Samsung's new $1,400 folding phone totally misses the appeal of foldable smartphones
- Just one year after the bungled launch of its first foldable smartphone, Samsung is trying again with an all-new design, name, and price.
- The Galaxy Z Flip is $600 less than the starting price of last year's Galaxy Fold, and it also folds up and down like a pocket mirror, instead of horizontally like a book.
- Despite the phone's many hardware improvements, Samsung's new phone just isn't as magical or exciting as last year's design.
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Last February, Samsung took the smartphone world by storm with the surprise introduction of the Galaxy Fold at Mobile World Congress.
The Galaxy Fold was big, bold, and beautiful. It had two screens and five cameras. It also cost about as much as a laptop, with a starting price of $1,980.
But everything fell apart when Samsung actually sent test units to journalists months later. Many of the review units broke within 24 hours.
Samsung took a beating on social media over the Galaxy Fold review units breaking.
For Samsung, it was a hardware disaster, and a PR nightmare. The company went back to the drawing board and re-released the Galaxy Fold later in the year, but the damage was already done. The Galaxy Fold, like the Galaxy Note 7 and its exploding battery from 2016, had become the butt of a joke.
This year, Samsung is taking another crack at a foldable smartphone - and in doing so is addressing the many failures of the Galaxy Fold.
The new Galaxy Z Flip might have the worst name between the two phones, but it has a much better hinge and screen design, so no dust can get in and brick the device. It's more difficult to tamper with, due to the clamshell design that protects the phone's screen. It's also significantly cheaper, with a starting price of $1,380 - $600 less than last year's model.
Unfortunately for Samsung, despite its many improvements this new foldable phone also happens to lack all of the appeal that made the Galaxy Fold so magical in the first place.
The biggest letdown doesn't show up on the specs sheet
To understand why the new Z Flip isn't as exciting as the Galaxy Fold, it really helps to see it in person.
Here's the Galaxy Fold:
The Galaxy Fold
And here's the new Galaxy Z Flip:
The Galaxy Z Flip
The Galaxy Z Flip takes up less space than the Galaxy Fold, when it's either closed or open. But the problem with the Galaxy Z Flip is that you will be constantly touching that crease along the center of the phone.
You'll be constantly touching the hinge on the Galaxy Z Flip.
Think about how often you scroll on your current smartphone. You do it all the time, to browse webpages or find that song you're looking for in Spotify. Since the phone has a horizontal crease across the middle of the phone, you'll come into contact with it all the time.
This wasn't an issue with the Galaxy Fold, which had a vertical crease that rarely interfered with the interface.
Scrolling up and down on the Galaxy Fold wouldn't interfere with the crease.
With the Galaxy Fold in its open position, you can have two apps on the screen, or one giant app, but you probably had little reason to drag your finger across the meridian of the display.
Unless you needed to touch content in the middle of the screen, you'd rarely interact with the crease on the Galaxy Fold.
The Galaxy Z Flip also lacks that "wow" factor. The Galaxy Fold allowed you to use the phone one-handed in its closed position, or give you a big tablet-like interface when you opened it up.
The Galaxy Z Flip can't be used in full from its "closed" position; you can only see the time, and some small bits of information like notifications. And when it's open, it's no bigger than your average smartphone. Being able to make your phone smaller is useful, but it's not as exciting as having a phone transform into a tablet at will.
The rest of the Galaxy Z Flip looks solid on paper. It has adequate cameras, powerful chips to make it all work, and a large bright display. But those things were all good on the Galaxy Fold, too. The things that don't show up on the specs sheet for this phone - how often you'll come into contact with the crease, for instance, or how often you'll notice it during regular use, or how annoying it is to open and close a clamshell phone dozens of times throughout the day compared to a traditional smartphone - are far more important than the size of this phone's battery.
Overall, I wish I could recommend this phone, but I can't at its current price point. For that much money, you could buy yourself a more polished smartphone experience - through Apple if you want to try iOS, or through one of many Android manufacturers like OnePlus or Motorola or Google, which all make excellent Android phones that cost a fraction of the price of the Galaxy Z Flip. That said, I applaud Samsung for rebounding after last year's Galaxy Fold debacle, taking another risk, and trying something new. If anything, seeing a working foldable smartphone gives me hope that we'll start seeing more radical phone designs in the years to come.