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24 hours with the Galaxy Z Flip: Surprised by how much I like it
Samsung lent us the Galaxy Z Flip for a day and I came away from the brief experience impressed. The phone is compact, approachable, and refreshingly different from anything I’ve used before. Here are my early opinions on the latest foldable from Samsung.
5 things I like about the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
My normal phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus. It’s a total pain to tote around in jeans pockets, and is particularly uncomfortable when sitting down. The Z Flip may be a tad thick, but the small dimensions make it practically disappear in my pockets in comparison. Samsung’s Flip is much more comfortable to carry around in your pants, there’s no question about it. While bigger is sometimes better, in this case it is not.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is incredibly well designed and assembled.
2. Build quality
I’ve used the Motorola Moto Razr briefly and there’s simply no comparison between the two. The Z Flip is incredibly well designed and assembled. The materials are excellent, the phone feels solid, and everything about it exudes quality workmanship. It carries forward the best things about the Galaxy Fold and improves in the areas that needed it. For example, the feel of the display is infinitely more pleasing thanks to the switch from plastic to glass. Moreover, the Flip doesn’t have the weak, creaky hinge that worries me about the Razr.
3. Hinge behavior
I love that the Flip acts like a laptop. Samsung calls it “freestop folding.” Unlike the flip phones of old, which often snapped open thanks to an internal spring, the Z Flip hinge allows you to open the Flip fluidly and set it to any angle. You can unfold it to any position between fully closed and fully open. This is neat. Moreover, Samsung developed Flex Mode, or software to make it more useful when partially opened. For example, when watching YouTube or Instagram content with the phone bent at a 90-degree angle, the phone acts like its own stand, with the top half showing you the content and the bottom half revealing the controls. Samsung says some of these software tricks are headed to other phones down the road.
I love that the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip acts like a miniature laptop.
4. Camera features
This doesn’t have much to do with the Galaxy Z Flip’s form factor, but I appreciate it nonetheless. Samsung gave the Z Flip the best camera features of the new Galaxy S20 family, which means Single Take and Night Hyperlapse. Single Take captures a smattering of photos and short video burst at the same time and then selects the best images and video for sharing on social media. Night Hyperlapse relies on a night mode to capture great nighttime shots, including time-lapse videos. The phone boasts standard-view and ultra-wide cameras on the rear, but not telephoto. That’s fine with me.
5. The novelty
Phones have been so boring for so long. Rectangular slabs have had me snoozing for years now. About the most interesting changes we’ve seen in recent memory are the flashing lights and odd looks of gaming phones, such as the ROG Phone 2. And those designs are quite literally for show only. The return to folding phones gives phone makers more latitude to stretch out and see what they can do. So far, I like what I see — particularly what Samsung has done with the Galaxy Z Flip. It’s a fun phone that’s novel, new, and nifty.
5 things I don’t like about the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
1. Cover Display
It’s too small and not functional enough. This small little screen is meant to help you see the clock and notifications and such when the phone is closed, but it’s not a complete solution. To start, it’s just too tiny. Even 50% bigger would be something. Second, the controls are fussy and involve pressing and double-pressing the screen lock key — which is hard to get to and use because the volume toggle is in the way. Moreover, there are swiping gestures tossed into the mix that further complicate usability. Give me big, give me simple. (The cover display of the Galaxy Fold was also limiting.)
The Cover Display is too small and too fussy. Give me big and give me simple, Samsung.
2. Mono audio
This is a total bummer. The Z Flip does not have stereo speakers. That means when you’re watching videos on YouTube or Netflix all the audio blasts out of one side of the phone. The same is true when you’re playing music. I know we can’t have everything in one device, but imbalanced sound on a $1,380 phone is not what I expected. Saving grace? The bottom-firing speaker actually sounds pretty good. Further, the phone supports high-quality stereo Bluetooth with the Music Share feature of the Galaxy S20 and Dolby Atmos.
3. Aspect ratio
There’s not much you can do about this, I suppose, as it’s the nature of the beast. The phone’s narrow waist means you have a really thin, tall display — 21.9:9 aspect ratio — when the phone is opened. This is more egregious than the 21:9 screens of the Sony Xperia 1, Xperia 5, Xperia 10, and 10 Plus. You really notice how lanky the phone looks. It’s something we’ll all have to get use to if we want this form factor to succeed. For now, it comes across as somewhat gawky.
The phone's narrow waist means you have a really thin, tall display when opened.
This should be a strength, but I find it is a weakness. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip features Samsung’s Edge Display and multi-window multitasking. The Edge Display, of course, opens a dock along the side where some shortcuts find their home. Unfortunately, the phone (and shortcut bar) is so tall that you can’t reach half of them without juggling the phone in your hand. You’re better off accessing the shortcuts directly from the (bottom of the) home screen. Similarly, using the multi-window view — with two apps running at the same time — is not as powerful as on the Galaxy Fold.
5. Battery life
I did not get a chance to truly run the phone through its paces, but the first charge did deplete from the 3,300mAh battery rather rapidly. I presume this is because the phone’s adaptive battery feature hasn’t had a chance to kick in yet. However, there’s no way the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip will deliver the battery life of the Note 10 Plus or S20 Ultra. We plan to more fully assess battery in our full-length review, which should be available in the days to come.
It’s early days for folding phones
I’m not sure the Galaxy Z Flip is the form factor that everyone wants or needs, but it is a big step forward for foldables. I appreciate that this second-generation product from Samsung is much more refined than its first attempt, and a more complete product overall. It puts the Motorola Razr to shame.
One thing we need to do is to take a step back and give Samsung (and Motorola) some leeway. I’m not going to excuse them from delivering sub-par products, but we do have to marvel at the technology we’re seeing develop in front of our eyes. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip has folding glass. That’s super cool!
Where we go from here will only continue to get more exciting.