24 hours with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip: a foldable that offers more than nostalgia

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is the best modern-day foldable flip phone I've tested, and it didn't take a whole 24 hours to determine that. Okay, sure, it has only one flip-style rival so far, the new Moto Razr, but the Z Flip beats that phone in every category that matters.

Walking around New York City with both phones, I attracted a lot of attention. People couldn't fathom how a smartphone with a large screen – 6.7 inches in the case of the Galaxy Z Flip – could bend in half. They wanted to fold and unfold it themselves to be sure.

I love testing gadgets for TechRadar that spark imagination, from Google Glass to the DJI Osmo Pocket all the way through to the Samsung Galaxy Fold. The formula is always the same: people are awestruck, and ask "What is this?"; and when I tell them, they start to imagine how they'd use the device in their everyday lives once it becomes more readily available.

This is what I found in my first 24 hours with the Galaxy Z Flip.

1. The Z Flip is much better than the Moto Razr

The Razr wins on nostalgia – that's what I've heard in person and via Twitter. It didn't matter when I said Samsung's foldable has longer battery life, more superior cameras, and a slightly stronger thin glass screen. Them: "Razr for me. I remember having one." Me: "Yeah, but..."

The Z Flip has a larger 3,300mAh battery (the Razr has a capacity of 2,510mAh), and it's much easier to recommend a phone that will get you through a whole day. That said, I'm more likely to tell people to stick with the Samsung Galaxy S20 series – the S20 Ultra has a hulking 5,000mAh battery – if they don't crave something as unique as the Z Flip.

The Razr cameras were what I struggled with most. In the poor light of a dim restaurant, the autofocus just refused to work. Moto's Night Vision mode helped brighten things up, but when a lot of shots came out blurry, that really didn't matter. 

The Galaxy Z Flip has three cameras (front, rear wide and rear ultra-wide), and all of them take superb photos, even if they aren't going to match the quality of the S20 cameras. The Z Flip also includes Samsung's new 'single-take' mode, which captures a variety of photos and videos at the same time over 10 seconds. It's useful, even if it does result in a lot of so-so shots along with a few keepers.

2. I took it on a tour – and it turned heads

Carrying around the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip makes a statement: "I have something brand new that you haven't seen before", and that hasn't happened with any new iPhone in quite a while. It used to.

I took it to two offices, a radio station and a restaurant, and everyone wanted to see it fold and unfold. Most people wanted to try it themselves – although at least one person was too anxious about potentially breaking it to give it a whirl. 

The 1.1-inch Cover Display, while small, always proved to be a popular way to take selfies with one hand, even if it's not very effective for framing a shot. There's real excitement about foldables as a refreshed product category; smartphones are getting a sequel.

The best part is sparking people's imagination with the Z Flip. "I could fit that and my AirPods Pro in the same pocket," a friendly stranger opined to me at a restaurant. I'm sure Samsung would've loved if they'd referenced the new Galaxy Buds Plus, but, hey, maybe they just converted an iPhone 11 user with this phone.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

(Image credit: Future)

3. Its specs fall between the S10 and S20 series

"Is this Samsung's best phone?" That's one of the most frequent questions I've been getting from people when carrying around the Z Flip. The answer is both yes and no.

It's Samsung's best concept for the future of smartphones, tied with the Galaxy Fold, which I found to be more productivity-focused, but far too expensive and likely to be bested by a Samsung Galaxy Fold 2 in the near future. (I called the Fold "the most forward-thinking phone you shouldn't buy."). Neither is 'best' based on specs and performance, though.

I hardly care about chipset speeds these days. Today's phones are fast enough, and when we review something on TechRadar we're less interested in speed than in whether it suits everyday tasks. It's more about the end value of getting tasks done, getting photos that look good the first time around, and the longevity of the battery on a single charge. That stuff actually matters.

The Z Flip aces all of this with specs that, for the most part, fall in between what we've experienced on the S10 and new S20 series. Tellingly, its chipset, the Snapdragon 855 Plus, is the souped-up version of the S10 and Note 10's 855 chip, but not quite the S20's new Snapdragon 865 chipset. With a healthy 256GB of internal storage, a solid 8GB of RAM, and three cameras, we end up with Samsung's most cutting-edge-looking phone with great, but not 'the best' specs.

4. Everyone wants to see it flick open

Folding the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip with two hands isn't fun; quickly snapping it open and folding it down again with one hand is how to show off this stylish new phone.

It's actually not easy – flicking open the seemingly-spring-loaded Razr is way simpler – but that's due to the fact that Samsung's hinge is meant to keep it propped open at any angle along 180 degrees.

I did like sitting the top half of the phone screen upright, allowing the bottom half to rest on a table, as if this were a miniature laptop. This is something the Galaxy Fold couldn't do, and Samsung has designed its Flex UI software around it. 

For example, making a video call puts the camera picture on the top screen unobstructed, while the mess of controls all rest on the bottom half of the screen. This also eliminates the need for me to awkwardly lean over a desk or table to participate in hands-free video calls while I'm working on a keyboard.

So yes, it's possible to flick the phone open with style by using a lot of force – but it's not exactly easy to do, and there's good reason for that.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

(Image credit: Future)

5. This seems like just the beginning

I can't tell if the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is for me – I need more than 24 hours with the new phone to evaluate its practicality, test its cameras, and drain its battery a few times. There's still a lot more testing to be done, and that's why you'll have to wait for our full review.

The best gadgets enhance our lives – they don't all have to be revolutions like the iPhone, but they can make daily life a little better, even if it's just by fitting in your pocket a little easier than your previous device. That's when tech, often fairly maligned, makes us happy.

I'm a believer in the Galaxy Fold design, as I've long wanted something the size of an iPad mini that I can use on the train and shove in my pocket without always having to stow it in a bag. I'm hoping that Samsung continues with that design, too, for the productivity users out there like myself. 

As for the Z Flip... it's the most chic phone I've seen in my time reviewing smartphones, and I love reclaiming pocket space when it's folded up like a clamshell. There's room for two foldable designs, and this one brings back some of the things we loved – and missed – about flip phones.

Matt Swider