Foldable flip phones are the form factor that really seems to be catching on, and the new Galaxy Z Flip 5 is a near-perfect version of the idea. Or, at least, it would be if the software hadn’t fallen short.
Galaxy Z Flip 5 refines an already-great flip phone
Samsung’s foldable hardware has the benefit of having five generations of experience under its belt, and the Galaxy Z Flip 5 is proof of that. The Flip 5 is, for the most part, almost the same as the Flip 4 before it. It has polished side rails with clicky buttons and a side-mounted fingerprint sensor. It also has a glossy glass back in one of eight total colors. My review unit from Samsung was the “Lavender” color, which is a delightful purple hue, but I think the best option is the “Mint” color, which has a subtle green tint that’s especially good-looking on the metal frame.
I’m not a huge fan of Samsung’s switch to glossy glass, but it has pros and cons. On the one hand, glossy glass, especially in humid environments, can actually sometimes be a little easier to grip. But, on the other hand, it’s also more slippery on a table or in a pocket. The matte finish also better hides scratches, which the back is sure to pick up over time.
I would have preferred last year’s matte finish, but it’s not a big deal by any means.
The “front” of the Flip 5 also ditches its two-tone look, which I have mixed feelings about. The Flip 4 was an objectively better-looking device, but Flip 5’s new design is based around making more room for the outer display – more on that later.
The big change this year is in the hinge, which now uses a “waterdrop” design for the display, allowing for two things. First, the display is folded with a bigger radius, which might have some eventual benefits – I’m hoping it will help with spontaneous ultrathin glass breakages, but Samsung hasn’t made any claims there.
But the bigger hardware benefit from this new hinge makes the Flip 5 much thinner. This is readily apparent from the moment you pick up the device. The Flip 5 just feels less chunky and much more refined compared to the previous generation. That’s not to say it was a perfect upgrade, though. The removal of the hinge gap is an overall win, but I did find that gap made it slightly easier to open the Flip one-handed, and I miss that.
The new hinge also feels like a lateral move in terms of quality too. At least on my Flip 5, the hinge feels “loose” when at certain positions. This was most noticeable to me when the Flip was fully opened, with one degree of “give” if I pushed the display a bit, and this was also noticeable when using “Flex Mode” at certain angles. Is it a big deal? Absolutely not, and Samsung’s hinge still feels drastically better than those from Motorola and Oppo. But, it is a weird little quirk, and one I’ve noticed on two individual units so far but never on a Flip 3 or Flip 4.
The display crease is the only big flaw left
On a hardware level, it really feels like Samsung only has one flaw left to fix – the crease.
Despite implementing a new hinge that every other foldable maker is using to put out devices with virtually no crease, Samsung has made no noticeable improvement this time around. The steep canyon sitting in the middle of the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s display is easily noticeable and, frankly, annoying. Because it’s dead-center on the display, you feel it with a lot of swipes, and it’s visually quite easy to spot.
The display itself is mostly unchanged, with the same 6.7-inch size and 120Hz refresh rate, but it is brighter this time around, which is always nice.
It’s still not a deal-breaker, but when Samsung’s competitors are so drastically far ahead in this particular case, Samsung’s refusal to address this problem is all the more annoying.
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is stellar, but One UI is overwhelming
Under the hood, the Galaxy Z Flip 5 is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 from Qualcomm, which is paired with a new minimum of 256GB of storage. Put simply, the chip flies through everything you throw at it. It’s also super efficient, which helps with battery life and heat. It’s not a drastic improvement over the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 in the Flip 4, but it’s great nonetheless.
What soured the experience for me was One UI. Samsung’s Android skin is objectively not bad. It’s full of useful features and has a design that’s not bad. But on a device like this, it just feels cluttered and overwhelming. I feel like I’m wasting most of Samsung’s features and that so much of what’s there just isn’t relevant to this device. Even the features that are designed for the Flip, like Flex Panel, aren’t enabled by default and, even then, aren’t all that useful.
The good news is that, with Samsung’s experience, you’re not really pushed in any one direction. You can use Samsung’s apps, or you can use Google’s, or a mix of the two. When taking the “everything and the kitchen sink” approach that Samsung uses, no one really loses. But, still, I’d much prefer Google’s cleaner approach on a flip phone.
‘Flex Window’ makes a closed Flip more useful, but just barely
The big story on Galaxy Z Flip 5 is, of course, the new outer display which Samsung calls the “Flex Window.” This 3.4-inch display takes up the majority of the space on the outside of the Flip 5, and it’s four times larger than the display in the Flip 3 and Flip 4. The display isn’t as sharp as it could be, with a resolution of 720 x 748, but it’s bright and just a huge improvement over past models on a purely hardware level.
But despite all that extra screen real estate, it’s not nearly as useful as it should be.
The experience out there is built around widgets and clockfaces. It feels remarkably like a smartwatch, actually. The main clock face – which supports always-on display – can be customized to show different styles and fonts, add mini-widgets for showing battery life and such, and can be switched however you’d like. A long-press reveals a Rolodex-style carousel of clocks that you can change on the fly based on presets you created on the inner display.