Samsung might have just fostered the foldable phone out of the first generation blues today at their Unpacked 2020 event in San Francisco. Alongside their new S20 phones, Samsung officially revealed the much-leaked Galaxy Z Flip, their latest crack at the foldable phone concept. It’s a far cry from the ill-fated Galaxy Fold revealed this time last year, and it’s one that the company seems a lot more confident in.
Because, for one thing, they actually had demo units for us to play around with! Last year’s Fold was kept under wraps at Unpacked — no surprise considering the delays and myriad durability problems that device ended up having. The Galazy Z Flip, on the other hand, seems on track for a stronger debut. For one, it fulfills the promise of a large phone that’s easier to put in your pocket — the 6.7″ device folds like a clamshell, making it palm-sized when folded up.
Same can be said of the new Motorola Razr, about which unkind things are being said. But, there are a few differences with the Galaxy Z Flip that could turn around the fortunes of folding phones. It’s the first such device to use folding glass on the exterior of the display. That ultra-thin glass is meant to be more durable along the fold than plastic — Samsung says it’s good for 200,000 folds, but time will shortly tell what we should make of that number.
What we can tell so far is that at least on day one, foldable glass looks and feels a lot better than plastic. You can still spot the crease in the display, but it’s less noticeable, and it doesn’t have the creaky sound and feel of plastic. It’s not something you can flip open with a single hand like an old clamshell phone, but that might be a sacrifice worth making — the hinge is strong enough to hold its position when placed on a table, allowing you to use it as a sort of mini-laptop. The hinge also has a small wall of fibers protecting gaps that would otherwise allow dirt and dust to gum up the works.
That sturdy hinge helps to answer the big question of foldable phones — why? Samsung had reasons this year. When the phone is open like a mini-laptop, it can be used in Flex Mode. Some apps have already received tweaks to take advantage of Flex Mode — for example, you can watch a YouTube video in the upper half while commenting using the lower half. Weird flex, but OK.
In all seriousness, there’s some potential with Flex Mode. It makes taking selfies way easier — the phone holds itself up, making hands-free selfies a cinch. It’s great for video chatting in the same way. Speaking of which, Google’s video chat app, Duo, will be baked into the Galaxy Z Flip as the native video chat app, appearing alongside texting and phone calls.
Like with other foldable phones, there have been some sacrifices made to specs to keep it sort of affordable. You’re not getting Qualcomm’s latest and greatest SoC, nor are you getting the super advanced camera rigs on the Galaxy S20 devices that were also announced today. But, that’ll help the 3,300 mAh battery last a bit longer, and the last-gen premium specs should help the phone stay snappy and responsive. The biggest sacrifice is probably 5G connectivity, a real bummer with 5G networks quickly popping up nationwide.
The Galaxy Z Flip feels like a more practical approach to the foldable phone — it’s easier to pocket and has a few new software tricks that finally take the foldable concept out of the realm of gimmick. It helps that it also looks terrific, too! The phone comes in purple, black, and gold, all with polished mirror finishes. Samsung will also have a limited edition of the phone made with designer Thom Browne, which they’ll talk about more at New York Fashion Week tomorrow.
Here’s one more change from the Galaxy Fold to the Galaxy Z Flip — you won’t be waiting long for it. The phone will be available starting this Friday, February 14th, for $1,380.