If you are bored with the fact the last few phones you bought all look the same, then the Galaxy Z Flip might well be the new phone for you. It’s a purple folding flip phone that looks like a coaster or a compact mirror when closed but acts pretty much like a regular smartphone when opened.
Everyone I showed it to while reviewing it was bowled over by the fact it folds, but they were just as shocked by the price. If folding phones are to become the norm, the Z Flip will be remembered for forging a bold but pricy path at the infancy of the form factor.
Yet it’s cheaper and more usable than the Galaxy Fold that went before it, and it represents Samsung maturing its foldable line up rather quickly.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip price and release date
The Z Flip is available in purple or black for the princely sum of £1300/$1380.
That is indeed a lot, but it’s only £100 more than Samsung’s own £1199 Galaxy S20 Ultra, a ginormous, bulky slab of a phone.
If you can stretch to £1300, you’ll get a phone with a tiny footprint that, let’s not forget, folds in half. I’d pick the Z Flip, even if that is much more than anyone actually needs to spend on a smartphone in 2020.
Design – The Z Flip rewrites the rules
Samsung got a fair amount of flack for the Galaxy Fold, its first folding phone that was delayed because of build quality issues. That device is a tablet that folds down to something approaching phone-sized, whereas the Z Flip unfolds to phone size for use but folds away to something far more compact.
This means the Z Flip can and should be your next main phone if you want it to be, whereas the Fold’s bulky design and sky-high price made me feel it was best suited to being a second device.
Samsung stepped up the manufacturing quality for the Z Flip, adding a very thin layer of glass into the construction of the folding screen. It’s still a glossy plastic layer on the surface that you interact with, but the glass layer underneath means it’s harder to permanently mark the display with a fingernail (though not impossible). But make no mistake – this is still a supremely fragile phone, and it’s not a full glass display.
The internal screen looks great, particularly at full brightness where Samsung’s displays always excel. The outside of my review sample was the brilliant Mirror Purple finish, which you really can use as a mirror thanks to the reflective finish, but the glass picks up fingerprints in nanoseconds. It’s also available in Mirror Black.
I was worried that the actual folding mechanism would feel shaky, but it is very well done. There is more resistance than you’d find on a flip phone from the mid-2000s, and it’s quite fiddly to open it one-handed. This design necessarily opens a full 180 degrees to transform into a flat screen, and it’s hard to snap it shut with the same satisfactory clunk as your old flip phone from years ago.
There’s a plastic rim around the display with rubber contacts on the bottom corners where both ends meet when you close the phone. It doesn’t quite close flat, but it’s barely noticeable. It does mean that dust and lint collect in the small gap nearest the hinge in between the two halves of the display, though.
It’s a package that screams premium, and well it should, considering the price. It’s also really fun to snap the phone shut to end a call.
Screen – The Z Flips’s main event
The Z Flip opens like an old clamshell flip phone, and it’s that inside screen where you have to do everything. The Galaxy Fold has full an external display that means you don’t have to always open the phone, but here there’s only a 1.1in cover display that shows the time and tiny icons and previews of notifications. It’s pretty useless for anything else, so you’ll be doing a lot of flipping.
The cutest thing you can use it for is a selfie viewfinder. Double-tap the power button when closed, and it becomes one, though its shape means it’s still a bit of a guess as to what you’ll fit in. It also works to show people you’re taking a photo of with the rear cameras what they look like (if they squint).
Inside is a 6.7in 21.9:9 AMOLED display that in the right light looks sharp, crisp, and as well-lit as any full glass Samsung panel. It’s very impressive. Colour reproduction is great with Samsung’s usual over-saturation of colours to make things pop.
Given that most of the phone’s construction has to be plastic – including the part you actually touch – the screen picks up oil and fingerprints insanely fast, and, in bright light, it’s hard to read. If you’re constantly wiping your phone screen down, this one will be a nightmare for you.
There’s also the obvious crease bang in the middle of the screen. If you’re watching a video at full brightness or looking at something head-on, it sort of disappears. But in most lights and at most angles, it’s there, and you can see it. This is the compromise of folding phones currently – yes, it folds, but that crease is not ironed out when it’s open.
You can feel it under your thumb when scrolling, but it feels like a better built mechanism than the Galaxy Fold’s, and I was able to be fairly rough with the thing without fear of breaking it.
Performance – Last year’s specs still hold up
The Z Flip uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 885 Plus chipset rather than the latest high-end 865 you’ll find in the OnePlus 8 series or some models of the Galaxy S20. This really doesn’t matter for the Z Flip. Performance is whip-fast paired with 8GB RAM, and the phone never stuttered on any task during my time with it.
There’s 256GB of non-expandable storage, odd for a Samsung phone but likely a constraint of the smaller, new form factor.
Phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro with 12GB RAM are technically faster and may well feel faster thanks to the animations used in the software. It is true that the Z Flip does not have the most premium specs in 2020, but it’s still a premium performer.
Camera – The Z Flip camera is good enough for most people
Samsung may have skimped ever so slightly on the specs to keep the price down, and that corner-cutting continues with the cameras. They are pretty good but not great for a phone of this price, with dual 12Mp sensors. The main lens is f/1.8 with OIS, and it’s paired with a f/2.2 ultrawide, leaving the Z Flip without a telephoto lens – so all zoom shots are done digitally, not optically.
I did miss the optical zoom as the up to 8x digital zoom here does not give great results, but the ultrawide allowed me to get some impressive shots. The f/2.4 10Mp front-facing camera is not much to write home about, but it did fine for video calls and selfies. The latter appear a little washed out and lacked the detail you’ll get from the iPhone 11 series or the Pixel 4.
There’s nothing like a macro mode either, but the cameras cope fine with close-ups. I found I had to tap to focus more than with other phones, but I was pleased with the photos overall. I still prefer the iPhone 11’s processing.
Video recording is solid, with support for 4K@60fps on the rear cameras and 4K@30fps on the front. The rear cameras have software video stabilisation built-in, and it helps massively. You can also toggle on HEVC and HDR10+ modes if you’re more technically minded or want to use the Z Flip for content creation.
A few camera features are carried over from the S20 phones like Single Take that takes photos and video clips in a few seconds with one shutter press and lets you pick the most interesting results. I’m sure it would have come in very handy were it not for lockdown and my inability to do anything fun or with people.
Samsung also built in Flex Mode for some apps where you can half fold the phone, and the top half of the display becomes the viewfinder. This works excellently with the camera app if you want to take a group selfie as you can place the phone down and set a timer. It also works in Google Duo, meaning hands-free video calls are much easier than if I were trying to prop up a regular shaped phone.
But apart from YouTube, there are hardly any other apps that are compatible, and it is unlikely developers will prioritise building it in given the Z Flip is such a niche device. Flex Mode one of the few software quirks in a phone with such unique hardware, proving that this really is a regular phone that folds away small rather than a device that fully embraces its form factor to do new things.
See below for some sample shots:
Battery life – Surprisingly strong
With no Samsung Exynos chip version of the Z Flip, all models are equipped with the Snapdragon 855 Plus, which is a good thing for the battery life. The Z Flip only has a 3,300mAh cell, so it needs all the help it can get.
Samsung’s Qualcomm-powered phones always outperform their counterparts on the battery life front, and the Z Flip is no different. I easily got through every day without even thinking about plugging the phone in. When I wanted to, the bundled 15W charger had me covered, alongside built-in wireless charging.
15W wired charging is not the fastest available in 2020 with 25W on the S20 and 45W on the S20 Ultra. It’s another area where Samsung has cut corners to keep the price down.
Lockdown restrictions were eased in New Zealand where I live while I was reviewing the phone, meaning I put it through a few freer days of photo taking, Google Maps navigation in the car, social media scrolling and food ordering.
Remember normal times? Well, when they return, the Z Flip will be able to keep up no problem. It can get four hours of screen on time and still have about 30% power left. This is by no means the best on the market for battery life, but it suited my usage habits fine.
The phone also packs in Wireless Power Share, which I used to charge my AirPods. It’s a nice feature to have, but it’s not powerful enough to fully recharge another phone, and of course, it depletes the Z Flip’s battery when not plugged into the mains.
Software – Samsung’s One UI is the best it’s ever been
I tested the phone on Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI 2.1, and it is a very well-polished software skin. It feels as premium as the device, and Samsung has made sure that its app formatting is perfect – I didn’t experience any incompatibility or formatting issues with any apps in portrait orientation.
It’s a different story when you watch video in landscape, something that isn’t very enjoyable on the Z Flip thanks to black bars either side of the action and a big visible crease down the centre of the picture. There are phones that it’s OK to watch video on, in my opinion, this is not one of them.
Samsung’s split view software works well, but it’s not as useful on a tall folding screen here as it is on the tablet-sized Galaxy Fold. As with most phones, I didn’t find it that useful.
There are a few duplicate apps pre-loaded, but you can easily disable or uninstall them, much like the Microsoft apps Samsung also bundles on its new phones these days. Compared to Pixel and OnePlus phones, the Z Flip does tend to ping notifications from Samsung services fairly often, so I found there was a two or three-day bedding in period with the phone while I turned off app notifications constantly as they flooded in.
Annoying Samsung has left its DeX desktop support off the Z Flip, something it offers on the Galaxy S and Note lines. Surely this is just a software update away? All it requires is a USB-C cable and monitor. It’s odd to me that Samsung wouldn’t keep the handy tool on a phone this expensive.
I spent my entire time with the phone ignoring the Bixby personal assistant. There’s no Bixby button (phew), and you can remap the power button to not open it with a long press, allowing you to ignore its existence. You also get the better Google Assistant built-in, and I found using my regular Google and Microsoft services on the phone is a great experience.
Samsung phones also work very well with Microsoft’s Your Phone software for Windows 10. It’s so well integrated that it’s an icon in the quick settings shade and allows you to make and receive calls and messages on your desktop or laptop.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip?
The Z Flip is a phone for tech heads and early adopters who must have the latest in cutting edge design. A fair chunk of disposable income will help too.
It’s better built and more durable than the Galaxy Fold, and the form factor makes more sense, but this is still a fragile folding phone. The display is a marvel at times, but at others, it’s a greasy plastic surface with a crease and lots of reflection.
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If you’re chasing the best specs possible for the price, then this also isn’t the phone for you. Think of it as a Galaxy S10 in a new outfit. But if you can stomach paying more for the party trick, then you’ll be happy with the Z Flip.