Living With the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip: It Grows on You
Samsung is making a big push for foldable phones, more so than any other company, and I feel that the Galaxy Z Flip’s design is something everyone can get onboard with. It feels familiar and yet futuristic, which I liked immediately the first time I used it at the company’s Unpacked launch event back in February. However, using a demo unit for a short while and actually living with it as my primary phone are two very different experiences. It’s time to see if the Galaxy Z Flip is worth recommending, or if my initial interest was just a brief fling.
Samsung sent us the Galaxy Z Flip in the new gold colour option, which recently went on sale in India. I only had a week to use it, which in my opinion is not enough to gauge a foldable phone’s durability, but is enough to get a good idea of what it’s like to live with.
This is brand new tech, and unlike a regular smartphone, there are a tonne of things that could go wrong when using such a delicate phone in the real world. Rather than a regular review, I thought it would make sense to examine whether most people should even consider switching to such a device permanently.
The initial high
Samsung is promoting the new Mirror Gold finish of the Galaxy Z Flip, which quite frankly is a bit too flashy for me. The finish is a lot brighter and more reflective than that of the gold iPhone 11 Pro, which has been my daily driver for a few months. This is definitely not the colour I’d pick, but I’m sure there are many people who would like it. There’s a case included in the box, but it’s clear with gold accents so it doesn’t do much to hide the bling.
The Galaxy Z Flip feels exceptionally well built. Everything, from the hinge to the metal frame to the glass backs of the two halves, feels very premium. If there was ever a list of phones you should buy for pure flaunt value, the gold Galaxy Z Flip would be among the top picks. I did expect customised accessories with the phone, but other than the gold-themed case, the rest of the bundle is exactly what you’d find with any flagship Galaxy S-series phone.
Samsung does offer a “premier” service for Galaxy Z Flip owners, though. This includes a 24/7 support desk and a one-time discount on screen replacement in case of accidental damage in the first year. It’s similar to the service that’s available for the Galaxy Fold too.
After setting up this phone with my SIM card, I’ll admit, I spent the next hour just opening and closing the phone every chance I got, simply because of how cool it felt. The fact that there is a single glass display folding and unfolding on the inside is still something I’m trying to wrap my head around.
The Galaxy Z Flip is currently the only commercially available phone to use such ultra-thin glass (UTG), while other foldable phones including the Motorola Razr (2019) and even the Samsung Galaxy Fold, use a plastic layer for protection. However, we could see more OEMs using UTG in foldable devices very soon.
The spring-loaded hinge feels robust ,and firmly clamps the Galaxy Z Flip shut or keeps it wide open, depending on your action. I also love how the hinge hides away when opened. Something that I noticed only after using this phone for a while is that there’s no visible Samsung branding when the Galaxy Z Flip is unfolded. Opening the phone is a two-handed affair though, and there’s no way around this. You could flip it closed with one hand, but this still requires a lot of effort.
The convenience factor
One of the main perks of having a folding phone is convenience. Folded up, the Galaxy Z Flip is literally half the size of today’s average smartphone, which means it’s super easy to carry around. When folded, it looks like a little cigarette holder or business card case in your hand, and that square shape definitely takes a bit of getting used to. It’s a little chunky in its folded state but the total weight is still a very acceptable 183g.
Besides its size, the Galaxy Z Flip can be used with the display half open — which Samsung calls Flex mode. At the moment, this only works with a limited number of apps, and I hope more apps start taking advantage of it in the future. If you open the screen halfway, certain apps such as the gallery, camera, Google Duo and YouTube treat the display as two separate halves and format content to fill both sections independently. They go back to normal the moment you open the display all the way. For instance, YouTube fills the upper portion of the display with the video you’re playing and pushes related content to the bottom; the gallery displays photos in the top half while the bottom half acts as a touchpad; and the camera app uses the top half as a viewfinder, while all the controls are shifted to the bottom.
The beauty of this mode is that you don’t need a phone stand, as the bottom section of the Galaxy Z Flip itself becomes the stand. I found this to be useful when trying to watch something and make a cup of tea at the same time, or if I wanted to take a long exposure shot and didn’t have a tripod handy. The camera app also offers a very useful 9:16 shooting mode, so you can record in the correct orientation with the display in Flex mode.
A true-blue flagship
Beyond all these tricks lies a true-blue flagship. Unlike the Motorola Razr (2019), the Galaxy Z Flip features the flagship-level specifications that you would expect from a phone this expensive. It uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ chip, which is still plenty powerful even a year after its launch. The Galaxy Z Flip is only available in one configuration, with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. There’s only one physical SIM slot, but there is support for an eSIM if you need a second phone line.
Other features include an HDR10+ certified Dynamic AMOLED display, wireless and reverse wireless charging, Samsung Pay, and the usual wireless connectivity standards and sensors. The one thing that I sorely missed is stereo speakers. The bottom-firing one gets loud, but I missed having proper dual channel sound. Games run just fine too. Heat from the SoC is contained in the top half, while the bottom half stays cool no matter how much you stress the phone.
The main 6.7-inch display has a full-HD+ resolution (1080×2636 pixels) and a standard 60Hz refresh rate. Colours look vivid, and brightness is very good. There is a mild crease where the display folds, and you can feel a small dip with your finger where the hinge is, but after a few days, this wasn’t really an issue. The crease is more visible with darker backgrounds, but for most activities like reading an email, scrolling through a Twitter feed, watching videos, or even playing games, it’s impossible to tell it’s even there.
Most videos are letterboxed, with thick black bars on the left and right, which is another thing to get used to with such a form factor. You can zoom in to fill up most or all of the display but at the cost of heavily cropping the frame on the top and bottom.
The Galaxy Z Flip has a side-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor in the power button. It works well when needed, although I didn’t end up using it much as face recognition kicks in the moment you unfold this phone.
Using the Galaxy Z Flip for calls and messaging has been great. It’s surprisingly not too top-heavy when texting, and the earpiece is clear enough for voice calls. Opening the phone to do things took a while to get used to but there were a couple of instances when I found this to be a bit annoying. Since it’s nearly impossible to open this phone with one hand in a dignified way, there were times when I didn’t have both hands free, and wanted to respond to a message quickly but couldn’t. I could see this being a potential issue when commuting by train or bus too.
Coming to the cameras, I found them to be pretty good. There are dual 12-megapixel sensors with standard and wide-angle lenses on the back and a 10-megapixel selfie camera in the hole-punch cutout in the screen. The main camera shoots high-quality stills in daylight and at night. Colours can look a little boosted on the phone, but that’s mostly due to the AMOLED display. Close-ups are also highly detailed and the autofocus system works well. The wide-angle camera is useful too, and there’s Night mode for it, if light isn’t ideal. Video quality is also good and you can record at up to 4K 60fps. The selfie camera uses heavy filters by default, which gives photos an unnatural look. I had to manually turn this off for more natural pictures.
The camera app is feature-packed, and besides the standard shooting modes, you get Pro and Live Focus modes, and these work for video too. Some features from the Galaxy S20 series, such as Single Take, are also present.
I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of battery life. On an average, I was comfortably able to go a full day on one charge. Heavier usage such as gaming and shooting pictures did knock a few hours off the average, but that was still enough for me to finish a work day without worrying about charging it. It takes about an hour and a half to charge the 3,300mAh battery completely, using the bundled charger.
Some strict no-nos
Since this is a foldable, there are some ground rules you need to follow so you don’t accidentally damage it. A set of ‘Care Instructions’ is printed right on the plastic sleeve covering the phone, so you don’t miss them when you unbox it.
The Galaxy Z Flip is not dust or water resistant, which means you need to be extra careful when handling it, especially in the rains. Another problem that could occur is dust buildup in the hinge of the phone. I didn’t face any problems in this regard, but then again, a week is not a long time. With travel restricted too, it’s hard to say whether this might be an issue with more rigorous use in the long run.
When folded, the raised plastic panels around the display help reduce the gap between the two halves, but they don’t lie completely flat against each other, leaving space for debris to enter. Samsung also advises against using an adhesive screen protector because of the stress it would cause on the folding glass.
The second thing to keep in mind, and this is important, is how to handle the main display itself. Despite it being made of glass, it’s still ultra-thin and pretty fragile. The first warning on the wrapper specifically instructs users not to press the screen with any object, even a fingernail, as this could puncture the display. Now we’ve all seen reports from iFixit, JerryRigEverything and PBKreviews about the Galaxy Z Flip display’s poor durability, but I thought I’d give it a mild test myself.
I obviously didn’t set out to destroy the phone, but I was curious to see whether slight pressure from a fingernail would be enough to make a dent. Sure enough, it is. The dent did go away after a while since it was mostly superficial, but any more pressure and I might have left a permanent mark, possibly even ruining part or all of the display. A word to the wise — don’t go testing this for yourself.
When folded, the Galaxy Z Flip took a tumble or two, accidentally of course, without any marks to show for it. However, when using it opened up, I was consciously extra careful to not drop it or use unnecessary force on the hinge. I’m assuming that with time, this will become second nature, but some re-training of muscle memory is definitely needed.
About that outer display
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned the outer display on the Galaxy Z Flip yet, so let’s get to that now. Situated next to the rear cameras is a 1.05-inch OLED touch display which is used for displaying the time, basic music controls, and notifications for incoming calls and messages. You can receive a call with the display folded, and the Galaxy Z Flip automatically engages speakerphone mode. You can silence or snooze alarms and even use this as a mini viewfinder to take a picture.
My biggest problem with it though is that it’s too small, and not responsive enough to be of much use. The double-tap-to-wake gesture doesn’t work well all the time, and even swiping between the three available panels of information feels like an effort. I found this especially annoying when trying to snooze the alarm in the mornings.
As for notifications, this screen does give you a preview when you tap an app icon, but the display doesn’t stay on long enough for you to finish reading a message, forcing you to open the phone. Using this as a viewfinder to take photos also felt a bit gimmicky, since you can barely see the frame even when you have your hand stretched out for a selfie.
Other than using this outer display for caller ID or to check the time, I didn’t find much use for it and I don’t think many others will either. Samsung should have used a larger, more functional panel.
Still worth it?
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and the Motorola Razr (2019) are the only two foldable phones with this form factor currently in the market. Of the two, the Galaxy Z Flip straight up looks like the better choice since it’s not only priced slightly lower, but it also has much better specifications.
The Galaxy Z Flip costs Rs. 1,15,999 right now, which is a lot but I don’t think it’s crazy expensive considering the uniqueness and flaunt value that you get. I’m all for the argument that you can buy a Galaxy S20 Ultra (Review) or iPhone 11 Pro Max (Review) for around this price, since either of them would offer better cameras and features, but those phones are massive and they certainly cannot be folded. The Galaxy Z Flip is more of a lifestyle product and for that reason, it can’t be compared directly to a regular smartphone.
Would I recommend the Galaxy Z Flip? Well, if you’re willing to make slight changes in your smartphone usage habits, and live with a certain level of anxiety all the time, then you should be happy with it. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on how well it will hold up after, say, six months or so, but if you follow Samsung’s care instructions diligently then it should last you until your next upgrade.
Personally, I’m pumped for a foldable future. The Galaxy Z Flip has been quite fun to use, and other than a few restrictions, it’s like using any other flagship Samsung smartphone. Having said that, I would wait for the next version, simply because a bigger and more functional outer display would go a long way in dealing with menial tasks, hopefully reducing the need to open the phone all the time.
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