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Coverscreen OS makes me excited for the Galaxy Z Flip 5
I love clamshell foldable phones. The nostalgia of slapping the display closed when I’m done and the convenience of slipping the phone comfortably back into my pocket hasn’t worn off even a little bit. However, the one aspect of devices like the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 and OPPO Find N2 Flip that should be most convenient — the cover screen or outer screen — has been criminally underserved since the beginning. It should be a meaningful display rather than a glorified smartwatch, offering more than just a few basic widgets. Thankfully, that’s where third-party app Coverscreen OS comes in, and it keeps me excited for the next generation of clamshells.
Underdeveloped real estate
The clamshell doesn’t survive without its cover screen. Smaller-than-average batteries still dictate that the less you open your phone, the longer it will last, so you check most notifications on that tiny outer display. However, once you decide to respond to that notification, you immediately have to unlock and open your phone. Sure, it’s easier to type on a 6.7-inch display than on a 1.9-inch one, but not every interaction requires typing.
Further, the cover screen on the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 or OPPO Find N2 Flip is essentially limited to a set of widgets. You can swipe to check the weather and upcoming appointments and manage the music playing, but not much more. Camera controls are one of the bright spots, with Samsung implementing a series of swipes and taps to swap lenses, switch to portrait mode, and more, but that preview window still isn’t very big — though it’s slightly bigger on the Find N2 Flip.
Clamshell foldables rely on their cover screens, yet their features keep coming up short.
Now, Coverscreen OS doesn’t fix certain things like the small camera preview window (that’s hardware, not software), but it does offer a taste of a full-featured cover screen. It takes the list of widgets that both Samsung and OPPO offer and then opens the door to the rest of the widgets on your device.
Outside of widgets, Coverscreen OS lets you access your entire app drawer right from the outer display. It populates a just-large-enough grid where you can open everything from Twitter to Google Docs and interact just like if you’d unlocked your phone. I used Gmail almost daily during my time with Coverscreen OS, taking a quick minute to read incoming mail and forward it where it needed to go. There’s virtually no limit to the apps you can open in Coverscreen OS — though some adapt to cramped quarters better than others.
Big dreams come with a price
While Coverscreen OS adds a ton of software punch to the Galaxy Z Flip’s arguable most important display, it’s still limited by Samsung’s existing hardware. Because internal apps aren’t optimized for a tiny display, the text and buttons are small and hard to interact with. However, Coverscreen OS has something of a way around the issue. Every app you access from the outer display comes in two sizes — default and zoomed.
The default size appears like the image above, a very tiny version of the full-screen app. It was tough to interact with until I figured out how to swap modes. Once you flip to the zoomed-in version, Coverscreen OS becomes far more usable. The buttons and text become larger, though you can still tap and type as you interact with your content. You can only see three emails at a time rather than five or six, but they’re much easier to read and respond to.
Once you learn to zoom in on your apps, Coverscreen OS raises the bar even further.
Beyond the convenient zoom mode, Coverscreen OS adds plenty of tweaks to gestures and quick settings. Instead of simply swiping up, down, left, or right, the area where you swipe has a different result. For example, swiping up from the middle of the Galaxy Z Flip’s display opens the music settings, while swiping up from the right edge activates Samsung Pay. It essentially doubles the number of features you can cram into the same amount of space.
The app adds some interesting Quick Toggle options, too. You can swipe down and tap to activate the flashlight — a feature not on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 at launch — and even use Caffeinate. This one took me a minute to figure out at first, but it forces your cover screen to stay awake until you turn it off, just like an extra cup of coffee.
Unfortunately, one thing holds Coverscreen OS back for me — it’s not free. To get complete control over your styles and certain general settings, some as simple as setting QWERTY as your default keyboard, it asks you to pay for a subscription. Plans range from $1.99 per month up to $29.99 for lifetime access on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 or up to $99.99 for lifetime use on devices like the Galaxy Z Flip 4 or Find N2 Flip. Coverscreen OS is also ad-supported, with full-screen takeovers and banners popping up regularly.
A brighter future
Alright, it’s fair to say that Coverscreen OS has some big dreams but is currently a bit limited by existing clamshell displays. There’s no getting around the fact that trying to type on the 1.9-inch Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a nightmare. However, I like to think of Coverscreen OS as a first-generation foldable — it’s a proof of concept. It’s proof that you can make your apps function on the smaller external display beyond the basic expectations of a widget; it just takes a little extra practice and refinement.
Coverscreen OS is great, but I'm ready for a world of foldables where it's not needed.
More importantly, it looks like that practice and refinement is about to get a lot easier. A recent leak suggests that the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 is about to get a significant upgrade to the external display, taking up most of the rear panel rather than just a tiny rectangle. It would be larger than the Find N2 Flip and Motorola’s RAZR (2022) and immediately ease some concerns about typing on a small display. Samsung isn’t the only one planning additional real estate, either, with Motorola following a similar trend for its rumored 2023 RAZR.
Once we start to see larger cover screens on clamshells, I have a feeling that their functionality will explode. We’ll either see Samsung, Motorola, and OPPO roll features from Coverscreen OS right into their existing software, or Coverscreen OS will become that much more useful. Either way, it will make my favorite type of smartphone more fun to use, and I can’t wait.
What do you think? Should clamshell foldables add to their external display features? Let us know down below.