Spending two days with the Galaxy Z Flip feels like being submerging in a mud bath. I’ve had strong immediate thoughts, but know the sensation is going to take a little while to get used to. That’s because using a foldable flip phone, which bends in half from top to bottom, is a totally different experience than what most of us are used to today. Even people like me who harbor a strong nostalgic streak for the flip phones of old need to completely readjust to life with a phone that you have to open to use.
Some immediate pros and cons have jumped to the surface right away, and I’ll share them here, but I’m also taking my time with the Z Flip. It will take time to do Samsung’s incredibly exciting and innovative features justice. Two things have stood out from the very beginning: the foldable glass screen — a world first, and a hinge that keeps the Z Flip’s 6.7-inch screen standing upright at a wide variety of angles, which lets you do all sorts of things hands-free, like eat soup while reading an article, which I did at lunch today.
While the biggest obvious competition is between the Galaxy Z Flip ($1,380 and £1,300. No Australian pricing yet) and Motorola Razr foldable flip phone ($1,499), Samsung’s latest also contends with the tablet-sized Galaxy Fold and even larger Huawei Mate X. Some questions I hope to answer over the coming week: How does the Z Flip compare to the competition, and does it make a successful case for taking foldable phones into the mainstream — or at least to the next generation.
Galaxy Z Flip is the first phone with foldable glass
As a reminder, foldable phones exist in the first place as an experiment to push phone design into the future. But the problem it’s trying to solve is how to expand your phone’s screen (and perhaps also protect it) while keeping the device small enough to carry around without busting through your pocket.
So what is the Z Flip really like use? I’ll tell you exactly how I feel about it — and how my view changes the more time I spend with the device. Keep coming back over the ensuing days as this ongoing assessment evolves into a final rated review.
- I watched several hours of video on the Galaxy Z Flip (mostly Netflix and YouTube). Playing in default mode, you get thick black bars on either side (in landscape), though this also gives you a place to put your hand without messing with the screen. You can pinch to zoom, but you’ll crop off the top of peoples’ heads.
- I don’t mind the thin plastic case that comes in the box. It’s good enough and gives me peace of mind if/when I drop the phone.
- The Z Flip has felt comfortable and secure in any pocket I’ve put it in, unlike the unwieldy Galaxy Note 10 Plus and even the folded-up Fold, both of which have toppled out. Of course, it all depends on the size of your pockets.
- Typing on the smaller screen has been fine for me. My fingers are also on the smaller side. I prefer Google’s Gboard keyboard over the default.
- I successfully jogged and hiked with the Z Flip by cupping the hinge end in my palm. I didn’t feel I was going to drop it.
Star feature: A phone that can stand on its own
I’m enamored with the Z Flip’s ability to hold itself upright. While watching video, reading a news story, taking selfies, and even running tests, propping the Z Flip’s screen up or turning the whole thing on its side meant I didn’t have to hold it. It made my selfies better (when using a timer). It’s remarkable how many angles the hinge will support before snapping fully opened or closed (yes, there are magnets at all four corners).
That rigidity means you’ll need to exact a bit more pressure to close the phone and snap it or pull it open, but I haven’t felt like I’m straining against the phone. ), yet the result is that you can prop the Z Flip on its base and tilt the screen at any number of angles to take a selfie photo with a friend — or a portrait shot — watch a video, or do any number of things.
The same goes for slightly bending the phone in half while watching a video so it can become its own stand. When you bend it, some apps dynamically shift into a split-screen mode so you see the action on the “top” and the controls, or comments on the “bottom.” Not enough apps take advantage of the feature straight out the gate, but it’s one I hope to see Google and others embrace for the sheer convenience factor.
Is the Z Flip’s glass screen really all that?
Let me just say for the record that under 24 hours into a review period, I’m reluctant to make any sweeping or definite statements. These things need time to cook. A good review takes about a week of live-in time, and even that sometimes feels fast, but necessary.
So to answer the question as best as I can right now, I think so! Glass so thin it can bend is amazing. Foldable phones up until now have used a plastic material to cover the delicate electronic display beneath. Press on it too hard, or expose it to rough substances, and it’ll fail, leaving you without a usable phone.
The Z Flip’s glass screen is meant to shield the display from the more raucous elements, while also providing a smoother surface that more convincingly conceals that telltale crease where the screen bends in half. The Z Flip is subject to Samsung’s one-year warranty in the event of damage, as well as Samsung’s premier concierge help for foldable phones.
That said, both the Z Flip and the Motorola Razr both broke on the first try in CNET’s drop tests (with devices we bought).
The Z Flip’s hinge is kind of like nose hairs
The Galaxy Fold’s first design caused some pretty public embarrassment to Samsung when dust and crumbs easily worked their way into the hinge and under the screen. Those early reports on reviewers’ phones caused Samsung to delay the Fold’s launch by about four months and completely redesign it. The good news is that those learnings have been carried into the Z Flip.
The hinge is protected by elements like interior vinyl fibers — which sound a lot like nostril hairs — to keep dust out of the mechanism. There are also plastic caps bordering the inside of the phone at the hinge, which also help rebuff the elements. I run my fingernails around the thick plastic bezel and note how sealed it feels. On the Galaxy Fold and Motorola Razr, I felt I could pry my fingernail under the screen without much effort.
The protection of these interior fibers only go so far. Samsung clearly notes on the phone’s overwrap care instructions that it’s susceptible to dust and water damage, so be alert. There’s the typical one-year warranty, and a concierge service for 24/7 customer care.
Using the cameras
On paper, the Galaxy Z Flip challenges the Motorola Razr with two exterior cameras and one internal sensor.
- Z Flip: Dual 12-megapixel sensors (wide-angle, ultrawide-angle) and a 10-megapixel internal camera
- Razr: 16-megapixel exterior sensor, 5-megapixel interior camera (e.g. for initiating video calls)
My colleague Patrick Holland reviewed the Motorola Razr and declared the camera system to be “just OK.” Meanwhile, I’ve taken some photos with the Z Flip that I’m pretty excited about. I also took shots side by side on the Razr, but got some unexpected results, like selfie shots with drastically different white balance. I’m going to have to look into that.
The Z Flip has a new photo mode that it shares with the Galaxy S20 trio of phones. Called Single Take, it captures up to 10 different still photos and four different videos. I was initially worried that I’d spend a lot of time deleting photos I don’t like or don’t care about, and in the initial testing process, I was right.
But there are some usable shots I got too, and it didn’t take a lot of time or obsessive focusing to get them, which is also good. Let’s consider the jury still out here.
Unboxing Samsung’s $1,380 Galaxy Z Flip
But what about the crease?!
Look, every foldable phone I’ve seen has a crease. When the light shines directly on it, you see it. When you run your finger down the seam, you feel it. When an exciting thriller or documentary movie plays, or when you’re sucked into an engaging article or game, you hardly notice it at all.
I do feel the Z Flip’s glass cover material helps minimize the hated crease. So does the fact that the width of the bend is actually pretty minimal — just shy of three inches — compared to the Galaxy Fold’s 6.34-inch vertical seam.
Battery life so far
For my final review (which again, this is not), I’m going to judge battery life by two main criteria. The first — and most important in my mind — is real-world testing. The second is a lab test that runs down the battery using specific media.
I’ve been using the Galaxy Note 10 Plus every day for months, and I know exactly how much battery life I need to get through a typical day of tethering the phone for two hours during a working commute, and then all-day needs, including streaming video on Netflix. I usually use the Note 10 Plus from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at least (18 hours), and often have 30% left when I’m done, which I know will last me hours more hard use.
So far, the Z Flip’s battery story phone confuses me. Power reserves have drained quicker than I’d like when doing things that normally tax a battery: live maps navigation and streaming video. Standby mode has sipped power, leaving me with plenty of reserves hours after I stopped actively using the device. I’m keeping a close eye on the situation, but this one needs time.
The Z Flip has a 3,300-mAh battery, which is fine, but it’s split into two, which does lift my eyebrows in inquiry. Dual batteries are known by experts to be less efficient than a single large battery cell, which makes me wonder how well this battery will hold up.
On my first day of testing, the Z Flip’s battery was fully charged at 11:18 a.m. At 10:18 p.m. (11 hours later), it tallied in at 33%, and that’s after a day of hard use and about an hour and a half of streaming video. By 8:30am PT it had drained to 15% overnight. On my second day, I started at 100% at around 9am. Now at 5:50, it’s at 39%. That’s enough to last through the night, but I’ll need to recharge again before I go out for the day. The Z Flip comes with a 15-watt charger.
What’s next in the Galaxy Z Flip review:
- The Z Flip’s outer screen pros and cons
- Camera, camera, camera
- Fingerprint reader placement
- Selfie camera quality
- More hinge assessments
- Additional battery testing, including lab results
- Design: Sexy or actually frumpy?
- One-handed use
- Using mobile payments
- Quick app shortcuts
This story will be updated with more findings throughout the coming days.