Fun, gadget-like feel
Great build quality
So-so battery life
Update – March 20: We have added some new details in our conclusion now that the LG V60 ThinQ 5G is available with its second display.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is a very strange phone to review. Not because it is bad, but because it is weird.
Usually, a review works as an evaluation between peers. We compare a product against what the company claims it is meant to be, then we stack it up against the competition. Does Product A offer better value versus Product B? Does it have a better camera or battery life? How good is the display? There are a huge variety of options for consumers to choose from in the world of mobile phones, so which one should get your money?
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip does a lot of things really well. It has great performance, moderate battery life, and the (almost) latest version of Android. But it does one thing 99% of other phones can’t yet do: It folds in half.
Indeed, the design of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is its entire value proposition. The internals from the Z Flip just about match a flagship smartphone from last year, so you’re paying a price premium to get something that, for now, is pretty unique. I could spend this entire review comparing the Flip to the other notable foldable phone, the Motorola Razr. But I’ve already done that. If you want the skinny, it’s that Samsung’s phone has way more brawn and way better build quality, at a cheaper price.
What I would like to do instead, is help you decide whether the prospect of this folding form factor is worth the extra cash.
This is our Samsung Galaxy Z Flip review.
What’s up with the folding?
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is a breed of folding phone the industry refers to as a clamshell. This means it looks like a normal smartphone while you’re using it, then folds shut like a clam to become roughly half the height it was previously. Folded, of course, the phone is twice as thick as when open. But that’s a trade-off you’ll have to make if you want your phone to fold shut.
To achieve this, Samsung is using a new technology called ultra-thin glass. This is a special type of glass that is nearly as flexible as the plastic OLED display we saw on the Samsung Galaxy Fold and Motorola Razr.
Because it’s so thin, the glass is definitely not as durable as a standard smartphone display. A recent teardown by Zack Nelson of JerryRigEverything revealed that the Galaxy Z Flip’s screen can be pierced fairly easily. That being said, the glass is mostly protected while the phone is folded, and I haven’t had any issues with my unit so far. In fact, my friends who bought this device haven’t either. Still, it’s natural to have some longevity concerns with new display technology. To combat this, Samsung is offering a one-time replacement of the display for $119 during the first year of ownership.
But is a clamshell-style foldable phone even useful? My answer, as much of a cop-out as it may seem, is it depends.
Arguably the biggest benefit of a clamshell foldable phone is that, when not in use, the phone is about half as tall. This means it takes up less vertical space, is better protected, and can fit in smaller pockets and compartments versus conventional smartphones. Considering the Galaxy Z Flip has a fairly massive 6.7-inch 21.9:9 display, the smaller form factor helps it fit in way more places.
During the review period, I had multiple instances where I freaked out, worried that I’d left the phone sitting on a table somewhere. In fact, the phone was just nestled in the bottom of my pocket, much deeper than I was expecting. Once, I forgot I had put it in my breast pocket instead, which is actually a surprisingly convenient place to store a foldable smartphone.
The Z Flip got lost in my pockets when folded, and that's a good thing.
I was immediately inclined to think this phone would be perfect for someone like my mom, who tends to wear pants with pockets too small for the average smartphone. Because of this, she usually keeps her phone in her back pocket. And, well, let’s just say I’m pretty good at replacing iPhone screens now.
Samsung would like you to believe there are multiple other use cases for a phone that folds in half. While I agree with Samsung to some extent, the benefits are really fringe. The biggest secondary use case for me was being able to watch a video or stream an Instagram Live without needing to lean the phone against anything. Instead, I flexed the phone in half and let the bottom hold up the top display. I didn’t do this often, though, and prefer to watch videos in landscape mode. Because the phone is so tall, videos take up less of the display than usual. If you stretch to fill the whole screen, you’ll have a fairly major crop.
Otherwise, Samsung has added native Z Flip support to some of its apps, which ensure that the main elements remain at the top while secondary elements, such as controls, are banished to the bottom while flexed. This works with the camera, gallery, and messages apps. Samsung has partnered with Google to make this feature work with the Duo video messaging app. The feature is also meant to work with YouTube, but it doesn’t seem to quite yet.
Personally, I was hoping that using the Z Flip would encourage me to use my phone less. It takes more effort to mindlessly scroll on this phone than it does on other phones, so I was hopeful the hinge would act as some form of deterrent. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really the case. Turns out bad habits will prevail, even if it means I need to jump through a couple of extra hoops.
Is the front screen useful?
Like the Motorola Razr, there is a front display on the lid of the Galaxy Z Flip. Unlike the Motorola Razr, the Z Flip’s is very, very small. The OLED display is only 1.1-inches and shows basic information like the time, notifications, and media controls. If you tap on a notification, the information contained within it will scroll by, but it doesn’t scroll long enough to read the whole message on most occasions. If you double-tap a notification it will prompt you to open the phone to read it, and the associated app will open automatically.
The front display can also be used as a mini viewfinder, in case you want to take selfies with the phone closed. Because of the display’s weird aspect ratio, the image shown is only the center of the resulting image, but since it’s a selfie that’s all the information you really need to have anyway.
The only use I see in this feature is the ability to take higher-resolution selfies since the front cameras are 12MP, vs. the 10MP sensor on the inside of the phone. The wide-angle camera also gives a much wider field of view than the selfie camera if you need to fit more people in the shot. You can switch between the standard and wide-angle lenses by swiping on the display.
So is the display useful? I would say for what it’s meant to do, yes. A lot of people will unlock their phone just to check the time, and this allows you to do that quickly. You still need to double-tap the display or press the power button in order to turn it on though, and I wish Samsung offered an always-on mode for the clock.
Comparatively, the larger front display on the Moto Razr allows you to respond to notifications without opening the phone. With the Z Flip, you can only view notifications, not interact with them. Just as was the case with the original Samsung Galaxy Fold, I wish they made the front display a little bigger.
The regular phone part of the foldable phone
While the most interesting part of this phone is undoubtedly the fact that it folds, there’s still a whole phone in here. So how does it perform?
A few people I’ve talked to have compared the Z Flip to a foldable, souped-up Galaxy S10e, and by most measures, that’s what it is. It boasts a slightly more powerful Snapdragon 855+ processor versus the standard Snapdragon 855 on the S10e, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage. This is still a flagship phone by most measures, unlike the mid-range specced Motorola Razr.
As you would expect, these specs help the phone perform wonderfully. In daily use, I didn’t see any stuttering or frame drops, and I often multitask on my devices like crazy. The phone turned on quickly each and every time I opened it, and, through and through, I didn’t see any issues.
In benchmarks, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip performed fairly well, tightly mirroring the Galaxy S10e in most cases. This makes sense considering most of the specs are fairly similar.
The Z Flip is packed with a 3,300mAh battery. This isn’t as high capacity as I would like, and I got about five hours of screen-on time on any given day, which isn’t great. I normally unplugged the phone around 10am and the phone died around 10am the next day. Overall, you’ll probably get a solid day’s use out of this phone, but if you decide to stay out late one night you’ll need to top up or be careful of your usage.
If you need to juice this thing up, it supports wired charging at 15W, which feels a bit slow. When I plugged this phone in at 5%, it would take about 1 hour and 45 minutes to charge. Considering the original Google Pixel supported 18W charging and the new Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra supports 45W charging, I would have liked to see a quicker charging spec here.
The Flip does support wireless charging of up to 9W and reverse wireless charging. While both are pretty convenient, wireless charging is quite a bit slower than wired. If you’re just charging while you sleep, though, wireless charging is a great feature to have.
Build quality and durability
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip feels like a surprisingly well-built device. The frame is made out of aluminum and feels really sturdy. The ultra-thin glass display feels more like a smartphone screen than most foldable devices I’ve used before. This makes it the best-built foldable I’ve used to date, and gives me hope that the category may finally be able to exist in the mainstream.
Samsung has also re-engineered the hinge of the phone. This allows for a full 180-degrees of tilt, which is what gives the phone all its extra functionality. Samsung rates the display to fold 200,000 times before potential failure.
Samsung added fibers to the inside of the hinge to help stop dust from entering the hinge mechanism. While the actual amount of fibers added is much less than what was represented in Samsung’s promo video, I can confidently say that nothing has gotten into my hinge so far. We’ll have to wait and see how this hinge fares over the next couple of months.
This is the best hinge on a foldable phone right now.
I should note how ridiculously slippery this phone is. When closed, the Galaxy Z Flip will easily slide around on most surfaces. Samsung does include a clear case with the Mirror Purple model, but it uses adhesive to attach, and I didn’t want to permanently attach a case to this thing.
As far as durability goes, the Galaxy Z Flip has been great. I’m a pretty clumsy person and have dropped it on a few occasions. None were onto concrete, so there’s that, but the Flip suffered no more than a few minor hairline scratches. The two back panels that cover the top and bottom are made of glass, so I was particularly nervous about cracking those.
What about the cameras?
Remember how I said the Galaxy Z Flip was similar to the Galaxy S10e? The camera array is a big reason for that. The Galaxy Z Flip features two cameras on the hood of the phone, which are technically the rear cameras, though they can be used for selfies. One is a 12MP standard angle lens with an f/1.8 aperture and optical image stabilization, and the second is a wide-angle lens with 12MP of resolution, no optical image stabilization and a 123-degree field of view.
Like many other flagship devices, the cameras do quite well in decent light, though there is a bit of smoothing seen if you zoom in. The Z Flip seems to be better at contrast and color out of the gate than previous Samsung devices, which I often felt were overly-aggressive on dynamic range.
The wide-angle lens has quite a bit of distortion, and really squeezes objects in the center of the frame. I would probably try to stick to using this camera for landscapes, or in desperate moments where you need to take selfies of large groups.
In low light, the Z Flip definitely struggles a bit. The shutter speed is reduced, which leads to blurring, and the images got pretty soft. Night mode adds quite a bit of light, but in most situations, I found the image was even softer. If you’re taking a photo of something static this fares better, but add moving objects and you’ll get a lot of artificial exposure which is what produces the softness in the image.
Inside, you’ll find a hole-punch selfie camera with a resolution of 10MP and an aperture of f/2.4. The selfie cam is placed in the same position as the Galaxy Note 10 series and Galaxy S20 series.
I was really surprised at the quality of this camera. Sharpness was very good and it didn’t smooth skin nearly as badly as many other selfie cameras. There is a wide mode and cropped mode for this lens, so you can get more people in the shot if need be.
I’ve gotten a lot of random questions from friends and colleagues about this device, so here are some commonly asked questions and answers.
Is there a crease?
Yes, but it’s not very noticeable. It’s definitely there, and you will feel it if you slide your finger across the display. Yet while the display is illuminated, it’s hard to see at all but from a few angles. If the idea of the crease annoys you, you’ll have to wait. Nearly every foldable phone released so far has had a crease, and they’ll probably continue to be part of the folding phone experience for a while.
Can you flip the phone open with one hand?
Yes, but it takes a decent amount of force. You need to pry the display slightly open with your thumb before flipping it open — manually, there’s no spring assistance here. Even then, you should probably do it with two hands. The hinge was made to stay open at any angle (sort of like a laptop), so you should handle it with care.
Can you end a call by closing the phone?
Yes! I really enjoy doing this. There is an option to make it not end calls, but this doesn’t shift the call to the speakerphone; It just keeps the call in the earpiece, which is really not that useful.
Should you buy a Galaxy Z Flip?
If you’re looking to buy this phone, there’s a good probability you’re deciding between the Z Flip and one of the Galaxy S20 series devices. Those standard phones definitely have a leg up on this folding device in a number of categories, namely processor, battery, RAM, camera, and 5G capabilities. But you don’t buy the Galaxy Z Flip for those things. You buy it because it’s new, it’s interesting, it finally feels like a gadget again. That’s why you buy the Z Flip.
Look, let’s be real. Save for the pocket space savings, none of the Z Flip’s features have radically changed my life. I don’t video chat often enough to need a built-in kickstand. I don’t find the split apps useful. Unfolding it takes more time than just unlocking a rectangle. But it legitimately brings me joy because it is fun.
Maybe further down the line when foldable phones are a lot more normalized, this phone will be pointless to pick up. I’m personally much more excited for the Galaxy Fold 2, which starts normal-sized and turns into a tablet. That is a far more practical use case for me than something that just gets smaller. Until then, I love this thing, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.
And I think that’s worth paying for.
If you want to buy the Galaxy Z Flip, you can get it for $1,380, which is cheaper than the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which starts at $1,399. If you can afford the S20 Ultra, you can afford the Z Flip. The former is the safer choice, while the latter is the more interesting one.
Update March 20: LG has now released the LG V60 ThinQ 5G with an attachable second display. It’s an incredibly good value at $999 for the phone and screen together, and is more flexible due to the nature of the removable second screen. We generally liked the smaller LG G8x, which also had a second display, and we expect the V60 ThinQ 5G to be similarly appealing. However, it is not the same style of “folding phone” as the Flip. The V60 is a standard, slate-style phone that fits into a large case with the second display. Still, it’s $400 cheaper than the Z Flip and may be more utilitarian.
What do you think about the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip? Did you pick one up? Let us know in the comments below!