Over the past few years, it seems that we are increasingly moving towards extreme smartphone design and innovation. The displays are as good as they need to get, the cameras can show you things you can’t see with your naked eye in the dark, and the display has reached a point where the phone powers an external display and have more RAM than most average laptops. So the big question is where do we go from here?
Last year, we caught a glimpse of what the future could hold for smartphone innovation with foldable phones. It was a shaky start, and with a handful of companies announcing their products, only two have actually begun to deliver them to consumers—and it’s not without their own constraints.
Last year’s Samsung Galaxy Fold is a smartphone powerhouse, but we think its design isn’t the most ergonomic and its price tag isn’t for the faint of heart. Motorola is trying to sell you nostalgia with the Razr 2019, but apart from its folding screen, it’s a pretty average-specific mid-range phone.
Yesterday, we got a chance to try out the heavily leaked Samsung Galaxy Z Flip at its Unpacked event in San Francisco, and for the first time ever, we believe it can and should be the way forward for foldable devices.
First, let’s clear up a few things before diving into the experience of using it. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is the company’s second foldable phone, which is priced below the Galaxy Fold and Moto Razr 2019, which cost $1,380 (approximately Rs 98,400). It has 7nm octa-core processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage, wireless charging and eSIM support. Samsung has also tweaked its One UI operating system to include special gestures and features that take advantage of the folding screen, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
When folded, the Galaxy Z Flip is small; About the size of a credit card wallet. In this state, it is also quite thick at 17.3 mm. However, unlike the Galaxy Fold, it’s still easy to manage as a small square. The good news is that there’s no discernible difference between the two halves when folded, which should help keep dust and lint away from the screen. Opening a phone is usually a two-handed affair, and we struggled to open it with one hand. However, the lid can be held open at any angle up to 180 degrees.
Samsung is proud of its ‘Hidden’ hinge, which remains completely hidden when you fully open the Galaxy Z Flip. Not just that, the company has also added some micro-bristles that should brush off dust particles every time you open or close the device. How effective this remedy is, only time will tell.
The Galaxy Z Flip is available in three colors, but the outer surface is incredibly reflective and it’s impossible to keep fingerprint free. Of the three, we liked the mirror purple finish the most. The device feels very premium and sturdy, and the hinge feels like it should be able to withstand the punishment of everyday use. You get a USB Type-C connector and speaker on the bottom and a flattened power button on the side, which also houses a capacitive fingerprint sensor.
On the outside, there’s a small 1.1-inch color OLED touchscreen for viewing the time, notifications, and more, but you can also use it as a viewfinder when taking selfies using the external cameras. It is activated in the folded position by double-tapping the power button. It worked well when we tried it, and you can also switch between the primary and wide-angle cameras with a simple tap on the display. However, we’re not sure how much use this trick will get, as the external display is too small and by holding the phone at arm’s length for selfies, we can barely see anything to frame our shot clearly .
Inside, we’re supposed to have a 6.7-inch full-HD+ Dynamic AMOLED display, which looked bright and vivid when tested indoors. It’s also pretty tall with its 21.9:9 aspect ratio, which means that most videos, such as the Netflix shows we tried on demo units, play with black bars on the left and right sides of the frame. The bezels are relatively thick but it didn’t really bother us. Over time, we believe Samsung should be able to shave them down, as it has with the Galaxy S flagships over the years.
The biggest game-changer though is that the display is actually built using a single layer of ultra-thin glass, which is the first we’ve seen on any foldable device. So far, we’ve only seen protective layers of plastic on foldable phones, which are not as durable as glass, so this is a big achievement for Samsung. There is a slight crease where the display bends, but we didn’t find it as obvious on the Galaxy Fold, even when we ran a finger over it. With normal use, it is barely even visible.
As for the software, the Galaxy Fold runs on One UI 2.1 based on Android 10. Samsung says it has teamed up with Google to develop some software tricks that take advantage of foldable screens. When the Galaxy Z Flip is partially folded down and you open certain apps, there’s what’s called ‘flex mode’, which splits them for two halves of the display. The camera and YouTube app were the only ones we saw in action who used it. In the Camera app, the upper half becomes the viewfinder while the lower half gives you all the shooting controls. When we tried it, it was working fine. Also, if you go to the gallery from the Camera app in this partially folded position, you can use the lower half of the display as a touchpad to flip your photos, which is the upper half. appear on.
Another feature we tried out is called Multi Active Window, which lets you launch any two compatible apps from Samsung’s Edge screen carousel, which will automatically snap to two halves of the screen. You can then use the device in the fully open or partially closed position.
We didn’t get a chance to test the quality of the cameras, as we were in a fairly poorly lit demo area indoors, but on paper, they seem fine. The Galaxy Z Flip doesn’t have an IP rating for water resistance, but we think that may change with future models. If you think about it, once upon a time phone manufacturers had to use rubber flaps on sockets and ports to make phones waterproof.
We’d obviously love to spend a lot more time with the Galaxy Z Flip, but after our brief encounter, we can’t help but feel optimistic about foldable phone technology. We think this form factor will suit many users, and it gives manufacturers the ability to use the bigger screen while still keeping the phone in pocket. The biggest breakthrough in our opinion is that Samsung has managed to create production-ready foldable glass for its phones, which should give many buyers peace of mind. We can’t wait to see what other companies come up with in 2020.
We think the Galaxy Z Flip proves that foldable phones are not just a fad or a desperate attempt by companies to bring something new to it. There’s some real innovation here, and phones like the Galaxy Z Flip can be just as practical as the phones of today. If this is the future, sign us up.
Disclosure: Samsung sponsored the correspondent’s flights and hotel for the trip to San Francisco.