Samsung Galaxy Z Flip's foldable glass screen: Already more impressive than the Razr

It's already clear there are two things that the cheaper Z Flip can do that the Motorola Razr can't.

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The Galaxy Z Flip's 6.7-inch foldable glass screen stands up on its own.

Angela Lang/CNET

With the Galaxy Z Flip, Samsung takes on the Motorola Razr with two unique traits that the Razr just doesn't have: a foldable glass screen -- this is an industry first -- and a hinge that can stay open at a number of angles before snapping fully open or closed. The Z Flip also costs less than the Razr as well ($1,380 versus $1,499) and has more cameras. 

I really liked the Razr when I first saw it, and I like it even now despite a few flaws. But at first bush, the Z Flip could top it.

The most important questions are of sturdiness and flexibility. Will the ultrathin glass really hold up to 200,000 bends over its lifetime as Samsung claims? How breakable is that glass really, and is the crease a problem when using the phone? It already doesn't hurt that the Z Flip's screen doesn't creak when you open it, unlike the Motorola Razr. I tried that out on three different demo units.

Watch this: Galaxy Z Flip is the first phone with foldable glass

The Galaxy Z Flip goes on sale Feb. 14 in Mirror Purple (yasss), Mirror Black and in select countries, Mirror Gold. That glass body really is mirrored, too -- those fingerprints build up fast. It'll cost $1,380 in the US and £1,300 in the UK. Australian pricing is TBA, but the UK price converts to about AU$2,500.

Read on for what it's like to use the Galaxy Z Flip, how the hinge works and all the pros and cons I noticed in my 40 minutes using the clamshell foldable so far (10 minutes in one demo room and 30 in another).

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip impresses from almost every angle

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Z Flip's glass screen could be killer

Samsung demos the Galaxy Z Flip on stage at Samsung Unpacked.

GIF by Mike Sorrentino/CNET

What's it like to use a foldable glass screen, instead of a plastic display?
It might be too soon to tell, but I immediately noticed that the screen crease looked less pronounced than I've ever seen it. I could still see light reflecting off of it at the bend, and could feel a slight dip when I ran my fingertip deliberately over the midline. It's certainly more subtle than on the Galaxy Fold .

I tapped the glass too, and listened, but didn't hear that telltale clink. Must be because it's ultrathin. Navigation felt smooth in my brief time with the device, and so did the surface.

Since the very first first peep about foldable phones, glass has been the holy grail of foldable screens: Thin enough to fold without breaking, but providing a more effective shield to the delicate OLED display beneath than a sheet of plastic. 

The hope is that an ultrathin foldable glass will also deflect scratches and water damage. The question we still have to answer is if and how it will break when you inevitably drop it.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Unpacked event 2020

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A big deal: The screen stands up on its own

In addition to foldable glass, the Z Flip's second distinction is the fact that the hinge is sturdy enough for the screen to stand upright on its own without slowly closing or opening.

I pushed and pulled the upper portion of the screen at every angle from the base, and it wasn't until the very bottom or very top of that arc that the phone either opened fully or else snapped shut, assisted by magnets at the corners.

A self-supporting screen has been high on my list since the first foldable phone prototypes we've seen, especially if you can view an image or video on the top portion while typing or doing something else on the bottom. On a taller, narrower design like the Z Flip, you'll get the convenience of watching a video hands-free, though the clip itself will feel pocket-size compared to the 7.3-inch Galaxy Fold, which you'd watch totally unfolded.

Samsung has also partnered with Google (specifically YouTube ) to make its app split into two portions when the Z Flip bends. The idea is to watch YouTube videos on the upper screen while reading comments on the bottom. I wasn't able to test this, because YouTube needs an update for that to work, but I was able to see the effect on the camera app. A row of controls appears on the bottom and the image retreats on the top.

We'll need more apps to take advantage of the capability to see how well it works in the real world.

How long will the Z Flip screen really last?

Samsung says the Galaxy Z Flip's screen will last 200,000 flips without damage, or about what you'd get after five years of use. This figure speaks to the wear and tear on the screen and hinge resulting from opening and closing the device repeatedly.

That's the same rated number of uses as the Galaxy Fold, which CNET tested last October on a machine called the FoldBot. That test, which was meant to be an approximation and not a scientific final word, lasted for 120,000 folds. Meanwhile, we stopped the test on the Motorola Razr after just 27,000 folds when the same machine could no longer fold it. (We note the results aren't exactly comparable, and Motorola challenges the FoldBot's results.)

All of this is to say that we don't know yet how long it will really last in the real world, or even more importantly, what kind of environmental damage from water, moisture, dust, sand and ordinary objects like fingernails and keys the screen and hinge mechanism can sustain. We do know that Samsung has included fibers inside the hinge area that will work like nose hairs to help trap or filter out dust and debris.

Galaxy Z Flip

A closer look at the Z Flip's glass display and crease.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Little danger of repeating Galaxy Fold mistakes

The Z Flip's glass screen is expected to bypass the Galaxy Fold's biggest early vulnerabilities, like damage due to pressure. But the Z Flip also avoids confusion because there's no gap between the thick plastic bezel and the screen for a fingernail to slide into (or any dust).

Samsung also carried over the plastic T-caps (as I call them) that fit into the sides of the hinge. The purpose of these is to reinforce the area, which could be more susceptible to gunk getting caught underneath the display and causing bulges or internal damage. This is a carry-over from the Galaxy Fold redesign.

What the outer screen is good for

Probably 95% of the time, you'll use the Z Flip open. That's because the cover display is a mere 1.1 inches at the diagonal. That doesn't give you much room for anything but the smallest notification icons that roll out ticker messages when you tap them. You'll see things like a Wi-Fi icon, missed call and other notifications, and the alarm.

You can also use it as a viewfinder for taking a selfie, or tap a button on the inside for someone else to see their face before you snap the shot. But it just seems too small, squat and wide to really be effective.

I thought the Motorola Razr's 2.7-inch outer display was tiny, but at least it lets you select canned message responses and use voice commands. The Galaxy Fold, meanwhile, has a 4.6-inch cover display that lets you do everything that Android can do, but which is too small to comfortably type on. I never thought I'd miss it.

Galaxy Z Flip

There's a tiny air gap about the width of a couple business cars or a credit card. You can see the light through it, but overall, this is an impressive achievement for foldable glass.

Juan Garzon/CNET

Camera, battery life, fingerprint reader

Forty minutes isn't a long time to try out a device, so I didn't get much chance to take photos and analyze them. But I do like that the Z Flip has two main cameras. I wind up using wide-angle mode more than I ever expected. It's especially useful for making selfies look more natural, and for bringing backgrounds into the scene.

Battery life is also something I'll keep a close eye on. The Z Flip has two battery cells that work in tandem to give a 3,300-mAh total capacity. That's less than flagship regular phones, but typical for the foldable phones we've seen so far. The Flip is small enough that the capacity could last a whole day, but dual batteries are known for being less efficient than a single cell.

I'm also curious how easy the fingerprint reader will be to use. It's integrated into the power button on the Z Flip's right side and has a flat surface, just like on the Galaxy Fold. You double press it to launch the camera, as you would on other Android phones (the Z Flip uses Android 10). When it's closed, the fingerprint reader is on the top of the screen sandwich, with a whole other side of the screen just below it. It feels a little weird, and I wonder if it'll get in the way at all when using the phone, or is this is just one more feature to get used to.

Galaxy Z Flip specs

There's a lot more of the Galaxy Z Flip to explore, especially as it compares to the Motorola Razr foldable flip phone. CNET will review the device as soon as we can.

Galaxy Z Flip versus Motorola Razr

Samsung Galaxy Z FlipMotorola 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: 2.99 x 3.44 x 0.62 ~ 0.68 in / Unfolded: 2.99 x 6.59 x 0.27 ~0.28 in Unfolded: 6.8 x 2.8 x 0.28 in / Folded: 3.7 x 2.8 x 0.55 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) Folded: 73.6 x 87.4 x 15.4 ~17.3 mm / Unfolded: 73.6 x 167.3 x 6.9 ~ 7.2 mm Unfolded: 172 x 7 2 x 6.9mm / Folded: 94 x 72 x 14mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.46 oz; 183g7.2 oz; 205g
Mobile software Android 10Android 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-megapixelSame as main 16-megapixel external
Video capture 4K (HDR 10 Plus)4K
Processor 64-bit octa-coreQualcomm Snapdragon 710 (2.2GHz, octa-core)
Storage 256GB128GB
Expandable storage TBDNone
Battery 3,300 mAh2,510 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Right sideBelow screen
Connector USB-CUSB-C
Headphone jack NoneNone
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) £1,300Converts to £1,170
Price (AUD) UK price converts to AU$2,500Converts to AU$2,185

Originally published earlier this week.