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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip hands-on Review

Khubaib Ahmad

The Galaxy Z Flip didn't come entirely out of the blue, but few of us expected to actually see it at the Unpacked experience zone. Better still, the foldable handset is already up for pre-order and clear  sales kick-off dates, just like we do for the  Galaxy S20 family.

 

It's expensive and there is a novelty premium included, but even outside that, you are still getting plenty of phone for your money in conventional Smartphone terms. A comparison that will definitely be coming-up time and time again in the near future. But internals aside, above all else, the Z Flip really stands out as a polished product. Frankly, that has to be the biggest surprise in our book.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

Body: Unfolded: 167.3 x 73.6 x 7.2 mm, Folded: 87.4 x 73.6 x 17.3 mm, 183 g; aluminum frame, glass body; Mirror Black, Mirror Purple, Mirror Gold color options.

Screen: Main: 6.7" Foldable Dynamic AMOLED, 1080 x 2636px resolution; 21.9:9 aspect ratio; 425ppi, HDR10+ support, Samsung Ultra Thin Glass surface; Cover display: 1.1", Super AMOLED, 112 x 300 pixels (Corning Gorilla Glass 6)

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ (7nm): Octa-core (1x2.95 GHz Kryo 485 & 3x2.41 GHz Kryo 485 & 4x1.78 GHz Kryo 485); Adreno 640

Memory: 8GB RAM, 256GB built-in UFS 3.0 storage.

OS/Software: Android 10, One UI 2.0.

Rear camera: Wide (main): 12MP, 1/2.55", 1.4µm sensor, f/1.8 aperture, 27mm equiv. focal length, dual pixel PDAF, OIS. Ultra-wide: 12MP, f/2.2, 12mm (123° FoV), fixed focus.

Front camera: 10MP, f/2.4, 25mm, 1.22µm, PDAF; 2160p@30fps video recording.

Battery: 3,300mAh, 15W fast charging.

Misc: Side-mounted power button/fingerprint reader combo; NFC; Dual-band Wi-Fi ac; Bluetooth 5.0; ANT+; single bottom-firing loudspeaker.

 

The Korean giant has clearly managed to turn the  Galaxy Fold, the whole first-gen display durability fiasco and aftermath into an amazing accelerated course in making foldable displays work. An entirely new linear hinge mechanism, complete with impressively intricate internals and little details, like a protective layer of brushes to keep particles out. An actual bending glass surface finish on the Z Flip's display, as opposed to a straight-out soft plastic. Clever control placement and use of the new form factor.

These are just some of the highlights of the Z Flip, that we can't wait to share our initial thoughts on. Of course, there are plenty of concerns and potential pitfalls to discuss as well. So, follow along as we bring a few main points up on the following pages.

 

Design

In short, the Galaxy Z Flip is gorgeous. No doubt about that. Even if you don't find its form factor particularly useful, its charms are hard to deny. Folded-down, the Z Flip could be mistaken for a compact. Definitely an extremely expensive one, but our point still stands. It just comes down to the combination of premium glass finish, rounded edges, and an impressively flat closed state, thanks to the new sophisticated hinge design. All this, combined with a few other bits and pieces, like the Z Flip's ability to take selfies with its external camera, as well as sitting on a table while doing the same with its selfie snapper, will likely garner plenty of attention from female buyers.

Again, comparing it to the Galaxy Fold, the hinge on the Z Flip behaves a lot more like a laptop. It lacks the magnetic "latching" effect when closed and the "snapping" into place while unfolded. Instead, you get a constant amount of friction throughout the entire motion. To be clear, though, the phone still feels "fixed in place" pretty well in both its fully folded and unfolded states. All the while, that linear motion allows the Z Flip to stay firmly in a half-open position. A state that Samsung actually accounted for in software, with things like dedicated controls on the bottom half and UI on the top one. But, more on that in the usability section.

The hinge feels quite stiff. With enough practice, you can still burrow your thumb in-between the two halves and open the phone one-handed. Samsung has nailed the resistance bit of the equation but it remains to be seen how consistent that stays with prolonged daily use. From a durability point of view, Samsung did boast 200,000 unfolding motions during the presentation.

As for general durability, otherwise, the Z Flip feels quite solid and confidence-inspiring. Unlike the Galaxy Fold with its air-gap, the constant urge to "flatten the whole thing down" is no more. So is the threat of small lint and particles getting to the folded display and potentially taking advantage of its soft surface. You can read more about that unfortunate side effect of daily-driving the Galaxy Fold in our long term review.

Of course, a glass surface is still a glass surface, so a pouch of some sorts will be a good idea to carry the closed Z Flip around. That being said, though, there is also an argument to be made about confidently pocketing the Z Flip, with its all-round Gorilla Glass 6 surface. Plus, out of the box, at least, its hinge shows little possibility of side flex, meaning you can probably push down on it fairly confidently while sitting as well as sideways while walking. And speaking about the durability of the hinge, in particular, we can't help but mention Samsung's small extra line of defense in the form of tiny brushes that should protect against tiny particles getting into the hinge itself while folding and unfolding. Just one example of accelerated learning and refinement of hinge design on Samsung's end.

Overall, despite what initial impressions and notions might dictate, the Z Flip looks and feels like a very durable phone.

Controls

If you still find yourself worried about the longevity of the hinge, there is a bit of saving grace to potentially consider in the shape of the tiny Super AMOLED display, Samsung positioned right next to the main camera module of the Z Flip.

Although the latter is fully-featured, in the sense that it is a color unit, complete with touch input, it is still the definition of a "ticker display". Its advertised 1.1-inch size is, technically, a bit generous and closer to 1.06 inches, with all the rounded corners. Not that makes such a difference in the experience. The particular oval shape was a great choice on Samsung's end since it makes the tine OLED fit right in with the rest of the Z Flip's design. When lit up, it almost looks symmetrical, in a sense, to the main dual camera module next to in.

And that is actually one of the best party tricks the little display can pull-off. Double-tapping the power button/fingerprint reader on the side of the phone fires up the main camera and puts a tine viewfinder on the screen. Despite size and resolution limitations (112 x 300 pixels), it is still surprisingly usable for framing purposes. Plus, capturing selfies this way offers the added benefit of using the full main-camera array. The other less obvious bonus is that you don't have to open your phone to take the selfie.

Aside from that, the small display can also save you an opening a closing motion if you are interested in the time, or want to get a general idea of what notifications you currently have. You can't read the actual text of said notifications, though. Or at least, we didn't manage to pull them up on the demo unit. Even so, app icons are often good enough to judge whether to open the phone or not. We expect that Samsung will provide a few other sensible tiny widgets in this space as well, like a weather forecast.

Samsung does offer what it calls "transitional continuity" for the external display. This basically means that if you tap a notification on the small screen and then open the Z Flip, the right app will be automatically opened. That's kind of neat. You can also see who is calling you on the tiny OLED. Though, unfortunately, there is no feasible way to take that call without unfolding the handset.

Circling back to the subject of actual controls, Samsung has those very neatly positioned on the right-hand side of the top half of the Z Flip. A power button, which also doubles as a fingerprint reader - convenient, snappy and positioned just right. Also, probably a combo that is going to stick around on such form factor devices.

Beyond that, controls look surprisingly familiar - Type-C on the bottom, along with a speaker and main mic. No stereo speaker setup on this one. A lonely secondary mic on the top and a single nanoSIM tray on the left. The tray lacks a microSD card slot, which is not ideal. As per official specs, the Z Flip does come with an eSIM support as well. So, there is at least a way to get two mobile numbers working on the handset.

Display

On to the main attraction on the Galaxy Z Flip then and its foldable display. As far as specs go, it is a 6.7-inch unit, with a resolution of 1080 x 2636 pixels. Definitely not bleeding-edge as far as density does, but still operating at a crisp 425ppi. Having seen it in person, we can say with certainty that the lower resolution is a non-issue here.

On the plus side, the panel in question still lives under Samsung's new Dynamic AMOLED family. That means you get the full benefits of Samsung's excellent contrast, punchy colors, and peak brightness. Enough, in fact, to secure the HDR10+ certification. So, lower relative resolution aside, the display on the Z Flip offers a true flagship-grade multimedia experience. One notable omission, compared to the S20 family is the 120Hz refresh rate. But seeing how the latter only now made its way onto Samsung's conventional panels, it is a bit ambitious to be looking for it in a folding unit.

Stunning and technologically impressive as it is, we do feel we need to mention one thing about the Z Flip's display design. Even with the advancement in tech over the Galaxy Fold, it seems that foldable panels still require plenty of protection around the edges. This is the reason behind the relatively thick overarching bezel on the front of the Z Fold. The latter also makes for a substantial lip and difference in elevation between the frame and the actual panel. Some style points are sadly lost there. But the current state of the tech necessitates it.

On the flip side, having this display lip around makes for a better "fit" and help eliminate the gap when the phone is closed. Also, it eliminates the possibility for the two parts of the display to rub or slam against each other. That is definitely a good thing.

As for how the display actually feels to use, it is a rather mixed bag. Samsung notably included a new finish on the Z Flip's display. One that is being marketed as a ultra thin film of glass. To their credit, in person, the finish on the Z Flip definitely feels smoother and easier to glide a finger across than the plastic finish on the Galaxy Fold. Definitely an improvement there. Durability is said to be the other obvious improvement. Although, it is too early for us to attest to those claims quite yet.

The unfortunate circumstance of this new, apparently harder display finish is that it makes the crease a lot more pronounced than on the Galaxy Fold. Running a finger over it, while not horrible, always, consistency will make you notice and remember it is there. And an unfortunate consequence of the vertical flip, clamshell design is that said crease is always smacked in the middle of the display. Given that most mobile UI is optimized for vertical scrolling and swiping, that crease will always end up underneath your finger. No doubt about that. Whether or not you can live with this reality will, however, be a very personal matter. One thing is for sure, though, the Z Flip is definitely a phone you need to handle in-person first, before committing to a purchase decision.

Cameras

The new Galaxy S20 family kind of raised our collective expectations when it comes to the camera. The Z Flip doesn't really shoot quite as high. It is notably missing out on all the Space Zoom hype, with things like 30x and 100x zoom. In fact, it doesn't even have a zoom camera.

Even so, the main 12MP snapper on the Z Fold looks perfectly confident on paper and held up well in our quick initial test in person. Even on paper, it looks quite comparable to the main module in the S20 and S20+. That means a decently bright f/1.8 lens and a few important bells and whistles like OIS and Dual Pixel PDAF. Lending a hand to the main camera, we have another 12MP unit. This one rocking a 123-degree wide field of view and an f/2.2 aperture. Nothing too fancy.

The same goes for video recording. Unlike the S20 generation, we don't get 8K on the Z Flip. On the selfie side, the 10MP pinhole snapper also looks to be a bit toned-down compared to the S20 one. Slightly darker at f/2.4 and without Dual Pixel tech. Still perfectly competent from what we managed to see, though. Plus, you can really get creative with it and the convenience offered by propping the Z Flip in a half-open state on a surface. Then again, there is also the option to take selfies with the main camera and the tiny front OLED, which might just turn out to be a fan favorite as well.

Internals

Speaking of slightly toned-down, the Galaxy Z Flip is not on the very bleeding edge of power. Frankly, something to be expected with novel form factor devices, since they have a noticeably longer development cycle and can end up lacking behind. Alternatively, skipping the extra, often unnecessary, costs of re-engineering and parts swapping.

The Z Flip sticks to last year's Snapdragon 855+. Interestingly enough, no Exynos version. That chipset still has plenty of raw power to throw around. 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage are still plenty. A microSD card slot would have been nice to see, but not a major deal breaker. One interesting consequence of sticking to last gen hardware is that the Snapdragon 855+ still has a built-in X24 LTE modem, unlike its Snapdragon 865 successor. In a phone as challenging design-wise as the Z Flip, the last thing you want to have to deal with is placing an extra external modem. Not to mention finding a proper place and location for the big and complicated 5G antenna setup. The latter just seems totally out of the question at this point in time. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the Z Flip is not taking part in the 5G push the S20 family is leading.

That doesn't mean, though the Z Flip is short on connectivity. On the contrary. You still get a 2x2 MIMO, 5CA setup, with Cat.15 LTE down and Cat.13 up. Dual-band, MU-MIMO Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, with ANT+and NFC are also part of the mix. Samsung even found enough room to include a wireless charging coil. The Z Flip can even do Wireless PowerShare, or reverse wireless charge.

And speaking of battery, there are a pretty decent pair of batteries inside the device, totaling a respectable 3,300 mAh. Unfortunately, you are limited to charging those at a max of 15W. But, again, considering the overall Z Flip package, we can cut it some slack.

Usability features

Just like on the S20 family, Samsung leaned heavily on familiarity when it comes to the OS of the Galaxy Z Flip. One UI 2.0, on top of Android 10 makes for a nicely polished, distinctly Samsung, feature-packed experience.

One thing noting is that the Korean giant has started experimenting with a new visual API specifically for the new foldable form factor. Understandably so, if the Korean giant does, indeed, intend to learn more and more heavily on the emerging segment. From what we saw in the current state of the custom UI implementation, certain apps on the Z Flip did respond to folding and unfolding the device. Most notably, the camera and gallery apps triggered an interface with content on top and controls on the bottom half of the screen, when they detected the phone is being used in a half-oven state. Definitely an interesting concept and one that does already provide some ergonomic and usability benefits. It remains to be seen, though, just how far Samsung takes this new software project and how open it decides to make it to third-party developers. Let's not forget, Google is already hard at work and has made significant progress on Android-wide foldable form-factor UI optimizations of its own.

Final thoughts

The Galaxy Z Flip and its arrival alongside the S20 line opens up plenty of questions and leaves room for confusion. On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to start a potential future foldable push in what is an arguable "safe" manner. In the sense that surrounded by flagship, hot-ticket products that are sure to sell, there is a lot less direct attention or pressure on the Z Flip. At least from a market perspective. Plus, it is so distinctly different from its sibling, that the possibility for market share overlap is slim at best. That is if we assume the Z Flip is even intended to exist in any meaningful quantity in the first place.

On the other hand, Samsung does sound pretty confident with this particular foldable release. Definitely a lot more so than with the Galaxy Fold. Pre-orders are already up and  pricing actually puts the Z Flip neck to neck with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Again, the two are a very different breed of luxury items. Still, it feels like a somewhat odd move.

Putting aside any market realities or PR decisions, the Galaxy Z Flips is nothing short of captivating, both for its fresh form factor, refined foldable display tech, as well as simply from a design and aesthetic standpoint. As far as actually getting and daily-driving one, though, we expect plenty of uncertainty on users and reviewer's end for the foreseeable future. All we know for sure is that we can't wait to put it through its paces in a full review.



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