AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G Review: Retro Action with Futuristic and Fast Upgrades

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The Lowdown

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G is easily the most well-built, hardest-working, fun to use, and best-looking flip-phone available yet. While it’s not quite as spec-loaded as some of the other flagship slab phones currently available, it does a more than respectable job of keeping up while delivering something that the others can’t — a full-size folding phone that offers few sacrifices, and that’s fun to use.

Overall
3.5

Pros

  • Solid build with no obvious design flaws
  • Cameras perform well
  • Clamshell design helps protect the more delicate UTG display
  • The crease in the center of the display is not obnoxious
  • The display feels less plasticky than the display on the original Galaxy Fold
  • Updated hinge design helps to keep dust from getting under the display
  • Although the exterior display is small, it is still quite functional
  • Foldable design helps protect the display when not in use
  • Phone is great for use in video calls
  • The UTG display is excellent with no weird ripples or issues
  • There is no creaking when you open or close the phone as the hinge is incredibly solid
  • The Z Flip has wireless charging as well as wireless reverse charging for topping off other small wireless charging enabled devices (like wireless Bluetooth headphones)
  • The display tilts and holds its position for a full 180º
  • You can end phone calls with a satisfying flip of the phone to its closed clamshell position
  • The Z Flip is fun to use, and right now that really means something

Cons

  • It’s expensive
  • As is typical for a carrier-branded phone, the AT&T version comes loaded with a ton of pre-installed apps
  • Battery life isn’t stellar
  • Small exterior display is only useful in a limited capacity
  • No water or dust resistance
  • Samsung Bixby and Samsung Daily are inferior to Google Assistant and Google News
  • Ships with Android 10 (but updates are promised)
  • Average battery life

If someone had told me that after 2005 I’d be enamored by a flip-phone, I likely would have laughed at them; yet here we are. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip first came out in February, and the 5G version came out just a few months ago. While I think a lot of us were taken aback by the Z Fold 5G’s $1450 price tag and worries about how its folding screen would actually hold up over time, the Z Flip has been out long enough that even if the price understandably gives you pause, you might still be interested in the form factor.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

I think the last flip phone that I used before this review was the 2005 Sprint-exclusive (and ultimately canceled, at least in the US) Palm OS-based Samsung SPH-i550; I had managed to find one on eBay, of all places. Even the most advanced early oughts’ flip phones (and most modern-day flip phones, for that matter) had a smallish screen on the upper half of the clamshell’s interior with a numeric button pad on the bottom half. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip updates an old favorite with features worthy of a 2020 release.

Outside, the Z Flip has a slightly wider than usual clamshell. Granted, the shiny mystic bronze aluminum frame with matte Gorilla Glass covers is an elegant and statement-making departure from the matte black rubber-coated plastic phones many of us remember all too well. But just looking at the small 1.1″ display on the top edge, the LED flash, and the two cameras contained in a slightly-lipped oval cluster, at first glance, it’s not necessarily revolutionary; of course, it’s what it can do and what’s inside that counts.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

I was sent the AT&T version of the Z Flip 5G, where it is offered with 256GB user memory and in Mystic Bronze or Mystic Gray. Disappointingly, especially after looking at the headphones and included case that some models in some countries show on the Samsung purchase page, all that was included from AT&T was the phone, a wall charger, a USB Type-A to USB Type-C charging cable, a SIM tool, with the usual start guide and this list of care instructions [my notes are added in brackets]:

  • Do not press the screen or the front camera lens with a hard or sharp object, such as a pen or your fingernail. Doing so could result in scratching or puncturing them. [This is reasonable.]
  • When folding the device, do not place any objects, such as cards, coins, or keys, on the screen. [Makes sense, and why would you do this, anyway?]
  • This device is not water or dust resistant. Do not expose to liquids or small particles. [Not surprising. So don’t use the Z Flip while you’re in the tub or in the rain; if your pockets are full of debris, you should probably clean them out!]
  • We recommend keeping the attached film to protect your screen. Do not attach any other adhesives such as films or stickers to the screen. [Leave the phone as you found it, and it makes sense that an aftermarket screen protector wouldn’t work with this phone’s display or design.]
  • Your device contains magnets; keep a safe distance between your device and objects that may be affected by magnets, such as credit cards and implantable medical devices. If you have an implanted magnetic device, consult your physician before use. [Also reasonable]

Even without any real extras in the box, opening it and seeing this little wonder inside inspired a bit of gadget lust. Measuring ~3.5″ long by 2.9″ wide by 0.6″ thick closed, the Z Flip weighs 6.4 ounces. It’s quite pocketable, feels very solid, and it looks pretty and, dare I say it, expensive. The small exterior display is useful for displaying the battery charge and remaining minutes until the Z Flip is fully charged. When not charging, pressing the power button or tapping the small display twice will show the time, date, and battery life remaining.

When the exterior display is illuminated, you can swipe it to scroll through upcoming calendar notifications, caller ID and text messages, upcoming calendar notifications, and other app notifications. The functionality is somewhat limited because it’s not a larger display, but it does allow you to screen calls and saves you from having to open the phone every time you want to check the time. One cool function is that when you tap on one of the notifications, like email, for instance, it will direct you to open the phone; once you do that and the device is unlocked, the full email will be on the screen waiting for you.

Having a slightly larger display on the outside that doesn’t necessitate opening the phone to see more info would be nice, but it likely would have dinged the battery life; it’s an understandable trade-off.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

There’s a microphone on the top edge of the clamshell, and on the bottom, there’s a USB Type-C port, another microphone, and a five-dot speaker grille.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

On the right side, there’s a flat multi-function power button (it also doubles as a fingerprint scanner and a quick camera launcher) next to a raised volume rocker.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

On the left side, there’s a pin-hole for the dual SIM tray; unfortunately, there is no space for a memory card.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

The clamshell’s shiny aluminum hinge is highly reflective (and fingerprint-grabbing, not gonna lie), as is all of the trim around the edges of the clamshell.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

The Z Flip 5G feels like half the size of the typical (non-XL or Plus version) slab phone …

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

… albeit double the thickness. I still found it quite pocketable, and I like that it easily fits in purse or backpack pockets that were made (even just a few years ago) before all of our phones got so big.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

The clamshell’s two halves have a slight gap (maybe 1mm) between them when closed.

It’s when you open the Z Flip that you see what makes it so special. I should note that because the mechanical hinge is stiffer than the hinges on flip phones of yore, opening and closing the Z Flip is best done as a two-handed operation. Inside, there is a brilliant 6.7″ (2636 x 1080 pixel) Ultra Thin Glass (UTG) AMOLED display with a 21.9:9 aspect ratio that takes up the entire interior of the phone. Even after months of use, this display has no weird ripples or other “use defects.”

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

I’m going to digress for just a moment to talk about Samsung’s Ultra Thin Glass display, which was first unveiled in February this year with the original (non-5G) Z Fold. One of the complaints people had about the plastic display on Samsung’s original folding display phone, the $2,000 Galaxy Z Fold, was how, well, plasticky it felt under a fingertip (as in, your fingertip would drag on the surface instead of gliding like it would on a typical glass display). Due to the hinge design, the Galaxy Z Fold had a rather large gap when closed, and there were issues with debris getting onto and under the display.

Even worse, many people mistook the top layer of the folding plastic display for a factory-installed screen protector. When they removed it (perhaps thinking that the surface under the “screen protector” might be smoother to touch? I don’t know), the display was irrevocably damaged. Many people disliked the huge black dual-camera notch that was placed at the top of the interior display. On top of that, there was a very noticeable screen crease in the center of the display where the phone folded in half that people had trouble accepting. Samsung took note and made improvements.

For starters, Samsung developed a new Hideaway Hinge for the Z Flip that used a dual CAM mechanism allowing the Z Flip to stay open at a range of angles like your laptop screen would. The hinge is built so solidly that it feels like it’s brand new even after months of use, but even better — it is completely silent with no creaking whatsoever when opening or closing the phone. The Hideaway Hinge system also uses Samsung’s new sweeper technology, described as using “nylon fibers crafted by micro-height-cutting technology to repel dirt and dust.” Due to the layers of plastic and foldable glass used in the Z Flip’s new UTG display, the display has a firm and less plasticky feel, although it still doesn’t feel quite the same as a true glass display.

If you examine it closely, there is a protective factory-installed screen protector on the Z Flip, but I’d suggest leaving it in place, as the UTG under it is more delicate than the typical phone display. While there is understandably still a slight screen crease in the center of the Z Flip, it’s only noticeable as a slight dip in the center. When you are using the phone or watching a movie on it, for instance, the center crease seems to disappear; under your fingers, it just presents as an oddly soothing slight dip. I’ve been using the phone for almost two months, and I haven’t had issues with debris getting under the display or any other issues.

Yes, the display feels slightly different than the typical smartphone’s, but it’s not weird or problematic, so I’d call that a success. Another welcome improvement was ditching the Z Fold’s huge black dual-camera notch and replacing it with a single lens punch hole camera at the center top of the display. One final thing — while the factory-installed protector on the Z Flip’s UTG display is more scratchable than a solid glass display, I have not had issues with this at all. Because the Z Flip folds shut when you aren’t using it, the screen is pretty well protected from things it might encounter in your pocket, and my finger is the only thing that touches it otherwise. A microfiber cloth cleans the display just fine when it’s needed, and even after months of use, the display on my review unit still looks brand new (no bubbles, no weird ridges, and no scratches that I can see).

According to Samsung, replacing the Z Flip’s main display will set you back $499 (so obviously, you should leave that factory-installed screen protector alone). It might give you peace of mind to know that if you buy a Z Flip on or before December 31st, 2020, Samsung will include a one-time display replacement service for $119 as a feature of their Galaxy Z Premiere service, which also includes an on-demand concierge that will help you with questions about your device. Now, back to my review.

Fully open, the Z Flip measures ~6.6″ long by 2.9″ wide by 0.3″ thick. Due to the stiff hinge design, when opened, the phone locks open perfectly flat; it looks like any other slab phone, and you will find yourself using it (when open) as such.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G has 8GB RAM and 256GB user memory. It is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 5G mobile platform, and it has a 3300mAh battery. The phone’s Snapdragon processor has been able to keep up with everything I’ve thrown at it, and I haven’t seen a single lag or stutter. However, I’ve found the battery life to be only about average — it’s definitely not exceptional. I recognize that I have been spoiled by the larger batteries found in many flagship phones, but it’s still disappointing to feel the need to top-off by 2:30 or 3 pm after a heavy morning of use, by which time the FZ Flip is showing less than 20%.

The Z Flip supports 15W wired charging as well as wireless charging, and it supports wireless reverse charging  — so you can use it to top off your wireless earbuds if you don’t mind sacrificing some of your smartphone’s battery life. I get that a larger battery would likely require an even thicker phone, so it’s another understandable trade-off.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

Let’s look at the opened Galaxy Z Flip for a moment. There is an ear speaker in the center top above the display; in the center top of the display, there is a punch-hole 10-megapixel front-facing camera. The Z FLip does have facial recognition if you prefer unlocking it with that method, but this unlocking feature has been surprisingly hit or miss for me. I generally open the phone by PIN or with the more reliable fingerprint reader built into the power button.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

There is a 1mm tall by 3mm wide border around the entire display; it’s different from most slab phones, but it’s not obnoxious.

The display does have a crease in the center where the Infinity Flex Display folds, but it is not obnoxious. Samsung says their new UTG will last for 200,000 folds, which should be more than enough — at 187 folds per day for three years or 112 flips per day for five years — to use the device for multiple years before upgrading if you are someone who tends to keep a smartphone for longer than a year or two. The Z Flip is very solidly built, and I can see it lasting for years, barring some disastrous drop or water damage.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

With the Z Flip open, the 12-megapixel main camera and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera are in the upper left corner of the device, similar to how they would be placed on any other mobile phone.

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G

The cameras built into the phone are not groundbreaking, but they are better than average; they are similar to two of the three Samsung Galaxy S10 cameras, which were well received by most reviewers, but according to Samsung, they have larger sensors.

The Galaxy Z Flip Ultra Bright Night Sensor is 2.9x larger than Galaxy S10. Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Z Flip sensors are approximately 1.7x larger than Galaxy S10

It’s important that any smartphone I regularly use can take good photos in every situation and take photos that are clear enough to be used in reviews. In that regard, the Z Flip camera did well.

Due to the clamshell form factor, there are also a couple of cool ways to use the exterior cameras. For instance, pressing the power button twice will turn the little exterior display into a selfie-cam viewfinder with the phone closed. Swiping the little display will switch between the main camera and the ultra-wide camera when needed. It’s nice to use a phone’s main cameras for selfies, though the viewfinder is small.

Another cool feature only possible because of the clamshell form factor and how the hinge can hold its position solidly for a full 180º is how you can use the Z Flip during video calls. Some apps, like Google Duo, Youtube, and Samsung Gallery and Messaging take advantage of the mini-laptop form factor of the Z Flip when it is sitting half-open; in these apps, you can see the main screen on the top half of the display with a keyboard, comments, or secondary controls on the bottom half of the display. This is surprisingly useful, as is having the open phone acting as its own adjustable stand when you’re in a video call.

Because the review unit I received is an AT&T phone, it gives flawless WiFi assisted calling. The trade-off, though, is that it comes with a lot of pre-installed software, including Advanced Messaging (IPME) with FirstNet, Amazon Shop, AT&T Call Protect with Sponsored Business ID, AT&T Messages Backup & Sync, AT&T Mobile Security, AT&T Personal Cloud, AT&T Pro Tech, AT&T Smart Wi-Fi, AT&T Thanks, AT&T TV, Bleacher Report, Bleacher Report Live, CNN, DC Universe, Device Help, DIRECTV (DTVe), DT1-9 (Digital Turbine Promotional Apps), Entertainment Widget, Facebook, Facebook App Installer, Facebook App Manager, Game of Thrones: Conquest, Golf Clash, Google Pay, Google Search, Great Big Story, HBO Max, iQi, MaaP, Mobile Key / AT&T Security Service, Mobile Services Manager (Games), myAT&T, NBA, Pluto TV, Real-Time Text (RTT) with FirstNet, Remote Support, Setup & Transfer, STIR/SHAKEN, The CW Network, Video Call (IR94), Visual Voicemail, Walmart, Wi-Fi Calling with FirstNet, and Wizarding World. And that’s on top of the usual Samsung preloaded apps including AR Zone, Bixby, Calculator, Calendar, Camera, Clock, Contacts, Galaxy Store, Galaxy Wearable, Gallery, Game Launcher, Internet, Messages, My Files, PEN.UP, Phone, Samsung Global Goals, Samsung Health, Samsung Members, Samsung Notes, Samsung Pay, SmartThings, and Tips. Add in the pre-loaded Google and other third-party apps, including Chrome, Drive, Duo, Gmail, Google, Google Pay, Google Play Music, Maps, Office Mobile, One Drive, Outlook, Photos, Play Movies & TV, Play Store, Settings, Spotify, YouTube, and YT Music, and it’s a wonder that there are many apps left in the Google Play store to download. Some of the pre-installed apps can be uninstalled, but many can’t be. Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that the Z Flip 5G ships with Android 10, but Samsung is committed to giving three years of updates on the Z series. Hopefully, the rumored Android 11 update in January will hold.

Sadly, due to the pandemic, the resulting lack of travel to areas with 5G, and the lack of 5G in my area, I couldn’t test 5G speeds. Even so, I do not doubt that if AT&T 5G is available in your area, the Z Flip 5G will be more than capable. Calls Made on the Z Flip have been very clear on 4G/LTE, and I have to admit that there is something ridiculously satisfying about ending a call by snapping the phone closed. Ridiculously satisfying, seriously.

The main complaints that I have about the phone are the same ones that I would have about any Samsung phone (unfortunately) — like that Bixby is incredibly lame as an assistant (why even bother with it, when Google Assistant is built into the phone?), you can’t set Google Photos to be your default gallery, you can’t swipe right on the home screen to get Google News, and Samsung Daily is an inferior substitute. And sure, you could download a 3rd-party launcher from the Google Play store and perform multiple tweaks to personalize these things a bit more, but should you have to? Even so, there’s something cool about the Z Flip that begs you to check it out.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G is easily the most well-built, hardest-working, fun to use, and best-looking flip-phone available yet. While it’s not quite as spec-loaded as some of the other flagship slab phones currently available, it does a more than respectable job of keeping up while delivering something that the others can’t — a full-size folding phone that offers few sacrifices, and that’s fun to use. The Z Flip is different; it manages to be retro while also being futuristic. It’s a solidly built little block that still manages to wow me every time I flip it open.

The AT&T Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G sells for $1449.99 (or $48.34 monthly with an installment plan); it is available online and at your local AT&T store.

Source: AT&T supplied review sample on loan

What I Like: Solid build with no obvious design flaws; Cameras perform well; Clamshell design helps protect the more delicate UTG display; The crease in the center of the display is not obnoxious; The display feels less plasticky than the display on the original Galaxy Fold; Updated hinge design helps to keep dust from getting under the display; Although the exterior display is small, it is still quite functional; Foldable design helps protect the display when not in use; Phone is great for use in video calls; The UTG display is excellent with no weird ripples or issues; There is no creaking when you open or close the phone as the hinge is incredibly solid; The Z Flip has wireless charging as well as wireless reverse charging for topping off other small wireless charging enabled devices (like wireless Bluetooth headphones); The display tilts and holds its position for a full 180º; You can end phone calls with a satisfying flip of the phone to its closed clamshell position; The Z Flip is fun to use, and right now that really means something

What Needs Improvement: It’s expensive; As is typical for a carrier-branded phone, the AT&T version comes loaded with a ton of pre-installed apps; Battery life isn’t stellar; Small exterior display is only useful in a limited capacity; No water or dust resistance; Samsung Bixby and Samsung Daily are inferior to Google Assistant and Google News; Ships with Android 10 (but updates are promised); Average battery life

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-professed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area — or not.