Update, July 22: Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip 5G will be released Aug. 7 for $1,450. Original story follows.
The Galaxy Z Flip is the best foldable phone I've ever used. Considering this is still a new field with only the Motorola Razr, Galaxy Fold and Huawei Mate X for competing devices you can buy today, that might not sound like much. Don't believe it. Samsung has done most things right with the Z Flip's design, creating a foldable phone that's fun to wield and practical enough for everyday life.
With the Galaxy Z Flip, Samsung proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that foldable phones have a right to exist as more than just experimental toys. That's quite an impressive feat for Samsung's second stab at foldables, especially after its first attempt had such a disastrous start. To see Samsung pivot so quickly to a design that's sturdier, recognizable as a phone and straightforward to use is worth acknowledging.
I've quickly fallen in love with the Galaxy Z Flip -- particularly the way the 6.7-inch glass screen stands upright on its own -- but Samsung still has work to do. At $1,380 (£1,300), the Z Flip is wildly expensive for the specs, and beyond the reach of most budgets. The bendable glass display is fragile and the phone is vulnerable to water and dust. Battery life is only so-so, and its 1.1-inch outer screen is stupid small.
Most people shouldn't run out and buy the Galaxy Z Flip. While it's good enough to rely on in the real world, foldable phones remain largely showpieces for early adopters and hobbyists. You'll get more camera options, longer battery life and a bona fide water-resistance rating from other flagship phones (I test the $1,400 Galaxy S20 Ultra next).
That said, if you're debating between this and the Motorola Razr, get the Z Flip without compunction. I also prefer it to the Galaxy Fold, although I'd honestly just wait for the Fold 2 if you want a tablet-size foldable.
Overall, Samsung has done an excellent job bringing thrilling innovations to the Galaxy Z Flip that are simple to understand and surprisingly easy to use. I expect that the next generation will be even better.
What I love about the Galaxy Z Flip
- A cohesive device that's easy to pick up and use right away.
- Closed, it feels sturdy and compact. Gripping it by the hinge end feels secure.
- The screen stays open on its own at a wide variety of angles (more on this below).
- The foldable glass screen -- a world's first -- helps keep the dreaded crease to a minimum. There's no damage so far to the one I've bought.
- Camera quality is strong on all three sensors (see breakout).
- Solid specs include a Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, 256GB of storage, fast charging and reverse wireless charging (all specs below).
- A swipe-out screen is helpful for launching favorite apps and split-screen mode, especially during one-handed use.
- It comes with a free plastic case for extra peace of mind.
- Android 10 and Samsung One UI 2 keep the software current.
What I don't like about the Galaxy Z Flip
- It's expensive: $1,380 or £1,300 (about AU$2,500 converted from the UK price).
- Fingerprint smudges accumulate quickly on all surfaces.
- The cover display is too small to be useful. Samsung missed a sizable opportunity (more below).
- Battery life is a tad disappointing.
- Many videos and games don't fit perfectly into the 21.9:9 screen dimensions, resulting in black side bars.
- The fingerprint reader would be more conveniently placed on the lower half -- at least for my hands.
- It's vulnerable to damage from exposure to water and dust (you get a one-year warranty and 24/7 customer service).
- Since you have to unfold it first, it takes longer to do most things than on a standard phone. I've missed a few camera moments as a result. (On the flip side, I like the finality of snapping it closed.)
Flex Mode is the Galaxy Z Flip's killer feature
Open the Galaxy Z Flip from either side and let go. The half you pulled up hasn't snapped back down into closed position or slowly arched back to fully open. Chances are, it's stayed exactly where it is.
The hinge's freestanding ability is something Samsung called Flex Mode, and it's the Z Flip's most unique, interesting and effective feature by far because it lets you interact with the phone hands-free.
I didn't have to invent reasons to keep the screen propped open. That happened naturally. Sometimes I was taking a selfie without awkwardly getting my arm in the way (the wide-angle lens and timer worked great). Or reading an article or scrolling through my inbox or social media feeds while eating lunch. Any time I was tired of holding the phone and wanted to set it down. Making a video call. Making a speakerphone call from the couch. Even bending the phone in the middle in landscape mode to watch a video solo or to show a friend.
Using Flex Mode does come with a few trade-offs I'm willing to make. It winds up bisecting the screen, so the part you're interacting with is relatively small, often less than 4 inches diagonally. The camera app is dynamic enough to readjust to Flex Mode, with other apps to come, Samsung says, but for me, the convenience of going hands-free outweighed my other objections. It's just that nice to use the Z Flip as its own stand.
On foldables with larger screens, you can envision a real benefit to using one half as a virtual keyboard and the other as the display screen.
The only immediate downside I can see to Flex Mode is that a stiffer hinge means it takes a little more force to flick the phone open when it's closed, especially if you're trying to impress someone with your gunslinger skills. I'm curious (and perhaps a little concerned) to see if the hinge will loosen over time and lose some of that self-supporting capability, slumping one way or the other.
Tiny cover display is the Z Flip's worst trait
The Galaxy Z Flip is so good that my disappointment with the phone's outer screen pangs me all the more. Samsung gave the foldable flip phone a tiny pill-shaped display next to the main cameras.
Unfortunately, it's too small, squat and narrow to really do anything meaningful with it, and that's something the Razr can brag about. For all its foibles, that phone's 2.7-inch exterior display is large enough to view notifications and will let you respond to them with voice dictation and canned messages.
On the Galaxy Z Flip, you can double-tap to see the time, date and battery percentage. You'll also see the battery percentage while charging up. Swipe the cover screen to see app icons that represent notifications. Tap one to see the subject or read a message on a scrolling ticker. You may need to open the phone to truly see what's going on. It's not entirely useful.
Samsung also envisions this mini window as a viewfinder for you and others. The problem is that you can't really place yourself within the photo, and the window is too small to see what you really look like. I do like that you get access to the two main 12-megapixel cameras that way, and that you can swipe on the outer screen to swap between standard and ultrawide-angle sensors.
In one selfie I took with the phone closed (the only photo type you can take this way), a friend and I looked centered as I held the phone at arm's length. It's only when checking in the photo gallery that I noticed a third person in our group had just as much screen share, a person who we didn't see in the viewfinder.
Outer screens are tricky for foldable phones. They suck up battery reserves and internal space. If they're irregularly shaped, like the Fold's too-tall-and-narrow 4.6-inch screen, you start to resent the cramped quarters that make typing and using apps feel unnatural.
To me, this design is clearly Samsung compromising usability for battery life and to undercut the Razr's price. I don't think that's a winning strategy in the long term.
Camera quality puts Motorola Razr to shame
I feel for the Motorola Razr. The concept is terrific, but the execution pales in comparison to the Galaxy Z Flip. That's especially apparent in the camera category.
Samsung's 12-megapixel wide-angle and ultrawide-angle sensors take better photos and give you more options than the Razr's single 16-megapixel camera, especially with low light shots. Inside, the Z Flip has a 10-megapixel shooter that's also good for selfies (like when you want more control over the shot) and for video calls.
The Razr has a 5-megapixel interior camera that the company admits is really just there to start a video call before closing the phone and switching to the better camera, but smaller outside screen. Stay tuned for a deep dive comparison between the Motorola Razr and Galaxy Z Flip cameras.
The internet has approved of the photos I've been posting on Twitter from the Galaxy Z Flip. Keep in mind it's essentially using the Galaxy S10's camera sensors. Samsung's upcoming Galaxy S20 phones all use at least one 12-megapixel camera apiece as part of their arrays, but those lean on larger sensors that Samsung says have been completely redesigned and greatly improved.
Single Take camera mode is more trouble than it's worth
One camera feature that the Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy S20 phones will have in common is Single Take, a new photography mode that will take up to 10 photos and four videos when you select it and then press and hold the record button. The mode uses multiple cameras and settings to quickly get you variety that you can choose from.
I tried this out several times, and… it's just not for me. Single Take works best during action shots or when you're photographing a group of friends hanging out, but I never got a photo or video that I liked better than one I'd take myself. Some of that probably comes down to me and my Type A personality that wants to compose the shot to my specifications. Some might come down to my reluctance to sort through the haul and delete what I don't want.
The idea here is convenience, and I could see myself using it if I only had one chance to capture a moment. I could also see myself adding the Live Focus portrait mode to my menu bar instead.
Galaxy Z Flip battery life is just so-so
What good is a $1,400 phone if it can't take you through the day? Thankfully, that's not the Galaxy Z Flip's problem for me most days. With a combined capacity of 3,300 mAh spread across two battery cells, it gives you more juice than the Razr (2,510 mAh). In my real-world tests, it's lasted from the time I wake up until evening, when I can easily plug it in again.
On my heaviest use days with hotspotting, streaming video and maps navigation, it ran about 13 hours, lasting overnight on lighter days. In CNET's lab test to simulate mixed real-world use, it lasted 12 hours. In our battery drain test using looping video (and airplane mode), the result was 15 hours of run time on a single charge.
That's on the lower end of the spectrum for most phones, and a far cry from the Galaxy Note 10, which easily takes me from early morning to the wee hours without concern. I wouldn't plan a late night with the Galaxy Z Flip without bringing a charger along with me or topping it up first.
For reference, the Galaxy S20 battery starts at 4,000 mAh and goes up to 5,000 on the Ultra, a phone that costs $20 more than the Z Flip. Battery life is clearly a challenge for foldable phones, and one that I hope Samsung and others are working on for future generations.
Will the Z Flip's glass screen last?
Longevity is something we can't test on a product a week out of the box, but it is something we're keeping an eye on with foldable phones -- on our review units and on others' reports. Samsung says that the Z Flip's screen and hinge will hold up for 200,000 flips, a volume it estimates will take five years to achieve during typical use. That's the same rating as the Galaxy Fold.
Galaxy Z Flip vs. Motorola Razr
|Samsung Galaxy Z Flip||Motorola Razr|
|Display size, resolution||Internal: 6.7-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED; 2,636x1,080-pixels / External: 1.1-inch Super AMOLED; 300x112-pixels||Internal: 6.2-inch, foldable pOLED; 2,142x876p pixels (21:9) / External: 2.7-inch glass OLED, 800x600-pixels (4:3)|
|Pixel density||425ppi (internal) / 303ppi (external)||373ppi (internal screen)|
|Dimensions (Inches)||Folded: 2.99x3.44x0.62 ~0.68 in / Unfolded: 2.99x6.59x0.27 ~0.28 in||Unfolded: 6.8x2.8x0.28 in / Folded: 3.7x2.8x0.55 in|
|Dimensions (Millimeters)||Folded: 73.6x87.4x15.4 ~17.3 mm / Unfolded: 73.6x167.3x6.9 ~7.2 mm||Unfolded: 172x72x6.9mm / Folded: 94x72x14mm|
|Weight (Ounces, Grams)||6.46 oz; 183g||7.2 oz; 205g|
|Mobile software||Android 10||Android 9 Pie|
|Camera||12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra wide-angle)||16-megapixel external (f/1.7, dual pixel AF), 5-megapixel internal|
|Front-facing camera||10-megapixel||Same as main 16-megapixel external|
|Video capture||4K (HDR 10+)||4K|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ (64-bit octa-core)||Qualcomm Snapdragon 710 (2.2GHz, octa-core)|
|Battery||3,300 mAh||2,510 mAh|
|Fingerprint sensor||Power button||Below screen|
|Special features||Foldable display; wireless PowerShare; wireless charging; fast charging||Foldable display, eSIM, Motorola gestures, splashproof|
|Price off-contract (USD)||$1,380||$1,499|
|Price (GBP)||£1,300||Converts to about £1,170|
|Price (AUD)||UK price converts to about AU$2,500||Converts to about AU$2,185|