In the past few years, we seem to have quickly approached the design and innovation of top-of-the-range smartphones. The displays are as good as necessary, cameras can show you things you can't see with the naked eye in the dark, and performance has reached a point where phones can power external displays and more RAM than most average ones Laptops. So the big question is, where are we going from here?
Last year we got an insight into the future of smartphone innovation with foldable cell phones. It was a shaky start, and of the few companies that announced their products, only two managed to actually deliver them to consumers – and that's not without their own hurdles.
Last year's Samsung Galaxy Fold is a smartphone's powerhouse, but we think its design isn't the most ergonomic and its price tag isn't for the faint-hearted. Motorola is trying to sell you nostalgia with the Razr 2019, but other than its flip screen, it's a fairly average mid-range phone.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to test the heavily leaked Samsung Galaxy Z Flip at its unpacked event in San Francisco. For the first time, we believe that this can and should be the way for foldable devices.
First, let's get a few things out of the way before we look at the experience of how to use them. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is the company's second foldable phone, priced at $ 1,380 (about $ 98,400) below the price of the Galaxy Fold and Moto Razr 2019. It has a 7nm octa core -Processor, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB memory, wireless charging and eSIM support. Samsung has also redesigned its One UI operating system to offer special gestures and features that use the flip screen, which we'll cover in a moment.
When folded, the Galaxy Z Flip is tiny; about the size of a credit card wallet. In this condition it is also quite thick at 17.3 mm. Unlike the Galaxy Fold, however, it's still easy to create a small square. The good news is that when folded, there is no gap between the two halves, which should help keep dust and lint off the screen. Opening the phone is usually a two-handed process and we struggled to open it with one hand. However, the lid can remain open at almost any angle up to 180 degrees.
Samsung is proud of its hidden hinge that remains completely hidden when you open the Galaxy Z Flip. Not only that, the company has also added some micro bristles to brush out dust particles every time you open or close the device. Only time will tell how effective this solution really is.
The Galaxy Z Flip comes in three colors, but the outsides are incredibly reflective and it's impossible to keep fingerprints free. Of the three, we liked the Mirror Purple version the best. This device feels very high quality and sturdy, and the hinge itself seems to be able to withstand the punishment of everyday use. You get a USB Type-C port and a speaker on the bottom and a flattened power switch on the side, which also contains the capacitive fingerprint sensor.
On the outside is a tiny 1.1-inch color OLED touchscreen that shows the time, notifications, etc. However, you can also use it as a viewfinder when taking a selfie with the outside cameras. When folded, this is activated by pressing the mains switch twice. It worked well when we tried it, and you can also switch between the primary and wide-angle cameras by simply tapping the display. However, we are not sure how much benefit most of this trick would have as the outer display is very small and we could hardly see anything to clearly differentiate our shot when we think the phone is an arm-length selfie.
Inside, a 6.7-inch Full HD + dynamic AMOLED display awaits us, which looked bright and lively when tested indoors. It is also very large with its aspect ratio of 21.9: 9, which means that most videos, like Netflix shows that we tried on the demo devices, play with black bars to the left and right of the frame. The bezels are relatively thick, but that didn't really bother us. Over time, we believe that Samsung should be able to shave them, as has been the case with its Galaxy S flagships over the years.
The biggest game changer, however, is that the display is actually made of an ultra-thin layer of glass, which is the first thing we've seen on a foldable device. So far we have only seen plastic protective layers on foldable cell phones, which understandably are not as durable as glass. This is a great achievement for Samsung. The display has a slight crease mark, but we found that it is not as strong as that on the Galaxy Fold, even when we ran our fingers over it. With normal use it is hardly visible.
For software, the Galaxy Fold runs on One UI 2.1, based on Android 10. Samsung said it worked closely with Google to develop some software tricks that use the foldable screen. If the Galaxy Z Flip is partially folded and you open certain apps, these work in the so-called flex mode, which divides them between the two halves of the display. The camera and YouTube app were the only ones we saw in action that made use of it. In the camera app, the top half becomes the viewfinder, while the bottom half contains all of the controls for the shot. It seemed to work well when we tried. If you jump from the camera app to the gallery in this partially folded state, you can use the lower half of the display as a touchpad to scroll through your photos that appear in the upper half.
Another feature that we tried is called Multi Active Window. With this function, you can start two compatible apps via the Samsung Edge Screen carousel, which are automatically aligned to the two halves of the screen. You can then use the device in a fully open or partially closed state.
We haven't had a chance to test the quality of the cameras since we were inside a fairly poorly lit demo area, but on paper they seem fine. The Galaxy Z Flip does not have an IP rating for water resistance, but we believe this may change in future models. When you think about it, phone manufacturers used to have to use rubber flaps on the jacks and ports to make phones waterproof.
Of course, we would have liked to spend a lot more time with the Galaxy Z Flip, but after our brief meeting, we can't help but be optimistic about the foldable phone technology. We believe this form factor will work well for many users and will allow manufacturers to use even larger screens while still keeping the phone in their pockets. The biggest breakthrough in our opinion is the fact that Samsung has managed to create a foldable glass ready for series production for its cell phones, which should give many buyers the certainty. We can't wait to see what other companies brought to the market in 2020.
We believe that the Galaxy Z Flip proves that foldable phones are not just a fad or a desperate attempt by companies to invent something new just to improve it. There are some real innovations here, and phones like the Galaxy Z Flip could be as practical as today's phones. If this is the future, register with us.
Disclosure: Samsung sponsored the flights and the correspondent's hotel for the trip to San Francisco.