Look, we’re all for the idea of foldable smartphones. Everybody seems to be working on one, with the notable exception of LG (who have gone the cover-as-second-screen route) and Apple (and even then there is… talk) but we’ve only really seen Samsung’s folding handsets on the market here in South Africa.
We’ve gone hands-on with Huawei’s Mate X here in South Africa but we haven’t got a clue when or where you’ll be able to get one. The Motorola RAZR is an interesting take on folding smartphone tech but we’ll probably never see it officially supported in SA. But Samsung… Samsung’s taking its world domination seriously, even if you’re expected to pay through the nose for access to a folding phone.
Although, with the launch of the Galaxy Z Flip, the barrier to entry is a little cheaper. It’s R35,000 instead of R44,000, which is still too bloody expensive but the price drop is accompanied by a few changes that might make spending all that cash a little more attractive.
You see, folding phones have one thing in common — the screens are a little fragile. It’s the inherent nature of the design. Until someone works out a way to make Gorilla Glass that’ll fold in half without disintegrating or a special polymer that’ll perform actual magic, folding phones are going to be a risk. But Samsung’s made this risk one you might be keen on taking.
What’s on display here
The Galaxy Z Flip has two displays. One of them lives on the outside of the phone, on the protective shell encasing the fragile innards. It’s just 1.1in in size, with a teeny little 112 x 300 resolution. It’s actually a colour display and we don’t doubt that someone’ll figure out how to run Doom on it someday but mostly it’ll show you the time and whether there are notifications waiting inside.
The main screen is a gorgeous 6.7in panel, with a 1,080 x 2,636 resolution. Hardly surprising, since the panel is OLED — it’s plastic OLED or pOLED (though Samsung’s got a more technical explanation that means they don’t have to use the word ‘plastic’) — but it’s still OLED. Expect brilliant colours, deep blacks and the sort of clear detail only your best memories seem to have.
It looks, at a glance, just as good as any of Samsung’s tougher screens, until you note the slight crease in the middle of the phone’s display. That crease? It’s a design feature now — you’re not going to see a clamshell folding smartphone without it. If you don’t like it, don’t drop R30k on the phone. But the crease is the result of the hinge used to fold the screen just so so that nothing creeps behind it and mucks up the inner workings.
Actually using the screen isn’t unlike any other smartphone. There’s a slight sense that the panel is a little more fragile and we definitely wouldn’t want it to get in contact with a bunch of keys or anything abrasive but it works just as well as any other smartphone screen you’ve ever encountered. Fingerprints are a little more nerve-wracking, as there are probably special cleaning instructions. Overall, though, the protective outer shell does its job in keeping that excellent screen protected and it folds away neatly enough to make it comfy in a pocket.
A few familiar faces
The only really novel bit of this phone is the folding screen and folding design. The outer side is exactly what you’d get if you sawed a Galaxy S9, S10 or S20 in half and placed the screen sides facing each other and joined the bits with a fancy hinge. Which means that, design aside, pretty much everything else is exactly what you’d expect from a Samsung smartphone. Up to and including the camera, which you’ve actually seen before.
The Galaxy Z Flip’s main 12MP sensor comes straight out of the Galaxy S10, although Samsung’s swapped out the dual-aperture hijinks for a fixed f/1.8 aperture. Dual-Pixel Autofocus and optical image stabilisation (OIS) are also present, as is a secondary 12MP ultra-wide sensor. Because no expensive phone can have just one sensor any more.
Up front there’s a 10MP selfie camera, ideal for taking photographs of yourself while feeling like you’re actually putting makeup on. The folding design is good for one thing, though — you can prime the phone to take a picture with the (excellent) dual main sensors, place it on a flat surface and then dash in front of it. Provided that surface actually is flat and isn’t all that smooth. A little texture of the outer glass might have been a plan. The Galaxy Z Flip may be fragile but it’s awfully determined to dash itself to bits on the ground if the surface you place it on is even slightly angled, slippery or both.
And the images? If you’ve used a Samsung flagship in the past few years you’ll know what that’s all about. Images are great across the board, though lacking some of the punch that camera-centric smartphones like the Galaxy S20 Ultra or the Huawei P40 Pro offer to users. The camera is solid, better than most smartphone offerings but outclassed by handsets that specialise in image quality.
A sober use of power
On the inside, there’s more of the completely expected. Like we said above, the only surprises reside in the screen and design. Inside, Samsung has opted for one of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855+ processors. This is a very powerful chip but we don’t often get Snapdragon-powered Samsung headliners here in SA. It almost feels wrong that it’s not an Exynos chipset. Expect to find 8GB of RAM in here as well. This isn’t Samsung’s most powerful smartphone but it’s also no slouch. Odds are you’ll have all the power you could ever want from your mobile phone but if you’re in the habit of whipping yours out and measuring against your mates, you might be beaten here. Samsung’s S20 and onwards feature more power in a less fragile form-factor.
If you’re measuring against another folding phone (you’re not, because you’re South African, but if you were), then Samsung’s power choices start to look a lot more attractive. Motorola opted for mid-range(ish) internals for the revamped RAZR in an attempt to bring the price down. It didn’t work.
There’s a 3,300mAh battery inside the Galaxy Z Flip that’ll last longer than you’d expect. Turn out, having the screen only power on when the phone is opened constitutes quite the energy saving. The low-power outer display also helps in this regard, showing basic info like the time and whether there are any notifications. Topping up is speedy. The Z Flip supports 15W charging as well as wireless charging, if you happen to have a charge pad hiding somewhere.
Sound like fun
There’s something a little weird with the Galaxy Z Flip on the sound front — rather than a stereo speaker Samsung’s opted for a single mono effort at the base of the phone. There’s also no headphone jack. Obviously internal space is at a premium for this handset but that’s fine. Samsung’s gone and done a decent job of the audio anyway. Plus, the folding nature of the phone means you can use it like the world’s smallest portable DVD player to watch videos.
On the software front, it’s… well, it’s a Samsung phone. That means that Samsung’s slick OneUI interface is present over Android. It’s exactly what you’ve come to expect from previous Samsung flagships — an easy-to-use experience, a bunch of Samsung-made apps you’ll rarely, if ever, use, and the ability to do everything Google intended with the Android operating system. There’s not much more you can ask for.
There are a few oddities, though — Samsung’s got Flex Mode in this handset, which’ll move elements to the top or bottom screens when the phone is partially folded. There’s nothing particularly special here — it works great for video calls but there’s no ‘killer app’ to speak of. Otherwise, it’s little more than a curiosity: “Look what my expensive folding smartphone can do.”
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip Verdict
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip is the best folding phone on the South African market. Although, with the exception of the Galaxy Fold, it’s also just about the only folding phone on the SA market. But if Motorola’s effort was here, Samsung would have blown it out of the water. Huawei’s attempts… perhaps. Samsung’s got the advantage when it comes to protecting that fragile screen, so there’s that.
But the Galaxy Z Flip is still for the early adopter. It’s slick and exciting but it also needs some serious looking after and that price is a little bit insane. The handset launched here at R35,000 and Samsung has to hack that price nearly in half for serious mass-market appeal. But if you’ve got the wallet for it, as well as the fearlessness (or just really good insurance), then the Galaxy Z Flip is one way to one-up your mates. It’s a great folding smartphone and it’s also a great phone, full stop. But if you’re only after the latter, you can spend less and get a better Samsung handset (that doesn’t have a plastic screen).
It's not hard to be the best of something when you're also one of the only ones on the market. But Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip is also one of the best phones of its type available today - and that's if we're including the stuff you can't buy here.