Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

What is it?

The Galaxy Z Flip is Samsung’s second stab at a folding device, having learnt some of the lessons from last year’s fragile failure, the Samsung Galaxy Fold.

Unlike the Fold, which opened up like a book, the Z Flip resurrects the clamshell form factor of phones of the late nineties and early noughties, opening horizontally rather than vertically. Think of the old Motorola Razr V3 and you’ve got the idea.

Getting the hinge right has vexed the makers of last year’s folding phones, but the one on the Z Flip is well done. It feels reassuringly solid. It will hold the screen open at any angle you want, rather like a laptop.

Opened up, it’s a tall, narrow phone with a 6.7-inch, 21.9:9 2,636 x 1,080-pixel display. Slim, raised bezels stop the two halves of the screen being in contact with each other when it’s closed, and it’s topped with a hole-punch selfie camera. Closed, it feels thicker than we expected, but it’s otherwise about the size of a make-up compact that will tuck neatly into a pocket.

The screen itself is made of what Samsung calls ‘Ultra Thin Glass’, which is covered in a plastic protective layer, both of which cover the main plastic OLED panel.

Although it’s small when closed, it’s not particularly discreet. There’s a choice of three colours, two of which are garish – Mirror Purple and Mirror Gold – while the Mirror Black, though less flashy, is still quite eye-catching.

Under the hood, the Z Flip has good but not stellar specs, which is a disappointment considering the price. Powering the phone is the Snapdragon 855+ processor, which is absolutely fine but has been superseded by the Snapdragon 865, which will power 2020’s flagship phones. It also has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage – and unlike most Samsung phones, the Z Flip doesn’t have an SD card slot, so you can’t add more storage to it.

The Z Flip has three cameras: a 10Mp selfie camera peeking out of the hole-punch circle at the top of the phone, and on the back are a 12Mp ultra-wide camera plus another 12MP wide-angle camera. Fire up the camera app and there are all the usual clever tricks you’d expect of a Samsung camera: scene optimisation for everything from beaches to babies and cityscapes to cats, as well as hyperlapse, super slow-motion video, night mode, etc.

On the front is a 1.1-inch sliver of a screen that shows the time and notifications. It also doubles as a preview for the rear camera if you want to use that to take a selfie: tap the on button – which doubles as a fingerprint sensor – position your face and then press the volume button to capture a sliver of your face.

What’s it like to use?

The Galaxy Z Flip is both remarkable and yet surprisingly quotidian to use: there’s something almost magical about how well the fold mechanism works, and it’s clear that Samsung has put a lot of work into getting the hinge right. But once it’s opened up, it’s just another mobile phone – a well-executed one, as you’d expect from Samsung, but an ordinary candy-bar phone nonetheless.

Well, almost. When it’s opened up, you will notice the horizontal crease across the centre of the screen, and when you touch the screen, it feels slightly softer under pressure than you’d expect a normal Gorilla Glass-covered device to feel.

There has been a lot of discussion about the display, with some reviewers saying it feels fragile, and it’s worth noting that the phone comes with detailed instructions warning you not to press hard on the screen with anything hard, not to use screen protectors, not to tuck anything else in between the two halves when closing it, etc. Additionally, Samsung offers users one screen repair for £99 if it develops a crack that affects the device’s functions, which might suggest that Samsung isn’t as confident about the robustness of the screen as it might like to be.

Opened up, the tall, slim form factor makes it slightly better for those with small hands to manage than some wider devices, and Samsung’s One UI iteration of Android works hard to make using the phone with one hand more manageable.

We found One UI fussy, however: if you’re used to a more plain-vanilla Android experience, there’s a lot going on with Samsung’s approach. The Edge Screen, for example, puts another app drawer to the right of the screen – a swipe opens it, and you can customise which apps go there, but it feels superfluous when there’s already a perfectly good app drawer you can swipe up from the bottom to access.

Samsung also bundles a lot of apps that replicate native Android functions: its own gallery app is no better than Google Photos, while the Bixby smart assistant remains pretty much useless.

What does work well is how Android’s split-screen capabilities translate to the folding screen: once you’ve mastered the slightly tricky steps to get an app into split-screen mode, it is quite useful to be able to place one on top of the screen and a second below. Not all apps support this, though.

How long does the battery last?

The Z Flip has a 3300mAh battery, which is small for a flagship device: last year’s OnePlus 7T has a 3800mAh battery, while Samsung’s current flagship, the S20, has a thumping 4500mAh battery. We didn’t have this phone long enough to get a real sense of the battery life in extended daily use, but a battery of this size could well struggle to last a whole day – and other reviewers have noted that it struggles to last a full day of moderate use.

We found it slow to charge, and there’s no fast-charge so that you can top it up quickly later in the day. It does support reverse-charging, so you can use its remaining juice to top up, say, your Galaxy Buds, or another Samsung phone.

How good are the cameras?

As with the specs, the cameras are a bit lacklustre given the price of this phone. While the various modes are fun and the cameras cope well in daylight, they fall down when it comes to low-light photography, and zooming to the maximum 8x digital zoom produces disappointing results: the photos are smeary and lack detail. However, if you want to take a long-exposure photo or do a video call, being able to half-open the phone and sit it on a desk like a laptop is a useful feature.

Is there anything I should watch out for?

These days we expect flagship phones to be water-resistant and dust-resistant, but this one isn’t. Samsung goes to extraordinary lengths to keep potentially disastrous dust away from the hinge mechanism, including placing fibres inside the hinge to sweep dust away from the mechanism. This suggests that it’s not a phone to keep in a bag full of other items – it will need more careful looking after.

Is there anything else I should know?

You’ve got several choices for signing in to this phone: as mentioned further up, the power button doubles as a fingerprint sensor, which is fast and responsive, while the facial recognition worked well for us. There are also the usual Android options of using a Pin or a pattern to log in too. There is no headphone jack on this phone, but it does come with a pair of earbuds in the box.

Which? first look verdict

The Galaxy Z Flip is a very good effort from Samsung. It’s probably the device that will move folding phones out of the proof-of-concept zone that last year’s Fold and devices from other manufacturers occupied and into actually being a phone you might want to buy for yourself.
That said, there are compromises: above all, it is expensive for a device that sports last year’s specs and which has a camera that doesn’t really cut it compared to, say, the iPhone 11 or even other Samsung phones.

There are also concerns about how robust it is: while the phone feels satisfying to open and close, some reviewers reported problems with cracked screens, and a phone you have to worry about getting wet or dusty isn’t a device that’s truly ready for prime time.

Overall, we like many elements of this phone, but unless you want to be on the cutting edge, we’d suggest waiting to see how the early adopters get on with their devices over the longer term.