Samsung's new Galaxy Z Flip, the company's latest folding phone, has been making plenty of waves in recent days — first for being the world's very first glass folding phone, and later for being more delicate than "glass" would imply. I've only had the day to play with the phone following our very brief time with it at Samsung's event, and while I'm trying to reserve my full judgment for later, I have to say: So far, I really like it.
I should note, this isn't our full "review," I'll need a lot more time with the phone before I'm comfortable attaching that label to anything. Think of this as more than a hands-on, but less than a purchasing decision — just one more piece to consider in your own thought process before you rush out to buy one.
"Glass" is glass, the screen seems fine
Like everyone else, I was concerned over the weekend watching Zach Nelson's latest JerryRigEverything video in which he literally pokes holes in the Z Flip's display. (Maybe even a little more concerned, since I had just spent $1,400 of my own money to pick one up.) Time will tell if this new ultra-thin glass is truly durable enough in more extended real-life use, but my initial, anecdotal experience is positive.
The "glass" exists under some sort of protective layer, and it might not stand up to scratches from keys, Mohs' hardness picks, or even your thumbnail, but it feels pretty solid and hard to me. My opinion might change if I notice it start to pick up scratches or indentations in normal use, but right now, my own concerns are gone. It feels nice.
At an angle with a strong light — you'll never really see the wrinkle outside circumstances like this.
I was also concerned that being a folding display would mean a subpar screen, but that also doesn't appear to be true. It gets quite bright outdoors (much brighter than the Pixel 4 I've been using the last few days), colors are good (if wildly oversaturated on default settings), and the panel seems uniform so far. There are only really two issues: The 1080p resolution feels a little low for the size, especially given this is a $1,400 phone, and there's a permanent, noticeable wrinkle in the middle of the screen. Personally, neither of those things bothers me that badly, and I really don't find the wrinkle to be bothersome outside the unexpected tactile sensation when scrolling, but they are points against it.
So, how do you use a folding phone?
Physically, the screen (and the phone as a whole) feels very tall and narrow. At first, it's a little claustrophobic if you're used to using something like the S10+, Pixel 4 XL, or an iPhone 11 Pro Max, especially when typing, but you get used to it. Overall, when the Z Flip is open, it just sort of feels like a normal phone, barring a few caveats. For one, the hinge actually opens the screen just a bit past flat (which bothers me more than it probably should). The glossy plastic bumper that completely rings the display also makes for a bigger bezel than we're used to in 2020.
But as soon as you close the phone for the first time, you realize this is the future. With a single flip, an almost-normal experience becomes something distinctly different. I'm not trying to exaggerate here when I say I'm still trying to work out all the implications and effects a folding form factor is going to have on how I use a phone — and once I do, that's still going to take a while to put into words. But this isn't just different, it's better, though I already have a few things about the experience that I'd like to tweak.
For one, I'd like more feedback and sensation from the Z Flip when I fold the phone open and closed. The hinge feels durable, offering just the right level of continuous resistance when you fold it open and shut, but when you hit the end in both directions, it's a bit of a letdown. There's no satisfying snick snap-click when it flips open or shut, it just stops. I'm sure this makes for a more durable mechanism, and Samsung probably has reasons for avoiding any physical movement that would produce the snapping sensation and sound, but I'd really enjoy if we could just simulate it, like those Ford or BMW cars that fake having a nice-sounding exhaust system. This phone has haptics and speakers, give me a fake open and closing sensation/noise like an old flip phone — or better, let us customize it. How cool would it be to sound like an original series Star Trek communicator when you flip it open?
Another thing that needs to change is the fingerprint sensor, which almost never works for me so far. I'm at least partly to blame; although blogging is a pretty white-collar job, my thumbs and fingers are well callused from my hobbies. But either the Z Flip can't read the thick skin (which in-screen readers have no issue with), or it's just a mediocre fingerprint sensor. Either way, it makes unlocking the device a pain in the ass right now.
The tiny screen on the outside (which is a touchscreen, I don't think that's been pointed out enough) is also basically useless. Sure, it shows notifications, but it scrolls them past the tiny visible window almost as slowly as humanly possible. Reading them off that dinky ticker display isn't pleasant or even useful — at best, you can just sort of judge based on the app icon if it's worth your time to flip open the screen and check that way. A bigger display on the back is definitely needed.
Something about the design should also be tweaked to better accommodate cases, because the one it comes with is pretty mediocre, popping off around the hinge with ease. At least the wildly iridescent Mirror Purple colorway is so pretty you'll never want to hide it. Depending on the light, it changes from yellow to green to blue to purple, and I love it. (Hopefully, the long and boring era of featureless black phones is just about over.)
Pocket reclamation — but which way to hold it?
The Galaxy Z Flip's new form factor also raises some profound, as-yet unanswered questions, like, "What is the objectively best orientation to face the phone when closed in your pocket?" Only time will tell.
Software will make or break it
The most important thing about the Z Flip (and this slightly different folding form factor as a whole) is going to be how well the software works with it and what sort of new functionality and features that can deliver. Personally, I think the form factor as a whole may succeed or fail based on software. Unfortunately, that's where these impressions end; it's just too early for me to have formed a final opinion.
I still have to switch mental gears into "Samsung" mode, if you know what I mean, and fully explore how it changes things like multi-window workflows, or if the extra steps to access the main screen prove to be a bigger impediment than I anticipated. Samsung's software as a whole also deserves a re-examination with this new folding paradigm in mind. Sure, I could replace the phone's terribly derpy launcher on day one and use all my own apps instead of Samsung's built-in ones, but I don't think I'd be doing the Z Flip justice. Expect a little more time in the oven.
Still, the Galaxy Z Flip is the most fun I've had with a phone in years, and I like what I've seen so far.