Samsung's Folding Phone Is The Cheapest One Yet, And The Least Flimsy

Samsung believes deeply in the future of foldable phones, but its first attempt, last year’s Galaxy Fold, was a complete shitshow. Devices provided to reviewers ahead of launch were plagued with problems: debris that caught in the hinge, a plastic overlay that turned out to be part of the screen but was easily peeled off, and a crease that just wouldn’t disappear. Samsung fixed those issues and rereleased the Fold, but then the company also went back to the drawing board to create a next-gen foldable: the $US1,380 ($2,057) Galaxy Z Flip.

The Flip is a totally different experience from the Fold, which was essentially a tablet that folded down into a smartphone. The Flip takes a page from Motorola’s rebooted Razr: Its massive 6.7-inch display folds down into a pocketable clamshell with a 1.1-inch Super AMOLED external screen for viewing notifications. The screen also acts as a preview for selfies, which seems useful, but in my hands-on time, I found the display is just too tiny to see if I’m making the fake smile and weird eye thing I do sometimes.

I do love the Flip’s design, even though it doesn’t feel super fresh because we just saw Motorola’s take on it with the new Razr. The clamshell form factor that turns a giant smartphone into a smaller but still useful device is perfect for those of us with small hands and tiny, tiny pockets. (There’s a reason why the iPhone SE was a bestseller—and why Apple is reportedly planning a pint-sized sequel.)

The Flip also feels more premium than the Razr in just about every way, despite being more than $US100 ($149) cheaper. Samsung is pushing the boundaries with the Flip’s ultra-thin glass display, making it the first bendable glass smartphone screen on the market. Samsung says the glass is able to withstand up to 200,000 folds—the same as the Galaxy Fold, though that foldable’s display was made of plastic. The glass feels more premium than the Fold or the Razr’s plastic screens, which feel like they could crease at any moment. Some of the Flip models on display at Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event had no visible creases, and a few had noticeable lines but only when the screen was black.

Unlike the Razr, the Z Flip has a gap between the hinge and display, just like the Fold did. Samsung added a layer of fibres between the two to keep debris out, which should help with durability—we’ll have to put that to the test. But the hinge doesn’t creak like the Razr reportedly does, at least in my hands-on time with the device, and the display doesn’t slide up and down when you open and close it like the Razr’s plastic screen noticeably does in my experience.

The Galaxy Z Flip sports three camera lenses, none of them with the wild 30x zoom you’ll get from Samsung’s other new flagships, the S20 and S20+. But you get a solid 10-megapixel front lens stamped out of the flexible glass and two 12-MP exterior shooters (one wide-angle and one ultra-wide-angle) next to the tiny outside display. I took about a zillion selfies on a few demo Flips and they all turned out fine, even if the exterior preview seems a little gimmicky. I didn’t get a chance to test out the Flip’s new Night Hyperlapse feature, which also seems like more of a novelty than anything I’d use on the regular.

Samsung worked with Google to develop a Flex Mode interface for the Flip, which allows Google apps to change their appearance when the phone is opened at a 90-degree angle. For instance, you can watch a YouTube video and scroll through the comments at the same time, if for some reason you want to put yourself through that. The effect also works in Samsung’s Camera app, so you can use the lower half of the screen as a tripod with just a hand gesture. These could make the Flip’s design even more convenient than just its more pocket-friendly nature.

The Flip’s specs are about what you’d expect from a foldable flagship, though Samsung sacrificed some RAM, storage, and battery life for its smaller foldable. The company packed in 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a dual 3,300 mAh battery with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855+ processor, so performance and battery life should be fine.

The one thing I don’t love about the Flip is its finish. The phone comes in three shades: Mirror Black, Mirror Purple and, in select countries, Mirror Gold. All three are super shiny fingerprint magnets that start to look like smudgy disasters within about 2 seconds.

The Galaxy Z Flip goes on sale February 14 in the U.S. for $US1,380 ($2,057), making it the cheapest of the foldable phones and one of the more compelling. It does not currently have an Australian release set.

Stay tuned for a full review of the Flip to see if it succeeds where other foldables fail.

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