightly extra bulk of the folded Samsung Galaxy Z Flip wouldn’t sit well in my pocket, but it actually felt quite a lot better than a conventional smartphone.
Having switched back to my daily driver a day or two ago, the extra size in my pocket now feels off. It’s also weird not being able to fold the phone away once I’ve completed a task or ended a call. Interestingly, I noticed a few stares from people whenever I’d fold the phone away when I was done to place it back into my pocket. It’s not something people see every day, making it quite unique on the whole.
Screen and Display
When it comes to the screen’s specifications, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip has a dynamic AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, measuring 6.7″ at a 82.5% screen-to-body ratio. This is quite a lot less than many of the recent flagship smartphones. This is mostly due to the rim around the edges of the screen, a small protection mechanism when the device is closed or when, for whatever reason, you place it face down on a surface. The resolution itself is down on even the 2019 flagships. At 1080x2636px its still pretty decent, with a 425ppi pixel density and HDR10+ support. For perspective, both the S20 and S10 ranges have a 500+ pixel density count.
There is a little surprise on the device. A second screen. Measuring just 1.1″ for the Super AMOLED outer screen, it has a resolution of 112x300px. Did I mention that it’s very little? It isn’t so much to be used for any other purpose than to read notifications. The screen displays date, time and battery percentage with a simple double-tap. Users can swipe to the right to reveal the latest notifications on the left, while swiping left to control the music playback on the device.
Folding the screen can be performed one-handedly, but it isn’t easy. In fact, doing so will no doubt gain a few extra fingerprint smudges on the screen itself. The fold is quite heavy and actually stable, which I appreciate, so it won’t easily get damaged or fling itself open.
Closing the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip after use is a much easier task, and can be done in one hand.
The folding smartphone is novel, so much so that there aren’t any cases for it available, especially not locally. Knowing that the folding technology is also not protected by the latest Gorilla glass casing, makes it a lot more fragile. This makes it extremely delicate, which weighed on my mind quite a lot. It will pick up a few scratches along the way as a result, so being cautious is key. Thankfully, the folding nature protects the screen from direct damage when not in use, but I don’t think it’ll be able to survive a drop of any kind.
Performance, Battery and Camera
Unlike many of the other flagship Samsung smartphones, the Galaxy Z Flip doesn’t feature the latest and greatest CPU for outright power. Instead, its specifications are more aligned with the S10e than the higher-end models. It also doesn’t have the two chipset variations, with only the Qualcomm SM8150 Snapdragon 855+ SoC available. The chipset has an Octa-core CPU with x1 2.95GHz Kryo 485, x3 2.41GHz Kryo 485 and x4 1.78GHz Kryo 485 CPUs. This is supported by means of the Adreno 640 and 8GB RAM.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip doesn’t support the use of a microSD card, so the internal storage is an impressive 256GB.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is definitely not going to be winning benchmark performance tests – and probably wouldn’t have featured on the top end even some two years back. But it’s not really a mid-range smartphone, even based on just its specs and performances. The device is more than capable of holding its own, no matter what tests were thrown at it. There wasn’t any jitter, lag or the likes to speak of, even under heavy load from multitasking. I’ve been stating for years that modern smartphones are slightly overpowered with even mid-range processors now able to handle the majority of tasks.
When it comes to the battery, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip sports a 3300mAh capacity battery. Again, this aligns more with the S10e and 2018 smartphones than those in 2020. That said, the device does a good-enough job in terms of power usage to survive for a full 24 hours between charging. The charging time, more than anything else, was an annoyance for me. While most modern smartphones, at least the flagships, have decent wired charging capabilities in a region above 20W. The S20 Ultra had an impressive 45W charging support for Super-Fast-Charging capabilities.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, however, has support for only 15W charging, which means charging from below 5% can easily take up to two hours to complete.
Another aspect of the hardware that doesn’t meet 2020 standards is the camera. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip has a dual-lens camera system, both of which include 12MP sensors. The first lens supports wide photography with the second supporting ultrawide snaps. In terms of specifications, you’re looking at the following:
12 MP, f/1.8, 27mm (wide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm, Dual Pixel PDAF, OIS
12 MP, f/2.2, 12mm (ultrawide), 1.12µm
In the real world tests, the camera does a good enough job for the most part. In sufficient bright light, images are great quality with good colour reproduction. That said, there are some colours that appear washed at times, while being oversaturated at other times, depending on the scenario. This is mostly as a result of the slightly chaotic HDR+ support. Low-light photography, on the other hand, is pretty grainy, as the software attempts to adjust the brightness levels. I’d have preferred accepting darker images, which are smoother and less pixelated, with some post-production to brighten things up.
Software and Features
The Galaxy Z Flip features the latest Android 10 OS with Samsung’s One UI 2 interface. Most of the features built into the device’s firmware is based around multitasking and the split-screen support for the folding screen. Using supported apps, the device will change layouts based on whether the screen is opened completely or whether it’s slightly folded. This is known as Flex Mode. This is meant to resemble something similar to a laptop, albeit a very miniature version of it. For example, when using YouTube, the app has a standard layout when used normally. However, when the screen is folded slightly, all the controls are moved to the bottom half of the screen, with the top half primarily for the video playback.
Not all apps currently support the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip’s multi-screen functionality, but there is a growing list that do. An easy way to spot which apps are supported is by using the new Edge Tray. Unlike the standard Samsung edge panel, the new tray allows users to open multiple apps which is then opened in split-screen mode. You can edit the tray by adding more apps, but only those that are supported. This means the likes of Instagram, etc. won’t appear in the tray. It’s also limited to just five apps, with a sixth icon used to open the tray further for other supporting apps. Yes, it works well enough, but compared to the original tray, it’s not as convenient. In addition to this, it’s also featured in all your screenshots, which is annoying – where the original tray hides when taking a screengrab.
Another nifty feature is the front-facing screen. Yes, it may not be large enough to be used for multiple options, but it has some useful features over and above interactive notifications. Users can also toggle the screen as a viewfinder when taking selfies using the main screen. It takes some getting used to, however, as you’ll only be able to see half of your face during capture, and knowing where to position the camera comes with experience.
The launch of Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, as well as a few from other manufacturers, is a clear indication that folding screen smartphones are here to stay. What we have in 2020 is not its final form, but a progression and experiment of what does and does not work.
While there may be a few specifications that don’t quite match the standards set for 2020, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip has a unique feature that 99.9% of other smartphones don’t have – it folds. All about that hinge. One can be forgiven for watching the fold over and over, trying to make sense of it, while also admiring the beauty of it. You won’t get the bang for your buck being similarly priced to the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
That being said, it’s not all about throwing the craziest specs at something, it’s more about the experience and enjoyment – and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip has that in heaps.
It may seem like a bit of a gimmick, but the latest folding smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, is anything but. It will definitely make an impression on you and shows great potential for the future of similar smartphones going forward.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
This next-generation flip phone isn't for all tastes, but many will love it despite its flaws.
- Folding screen
- That hinge
- A fun experience
- Size – both folded and unfolded
- Not the latest specifications
- Screen protection
- Durability may be an issue long term
- Fingerprint sensor
Ease of Learning
Ease of Use
Value for Money