Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Review: A More Refined Foldable Phone

By Patrick Moorhead - March 6, 2020
The new Samsung Galaxy Z Flip foldable smartphone.

Last week, Samsung released its new line of Galaxy S devices and its newest foldable device, the Galaxy Z Flip. You can find my event coverage of the S20 here and Moor Insights and Strategy Senior Analyst Anshel Sag’s coverage of the S20 here. The Z Flip is Samsung’s second, arguably third, go at a foldable smartphone, and this time the fold is a “hamburger” or clamshell-style fold. I was one of the lucky few who got to test the Fold. There are many differences and design challenges that go into a clamshell-style foldable phone, and I want to give my take after using it for 24 hours. My device was the Mirror black with 8 GB of memory and 256 GB of storage on AT&T’s service.

The fold

The hinge is one of the more difficult attributes of a foldable device to get right, and the primary reason some reviewers thought Samsung’s first Fold had problems before release. I did not have any issues, for the record. For Samsung’s third go, the folding mechanism feels very solid. I am sure Samsung learned a lot from the Fold, and it shows with the more advanced folding mechanism technology in the Z Flip. Samsung implemented its Sweeper Technology that puts nylon fibers in-between parts of the hinge to catch small pieces of dust and debris. With foldable displays being in such an early stage, keeping small particles out from under the screen and away from moving parts gives me more confidence in suggesting the Z Flip as a more everyday device.

The Galaxy Z Flip's Hideaway Hinge.

The display has a tiny gap in the fold like the Fold device and seeing that the clamshell-style is more pocket-friendly, I was hesitant to put it in my back pocket at first. I imagined if I tried, something would break or bend wrong due to the gap. The Motorola Razr’s fold doesn’t have a gap because of its folding display technology. However, I would take the gap in the fold of the Flip over the moving screen in the Razr any day. In the end, I felt very comfortable putting the Flip in my front and back pocket.

Another design choice of the hinge that I like is the free-stop folding system. The Z Flip can bend and stop at any angle under its 180-degree hinge, which Samsung is calling its “Flex Mode”. At first, I thought it was a little gimmicky that I could prop my phone up and use the phone as its holder hands-free, but I actually found it to be quite useful. I could prop the phone up at a 90-degree angle and place it on a standard flat Qi charger, which was impressive. Hands-free video calling and the implementation of apps like YouTube make flex mode handy and convenient to have. Some may disagree with the sturdiness of the free-stop hinge when closing the device, but it’s reassurance for me.

The fingerprint scanner also improved over the Fold. It now serves as the action button, and unfolding the Z Flip wakes the device. The fingerprint scanner was in a convenient spot on the device so that my finger was already on the fingerprint scanner when I was going to open the device. Keep in mind, the Z Flip is a taller device and because of the more sturdy hinge, it took me two hands to comfortably open.

The display

The display was crisp and bright. Samsung always has high-resolution displays, the best displays, and even though it’s a folding display, it was still up to the display standards I expect from Samsung premium phones. The display is taller than what even have seen at 6.7” with a 21.9:9 aspect ratio. That is slightly longer than S20+ at 6.7” and about the same height as the Galaxy Fold which is a lot longer.It is an FHD+ dynamic AMOLED display with a resolution of 2636x1080 (425 PPI), which is a slightly less pixel density than the Galaxy S10e. The height of the display may seem out of the ordinary but it is no different than the display height of the Sony Experia 1. It is a taller display for better content viewing. Although it doesn’t have the pixel density as the Experia 1 (3840x1644, 643 PPI), the same tall concept applies.

For watching videos in horizontal orientation, the Flip asks if you’d like to zoom in to take up all the display real estate, a handy feature.

One of the more exciting reveals of this device is the announcement of Samsung’s Ultra Thin Glass technology. The display material of a foldable device is what makes or, quite literally, breaks the device. Glass does not bend without shattering. With that in mind and the experience I had with the device, it is easy to say the display doesn’t feel like glass, but it also doesn’t feel like plastic.

While the company won't definitively say how much more resilient the glass cover is versus plastic, I am told it's very high. I also noticed that Samsung got push back from calling it glass when it doesn’t feel like glass. Samsung didn’t lie when it comes to the Ultra Thin Glass it described. The tech industry has an expectation of the development of technology that doesn’t depict the actual development of technology. Technology develops at a slower rate than we expect and has small increments of improvements rather than leaps and bounds in technology.

Think of curved displays. When curved displays debuted, we expected a device like the Galaxy S10 with an almost bezel-less display and two edges. Instead, we got the Galaxy S6 Edge with bezels and one curved edge. An engineering feat of its time and the start of what would become the technology we have today, foldable phones, but it was no Galaxy S10. Did Samsung falsely advertise the glass display? By no means, and if anything, Samsung put out more than what we should have expected.

To digress, one design aspect the Razr does have over the Flip is the larger outside display. Razr’s is bigger and more useful than the Z Flip’s tiny 1.1” cover display. In my opinion, the outside display should be large enough to send a quick reply. Otherwise, I would rather use my smartwatch for quick notifications, switching music, and answering phone calls. Even though it is smaller than I would like, I’m glad Samsung gave us one. It is a true mark of a flip phone.

One feature that I could see Samsung implementing into its cover display is facial recognition when the cover display awakens. It would remove the time it takes to unlock the phone after opening it. This feature would most likely work better if the display were not to the left of the camera so that the palm is less likely to cover the camera.

The internals

The specs are almost the same as the Galaxy S10 from last year. I would even go as far as to say it is a foldable Galaxy S10. Which I think is impressive when I take a step back and look at the big picture. That is last year's specs in a foldable, compact design. It has a Snapdragon 855 with 8 GB of memory, and 256 GB of storage for the base model. The battery is slightly smaller than the Galaxy S10 (3,400 mAh) at 3,300 mAh. It comes with Bluetooth 5.0, WiFi 6 and LTE CAT 16. Compared to the Galaxy S20 series, which came out at the same time, they have a Snapdragon 865, up to 16 GB of memory and 512 GB of storage. I like that Samsung didn't skimp on technical specifications as the Moto Razr did with its lower-end CPU and GPU. I’m okay with the lack of 5G, as I just don't think it would fit and would drain too much battery.

At $1,380, the price is significantly better than the Fold and its top competitor, the Razr. However, the price of the Galaxy S10 is almost $800 cheaper than the Flip. So, in question, is the price difference worth it for a foldable design? The audience Samsung has for the Flip would say yes.

The camera

The Galaxy Z Flip has three cameras, on on the front and two on the back. For how compact the device is, I think it has a very high-quality camera system. It has a 10MP selfie camera that is easy to use in hands-free mode. As I said earlier, the hands-free mode seems gimmicky but was quite useful for taking pictures and video. The camera lens is also more protected than the front cameras on the Fold. The Fold has a lip to separate the camera portion from the screen in the top-right corner. The front camera on the Flip is flush with the display and in the center. There is a noticeable ripple in the camera that is similar to the fold of the display. It is not too noticeable when I put my finger there but noticeable with a glare. Overall, a stride of improvement from the Fold’s front-facing camera.

The back two cameras are 12MP wide and ultra-wide cameras. Even though the display is not an HDR10+ display, the wide-angle camera can film in HDR10+. It also has 8x digital zoom and optical image stabilization. The cover display is convenient to use for a selfie but is still too small for anything more than making sure your face is in the picture. I do like how the cover display can switch between the wide and ultra-wide camera. I found it useful in the case that I wanted the same picture with both cameras. In most cases however, it might be easier to turn the camera around.

Some of the new features of the camera app were Take Selfie and Night/ Night Hyperlapse mode. Both of which Flex mode was useful for. Take Selfie lets you place the phone down in Flex mode and take a collage of photos and videos. At first, I thought it was gimmicky, but I later found it more useful when I wanted the same shot in different camera modes. I wasn’t able to use the Night/Night Hyperlapse mode, but from the photos Samsung displayed, it looks fun to use.

The Flip’s camera is better than many premium phones, but not better than the S20, and that’s OK, because its target market is different.

Software unique to the Fold

Samsung partnered with Google to integrate Google’s video call app, Duo, into the Z Flip’s entire experience. I was able to open Duo in text messages, contacts, and calls. Google Duo displays the other caller on the top half of the screen in Flex mode with controls at the bottom, similar to a laptop. Google Duo does video calls on the Z Flip in wide-angle FHD (1080p), as opposed to previously in HD (720p).

The Galaxy Z Flip’s software is on One UI 2.1 and Android 10 compared to Motorola’s Razr that is on Android 8.1 Oreo. Another reason I would pick the Z Flip over the Motorola Razr.

The market

The last thing I want talk about is the market and the audience that Samsung has for the Flip series. The Flip has a significant change in audience compared to the Fold. The Fold’s target audience is productivity and business enthusiasts. The hotdog-style fold opens into a larger display for more productivity. The Flip’s target audience is trendsetters and according to Rebecca Hurst at Samsung “consumers who what to own a statement smartphone.” There are many benefits to owning a foldable smartphone, but what makes a fold so convenient for a trend-setting smartphone?

The Galaxy Z Flip comes in two colors: mirror black and mirror purple. Mirror Gold is available in select countries. 

For over ten years, the size of smartphones has progressed to be larger and thinner and for many consumers, a 6.4” display is more of a burden than a feature or inconvenience. Large displays are an inconvenience for two primary reasons. The first, a larger display is more awkward to carry, doesn’t fit in pockets. The second is that many people like to use phones with one hand comfortably. I think the progression of larger displays makes the market for a foldable clamshell-like display ripe for the picking. It takes away the minor inconvenience of being awkward to carry and not fitting in pockets. Consumers who don’t like large phones now have a reason to like large phones via the compact design coming from the fold.

Wrapping up

Currently, there is not a device on the market like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip. Yes, there is the Razr but it has low specs, and the durability, in my opinion, is too low for anything more than a feature phone.

I do believe the Flip is good enough to be a daily device. It has some room for improvement, which is to be expected from a disruptive device like a clamshell-style folding phone. Samsung didn’t skimp out on the specs and overall made an impressive first generation clamshell-style foldable phone. While I believe users can accomplish more with the Fold, it's also a lot larger. Samsung is targeting a different audience, which is smart. I believe the Flip will be a market success assuming there aren't any reliability gotchas down the road.

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.