I just spent a day using Samsung's new foldable flip phone - here are the best and worst things about it so far

Galaxy Z Flip Purple

Lisa Eadicicco/Business Insider

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

  • Samsung's $1,380 Galaxy Z Flip is the company's latest foldable phone.
  • As its name implies, it has a bendable screen and hinge that allows the phone to snap shut just like an old-school flip phone.
  • The phone's hinge and flexible screen enable you to prop it up on a table or flat surface, making it easy to watch videos hands-free or use it as second miniature display throughout the workday.
  • But there aren't many apps available to take advantage of the Z Flip's unconventional design, and it's still noticeably pricier than other standard smartphones despite being cheaper than other foldables.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Despite last year's mishap with the Galaxy Fold, Samsung isn't giving up on foldable phones yet.

The company launched the Galaxy Z Flip on Friday, a $1,380 phone with a foldable screen that snaps shut like an old-school flip phone. When opened, the Galaxy Z Flip has a lot in common with many standard smartphones. It has a 6.7-inch screen similar to the Galaxy S20 Plus, for example, and two 12-megapixel main cameras: one with a wide-angle lens and another with an ultra-wide-angle lens.

But thanks to its flexible glass display and hinge, it's able to snap shut just like a flip phone - hence the name Z Flip.

Before spending some time with the Z Flip, I was apprehensive about the advantages that foldable flip phones like the Z Flip and its closest competitor, the $1,500 recently-launched Motorola Razr, would bring to the way I use my phone. But after spending roughly an entire work day using the Flip, I'm starting to see the potential in having a phone that bends in half. For example, being able to keep the phone open with its screen propped up on my desk throughout the day made it much more useful as a second screen at the office.

But it's not perfect, of course. Most apps aren't optimized to take advantage of the Flip's unconventional design. And although its hinge is useful, it would be much more helpful if the phone's top half could be set at a variety of angles.

Here's a closer look at what it's been like to spend some time using the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip.

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First, perhaps the most obvious benefit of using the Z Flip is its compact size when closed.

First, perhaps the most obvious benefit of using the Z Flip is its compact size when closed.

When closed, the Galaxy Z Flip was much easier to fit in my jacket pocket than my longer, rectangular iPhone. But it's noticeably thicker than your average smartphone when closed. In terms of thickness, it's about as chunky as two phones stacked on top of each other.

This didn't bother me too much, though, since the fact that it can fold in half when not in use already makes it compact enough.

But what I loved the most about the Z Flip, after my limited time using it, was how useful it became when opened halfway.

But what I loved the most about the Z Flip, after my limited time using it, was how useful it became when opened halfway.

During its launch event on Tuesday, Samsung showed how the bottom half of the Galaxy Z Flip can be used as a tripod for the top half of the display when taking photos — a feature that's intended to help the phone take more stable shots.

But I found myself really enjoying using the Z Flip in this mode in other ways, too. For example, I kept the phone opened half-way, with the top portion of the display propped up so that the phone makes an "L" shape, while watching a video on YouTube at work alongside my computer screen.

I could easily see this being useful in a variety of circumstances: imagine propping the phone up on a nearby table while showing friends photos and videos from a recent vacation, rather than having to hold the phone or hand it over. Or imagine using the Z Flip in this mode to watch videos or make a video call while at the airport.

These are use cases that make me see the potential for flip phones, beyond the portability and novelty behind it.

However, most apps aren't optimized to work in this way yet.

However, most apps aren't optimized to work in this way yet.

I'd love to use the top half of the Z Flip's screen as an secondary display during the work day. But unfortunately, since the Z Flip is so new, most apps aren't optimized for it yet. Many apps run just like standard smartphone apps on the Z Flip and aren't tailored to utilize its offbeat design, such as the Google Play Store as shown above.

Launch Slack with the Z Flip's screen opened halfway, for example, and the entire chatroom will stretch across the top and bottom of the screen, just like it would on a regular smartphone. I'd much prefer to see the most recent messages in my work Slack channel on the top portion of the display that's propped up, so that I can easily glance over while typing to make sure I'm not missing any important alerts.

I did work around this, however, by launching Slack in Samsung's split-screen mode, which evenly splits two apps above and below the screen's fold. It's the best use case I've found yet for Samsung's split-screen mode.

And I do wish the hinge was more flexible.

And I do wish the hinge was more flexible.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip's ability to stay halfway open on its own makes it very useful when propped on a table or similarly flat surface. But when holding it, you're best bet is to open the phone up entirely so that it can be used like a standard smartphone.

I wish the hinge was slightly more flexible, making it possible to adjust the top half of the display when held to allow for a comfortable reading angle. The "L"-shaped angle it takes when opened halfway is just a bit too rigid to use comfortably when holding the device.

That being said, the hinge does feel durable, and the fact that Samsung used glass for the screen rather than plastic made it feel premium and polished. During my time using the Z Flip, I didn't notice any creaks or bumps.

Being able to close your phone also makes it feel more private.

Being able to close your phone also makes it feel more private.

Since the Galaxy Z Flip snaps shut like a flip phone, the main screen isn't visible when the phone isn't in use. That certainly feels more private than having my phone's lock screen light up with notifications, letting the world around me know when I've received a new text message.

The Z Flip does have a small screen on its cover for viewing the time, notifications, and other information. But it's too tiny for onlookers to see from a distance.

But these benefits do come at a cost that's considerably high compared to the average smartphone.

But these benefits do come at a cost that's considerably high compared to the average smartphone.

The Galaxy Z Flip costs $1,380, making it noticeably pricier than the $1,000 Galaxy S20, $1,200 Galaxy S20 Plus, $1,000 iPhone 11 Pro and $1,100 iPhone 11 Pro Max. It is cheaper than other foldable phones, like Samsung's $1,980 Galaxy Fold and Motorola's $1,500 Razr.

But before you buy, it's worth considering whether the perks that come with a screen that bends in half are worth spending roughly an extra $200-$400 more than the average smartphone. That's especially important considering that the crease in the display is still fairly noticeable, and the Z Flip is lacking some modern smartphone features — like a triple lens camera. Instead, it has a dual-lens 12-megapixel camera.

It's also not dust and water resistant like most of today's smartphones.

It's also not dust and water resistant like most of today's smartphones.

After what happened with last year's Galaxy Fold, Samsung is eager to prove that its new foldable smartphone is adequately durable. The company says the device's hinge uses nylon fibers to keep debris out of the phone, and when unveiling the device it said that it can withstand being folded and unfolded more than 200,000 times.

But the customer care directions that come with the Galaxy Z Flip also warn that it's not dust or water resistant and urge owners to avoid exposing it to liquid or small particles. That would make me wary about regularly using the Z Flip as my everyday phone without using a case.

Other modern smartphones that are cheaper than the Z Flip, like the iPhone 11 Pro and Galaxy S20, are IP68 certified, meaning they can withstand some exposure to water but aren't advised for use in the pool.

Overall, the Galaxy Z Flip feels like one step closer to what the next evolution of the smartphone could look like.

Overall, the Galaxy Z Flip feels like one step closer to what the next evolution of the smartphone could look like.

The Galaxy Z Flip may not be perfect, but it certainly feels more practical thank the Galaxy Fold. That phone offers the benefit of functioning as a tablet and a phone in one, but the phone experience wasn't quite polished enough.

When closed, the Fold's cover screen was too thin and awkward to use for more than checking notifications or the time, and when opened its screen was too large to comfortably use with one hand.

But even after just a few hours with the Z Flip, it feels like it checks two important boxes: it brings something new to the smartphone experience, but also performs well enough as a standard smartphone.


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