I have been carry both new foldable Samsungs with me when I leave the house for the past few days. It’s mostly for testing purposes, of course, but there’s also a fun game that I enjoy playing when I see people I know. I pull them both out, stick them in front of the person and see how they react.
This completely unscientific approach has produced results that I believe are roughly in line with the numbers released by the mobile giant just before the recent Unpacked event. “Last year, 70% of foldable Galaxy users turned to the Flip to help them see the world from a different point of view,” noted mobile head TM Roh in a statement. blog post.
The sentiment was, I think, a surprise to Samsung. The company has previously positioned the Galaxy Z Fold as the flagship of its foldable game. And why not? It’s bigger, flashier, more expensive and – perhaps most important of all – it was the first. The device has been a kind of platonic representation of foldable phones. It’s probably the form factor most people envision when thinking of foldable devices. After all, that was the original promise: the ability to carry a screen the size of a tablet in your pocket.
Unexpectedly, however, something still exists in our lizard brains that makes the flip form factor appealing. Perhaps it’s the decades of clamshell dumbphones that have been imprinted on us. Maybe it’s that satisfying snap. Equally likely, we all have some kind of unaddressed big phone fatigue. Screens and the phones that contain them have been getting bigger and bigger over the past decade. It’s a counter-intuitive trend in the electronics world — especially for a device that’s meant to be always with us.
The reason there’s a bit of surprise here is that the folding functionality serves an entirely different purpose. The Galaxy Z Flip does not allow you to carry a tablet. Compared to the Fold’s 7.6-inch screen, the Flip is downright decent, at 6.7 inches in its full, unfolded glory. That’s the same as the iPhone Pro Max and just a swipe below the Galaxy S22 Ultra. It is not a huge phone screen by 2020 standards.
But the ability to snap it shut, put it in your pocket and go is the kind of functionality that has broad appeal. It is helped by the fact that the Galaxy Z Flip is a beautiful object. It’s one that looks good and makes sense – one where, after the first novelty wears off, it’s something with a pragmatic purpose. In the early days of the phablet, we had a jeans test. Simply put: the device fits in your jeans pockets. At a time when the body-to-screen ratio was much more unbalanced, the answer was “no” a surprising percentage of the time.
Fortunately, as screens have gotten bigger, technology has provided the opportunity to shrink the phones around them. It’s easy to see that the foldable is the next step in that evolution. More and more we are removing the contents of our pockets. Phones do a lot of the heavy lifting — they serve as credit cards, identification, and, increasingly, keys. For those of us who still carry wallets (guilty), slim is the thing. Perhaps Samsung didn’t realize at first that it was developing the antidote to the massive phone phenomenon it starred in.
Releasing the two products side by side has provided a fascinating insight into what – if anything – consumers look for in a foldable. I will say, I think the tendency of the Flip over Fold is partly due to how early these products are. In the early days that meant the implicit understanding that there would be flaws. A few generations later, it recognizes the refinements that need to be done.
It really is a breath of fresh air for someone who has been covering this category for so long. I talk every now and then about how most phones are pretty good now. The unintended consequence of pretty good is boring. Flagship smartphones are boring. That is, in fact, the origin story of a company like Nothing. The industry has chosen a form factor and now updates are happening within fairly strict perimeters. What if something could be done to get consumers excited about phones again?
The foldable presents such a future. Aside from the obvious early complaints with the first Galaxy Fold, the two most immediate issues were 1) The front screen was extremely limited, and 2) It’s large and heavy. The company has largely addressed the first point (I’ll save that for our Fold review), while the second remains an issue.
One of the main selling points of foldable devices is their relative portability, and the device really presents a different way of being big and heavy. It’s easy to see future updates addressing the Fold’s relative weight, and perhaps shifting public opinion on the devices, but for now, the Flip has handily beaten it. It’s too early to say if the flip form factor is the future of foldables – but it seems safe to state that it’s the future of now.
The device still struggles with a mostly useless front screen. It’s still 1.9 inches, with a resolution of 512 x 260. The hardware limitations are obvious at first glance. It’s almost exclusively good for notifications – weather, time, calendar alerts. You can add a handful of widgets, but it’s basically a way to check information at a glance without opening the phone.
However, one of the more exciting things about the burgeoning form factor is the reliance on third parties to come up with clever uses for the design. The ability to use the screen as a preview for selfies, for example, has been opened up to developers like Meta, which enables the feature for Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp so you can lay the crease on the desk in front of you, prop the top up and get an example of yourself while shooting.
I dig the design language the company has chosen here, and the matte finish on the outward-facing glass feels good in the hand. Samsung is also at the forefront when it comes to custom, customizable hardware finishes, and the panels are well suited for this. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if the opposing screen continues to monopolize more of the front of the phone in future iterations, but honestly I think there’s a reason to let the physical act be less connected for a few moments. It would be nice to have an option where notifications (sounds, vibrations, or muted) change based on whether the phone is opened or closed.
The same AMOLED display is on board, here with a refresh rate of 120 Hz and a hole punch camera on top. In fact, the external hardware is largely similar to the Flip 3. I can’t say I blame Samsung – the Flip mostly felt good from the start. And frankly, the company doesn’t have much competition in this area and is forcing it to make big changes – although I’m certainly curious to see if Lenovo holds onto landing with the latest Motorola Razr. I like what I see so far.
The adjustments to the system are largely internal. Specifically, that means bumping last year’s Snapdragon 888 to the new 8+ Gen 1 (we need to do something about that new naming convention). In addition to a performance bump, the new silicon offers other benefits, including improvements to camera performance and battery.
The battery itself has been boosted from 3,300 mAh to 3,700 mAh. There are still some limitations on the front of the battery as it basically has to be broken in half and separated by a hinge. In practice, this means that there is simply not as much space as in a similarly sized non-folding system. All things considered, it should last you about a day – more if you keep it folded more often.
The camera hardware is largely the same: a pair of rear-facing 12-megapixel lenses (main and ultra-wide-angle) and a front-facing 10-megapixel. The camera system is perfect, even if the zoom is a bit lacking, but that’s one point the company will no doubt improve on in future iterations. You get some improvements here though, including a brighter feel and an improved night mode, which will improve your low-light shots.
The other standout feature in the Flip vs Fold battle is pricing: $1,000 isn’t cheap by any means, but we’ve slowly been trained to accept that figure for flagship devices. The $1,800 Fold, on the other hand, is not for the faint of heart.
As I noted in the first preview, Samsung’s foldable devices have matured in such a way that updates are more iterative. Given how dramatically the company is leading the market, who can really blame them? The Galaxy Flip is still the closest thing to a mainstream foldable device, and right now nothing else comes close.