Sunday, April 5, 2020

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip review: The best foldable phone yet is still disappointing

  • When folded, the Galaxy Z Flip is thicker and wider than most phones you can find today
  • The first generation Moto X feels a lot more compact than a folded Flip

Let’s face it. If you have upwards of a lakh to spare you’ve probably already decided to buy a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. Having a phone that folds at this point of time IS something you can flaunt, at least in India.

But this generation’s foldables have been disappointing at best. That holds true for all of them, including the Galaxy Z Flip, Moto Razr, Galaxy Fold, or the Huawei Mate X. The best thing about all of these phones is that they fold, and the worst thing about them is that they JUST fold. It’s not Samsung’s fault, neither is it Motorola’s. I truly believe they’re doing their best. The Galaxy Z Flip is the best effort so far, but smartphone tech is at such saturation that making a screen fold is all companies are able to achieve right now.

When I unboxed the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip, my first thought was that this is the ugliest phone I’ve seen in I can’t remember how long. That’s probably because I had the mirror black version, which looks plain, and that the pink etc. do look better. For me though, I wouldn’t be caught dead carrying a phone as shiny as those other colours. But I admit that, at least based on photos I’ve seen, those don’t look utilitarian. The striking colours take your attention off the lines running along the sides, but I’m still not happy about the fat protective bezels surrounding the screen.

But looks are subjective, so I’m not going to dwell on that. However, I have major issues with this phone’s ergonomics, design and functionality. Here’s why.

Let’s talk about the design

You have to give props to Samsung for being able to “fold" a screen in half. I’m glad that phones can fold now, but I’m not convinced they’re at their best yet or that they justify the price.

When folded, the Galaxy Z Flip is thicker and wider than most phones you can find today. It means it’s an aberration in your pocket and unless you have large hands, you’re not going to fold and unfold it with one hand. If you’re thinking you’ll flip your phone to take a call like Shahrukh Khan did in Don, it’s not going to happen.

In fact, the only reason this phone is “compact" when it’s folded is because we’ve been conditioned to carry big-screen smartphones. My first generation Moto X feels a lot more compact than a folded 


Furthermore, there’s actually an entire screen inside. So these hinges can’t snap open like the Moto Flip or other flip phones of yore. Even those who can flip it with one hand will easily feel that a resistance from the hinge and the whole thing doesn’t really snap. This is true for the Moto Razr too, so I’m convinced it's a hurdle for the industry in general.

In the three days Samsung gave me with this phone, I already felt wobble a little. This used to happen to my old Moto Flip too, but I used to literally flip that phone open and close like it was a fidget spinner used for relieving stress. With the Galaxy Z Flip, I flipped strictly when needed, because it wasn’t easy and it always needed both my hands.

It’s a glass slab when folded

Moving on, in older clamshell designs (phones like the Moto Flip, the original Moto Razr or the V3i update, Samsung’s own Rugby III and many more) you could do precious little in their folded form factors, which was fine then, but it’s not now. Those were simpler times, we bought phones to make calls and respond to texts, perhaps put a polyphonic ringtone (or maybe even a singtone), we didn’t expect the world from them. The smartphone changed all that.

Folded up, the Galaxy Z Flip is a little more than a glass slab that slips on almost every surface. There’s really nothing you can do with the phone closed, except look at a tiny display next to the cameras and reassure yourself that it does support touch input. It’s akin to the “Edge display" on phone’s like the Note Edge. It was expected to add functionality, but really it’s nothing more than a peripheral feature.

If you double press the lock button to turn the selfie camera on when folded, you’ll quickly see less than half of your face on the tiny screen. You can get a wider view by tapping that screen for the wide angle view, but it doesn’t really help either. Samsung allows some swiping etc, but there’s only so much one can do with this much real estate.

By the way, you can take calls from this screen but it will turn on the speakerphone, meaning you’re never going to do that in public.

The Z Flip costs Rs. 1,09,999 in India, wouldn’t customers prefer to pay a slightly higher amount but get more functionality from their phone?

Unfolded, it’s just a smartphone

Things don’t end there. Once unfolded, the Galaxy Z Flip is simply any other flagship phone, closely resembling the S20 series. There’s no real change to the software. The goal seems to have been to just make sure the screen folds.

On top of that, I felt the screen depress under my fingers at times, which probably expected is still unnerving. The protective film on the screen feels unnatural too and somewhat sticky. The touch experience isn’t like the Galaxy S20 series or an iPhone. Neither are the cameras as good as the Galaxy S20+. In fact, the selfie camera made me look like a mannequin with lifeless black eyes.

Other than the fact that the camera and some apps can shift to half the screen at times, there’s really no use for the foldable form factor on this phone. Which brings me back to the point about all foldable phones — should they JUST fold?

In Samsung’s defence, no one else has figured this out either. Everyone’s focus seems to be on making screens that fold and hoping they get to the point where they don’t break or scratch easily. The Z Flip certainly feels more dependable that the Galaxy Fold did, and that’s Samsung’s big achievement with this series.

But it’s cool, right?

But you’re not buying a Z Flip for functionality, you’re buying it because it’s “cool". But I couldn’t take the Z Flip to the gym, because I was too scared it would scratch when it was in the bag, fall or break while working out etc.

In public, people saw me very carefully pull it out of my pocket and then unfold it with both my hands. It was really uncool. If the point of the Flip and Fold were to prove its technological superiority, Samsung has only just succeeded. But it’s certainly not cool yet.

Should you buy it?

I wouldn’t buy this, but like I said before, you’re probably buying it irrespective of what I or any reviewer says. It’s just sad that “cutting edge" smartphone technology in 2020 doesn’t dazzle. Foldables should not just bring back old form factors, they should be an amalgamation of everything smartphones can do, combined with that old form factor.

The Galaxy Z Flip and other foldables remind me of the old Vertu phones which were meant solely for showing off and never really tried to make anything of the over-the-top additions. If show off was the point, I’d prefer Samsung’s custom gold phone from the movie Ocean’s 13, or even Vertu’s diamond studded ones.

It’s too early to compare foldables based on performance and features right now, but pound for pound, the Z Flip certainly beats the Moto Razr. It’s faster, has a better camera, better screen, similar battery and is cheaper, not to mention the fact that Samsung could at least amass enough units to send some to reviewers.

In fact, of the four foldable screens I’ve seen so far — Galaxy Z Flip, Huawei Mate X, Moto Razr and Xiaomi Mi Mix Alpha — Xiaomi and Huawei wouldn’t let anyone even touch the phones, while Motorola could only afford to show it to me for 20-odd minutes.

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