It’s not often something comes along to genuinely change the game, but the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip does just that, bringing foldable displays closer to the mainstream and reinventing the flip phone for 2020 in the process.
Screens that fold in half finally arrived last year with the Galaxy Fold, which was originally plagued by durability issues causing a delay and a reworking of the device.
The £1,300 Galaxy Z Flip is therefore Samsung’s crucial second bite at the cherry. And it’s a very impressive one at that.
Instead of a tall smartphone opening out into a square tablet, the Galaxy Z Flip is a tall smartphone that folds in half like mid-2000s flip-phones. I won’t beat about the bush: folding and unfolding the Galaxy Z Flip is a tremendous experience.
The hinge opens and will hold the screen at any angle, similar to a laptop hinge. It’s smooth and reassuringly solid. What you can’t easily do is flip it open with one finger, but you probably shouldn’t even if you could because the screen is fairly fragile – more on that later.
Closed, the phone is a compact wedge shape with little rubber feet and magnets holding the two ends together. You’ll be able to fit it in most pockets, including the often useless-for-phones tiny pockets women are burdened with.
There’s a small 1.1in oblong screen on the lid of the device adjacent to the main camera. It shows the time, the battery charge and a little notification dot if there’s something waiting for you. Double tap to light it up, swipe left for music controls and right for notification icons, which you can tap and see a little bit with scrolling text. It’s useful when you want it, but also easy to ignore, freeing you somewhat from the burden of notifications.
Open it out and the 6.7in screen is remarkable. It looks and feels just like one of Samsung’s regular super-sized smartphones, which is a very good thing, apart from one caveat: there’s a crease in the middle. You can feel it, and get a reflection on the screen and you can see it.
What feels weird at first under your thumb immediately becomes normal. It’s more visible when the screen is black, which makes the Galaxy Z Flip the first phone that looks worse in dark mode. You can’t see it while browsing a white web page or similar.
The crease is one of the compromises of having a massive screen that rivals the very biggest smartphones available today, but that folds down into a small, pocketable package. I think it’s a worthy trade-off for now.
The power button doubles as a fast and accurate fingerprint scanner, mounted below the volume buttons on the upper half of the phone.
The screen works, looks great and the hinge feels sturdy. It’s rated for more than 200,000 folds, which is 100 openings a day for 5.5 years. It has nylon fibres in the hinge to literally sweep dust and dirt away as you open and close it, while the edges of the folding part have plastic T-shaped caps to try to block dirt from getting in that way.
But there’s a massive question mark over the screen’s durability. It comes with care instructions wrapped around it in the box, including advice not to press hard on the screen with hard objects, such as your fingernail; don’t fold something else in when closing the phone; the phone isn’t dust or water resistant; don’t put stickers or screen protectors on it; and keep the phone away from credit cards as it has magnets in it. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.
I was only given three working days to test the device and in that time it worked perfectly. Others haven’t been so lucky. Realistically you need at least several months of daily use to truly know if it will stand the test of time.
Then there’s the scratch resistance of the glass screen: basically there isn’t any. It uses ultra-thin glass that can fold, which is remarkable, but it’s covered in a plastic layer and is so thin it’s easy to poke holes in. The screen is fairly well protected when closed, but it’s possible to get grit in between the two halves, while pushing hard with your fingernail could damage it.
All in you have to treat it with the respect deserving of a £1,300 device, and even then you might run into trouble. If you’re at all blasé with the way you treat your smartphone, this isn’t for you.
Main screen: 6.7in FHD+ AMOLED Infinity Flex Display (425ppi)
Cover screen: 1.1in AMOLED (303ppi)
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+
RAM: 8GB of RAM
Storage: 256GB (UFS 3.0)
Operating system: One UI 2.1 based on Android 10
Camera: dual rear camera: 12MP wide angle, 12MP ultra-wide angle, 10MP front-facing camera
Connectivity: 4G, nano sim + esim, Wi-Fiac, NFC, Bluetooth 5 and GPS
Folded dimensions: 87.4 x 73.6 x 17.3-15.4mm
Unfolded dimensions: 167.3 x 73.6 x 7.2-6.9mm
Solid performance, about a day’s battery
The Galaxy Z Flip has Qualcomm’s top-of-the-range chip from late 2019, the Snapdragon 855+, not this year’s top chip, the Snapdragon 865. It also has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, which isn’t expandable with microSD.
Performance all-round was good. Snappy, fast and smooth, similar to the Galaxy Note 10+, but not as rapid as the best, the OnePlus 7T Pro despite having the same chipset. If you’re into hardcore mobile gaming this isn’t the phone for you.
Battery life was solid but not quite up to the standards set by the very best last year. The Galaxy Z Flip lasted about 27 hours between charges of medium to heavy usage.
That was while using the phone as my primary device, lots of email, messages and push notifications, a couple of hours browsing, five hours of Spotify via Bluetooth headphones, 45 minutes of Netflix and about 10 photos.
The Galaxy Z Flip has relatively slow 15W charging, taking close to two hours for a full charge, but has wireless charging and wireless powersharing to wirelessly charge something else from the phone’s back, such as a set of earbuds or a smartwatch.
One UI 2
Samsung’s version of Android 10 is called One UI 2, which itself is an evolution of One UI launched on the Galaxy S10 last year.
One UI 2 treats the phone’s screen differently to most other versions of Android. Broadly speaking the top half is for displaying information, while the bottom half is used for bits you have to touch and interact with. It’s a clever use of space helping you reach the bits you have to tap (with the exception of the notification bar), which is useful for a screen as long as the Galaxy Z Flip’s.
As too are Android 10’s gestures: swipe up from the bottom for recently used apps, or across the bottom to switch the last used apps. Swipe in from either side for back. It’s simple, fast and easy to use on big-screen phones.
Samsung has also made great strides in the speed of Android updates over recent years, bringing One UI 2 based on Android 10 as an update to the Galaxy S10 line in around three months from its release by Google.
Overall, One UI 2 is a pleasing form of Android to use, with useful additions and, importantly, the full Google suite of apps and services, from which competitor Huawei is barred from using due to US trade sanctions.
The Galaxy Z Flip has two 12-megapixel cameras on the back, one normal and one ultra-wide, and one 10-megapixel selfie camera peeking through a small hole in the top of the screen.
The rear cameras are good but not class leading. The main camera shoots excellent pictures in good lighting, deals relatively well with high-contrast scenes with the addition of an HDR mode, but starts to struggle in middling light conditions. Images shot in the foyer of a theatre suffered from a bit of grain and noise.
Likewise, the camera doesn’t have the best low-light performance, although the automatic Night Mode helps. The ultrawide works great in good light, but the lack of a telephoto camera is disappointing.
The selfie camera is reasonable, shooting detailed images in good lighting, but again struggles in middling light, unexpectedly producing some blurry pictures. I got better results closing the phone, double-pressing the power button to bring up the main camera, which shows a small preview in the cover display.
Samsung’s camera app has a load of tricks. One of the most interesting is the “single take” mode. Press the shutter button and let it run until you think you have enough. The camera shoots photos, videos and produces gifs all at once, showing you a portfolio of content at the end from which you can pick and choose the best. If you’re not sure what will work best, this mode is for you.
You can also prop the phone up by closing it part way and use either the selfie camera or the main camera, which works as a makeshift tripod producing some interesting results.
Overall the Galaxy Z Flip is a fun camera to use, but won’t win any awards. It’s good enough, just not the best – but that’s not what you’re paying for here.
The Galaxy Z Flip is not water or dust resistant at all, in contrast to most modern smartphones
There’s no headphone socket
You can feel a dip in the screen where the selfie camera pokes through
There’s just one speaker in the bottom of the phone
The glass backs have small gaps between them and the frame of the phone that trap dust and hairs
Call quality was excellent on both ends of the call on EE’s 4G network
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip costs £1,300 and is available in either black or purple.
A special colour version is available as part of the Thom Browne Edition, which includes Galaxy Buds+, a Galaxy Watch Active2 and other parts for £2,280.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is a tantalising, desirable look at one possible future of the smartphone.
A big phone that folds into a compact square is surprisingly pleasing to use, much easier to pocket and has the side benefit of adding a bit of distance between you and your phone. Unfolding it and unlocking it is much more of a deliberate act than it is to glance at a traditional flat phone, potentially helping you avoid notification overload.
It looks great, makes you stand out and feels solid, like the premium, cutting-edge product that it is. It’s exciting, different and delightfully tactile. But only having had three working days with it, I just can’t tell you whether it’ll go the distance. Months of daily use is the only thing that will really test the Galaxy Z Flip’s durability.
Buy the £1,300 Galaxy Z Flip if you want something different, but only if you can stomach the uncertainty surrounding its durability. You might get three years of problem-free use out of it, but then you might not. Only time will tell. But looking at the sea of boring metal and glass slabs, many of which are similar in price to the Galaxy Z Flip, I want one, and maybe you do too.
Pros: a screen that folds in half, big screen made pocketable, stands on its own, good camera, day+ battery life, exciting and different, One UI 2, good gestures, wireless charging and powersharing, nano sim and esim
Cons: durability unknowns, no dust or water resistance, high cost, no headphone socket, no telephoto camera, no expandable storage