For a category that’s been around since end-2019, flipping, folding phones (flippables, maybe?) have largely felt like an answer to a question no one was asking. Sure, any technology enthusiast over the age of 35 will tell you they love the way a flippable flips open and snaps shut, but the best use cases for these phones have centered around intentional consumption.
It’s the idea that you could treat the external screens on the rear like smartwatches, good for glanceable information but not much more - an idea that got old pretty fast as soon as you realized just how little you could achieve on the external screen…and just how often you were flipping the screen open to get even the most basic work done.
All that changed recently with Motorola’s razr 40 ultra and its large 3.6-inch cover display, but I’m betting that the new Samsung Z Flip5, with its 3.4-inch external screen and zero-gap hinge, is truly going to mainstream this form-factor this year.
It goes on sale on 18 August with a bevy of upgrade and exchange offers at launch that do well to take the sting off the Rs. 99,999 8GB/256GB / Rs. 1,09,999 8GB/512GB pricing. Is this generational step up worth your money, and how does it go up against Motorola?
There are elements of predictability in the Galaxy Z Flip5’s design, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The dimensions and general feel in the hand is largely similar to the Z Flip4, even as Samsung has shaved a few millimeters off in thickness when folded (courtesy the new hinge). There’s Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 and the same IPX8 water resistance and lack of dust resistance. So it’s good for full immersion in water at the pool, but you should use it with caution at the beach.
The polished Armor Aluminum frame offers a nice contrast to the pastel color options – mint, lavender, cream and graphite black – and you can be assured you’re getting a phone that’s well-built and feels every bit premium as you would hope for the price.
Onto the marquee changes – the redesigned ‘Flex Hinge’, which allows the Z Flip5 to fold gap-free, giving it that slimmer profile and keeping all manners of pocket cruft out. It also allows the crease on the inner folding screen to curve into a gentler water drop bend, which is supposed to diffuse external impact, but the crease is as visible and discernible as ever. The slimmer profile meant that one had to occasionally hunt for the embedded fingerprint scanner when the phone was folded, though.
Yet, you’re likely considering the Flip5 for this reason above all – the 3.4-inch, Super AMOLED 60Hz ‘Flex Window’ cover display on the rear panel, a significant upgrade to the Z Flip4’s 1.9-inch screen.
Unlike the Motorola, the screen doesn’t wrap around the cameras – it’s almost ‘Windows folder’ shaped with a cutout for the cameras, but it still manages to cover a good portion of the top half. And sure, 3.4-inches may not sound like a lot with phone screens regularly pushing 6.7-inches, but on the cover display, it makes getting stuff done realistically possible.
When you first set it up, Samsung surfaces all this information via widget style screens that render perfectly on the Flex Window and, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can enable limited app support for the Flex Window under the experimental “Labs” features, which suggests it could be a buggy experience. Currently, only Google Maps, Samsung Messages, Messages, Netflix, and YouTube are supported, and you can go a step further and use the Good Lock app to enable a new launcher widget from where you can launch any app you want on the Flex Window.
Sample the tasks I could do without once unfolding the display – triage notifications first thing in the morning, quickly dropping into WhatsApp and Telegram to respond to the most urgent messages via a somewhat cramped but certainly usable-in-a-pinch QWERTY keyboard, check my X (formerly, Twitter) and Instagram feed, follow a route on Google Maps, make or receive calls, start timers/alarms, check the weather and stock portfolios…and of course, take selfies with the superior rear cameras.
I’ve discovered quite a few apps I use on a daily basis actually work fine on the cover display. While I get the reason Samsung makes one jump through hoops - many apps render oddly or less than favorably on the outer display, which isn’t a good look – I’d have much preferred the approach of allowing full app support up from the get-go. This is the real benefit of having a flip phone, of choosing what you want to do on the external display and not have to open it up, unless you need to.
Yet, when you do unfold it, you are rewarded with the superior inner display, a 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen that supports FHD+ resolution and refresh rates up to 120Hz. Samsung has done well to nail the ‘flex mode’ optimizations across apps, so you can prop the phone half open and have it show you a video on the top half and comments on the lower, or use the lower half as a touchpad to scroll through pictures in the gallery. That said, it’s a tall 22:9 aspect ratio screen that favors infinite scrolling apps like Instagram and X, slightly less so for 16:9 widescreen content.
The rest, I’m happy to report, is exactly as you’d expect coming to a Samsung flagship. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 ‘For Galaxy’ chipset shows off its top-tier performance and boost in battery efficiency, just as it did on the S23 series, but the form factor and the lack of space for more elaborate cooling mechanisms doesn’t lend itself to extended duration gaming sessions or 4K video recording.
The base variant now starts with double the storage, and there’s 25W wired/15W wireless charging, plus reverse wireless charging. The battery capacity (3,700mAh) hasn’t been upgraded to cater to the bigger outer display, but there is the more power-efficient Snapdragon chip and One UI 5.1 optimizations. You’ll get a day’s worth of use but not much more. Using the always-on display on the outer display does pull down battery performance noticeably. Samsung has impressed with its software support commitments, so the four years of major Android OS updates and five years of security patches come as no surprise.
One had hoped for a big camera upgrade on the Flip 5 to round off what has been an impressive set of improvements, but that was not to be. Samsung has used two 12-megapixel sensors on the rear and a 10-megapixel sensor on the front, a setup identical to last year’s model, but one that has been optimized for better color, HDR and low-light performance, not to mention the benefits that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 image signal processor (ISP) brings.
I noticed improvements in detail and processing speed in nighttime photography on the primary and ultrawide, and slightly punchier contrast on the shots taken overall. There’s nothing seriously wrong with the cameras, but one is left with a “what could have been” feeling about a more significant upgrade.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5 goes up against the recently launched Motorola razr40 ultra, and keeping aside the strong cachet both brands enjoy in the foldable space (and at large, really), there are a few areas where each flippable goes one up.
Motorola has larger, higher refresh rate displays both inside and out, and has the better software implementation for the cover display out of the box. Samsung, of course, has clear advantages in terms of performance, charging speeds, camera output, software support, durability, and the way the software adapts to the folding display.
Meaningful competition is good to drive the segment forward, but it also means that while this year’s upgrades are enough to keep Samsung at the top of our recommendation lists, it will have to keep making bigger strides in the year ahead if it is to stay there.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.
Also read: Where do foldable smartphones go from here?