How fun. Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Flip could not be more different from the Galaxy Fold. It’s actually phone sized and shaped. It’s expensive at £1,300, a £300 premium on its closest Galaxy S20 counterpart. And it doesn’t overcomplicate a new design and engineering idea.
In other words, the Galaxy Z Flip is an intriguing introduction to what Samsung – and almost every other phone maker –believes will be a legitimate new form factor. Where was this last year?
We don’t yet know the sequence of events inside Samsung. Was the Galaxy Z Flip rushed out after the initial product failures of the Galaxy Fold? Or was it one of a number of routes Samsung could have taken?
Either way, this is a much less ambitious proposition than the Fold. The Fold was an attempt to merge the phone and tablet into one do-it-all, futuristic device which encountered obstacles in everything from industrial design to quality control. A device that, let’s face it, could have benefitted from another year of development and testing. The Z Flip, in contrast, is a phone that folds in half to make it more pocketable. Less splashy and prestigious but more practical, more like the phones we own and more likely to be able to own a niche.
So what’s it like close up? On first impressions I liked it, as do most people I’ve seen use it, already an improvement on the Galaxy Fold. The initial question anyone asks, though, is can you flip it open with one hand? No, you cannot. You can close it shut with one hand (the noise is OK but could be more satisfying), but it’s slightly too unwieldy to go full 90s.
Folded, the Z Flip looks a lot like a shiny, chunky compact mirror or a GameBoy Advance SP, depending on your reference points. Mirrored on the rear/case, I got to see the black and purple models, both quick to pick up fingerprints – it also comes in gold.
The inevitable chunkiness that comes from this being essentially a Samsung Galaxy smartphone folded in half – it’s 17.3mm at the hinge, 15.4mm where the bezels meet – is almost completely mitigated by the fact it’s small, square and pocketable when in clamshell mode. The Z Flip is big but it’s also tactile and feels right-sized in a way the Galaxy Fold never did. Samsung has built something desirable – an object that people will take videos of, not just with.
The 6.7-inch Full HD screen is sharp and bright with no discernable issues at the fold from our very brief time with it. You can see the crease that runs straight across the middle of the device, don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. The only time it ‘disappeared’ was when I looked at it head on with an image or video on the display. I don’t mind the crease too much; it’s a personal preference, though, and could easily be a dealbreaker, especially at this price.
One of the major upgrades Samsung has made to improve the durability of the Z Flip compared to the Fold is to use what it’s referring to as a layer of flexible “ultra thin glass” over the Infinity Flex AMOLED, rather than plastic. This means, Samsung says, that it will be more scratch resistant which, combined with the new ‘hideaway’ hinge and a new layer of fibres between the display and the hinge to stop dust and dirt getting in, will vastly improve the device’s durability.
Samsung’s estimate is that the Z Flip will last 200,000 folds. In tests the Galaxy Fold fell short of the claims with 120,000 folds – the new RAZR did even worse with 27,000 folds in CNET’s excellent FoldBot test. A Samsung rep told me there’s no IP water/dust resistant rating as per the Fold, but that the Z Flip is splash resistant.
We haven’t been able to get any concrete details specifically about the thickness or properties of the glass from Samsung so far. The Z Flip units I got to handle looked and felt more robust than v1 and 1.5 of the Galaxy Fold, but the difference wasn’t dramatic. For everything – the glass, the hinge, the splash resistance – I’d say wait for real reviews.
I put the Samsung Galaxy S20+ side by side with the Z Flip since they are both 6.7-inch phones with similar profiles when the Z Flip is opened. The plastic bezels which surround the Z Flip are a blight on the front when compared to the polish of the S20+, but they’re also 100 per cent necessary at this point. Remember, they were an addition to take the Galaxy Fold from broken, dust-ridden disaster to something Samsung could sell.
They’re similar in weight, with the folding Flip 183g, and the Z Flip looks thicker than the 7.8mm S20+, but not monstrously so. Samsung lists it as having a 6.9mm thick screen but haven’t said how thick the whole device is – we’ve asked. The Z Flip is slightly taller than the S20+ with its 21.9:9 display and slightly narrower in the hand too. All in all, though, Samsung’s engineers have proven they can make something almost identical to a flagship Galaxy with a folding display. That’s impressive.
There’s no 120Hz display here, one of the main spec upgrades on the S20 series, and the resolution doesn’t match the S20s either. It’s a 2636 x 1080 Full HD display rather than the top-end Quad HD. The punch hole for the front-facing camera is slightly bigger than the S20+ but smaller than the S20 Ultra. Still, these are good specs for a 2020 smartphone with dual 12MP cameras (one ultra-wide), a 64-bit octa-core processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage – all in, Samsung has unsurprisingly managed to get more up-to-date components than Motorola’s new RAZR into this form factor.
Let’s talk about the niche the Z Flip might be able to own for a minute. This is not a phone tens of millions of people are about to go out and buy, and Samsung itself says it will be available in ‘limited quantities’. But Samsung (and Motorola) might be onto something. It’s a Stranger Things phone, seemingly going for both over-30s nostalgic for the first time round and the kids who weren’t born yet, curious about bits of tech culture they haven’t tried on themselves. Putting ‘Z’ in the product name to court Gen Zs is pretty embarrassing, but the concept itself – of providing a real, instantly recognisable alternative to huge-slab-screened phones – has merit.
The auto split-screen functionality for apps works well – you can run two windows with a third mini app on top if you really must – and Google has already said it will bring the functionality to other phones.
I’m not especially sold on any of the use cases for the Z Flip in ‘flex’ mode as a mainstream feature, though. It is able to sit up in your hand or on a table at 90 degrees or thereabouts pushed slightly forward or backwards. Samsung reckons users will be video calling and taking selfies.
It’s always interesting to see how people use their phones on the street or on trains – how close to their face, how shielded, what angle – and again, it’s not ludicrous to think teens will soon be video calling clamshell-style. But the selling point remains the ability to fold it shut, not the smattering of other folding phone use cases.
And incidentally, the 1.1-inch cover AMOLED display really is tiny, smaller than what Motorola is doing. Good for checking whether a vibration is a WhatsApp, call or Twitter alert, not much else – though it does technically work as a viewfinder as advertised.
I asked the youngest members of the WIRED team, and some Gen Zs we know, what they think of the Z Flip in order to very unscientifically find out if it’s cool. My questions were met with quite a bit of enthusiasm but there was understandable concern that it’s a gimmick. Maria Mellor, 23 and a writer at WIRED, says: “I low-key think it’s amazing, not in a practical sense, but in a ridiculous style sense. If I had the money to spend, I’d want to be looking like Channing Tatum from She’s The Man.”
Jenny Sancho, a 21-year-old student, says she’d end up using it open and unfolded 90 per cent of the time because “if it’s really the size of a perfume bottle I know I’d lose it in ten seconds”.
Alex Lee, 25 and another WIRED writer, says, “It looks really cool but I’m not sure what the point of it is.” Crucially, all the under 25s I spoke to also hated the price with a passion. In this context, the £1,300 price point makes zero sense. That puts the Z Flip only in reach for super-rich Instagram posers and the influencers who get freebies from Samsung.
“The weirdness helps it in a way. You can tell who it’s being marketed for with the Billie Eilish [from the YouTube ad]” says Annie McGill, 21, WIRED’s events and marketing co-ordinator. “Absolutely nobody that I know would be able to drop the money for this. They would be curious and some buzz would be generated, but I think most people would steer clear.” The final word goes to Juliana Bresolin, a 24-year-old student who messaged: “It looks cool. I was sold on it. But it’s way too expensive, eurgh.”
There’s another (admittedly big) niche to talk about here: is this just another cringey ‘girl phone’? It’s purple not pink, sure, but there’s the make-up compact mirror comparisons, the perfume bottle and diamond necklaces in the ads, the total lack of specs in the presentation (by a woman, Rebecca Hirst) and the Valentine’s/Fashion Week launch. Some of this marketing is a bit on the nose, even if the beauty-product comparisons are obvious.
A familiar refrain from female phone users, anecdotally, is that they want the big screens sometimes but find the devices too large 24/7 – see the popularity of pop sockets (which wouldn’t work here) to avoid smashed screens. A big phone you can fold up into a neat square seems to be trying to solve that. And I know women who use the front-facing camera on their phones on public transport to check their make-up; it might sound ridiculous, but it’s not too big a stretch to see them using something like this.
Finally, and importantly, I wouldn’t recommend anyone buys the Galaxy Z Flip on this Friday, the 14th, when it launches. Firstly because it only encourages corporations to do things like release products on Valentine’s Day. And secondly because you should, more than usual, wait for the full reviews of this product – the ones that revealed the first Fold was a hot mess, for example. But the Gen Zs have spoken: the Galaxy Z Flip is cool enough to deserve the initial buzz. As far as customers who might actually have the money to pay for this thing, we now need to see whether this glass and hinge and everything else stands up to testing.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is available to pre-order now for £1,300.
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