Samsung is the current leader when it comes to foldables, and after spending a few months with the Galaxy Z Fold 2, I was eager to get my hands on the company’s other option, the Galaxy Z Flip 5G. After the company opened up a 100-day trial, I figured it was worth a shot, but here’s why I won’t be buying the Galaxy Z Flip.

The Galaxy Z Flip 5G is a one-trick pony

Foldables have the ability to change smartphones as we know them in major ways, but there are useful ways to do that, and one that, well, isn’t. With Galaxy Z Flip 5G, the idea is to take a normal smartphone and shrink it down on command, making the entire package easier to slip into a pocket. 

That’s an idea I can definitely get behind. Phones nowadays are huge, and for many they’re just too big for a pocket. However, that’s really the only value proposition that the Flip brings to the table. Outside of that, this is no better than a Galaxy S20, and in some ways it’s actually worse. So, let’s take a quick overview of what makes up the Z Flip.

On the spec sheet, there’s a Snapdragon 865 chip paired with 8GB of RAM. As with the Galaxy S20 that shared virtually the same options, performance is pretty stellar. No matter how many apps or tasks I had going at once, the Flip kept up with me. What didn’t, however, was the battery life. The 3,300 mAh power pack isn’t exactly small, but by 2020 standards and on, it’s pretty disappointing. At its best I could manage about 4-5 hours of active use over the course of a full day. Usually I can deal with some less-than-ideal battery life, but what made this frustrating was wireless charging. I love that it’s supported, but I constantly had alignment problems. The phone was too short for one of my charging stands, and on my Nomad Base Station it didn’t line up on multiple occasions, leaving me with a nearly-dead phone in the morning. In the camera department, the part of 12MP cameras are fine, taking mostly good pictures with the same somewhat inconsistent experience from other Samsung phones. No surprises there.

In terms of the hardware, Samsung nailed it. The matte glass of the Z Flip 5G is comfortable to hold and gorgeous. I also love that the matte covers over the small outer display, too. The hinge is tight and reassuring as well, though notably I saw it not fully unfolding after a few weeks. That’s something apparently fairly common with the Flip, though, and didn’t affect my usage. The inner display is of solid quality as well. It’s sharp, the OLED has vibrant colors and good contrast, and the bump at the center pretty much disappears before your eyes when you’re actually using the phone.

The cons outweigh the pros

After using the Flip as my main phone for a few days, though, it became very clear I wasn’t going to stick with it. Why? The core reason, really, just comes down to the choices the makers of this phone made.

By having a main internal display that’s only accessible when the phone is opened up, a number of usability challenges arrive. One-handed use is certainly possible once the design is open, but the stiffness of the hinge makes it difficult to open the phone with one hand, at least while feeling like you’re trying to protect a $1,200 device. That alone was enough for me to be turned off by the device, but the problem is more impactful, the longer you think about it.

Forcing the device to be unfolded for the majority of tasks really becomes inconvenient at times. For instance, when trying to snap a quick picture, you’re automatically delayed by several seconds, that is, if you want to see your subject. You can use the tiny outer screen to take a selfie, but that doesn’t help in other scenarios. It may sound like something you’d get used to, but honestly, I can’t imagine living with that on my only smartphone, and at $1,200, this is almost definitely going to be someone’s only phone.

That annoying problem is also ignoring the core problems that face all foldables today. The Z Flip has no water resistance to speak of, and the display is easily scratched. Ultra-thin glass makes the display feel better, but it still ships with a plastic screen protector, and the display underneath isn’t any more durable.

Where does this form factor go from here?

Having a phone that folds in half is great, and for some people, this form factor is worth it just because it’s so small in the pocket. For me and I’d wager a lot of other people, the current state of the Z Flip just isn’t it.

I do believe, though, there’s a middle ground that can be reached, and the blueprint already exists. It’s the outer display of the Galaxy Z Flip 5G that acts as its Achilles’ heel. The tiny strip is alright for notifications, but that’s all. Making it take up the entire front of the folded device would solve a lot of problems. You could see the entirety of an email or text and more. That’s something Motorola offers with its Razr 5G. Samsung gets everything else right on the Flip compared to Motorola’s option, but the Razr deserves credit for its outer display; it’s actually useful. I’d love to see Samsung also pull off something clever with the cameras to allow pictures to be taken while the phone is closed, but that might not be possible… yet.

Concept for what a bigger Z Flip 3 outer display could look like

Is the Galaxy Z Flip 5G worth $1,200? That really depends on you. If having a phone that’s super tiny in the pocket is worth the downsides, I think the rest of the experience justifies the price if that one trick is important to you. I’ll be sending my Galaxy Z Flip 5G back before the trial runs out. It’s a great phone, but it just isn’t for me.

If you want to get in on the fun, the trial period is valid on purchases from made up until today, April 1. Better hurry…

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Ben Schoon

Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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