Year two of bendable phones and Samsung has gone from fold to flip. Does it justify its premium price tag or is it a bragging tool?
Being one of the largest suppliers of smartphones in the world also puts a lot of onus on Samsung to constantly innovate. Sometimes even against all odds, like we saw with last year’s Galaxy Fold. It was riddled with durability and build quality issues but Samsung persisted and we now get the Galaxy Z Flip, a nod to the flip phones from the heydays of feature phones, that aims to spark equal parts nostalgia and wonderment. Except that it is 2020 and our threshold to be amused has gone up a few notches. Not great timing.
Using ultra-thin glass with a plastic coating, the ‘feel’ of the screen is great, and even though there is no 90Hz refresh rate, the response is smooth and fluid. The hinge feels solid and built to last, but the downside is the prominent crease that runs along the centre of the otherwise notchless screen.
Pros and cons aside, the biggest dagger waiting for the Flip’s back is its exorbitant price tag. Being yet another industry first means you pay a fair price for it, so if it’s pub cred that you crave, the Galaxy Flip will probably earn you a free beverage and a few new friends. Will they last, though, is another question altogether.
Fussing about the flip
It can’t compete with the current top crop, but the Flip holds its own against most other flagship devices from 2019. Snapdragon 855+ processor, Android 10 right out of the box, HDR10+ AMOLED display, dual 12MP rear cams with ultra wide 123-degree coverage and an 8GB/256GB configuration. Improving on the original Fold’s hinge design, the Flip has a built-in mechanism to clean out dust every time you walk away from an altercation in slow motion and snap the phone shut. It also serves as a stand, tripod or a mini-mirror due to its Freestop design that holds it still at any angle. The 1.1in cover screen isn’t remotely as useful as the one on the Galaxy Fold. You can view icons of apps as notifications and, if you have enough patience, wait for the preview to scroll through the single line display, but that is just too slow. Continuity allows you to open the app on the main screen, but it’s of limited use since not a lot of apps are supported for this feature yet. And even when you do open the main screen, there is a momentary hesitation as the preferred method of unlocking is executed. Imagine this multiple times in a day, for every task, and even the thought gets tiring.
Unlike the Galaxy Fold, though, the Flip has a notchless 21:9 aspect ratio screen with a small hole-punch cam that doesn’t detract from the cinematic viewing experience its HDR10+ screen can provide. You can zoom into any video to fill up the screen edge-to-edge and this makes for an immersive experience. Vivid boosts colours to typical Samsung levels where the reds and greens are over-saturated, but switch to Natural and it’s a great screen with 800 nits of brightness, which is good enough for outdoor use even under the midday sun.
The two halves of the screen can be used to open and view two different apps while a third app could be a floating window. Some other apps like the native Camera app are optimised to use the top half as a viewfinder and bottom half for controls. This can be useful for a handful of uses like a desktop selfie where you can make use of the hand gestures to trigger the shutter automatically and hope for a sharper image than a handheld sample. It’s also potentially useful for a long-exposure, low-light night mode picture where the semi-fold screen could be surprisingly effective, or even just to get creative angles in hard to reach places. Whatever the use, the Flip will produce average results. Exposure wasn’t handled well in most cases and the details got smudgy upon zooming in to the pictures, but again, by 2019 standards, this is a good camera, just not a great one. The bokeh on video is a great addition and there are enough filters and editing tools to keep you engaged.
The 10MP selfie cam has adequate detail, but focus is concentrated on the brightly lit area of the image whereas the shadow detail shows off the blurry truth. The cover screen can also be used to compose a selfie, believe it or not, and it’s the smallest screen you’ll ever see yourself in! But, it’s there if you ever need it as the only other use of the cover screen besides showing time and scrolling notifications.
Performance on par
While it’s great that both the halves of the display contain batteries, the downside is that the Flip gets warm very quickly, even with reasonably processor-heavy tasks such as photography and editing. Long term durability of folding phones was always under question, and now even more so. PubG and CoD would definitely get too hot to handle after a bit.
Every other daily app works flawlessly and smoothly. Even though the screen doesn’t boast high refresh rates, it doesn’t show any lag and the glass just adds to the experience of it being like any other large screen phone. Only the crease in the middle breaks the finger flow from the top to bottom and robs it of the perfect illusion. Also, a big part of the appeal of flip phones is the actual action of flipping it open and shut. With the sturdy hinge that Samsung has designed, this becomes a tedious, two-handed affair since the body is fairly slippery too. Not cool.
In terms of security, there's a biometric thumb reader on the side. Face unlock upon flipping open and the usual PIN offer plenty of security options, but the face unlock failed a few times if dark sunglasses were detected. It’s also not as fast as the iPhone 11.
Overall, the daily usage experience gets tiresome with the amount of times you’ll have to unfold the phone even for the most basic of tasks and no amount of using Bixby or Google Assistant can resolve that. The Galaxy Flip is a great iteration of a great concept but it’s moment has gone. There’s a reason we all evolved to large screen phones and it’s because we want all the information, all the time, right in front of our eyes. I’ll put it straight up – even with the notch, the Galaxy Fold was a more useable folding phone, with its functional cover screen. The Flip, on the other hand, gets weary very quickly, especially with the tough hinge that needs care to open. It’s a great screen once open, but the crease, once seen, cannot be unseen. And that price tag! For those who disagree and have the wherewithal, the Galaxy Flip might just be the one for you.