Review: Samsung’s second attempt at ‘flip’ improves
By Edwin Yapp July 6, 2020
- Pros: Well designed, sturdy, possibly the best flip smartphone available
- Cons: Expensive, fingerprint magnet, one generation camera behind
So, last month I finally got my hands on the much-talked about smartphone, Samsung’s second foray into a bendable screen arena, the Samsung Z Flip, a year after it launched its much-maligned Samsung Galaxy Fold.
Just to be clear, the world of foldable smartphones is still in its infancy. Besides the Galaxy Fold, there is the Motorola Razr, Huawei Mate X (only in China), and a little known brand called Royole FlexPai.
In my review of the Galaxy Fold, I concluded that these form factors aren’t yet ready for prime time but nonetheless, they give brands some bragging rights as to who is able to come up with an exciting and novel smartphone.
Full disclosure: The review unit I had wasn’t a complete set, as there were no accompanying accessories such as fast charges, headphones and manuals. Nonetheless, it had enough for me to conduct the usual tests on it.
The Samsung Z Flip is now available from US$1,375 (RM5,888) at selected Samsung stores, as well as through its website.
Design and build
The Z Flip is what is known in industry parlance as a clamshell flip design. It measures 87.4mm x 73.6mm x 15.4mm (HxWxD) when folded. Aesthetically speaking, I can’t help but be reminded that the unit resembles a small ladies facial compact, albeit wrapped in glass instead of plastic.
When flipped open, the dimensions become 167.3mm x 73.6mm x 6.9mm: essentially the height has gone up up while the thickness has gone down by half.
When the device is closed, the surface facing you has a tiny 1-inch super AMOLED screen on the left bottom telling you the time and date and battery percentage. This small window shows the data, time and battery percentage during standby mode while it shows the name of the person calling when you receive a call.
To the right, you’ll find a 12-MP f/2.2 ultra wide camera that works with a 12-MP f/1.8 wide-angle dual camera setup paired with the LED flash on the right bottom corner. Turn it around, you’ll be effectively looking at the bottom half of the back.
Flip open the unit, you’ll be greeted with a 1080 x 2636 (FHD+), dynamic AMOLED screen. At the middle of the screen you’ll see the familiar fold crease, which as I’ve explained in my Galaxy Fold review, is unavoidable as that is part of the current foldable screen technology.
At the top of the screen, you’ll have a pinhole 10 MP, f/2.4, selfie camera. On the right hand side of the device, you’ll have the volume up/down rocker and the on/off switch, which doubles up as a physical fingerprint scanner, so there isn’t an on-screen scanner. On the left side, you’ll see the SIM tray. At the bottom, there is a USB-C type charger and a single firing speaker.
The screen is pretty great and it’s what you would expect from a Samsung 1080 x 2636, 21.5:9, 6.7-inch display ‘Infinity Flex Adaptive’ AMOLED display with an ultra-thin glass layered under a polymer-based protective surface.
Without comparison, it’s hard to say if the Z Flip is a sturdy smartphone, especially around the hinges, which is where you’d expect the weakest point of the device to be. That said, from my couple of weeks with it, I found the unit to work well while opening and closing.
The hinges feel solid and I didn’t have any trouble at all with it the whole time. The side physical fingerprint sensor worked well, even better than the on-screen sensor found on the S20.
There are three colours to select from: Mirror Purple, Mirror Black and Mirror Gold.
Because the whole unit is enveloped in glass, the Z Flip is a real fingerprint magnet. And since there aren’t a lot of cases that fit well with the device, you’ll just have to live with it.
Unique clamshell features
One of the advantages of a clamshell design is that it’s supposed to help you to operate with one hand. With the Z Flip, I could just about do some basic texting and navigation around the screen using my thumb. But that’s about all I could do with it, as flipping the screen down and up isn’t that easy as it’s quite heavy to do so.
Another supposed advantage is that the device is half its size when closed. I found that I could just about put the unit into my standard-size men’s left side shirt pocket albeit at 183g, you’ll end up having a sagging pocket. As for other pockets such as jeans and slacks, it’ll definitely fit but the thickness makes in somewhat uncomfortable when sitting down.
From a features standpoint, the Z Flip is able to split main features of an app to work on the top half of the screen while the control elements of the app are relegated to the bottom screen.
Samsung calls this “Flex Mode,” and has worked with Google to enable some apps, such as YouTube and Google Duo messaging, to take advantage of this feature.
I tried this with the YouTube app. You can view the video portion nicely on the top screen while the bottom takes care of the details of the video. It’s a novel idea but to be honest, the video is just too small to really view comfortably without you having to squint your eyes.
Put simply, an interesting feature that does not live up fully to its intended purpose.
Battery, performance and software
The screen for any high-end Samsung is where it usually shines and this is where the Z Flip is no different. Colours were dynamic, vivid and brightness wasn’t an issue, even when outside.
I found the screen size acceptable bearing in mind that it’s actually a foldable phone. The displays measure 6.7-inch but it doesn’t feel that way due to its aspect ratio of 21:5.9. Thus, most of my experience watching YouTube and Netflix was pretty pleasant.
The display uses a technology known as Ultra Thin Glass, and is protected by the same film you’ll find on the Galaxy Fold. Unlike your regular glass screen, this is where you have to be really careful with the screen. If something happens to the polymer protection, you may find yourself in trouble.
So all the usual caveats apply: Don’t fold the screen with something in between; don’t press the screen harder than it’s necessary; and don’t touch the screen with anything other than your fingers
Battery life was also quite good, given that size is only 3,330mAH due to the foldable nature of the device. This is much smaller than the usual 4,000mAH plus on high-end smartphones these days. There are two halves to the battery; one at the bottom and one on the top-end of the unit.
I’m told the device supports Samsung’s Wireless Fast Charge but I didn’t get to test this. Since I wasn’t given the original charger, I can’t test the charging times. Using a standard Samsung USB-C charger did take me 1.5 hours to get from 20% to 100%.
My usual Netflix viewing test of watching a 90 minute feature at full brightness and sound sapped between 15%-17% of battery life, which is pretty good. Screen on time was in excess of five hours, which is also acceptable. From a more practical standpoint, I could use the device the whole day through with about 10% to 20% plus left after a 16-hour day.
Benchmark figures were also good (see pic for more).
Software-wise, the device performed as well as the many of the flagships I’ve reviewed from Samsung recently, which includes the Samsung S20 Ultra and Samsung Note 10. This despite the device being powered by the previous Qualcomm 855.
The Samsung UI 2.1 is a minor upgrade to 2.0, so it was also good to use, although as mentioned before, getting to know the myriads of settings could take you sometime.
The Z Flip has some unique features to offer its users courtesy of it being a clamshell flip phone. The most obvious is the application of Flex Mode to taking a picture.
By setting up the device in a 90-degree angle, you can take pictures by having the top half of the screen act as your viewfinder while the bottom is where the camera controls are. I find the idea novel and would be ideal for selfies and some group picture taking shots but apart from these situations, the applications would be limited.
From a specification standpoint, the Z Flip cameras aren’t the greatest. It’s 12-MP shooter is capable but does not have the strength of its newer siblings. Camera performance was also good. The colours were vibrant and natural enough. That said, the camera is a little dated and may not rival the latest in Samsung’s series of regular smartphones.
One interesting mode is the ‘Single Take’ mode. Think of it as an ‘all-in-one’ shot taking mode, especially if you can’t decide whether you should take a still photo or a video and if you should do so in tele, normal or wide modes.
With one click on the Single Take mode, the S20 Ultra will cycle through and take a variety of photos and videos at different focal lengths, so you will be able to see your pictures in ultra-wides, portraits, hyperlapse video, regular video, live focus, cropped, or ultra-wide shots. Not every shot is perfectly taken but you can pick the one that works best for you.
Night shots were fine but not as sharp as some of the latest cameras on the block these days.
All in all, the Z Flip, IMHO, is an improvement from what the Galaxy Fold represents. It’s far more practical, has an interesting form factor, and a price that is not ridiculously high.
Still, at RM5,888, you have to be the kind where money’s no object to buying a smartphone or a real geek that wants the latest kind of fad, which is the foldable flip smartphone.
For now, my sense is that the world at large isn’t quite ready for a flip smartphone. And until and unless it gets down to sub US$935 (RM4,000), it won’t fly with most.
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