Should You Buy The Galaxy Z Flip?
Samsung’s second stab at making a foldable smartphone has a killer form-factor that sets it apart from almost everything else out there. Unfortunately, by most metrics, it also lags behind everything else you could possibly buy for the premium price-tag. It’s also missing a lot of the things you’d usually take for granted in a smartphone that costs this much.
Given those caveats and circumstances, I like the Z Flip a lot more than I expected to. Still, I can’t say I like it enough that I can truly recommend it to anyone except those who are willing to spend this much money on the form-factor alone.
As long as foldable screens remain synonymous with premium price-tags, even Samsung’s best foldables are going to remain a fraught proposition. When the Z Flip costs this much, it invites comparisons to the best non-foldable smartphones and Samsung’s second-gen foldable rarely emerges the victor.
It might be the best foldable smartphone you can buy right now but the Galaxy Z Flip struggles to sell itself against the rest of the flagship crowd on just looking and feeling different. Different can count for a lot but different is not the same as better.
Price when reviewed
In Australia, The Galaxy Z Flip is currently priced at AU$2199.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip (2020) full review
In Australia, The Galaxy Z Flip is priced at AU$2199. It’s available through Samsung directly and also through Telstra and Optus.
Design – Look, Feel, Features and Camera
Some might call the Galaxy Z Flip a spin-off from last year’s Samsung Galaxy Fold but it’s really more of a soft-reboot.
And like any good reboot, there are two ways to approach things. You can either tackle the Galaxy Z Flip on its own terms or situate it within a wider context. Steven Moffat’s Dracula might be an unnecessary hacksaw adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel but that doesn’t mean it’s not also a campy and overwrought train-wreck of a TV show in its own right.
Regardless, your choice dictates the outcome here. The Galaxy Z Flip earns the dubious acclaim of being the first foldable phone should seriously consider buying while also falling short of accomplishing what it needs to be to live up to the lofty price-tag. And that’s before we even get to the prickly question of durability.
Still, first things first. Let’s talk about the stuff that Samsung has gotten right. Specifically, the design. Like the name suggests, Samsung’s second-gen foldable smartphone echoes the snappy flip phones of days past.
Unfurled, the Galaxy Z Flip features a 6.7-inch FHD+ OLED display on the inside and a teeny-tiny 1-inch OLED micro-display on the outside. Under the hood, the device is powered by last year’s Snapdragon 855+ processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of on-board storage. Even if they’re about a year behind the curve, those flagship specs set the Z Flip ahead of other pseudo-flip phones, such as the Motorola Z Flip, in a very real way.
As with the Galaxy Fold, the inclusion of next-generation screen technologies comes at the expense of several features that are otherwise standard for smartphones this side of the $1000 price-berg. The Z Flip does feature wireless charging (and will play nice with select wire-free friendly accessories like the Galaxy Buds) but it doesn’t come with any sort of water resistance.
There’s also no headphone jack here. Just a lonely USB Type-C port on the base that’s used for charging.
Similarly frustrating is the reliance on a single-speaker port, which is all too easily covered and the bezels on the main display, which are almost comically chunky. The side-mounted fingerprint sensor here is ergonomic enough but it’s no substitute for the 3D face unlock found in other, cheaper flagships.
Still, despite these drawbacks, there’s a lot to like about the form-factor of the Z Flip. It’s a lot of fun to fold and bend the thing. While the gadget does sometimes feel a little more hefty than it feels like it ought to be, it’s much more pocket-friendly on the whole. There’s something really refreshing about not having a massive slab of glass squashed into your jeans.
Having to go to the trouble of unfolding the device every single time to answer or observe even the most minute of notification tones was less novel. Downright tedious, even. There’s a good reason that consumers are still buying glass-sandwich style smartphones. The form-factor works.
Still, like the Galaxy Fold, this quickly began to change my relationship with the Z Flip. The ‘Fold Effect’ lives on. I found myself almost using my phone less by choice and it felt like the times I did decide to use my phone felt like more meaningful time spent.
The other interesting side-effect here is that while I did find myself worrying about breaking this $2000 foldable smartphone by accident a lot, the fact that the screen itself was always folded when in my pocket actually gave me a lot more confidence that it wasn’t going to end up scratched in transit.
Aside from the obvious shift in form-factor and cheaper price-tag, the other big advantage that the Galaxy Z Flip has over last year’s Galaxy Fold is that it features an ultra-thin glass screen rather than the plastic display found on the latter. In action, this display is fine but not flagship.
There’s a whole story here but the short version of the answer to the question of ‘How do you make glass fold without breaking?’ is that you make it really, really, thin. Then, you cover it in plastic because even the smaller scratch could critically compromise the integrity of the thing. If that sounds terrifying and stressful, that’s because it is. The Z Flip makes a better first impression but it fails to resolve the issues of inherent glossiness that plagued the Galaxy Fold and it only took a few days before I spotted my first dead pixel on the screen.
This is not the only problem with the design. The outer display on the Z Flip is a conceptually-rich that promises to allow for at a glance interactions with your device. Plenty of other phones have tried to make this shtick work and, despite the unique form-factor, the Galaxy Z Flip is no less successful.
As a screen, the micro-display here is only really large enough to convey the time and charge level of the device. Any other notifications end up abridged to death or, worse, require you to open up the Z Flip to properly resolve them.
The ability of the Z Flip’s hinge to support the screen at a 90-degree angle is another area where it falls short. At launch, Samsung talked up support for apps where they would dynamically change their layout to suit this particular configuration. However, despite my best efforts, I struggled to find any Samsung apps beyond the camera and media gallery that actually made use of it at all.
There’s also a dual-lens rear camera that pairs up a 12-megapixel main lens and a 12-megapixel wide angle lens and a 10-megapixel single-lens camera on the inside of the device.
In action, this dual-lens setup produces alright photos. You don’t get the crazy extended zoom found in the S20 Ultra and it’s ilk, nor do you get the ML-enhanced output offered by the iPhone 11 Pro or Google’s Pixel cameras.
At least, not by default. Like the Fold, the Z Flip runs on a Snapdragon processor rather than Samsung’s own Exynos hardware. This means you can totally sideload the Google Pixel camera app on here for better results.
In some ways, using the Z Flip’s camera felt like a step back in time. In a year where Samsung has finally made the leap forward in smartphone camera quality I’ve been waiting for them to make, the Z Flip’s camera feels dated by comparison.
I had plenty of photos turn out blurry or out of focus here but did manage to accrue some decent results with time. Night and low-light shots are usually a write-off though.
The short version here is that the Z Flip’s camera is mostly adequate but far below what you’d hope to find in a handset that costs this much. That alone is going to make Samsung’s latest foldable a hard choice for those who care about their picture quality.
Performance – Specs, Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life
- Processor: Snapdragon 855+
- Operating System: Android 10 + OneUI 2
- RAM: 8GB
- Storage: 256GB
- MicroSD slot: No
- Headphone Jack: No
- Fingerprint sensor: Yes
- SIM: Single
- Battery: 3300mAh battery
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, 4G, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS
- Rear Camera: 12-megapixel (f/1.8)+ 12-megapixel (f/2.2)
- Front-Facing Camera: 10-megapixel
- Dimensions: 167.3 x 73.6 x 7.2 mm
- Weight: 183g
Coming back to Samsung’s OneUI skin after a few months away was a delight and the Snapdragon 855+ processor inside the Galaxy Z Flip kept things more than snappy enough.
As previously mentioned, there’s a real wasted opportunity here when it comes to apps making use of the Z Flip’s ability to use itself as a tripod. Otherwise, the software experience on the Z Flip is more or less identical to the rest of the 2020 Samsung flagship lineup. This isn’t a bad thing but it does see Samsung’s second foldable miss out on the unique multitasking capabilities found in its first.
- PCMark (Work 2.0): 9882
- 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (OpenGL): 5735
- 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (Vulkan): 4978
- Geekbench (Single Core): 769
- Geekbench (Multi Core): 2532
- Geekbench (Compute): 2390
When it came to battery life, I was pleasantly surprised by the Z Flip’s dual-cell battery setup. Samsung’s second foldable doesn’t deliver the two-day battery life found in some other flagships but it does deliver a decent-day’s worth of battery life per charge. I’d usually end up with 4 to 4.5 hours of screen time per charge.
The Galaxy Z Flip also supports wireless charging, which is great to see.
The Bottom Line
After a few weeks with it, I think that there’s a startling dysfunction at the heart of everything that works about the Z Flip.
The gains in form-factor here are inevitably going to make this device appealing to those who think phones have gotten too large or those who want to feel the thrill of a foldable screen for themselves and don’t care to fret about the camera. However, even for those people, the price-tag involved makes the Z Flip something of a non-starter.
At a starting price of AU$2199, there are still too many compromises and risks involved to make buying a Z Flip a better proposition than buying the best non-foldable phones available that Samsung, Oppo or Apple can muster. It’s one thing to add flexibility and subtract fidelity when it comes to the screen on your smartphone but that’s only one of half-dozen caveats here.
With the Galaxy Fold, I said that I was ready to buy in on the idea of foldable phones but wasn’t ready to buy that specific foldable phone. With the Z Flip, I think I’m ready to buy a foldable phone like the Z Flip. I actually think we’re almost there.
But, when we’re talking about dropping over $2000 on a new phone in the middle of a pandemic, almost there isn’t good enough. The price isn’t right. Though certainly cheaper than the $2999 RRP of the Galaxy Fold, the Z Flip offers less bang for your buck as a smartphone than every iPhone from the new & affordable iPhone SE all the way to triple-lensed iPhone 11 Pro.
I love this form-factor but I don’t love it enough to give up quite so many conveniences.
Early foldable devices like the Fold and the Z Flip make a great argument for why foldable screens and the form-factors they enable are cool but they struggle to convey a rationale for why they’re worth the trouble – let alone the money.
When spending less money gets you a better display, longer battery life, sharper optics, 5G connectivity and less worries, being able to fold a 6.7-inch screen in on itself doesn’t seem nearly so tempting.
With the Galaxy Z Flip, the future isn’t quite here but it feels like Samsung are so very close. More