Samsung wasted no time in launching its latest foldable Galaxy Z flip phone during the company's unpacked event on February 11th. It was the opening act, a stark contrast to last year's Galaxy Note 10 launch when the Galaxy Fold was hardly mentioned. Samsung was in the middle of a foldable disaster at its last unpacked event and was preparing to restart the Galaxy Fold after the test devices fell apart. It was a disaster that raised many doubts about folding phones. This second folding phone from Samsung still has a lot to prove.
Samsung's recent attempt to develop a foldable phone goes in a completely different direction than the Galaxy Fold. Instead of turning a phone into a tablet, the Galaxy Z Flip is turned into a miniature handheld device. It can even be partially unfolded and supported on a table to take hands-free selfies.
The Z Flip was specially developed for sharing content on Instagram and YouTube. It has a small outer display that you can use as a selfie finder for the main camera (better!). Samsung also worked with Google to optimize YouTube and split it onto the pop-up display so you can view content in the top half and search comments or other videos in the bottom half.
While the fold was clearly targeting a premium market at $ 1,980, the Z Flip is pushing more towards the mainstream at $ 1,380. It's cheaper than some Galaxy S20 configurations, and a big step to make foldable phones more affordable in the near future.
In contrast to the Galaxy Fold, the new Galaxy Z Flip makes fewer compromises when it comes to a real cell phone. There are no ugly huge bezels, no screen notches, and it folds up into a normal phone (albeit very long). Samsung also uses proprietary bendable ultra-thin glass (UTG) for the 6.7-inch display, a welcome and significant improvement over the Galaxy Fold's delicate plastic.
The new hinge of the Galaxy Z Flip.
Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge
The hinge was the cause of many problems with the Galaxy Fold, and Samsung was keen to highlight its new “hideaway hinge” for the Galaxy Z Flip, which uses nylon fibers to keep dust out. It also acts like a laptop hinge, so you can open it and support it at different angles. The display of the Z Flip still shows a visible crease in which the hinge area is located. This can turn out to be more evident in everyday use, as you are likely to scroll across the crease more often than on the Galaxy Fold.
These are much needed changes and improvements to the hardware and they show that Samsung has learned some tough lessons from the Galaxy Fold debacle. The Z Flip therefore looks less ambitious, but still retains some relatively high-quality specs and hardware that you'd expect from the latest Android smartphone.
Samsung hasn't done enough to solve the main problem that the Galaxy Z Flip solves. Unlike the Galaxy Fold, no attempt is made to combine two devices into one, and it feels more like an answer to the Motorola Razr than anything else. It will surely appeal to anyone who wants a smaller device in their pocket, anyone who is nostalgic for the days of flip phones, or people who just want to show off in a café full of rigid rectangles. It could even help you disconnect yourself from the email, social media, and everything else that a modern smartphone offers by simply closing it for the day.
However, Samsung was clear about how it plans to position the Galaxy Z Flip. "Shebam … Pow … Blop … Whizz" was the message in a promotional video, an indication that this folding phone is simply stunning. Samsung has even partnered with fashion designer Thom Browne to launch a special edition of the Galaxy Z Flip.
All of this marketing will certainly make the Z Flip desirable, but there are still a lot of doubts and uncertainties surrounding foldable phones. Samsung has had similar doubts about new handheld form factors in the past. A good example is Samsung's introduction of the oversized Galaxy Note phablet at a time when phones could be navigated with one hand. Now all phones have the size of the original Galaxy Note. Samsung seems to be banking on a similar success story, and with the Galaxy Z Flip it is clear that the company is not yet ready to give up the foldable dream.