Review: prepare to flip over Samsung’s new folding phone

The Galaxy Z Flip has a clamshell design that looks a little like a makeup compact

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Phones are displayed at a recent  event in San Francisco

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Phones are displayed at a recent event in San Francisco

 

Are folding phones a gimmick? If they are, they are an expensive one. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip (€1,520) is the phone maker’s second attempt at a folding screen, and so far, it’s going a little better than the initial test of the Fold.

No one has peeled the top layer off the screen yet, for a start.

The Z Flip is a little different to the Fold. It’s a clamshell design, folding out into a larger 6.X screen.When closed, a small touch sensitive display on the outside of the phone shows you the essentials - who is calling, the time, notifications - so you don’t have to open the phone every time it buzzes. A quick demo around The Irish Times office saw it compared to a makeup compact, or an accessory from Star Trek.

Flip phones largely fell out of favour more than a decade ago, when larger screens and smartphones shifted everyone’s attention to how big you can go without turning your phone into a mini tablet in size. We may already be pushing the boundaries of that particular argument with a 6.9 inch phone (hello, Samsung S20 Ultra). Pocket size is becoming an issue, particularly in women’s fashion where designers frequently seem to have decided we don’t need actual functional pockets. Try fitting a 6.9 inch screen phone in there and you’ll see the problem.

The Z Flip sidesteps that particular problem with its 6.7 inch folding screen. Fold it up to pop it in your pocket or bag; fold it out to use it. Small phone turns into big phone. And then turns back into small phone. As someone who frequently suffers from the aforementioned pocket problem, I cannot overstate how much I love this.

What about concerns over the durability of the screen? This test is only a matter of hours long; real issues won’t show up for weeks or months, but there’s no real hint that the screen on the Z Flip will suffer.

You can’t over extend the screen, for a start. The hinge itself feels sturdy, disappearing into the phone as it flattens out. You can’t bend the phone backwards unless you applied far more force than could be deemed accidental. As a nice touch, that’s where Samsung has hidden its branding; you only see the Samsung logo once the phone is closed.

There is a slight crease in the screen. Is it enough to spoil the whole thing? Not in the slightest. Once the screen is active, you don’t notice that crease unless you go looking for it - ie hold the phone at an unnatural angle. Testing the phone with Netflix and YouTube clips, I didn’t even register the crease. It’s less intrusive than the notch for the camera on many of the current crop of smartphones (side note: that rarely bothers me these days either.) you can feel it though, which may put some people off.

There is no loss of touch sensitivity on that crease either; even with the phone half open, it still responds to touch right across the centre of the phone.

Samsung says it is its first folding phone with a glass screen. Does that mean it’s more durable? I couldn’t quite bring myself to try to scratch it deliberately, but given that it’s a folding screen any glass on it is going to be quite thin. Plus there is a thin layer of plastic over the top of it, so expect to pick up some scratches. In saying that, I have plenty of phones with Gorilla Glass screens that sort some lovely scratches after a couple of trips in my pocket with keys or coins. At least the main screen in the Z Flip is protected by the clamshell design.

It’s not dust or waterproof though, so mind where you take it.

It does feel a little heavy when the phone is closed up, but on the other hand, it means you get a satisfying “clunk” when you snap it closed.

Will the Z Flip herald the way forward for phones of the future? The jury is still out but so far, I’m won over.