Samsung Galaxy Z Flip first impressions – A confusing, fragile monster

After many months of annoying Samsung to the point where we felt like the brand was ignoring us, we were finally sent the Galaxy Z Flip for review last week.

This is Samsung’s second run at a folding flagship device and while it is an impressive device, once the sheen of the folding display wears off, some problems start to become very noticeable.

Let’s start with the main attraction – the display.

We’ll be honest, opening and closing the Z Flip is quite incredible and will drop a few jaws, especially if people aren’t expecting you to have a smartphone that folds up.

Even just having the phone on your desk will draw out a number of questions you weren’t prepared to answer, such as how it folds.

But once that sheen wears off, you’re left with a device we aren’t sure many people will want.

The first and most noticeable issue with the Z Flip is that crease in the centre of the display.

Despite using the handset as our daily driver for a few days, the crease does not fade into the background. On the contrary, it is actually highlighted as you use the handset more often.

The issue we have is that the fold here is located right in the middle of the display which means not only are you seeing it, you’re touching it a lot as well.

The centre of the display is also where the hinge is located and so this area of the display is a bit more flexible. While we can understand this, your brain is going to have field day as your finger glides up your display while scrolling through Twitter.

The result is a feeling that is more akin to gel than it is glass and given that the display on either side of the fold is quite sturdy it’s rather unnerving to feel this texture change.

Another issue with the Z Flip is stress.

The Z Flip comes with a laundry list of don’ts:

  • Don’t touch the front display or camera with a fingernail as it may damage it.
  • Don’t close the Z Flip with keys, coins or other objects in the way
  • Don’t expose the phone to water or dust
  • No stickers
  • Don’t get the phone too close to your credit card as magnets may fry it

The Z Flip then is not just a new phone, it’s a new kind of phone that requires a special touch and degree of care.

But surely all this tech is worth the R30 000 price tag?

One would think as much but that price tag gets hard to justify the more I use this handset.

Inside the Z Flip is a Qualcomm SM815 Snapdragon 855+, 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage and dual lens rear camera. You’ll also find a fingerprint scanner on the side of the handset, which is absolutely terrible at scanning your finger.

While the specs aren’t low, compared to other premium smartphones the Z Flip can end up feeling a bit sluggish.

On one day we had to restart the handset several times to force applications to close that simply weren’t responsive.

Performance issues also start to pop-up when the battery level dips to below 30 percent.

Strange ghosting is visible on the display as you scroll when the battery hits 25 percent capacity and when moving past the fold, icons look as though they are being rendered by a Pentium 2 from 1997. More than that, apps seem to await instruction from up high before actually doing what they are meant to do.

While charged and above 30 percent capacity, the Z Flip is great but the above issues make it a pain to use when the battery is losing charge.

There’s also the matter of the bezels. Now, we understand that Samsung had issues with the Fold and bezels but perhaps it has now gone too far in the opposite direction.

The display is more narrow than that of the Galaxy S10+ and a lot of real estate is taken up by the bezels. This means there is less horizontal space for things such as the keyboard and to be frank, we aren’t fans of this.

All in all the Z Flip ends up feeling like a budget handset that folds and that just isn’t enough for us right now.

Other gripes

Perhaps our least favourite part of the Z Flip is the paint job.

It sure looks spectacular but holding a R30 000 phone at chest height has never felt more like an extreme sport.

That’s because the outside of the Z Flip is slicker than an otter that just exited the water. Almost all of the fingerprints on the phone are as a result of my hands sweating due to the stress of dropping the Z Flip.

Samsung does ship the Z Flip with a hard plastic shell in the box which we highly recommend using.

Something else worth bringing up is that the Z Flip feels very out of place in a South African winter.

The wind and dust outside have me thinking twice about walking around with the Z Flip because I’m not sure how small dust needs to be to get into Samsung’s hinge and then be exited by its sweeping technology.

These issues along with those mentioned above combine to make the Z Flip feel a bit more complex than it should be.

And this is where the Z Flip needs to win us over. Samsung needs to justify that this complexity is worth the price of admission and right now, for us, it isn’t.

There is a good reason this is one of the crazier handsets we’ve had in for review and that’s because people expect very specific things from a smartphone.

A smartphone has become less like your TV and more like your stove and oven.

That is to say, it has to be functional more than it has to be pretty. Sure, your AGA wood burning cooker looks spectacular but when you’re sitting in front of it at 10pm still waiting for your dinner to cook because you forgot to light a fire, it’s not very useful is it?

And the Z Flip feels like the AGA that nobody remembered to light at least during our first few days with the handset.

Make no mistake, the Z Flip is an engineering marvel and we’ll go into that in our full review but these are our first impressions and so far, we’re not really blown away by the experience.

Of course, perhaps we simply need to get on board with a handset that changes how we use our smartphones.

We’ll have a full review up soon.


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