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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Evaluate: My New Favorite Cellphone



The first foldables were big ol’ things, with tablet-size screens collapsing into regular phones. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip is a little different: a normal phone that folds down into half the size, just like the best ‘90s flip phones.

Which form factor you prefer will be a matter of taste, but for my money the Z Flip’s compact design would win any day. And while this foldable still has flaws, its strengths are more than enough to rise above them.

I’ll be blunt: I love the Galaxy Z Flip, and as far as I’m concerned it’s proof that foldables aren’t just the phones of the future – this is one of the best phones out there right now.

Design and build: Flippin’ heck

Much like the rebooted Motorola Razr, the Z Flip takes its inspiration from the flip phones popular in the ‘90s. Its 6.7in display folds horizontally, closing into a clamshell form that’s almost square.

The phone is 167mm tall when unfolded, but when closed it’s just 87x73mm – small enough to comfortably hold in one hand or even fit into a shirt pocket. Of course it’s a little thick when shut – 17.3mm, when most phones are just below 10 – but not enough to be burdensome, and the trade-off is well worth it when you factor in the fact that it will no longer jut out the top of your jeans.

It helps that flipping a phone still feels ineffably cool. The hinge is a little too sturdy to comfortably open with one hand, but can easily be closed that way – and if you open it a little you can still get it the rest of the way with an ostentatious flip.

It feels tough too. I’ve not been too gentle with the hinge, and have even dropped the phone a few times, but there’s no sign of dents, damage, or wear-and-tear to the mechanism or screen – though it’s worth noting that there’s no IP rating for waterproofing. And let’s not forget the fact that being able to close the phone while carrying it massively reduces the chances of scratching the screen itself.

Having used plastic on the Galaxy Fold, Samsung has upgraded to what it calls ‘ultra-thin glass’ for the Z Flip – though in reality it’s still mostly plastic, with a small amount of glass in the top layer. It will be a bit vulnerable to scratching then, but otherwise feels tough enough.

Folding horizontally does have one unintended side effect: while scrolling through apps you will feel the bump in the screen at the hinge. It’s subtle, and not particularly bothersome, but it is there, and even after two weeks of daily use I still notice it every time. I honestly don’t think this is a dealbreaker, but you should go in aware that the hinge is there, and you won’t forget it any time soon.

That’s not the only screen though. One of the Z Flip’s best features is a 1.1in display built into the outside of the phone. When closed this will display the time, date, and battery level, along with basic notification icons and even simple music player controls. The touch controls are a little insensitive – swiping can be awkward and sometimes it takes a few too many taps to wake the display up – but it gets the job done.

You might expect it to be monochromatic, but in fact it’s a full colour AMOLED panel. That’s partly so that it can colour the notification icons – green for WhatsApp, blue for Twitter, and so on – but also because you have the option of using the little screen as a photo preview for the camera, either for taking selfies with the outer lens, or so that anyone you’re photographing can see how the shot looks – well, if they squint a bit, it’s still pretty small.

Samsung has made other smart design touches. Here’s a subtle one: the volume rocker controls swap round when you close the phone, so that it’s always the top button that makes volume go up, and the bottom that makes it go down, even though which is top or bottom actually swaps as you open the device.

Next to the volume rocker you’ll find a side-mounted fingerprint sensor built into the power button, though sadly this is less of a coup. I found this the least reliable physical sensor I’ve used in years, and I’m not really sure what went wrong. It just doesn’t recognise my finger half the time – a rare irritation from a phone I’ve otherwise enjoyed using.

It’s worth mentioning the colours here too. Depending on where you are you’ll be able to get the Z Flip in black, gold, or the purple pictured here. With its pink tinge and reflective finish, I’m pretty happy saying that this is one one my favourite phone finishes this year – though fair warning, it attracts fingerprints like nobody’s business.

Specs and performance: Not the best but more than enough

From a specs perspective, the Galaxy Z Flip makes a couple of interesting choices. For one, the main chipset is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+. That was the flagship chip for late 2019, but has since been superseded by the Snapdragon 865 – Samsung’s choice of the slightly older version is partly an effort to keep costs down, and partly due to the extra space required internally for the 865’s 5G modem.

One immediate consequence is that the Z Flip is 4G-only, though since 5G is still in its early stages that isn’t really an issue. It also means that performance lags a little behind what we’ve seen from other 2020 phones from the likes of OnePlus or Oppo, but don’t let that bother you too much: this is still an incredibly fast and powerful phone, and should run smoothly for two or three years easily.

If you want to know more about our benchmarking, find out how we test smartphones for reviews.

Samsung includes 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. That’s plenty on both counts, but note that there’s no MicroSD support, so you can’t expand that 256GB any further.

The AMOLED display looks pretty good, despite the plasticky sheen, though with 60Hz refresh rate and a colour range that’s solid but never stunning. It certainly can’t match the quality of the best screens on other phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro, or even Samsung’s own Galaxy S20 line. For now that’s just one of the compromises you’ll have to accept with a foldable.

As for battery life, I’ve been impressed by how far the 3300mAh battery has stretched. I’ve never run out of battery before the end of the day, and it’s usually around 20% when I go to bed. That will worsen over time, but it’s a solid start – though there are definitely phones out there that’ll last longer.

The 15W fast charging is decent too, though again you’ll find much faster elsewhere. Going from empty I topped the Z Flip up by 45% in half an hour, which isn’t too shabby. There’s wireless charging support, though as always it’s a little slower.

Camera: Point-and-shoot

Then there’s the camera. Samsung’s flagship S and Note phones are usually bullish about their camera specs – witness the OTT 100x Space Zoom branding on the S20 Ultra – but the company has been relatively restrained with the Z Flip.

Don’t take that as a criticism though – this is a solid setup. The main camera is a 12Mp, f/1.8 lens with dual pixel autofocus and optical image stabilisation. On paper that might not sound like much, but it’s essentially the same as the main shooter on the Galaxy S10, minus the variable aperture.

Photos are bright, crisp, and detailed, with none of the autofocus problems that have plagued some of the S20 phones. Colours are punchy – a trademark of Samsung’s camera tuning – but it does a decent job in challenging lighting and handles skin tones well.

What you lack is versatility. That main lens is joined by a 12Mp f/2.2 wide-angle, but other than a 10Mp selfie camera on the inside, that’s it. There’s no telephoto, no depth sensor, no time-of-flight, no nothin’.

You do at least get more software options though, with portrait, night mode, and even the Single Take mode seen on the S20 phones that captures a variety of photos and short clips from a stretch of video. Speaking of video, there’s no 8K support, but you can shoot 4K video at 60fps.

Ultimately the essentials are here, and handled well. If your focus is just taking photos out and about this will match most other flagships for quality in good lighting, but if you’re really fussy about your photography you can get more options and better results elsewhere.

Price and availability

At the end of the day, it all boils down to the price. Since it’s a foldable phone it should come as no surprise that the Galaxy Z Flip is expensive, but by foldable standards it’s almost affordable.

If you want to buy the phone outright it’ll set you back £1,300/$1,380 – less than the top spec S20 Ultra, but more than almost every other phone around. Well, except the Galaxy Fold, Motorola Razr or Huawei Mate X – all of which cost more than the Z Flip.

Naturally you can also get the Z Flip on contract. Our review sample was provided by Vodafone, but you can also find the phone with EE and O2, while if you’re in the US it’s available through Sprint or AT&T.

Verdict

The Galaxy Z Flip isn’t a perfect phone. It’s still too expensive, the cameras lack versatility, and the fingerprint sensor sucks.

Price aside, these are minor quibbles however, and even while this may not be the best phone I’ve used this year, it’s easily my favourite. With the Z Flip Samsung has nailed the compact foldable form factor, and by comparison every other 2020 flagship feels ungainly and oversized.

This phone looks great, offers solid performance and flagship features, and is just plain cool. Most people probably shouldn’t spend this much on a phone, but if you can afford to then nothing else right now can match the Z Flip.

Specs
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip: Specs

Android 10 with One UI

6.7in wide Full HD+ (2636×1080) foldable Dynamic AMOLED with HDR10+ support
1.1in Super AMOLED (112×300) cover display

Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ octa-core processor

8GB RAM

256GB internal storage

12Mp, f/1.8, OIS rear camera + 12Mp ultra wide, f/2.2

10Mp, f/2.4 front camera

Side-mounted fingerprint scanner
2D face recognition

11ac dual-band Wi-Fi

Bluetooth 5.0

GPS

NFC

4G LTE

USB-C

3300mAh non-removable battery
15W wired charging

Wireless charging

Unfolded: 167.3 x 73.6 x 7.2mm
Folded: 87.4 x 73.6 x 17.3mm

183g

About the author: SubSellKaro

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