Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 Review: It's All About the Cover Screen
Samsung's flip phone finally gets a bigger cover screen, making that $1,000 price easier to swallow.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Samsung's new flip phone, which goes on sale Friday, now has a bigger cover screen that nearly occupies the entire front of the device when closed. That might not sound like a big deal, but it goes a long way in making the Z Flip more useful without having to open it.
Foldable phones have previously felt like an answer to a nonexistent problem. That still may be true, but having the option to send messages, snap photos and respond to notifications on a device that fits in the palm of my hand adds a degree of convenience that's hard to understand unless you've tried it.
Watch this: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 Review: Flip Phones Are Cool Again
Motorola's new Razr Plus raised the bar for what a flip phone should be in 2023, and it deserves credit for that. But there are a few factors that make the Z Flip 5 the superior choice for most shoppers interested in a flip phone. The design and build quality feel sturdier, the software is more polished and the phone gets an additional year of Android version support compared to what Motorola offers.
That doesn't mean Samsung gets everything right. At $1,000, the Z Flip 5 still demands a high price for a phone that doesn't have a telephoto camera. Like previous Z Flips, you're paying for the convenience of having a device that can fit in your pocket more easily. While portability is still the driving factor behind the Z Flip's appeal, the Flip 5 represents Samsung's attempt at giving users another reason to consider giving foldables a chance. And it's off to a great start.
Galaxy Z Flip 5's smaller screen gets a big upgrade
The Galaxy Z Flip 5's larger new front screen, which Samsung calls the Flex Window, is hard to miss. It measures 3.4 inches, making it much bigger than the miniscule 1.9-inch screen on the front of the Galaxy Z Flip 4, but smaller than the Razr Plus. 3.6-inch cover display.
That more spacious front screen means there's a lot more I was able to do with the Z Flip 5 closed. As I wrote in my first impressions story, the small screen's interface is primarily designed to run widgets rather than full apps. Widgets provide the type of information you'd expect to see on a small screen, such as the weather, your calendar, alarms and pinned apps and contacts.
From the main lock screen, I can swipe from right to left to cycle through various widgets, while swiping from left to right will show my notifications. There's a small dot located on the left side of the screen to indicate whether you have any unchecked notifications, which feels very smartwatch-esque.
The Z Flip 5 also has a clever pinching gesture for showing thumbnails of all my widgets on screen at once, which can be helpful for quickly jumping to a specific screen without swiping multiple times. It feels very Apple-like, and it's a good example of how Samsung is thinking about navigation and user interface design differently on a display this small.
But Samsung only allows certain apps on the cover screen natively, whereas almost every app I've used on the Razr Plus was supported on its outer display without much extra fuss. On the Z Flip 5, I had to install the Good Lock app from the Galaxy Store to gain access to a broader selection of apps on the cover screen.
Still, the Z Flip 5 natively supports many of the apps that make sense for the cover screen, such as Google Maps, the camera app, and messaging apps like WhatsApp. Even though Spotify doesn't show up as a compatible app, I was able to access album art and playback controls from the Z Flip 5's front screen when I played music with the phone open.
The Galaxy Z Flip 5 Looks Chic With Its New Cover Display
I spent most of my time using the Galaxy Z Flip 5 while vacationing in South Korea, and there were a few apps that would have been very useful on the front display while traveling around Seoul. Google Translate is a big one that comes to mind. Being able to quickly pull up the app from the cover screen could have made some of my interactions go a bit smoother. Quickly browsing through news headlines or social media feeds with the device closed while riding the Seoul Metro also would have been nice considering I was usually using one hand to grip the subway handles.
It wasn't until I returned from my trip that I used the Good Lock app to bring apps like Google, Google Translate and Slack to the cover screen. Even though these apps technically aren't optimized for the cover screen, they ran surprisingly well. My only gripe is that they appear on a separate widget, meaning I have to swipe between two separate widgets on the cover screen to access my apps.
It's also worth mentioning that apps on the Z Flip 5's main screen also don't seamlessly transition to the cover screen when closing the phone as they do on the Razr Plus. Instead, it only works the other way around, with apps moving from the cover screen to the main screen after opening the device.
Regardless, Samsung's execution of the Flex Window is a promising start. It's clean and intuitive, and there's a lot of potential for Samsung to expand its capabilities.
Galaxy Z Flip 5 gets a new hinge
Samsung's new foldable phone also has an upgraded hinge that allows the device to close completely with no gap when shut. This is another area where Samsung is playing catch-up; Motorola and Google both launched foldable phones in June that have no gap when closed.
Samsung also says the new hinge should make the Z Flip 5 more durable since it has fewer moving parts, and the hinge's structure should also improve shock absorption. There's still a visible crease running across the phone's 6.7-inch main display, but it feels a slightly flatter to the touch compared to the Z Flip 4.
Motorola's Razr Plus looks thinner than the Z Flip 5, but Samsung's phone has a sturdier feel. I've only used the Razr Plus for a couple of weeks, but I already notice that it doesn't always unfold completely straight. I haven't used the Z Flip 5 for very long yet, so it's impossible to know how it will hold up over time.
That also raises a larger question about long-term durability for foldable phones. Although foldable phone designs have improved over the last four years, it's worth remembering that these devices come with a higher risk of damage compared to traditional smartphones. They're also not dust-resistant like standard, non-folding devices. Both the Z Flip 5 and Z Flip 4 have an IPX8 ingress protection rating, meaning they're water-resistant but not dust-resistant.
Galaxy Z Flip 5's camera is slightly better than the Z Flip 4
It's clear that Samsung focused most of its resources on the Z Flip 5's cover screen and hinge. The Galaxy Z Flip 5's camera is largely the same as last year's model, except it has a new coating that should reduce lens flare. That means the Z Flip 5 has 12-megapixel wide and ultrawide cameras, and a 10-megapixel selfie camera.
Instead of upgrading the camera sensor, Samsung is relying on the device's new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chip to do the heavy lifting when it comes to improving image quality. It's somewhat disappointing not to see an upgrade in camera hardware considering Samsung has been positioning the Z Flip as being ideal for snapping photos thanks to its flexibility. But photos taken on the Z Flip 5 are sharp and colorful enough to satisfy most people.
And you can certainly tell the difference when comparing photos alongside those taken on the Z Flip 4. I observed that colors look bolder and details are crisper in photos taken with the Z Flip 5 versus the Z Flip 4.
When it comes to the Razr Plus and Galaxy Z Flip 5, results differ depending on the situation. There were times when the Razr's photos felt drab and lacking in color compared to the Z Flip 5's.
Take a look at the photos below to see how the Z Flip 5's camera compares to the Razr's and Z Flip 4's below. The differences may be hard to spot, but they're more prominent when viewing these photos at their full size on a laptop-sized screen.
Galaxy Z Flip 5
Galaxy Z Flip 4
Motorola Razr Plus
Galaxy Z Flip 5
Galaxy Z Flip 4
Motorola Razr Plus
Galaxy Z Flip 5
Galaxy Z Flip 4
Motorola Razr Plus
But there were also times when Motorola's phone succeeded in certain areas over Samsung's. In the photo below of a delicious boiling pan of tteokbokki, a Korean street food staple that usually consists of soft chewy rice cakes and other ingredients soaked in red pepper sauce, Samsung did a better job at capturing the bubbling sauce's orange color more accurately. But Motorola's photo is noticeably sharper.
Galaxy Z Flip 5
Motorola Razr Plus
As was the case with previous generations of the Z Flip, you shouldn't expect to get the same top-notch camera quality you'd find on a phone like the Galaxy S23 Ultra or Google Pixel 7 Pro. But I'm impressed with the improvements I've seen so far. While the Z Flip 5 doesn't support the same zoom range or the offer option to capture super high-resolution photos like S23 Ultra, its cameras are plenty capable of documenting food and travel for Instagram. And that's exactly what I did while testing it in Seoul.
Check out the gallery below to see the photos I took all over the city, from cultural landmarks like Gyeongbokgung Palace, incredible views from the base of Namsan Seoul Tower and nightlife hotspots like Hongdae. And of course, I've included photos of the delicious food I ate while in Seoul, too.
See the Galaxy Z Flip 5's Camera in Action All Over Seoul
On a phone like the Z Flip 5, it's not just about image quality. The device's foldable design also lets you capture photos in different ways. I can, for example, open the phone halfway and rest it on a surface to capture a photo hands-free.
The cover screen also allows you to capture selfies with the main rear cameras rather than the lower resolution internal selfie camera. The front screen can show previews of photos being captured with the main cameras before hitting the shutter button, allowing the subject to see a live preview. However, this requires pressing a specific button within Samsung's camera app while shooting, whereas Motorola's phone does this automatically. And I liked having a much larger viewfinder for capturing selfies on the Z Flip 5 compared to the Z Flip 4.
Galaxy Z Flip 5: Main 12MP camera
Galaxy Z Flip 5: Inner 10MP camera
Galaxy Z Flip 5 software, performance and battery life
A foldable design doesn't mean much without useful software features. Samsung's answer to this is Flex Mode, which shifts apps to the top portion of the display when the device is positioned half open like a laptop.
There isn't much new with Flex Mode this year, but it's still more functional than Motorola's equivalent feature for the Razr Plus, which only worked in the camera app for me.
Performance on the Galaxy Z Flip 5 is what's expected from a phone at this price. Apps launch quickly, I didn't notice any lag or stuttering, and supported apps seamlessly switch from the cover screen to the main display.
I also ran benchmark tests meant to evaluate general computing performance and graphics power. Geekbench 6, the general computing test, assesses how the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip inside the Z Flip 5 performs at both the single-core and multicore level. 3DMark Wild Life Extreme tests graphics by simulating gaming environments.
Take a look at the chart below to see how the Galaxy Z Flip 5 compares against last year's Z Flip 4 and the Motorola Razr Plus in these tests.
Battery life on the Z Flip 5 is long enough to make it through a busy day of wandering around Seoul snapping photos, looking up directions and discovering nearby points of interest. I typically took my phone off its charger in the late morning, between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m., and still had 25 to 30% of my battery left between midnight and 1:30 a.m.
During CNET's 45-minute battery endurance test, which involves performing everyday tasks like streaming YouTube, making a video call, playing games and scrolling through social media, the Z Flip 5's battery dropped from 100% to 90%. That's better than last year's Z Flip 4 and about on par with the Galaxy S23. The Galaxy Z Flip 5 also performed about the same as the Galaxy S23 in a three-hour battery test that involved continuously streaming YouTube with the brightness cranked to the max. The Z Flip 5 had 80% of its battery left after three hours of streaming, whereas the S23 had 81%.
These improvements are largely thanks to the Z Flip 5's new processor. It has the same battery capacity as last year's Z Flip 4 but there's more local storage at the base level.
The $1,000 Galaxy Z Flip 5 comes with 256GB of storage, meaning you get double the space for same starting price as its predecessor.
Galaxy Z Flip 5 shows foldables are improving
The Galaxy Z Flip 5 further proves that phone-makers are getting closer to answering the question of why foldable phones are useful in the first place. The new cover screen goes a long way in reaching that goal.
As I wrote when reviewing the Motorola Razr Plus, the bigger external display shows that flip phones are about more than just portability. Having a device that's easy to navigate with one hand and can also unfold to a full-sized phone makes the Z Flip 5 and other similar phones more versatile than the phones most people carry today. Companies like Samsung and Motorola are starting to realize that the so-called "killer app" for foldables may come down to the benefits of having two screens that work together, rather than focusing primarily on how the main screen behaves when folded and unfolded.