Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 hands-on: A larger external display holds promise

Software gets even more complicated with a larger outside screen.

Photo by Sam Rutherford

After I reviewed the Motorola Razr+ earlier this year, I grew besotted with its external screen. Not only was its 3.6-inch outer panel larger than the 1.9-inch version on Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 4, it was also more useful. Since then, I’d been hoping that Samsung would adopt a bigger outer display on its next-gen Flip foldable, and today, my wish has been granted. The Galaxy Z Flip 5, which the company launched today, sports a 3.4-inch window on the outside that’s 3.78 times larger than before.

It also has a new “Flex Hinge” that allows the device to fold shut without leaving a gap between the two halves of the internal screen. Throw in the typical processor upgrades, double the base storage and some software enhancements, and the Z Flip 5 appears to be a small, but meaningful step up for the same $999 starting price as last year.

A larger external screen with lots of potential

The highlight of the Z Flip 5 is clearly its larger external display, which Samsung has infuriatingly decided to rename the Flex Window. I don’t know why, since this panel doesn’t fold and the old name of “Cover” screen still makes sense. Confusing name aside, it’s easy to see why the bigger panel is more useful. Widgets like Calendar or Weather can show data for multiple events and days. Buttons are larger, so you can more easily skip songs in the media player, start or stop timers and more.

With more room, Samsung was able to squeeze two additional shortcut buttons in the Quick Settings drawer that appears when you swipe down from the home screen. Dragging up opens Samsung Wallet, so you can quickly pay for your morning coffee.

To be clear, the Flip 5’s 3.4-inch panel doesn’t stretch across the entire back half of the phone. It’s shaped like a file folder, sort of like a rectangle that’s been awkwardly cut to avoid the pair of cameras at the bottom right. This makes for a very strange aspect ratio that many apps might struggle with, but for the most part, the software sees the screen as a rectangle. The little tab at the bottom left is largely ignored and is devoted to a Samsung Pay shortcut or a space for any ongoing activities to show their progress. If you have a timer running or a song playing, for example, a small progress bar appears there.

Because Samsung now supports more widgets on the cover, getting through all of them can become a slog. I saw about a dozen of them on the demo unit, and having to swipe 10 times to get to the one I want would suck. Thankfully, the company introduced a new gesture that lets you pinch out to access Multi Widgets view, and from there you can quickly jump to the tile you want. Don’t confuse this with the All Apps page on Android — it may look similar, but it only shows you the widgets that Samsung has made available on One UI 5 for the Flip 5.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 folded and held in mid-air, with its cover screen facing the camera. On the screen are five apps -- Maps, Messages, Netflix, WhatsApp and YouTube.
Photo by Sam Rutherford

Another thing that may have you thinking the Flex Window can give you the full Android experience is that it supports a handful of apps like Message, YouTube, Google Maps, WhatsApp and Netflix. In countries like Korea, you’ll also find popular options like Kakao Talk. These aren’t widgets — they run like the full-fledged versions of themselves on the outside screen. I watched some YouTube videos, drafted messages and looked up restaurants in the area on the smaller panel and found them to be pretty much identical to the larger versions.

Though the practicality of using full Android on the external display is debatable, I still find it questionable that Samsung limits what apps can run natively on the Flex Window. That’s not to say you can’t find a workaround. The company itself offers an app called Good Lock that will let you run any Android app on the tiny panel. Still, it’s different from the Moto Razr+, which basically runs Google’s whole operating system up front.

Samsung’s approach is meant to ensure that only users who are invested enough to install a separate app to mimic the full Android experience on the Flex Window can. This way, if things break or look weird, you only have yourself to blame.

Another area where Moto and Samsung differ on the cover screen is the QWERTY keyboard. Both companies let you respond to messages and notifications with a full-sized keyboard, and Moto takes up the entire canvas to give you bigger buttons. Meanwhile, Samsung only uses about the bottom two thirds of the space, while retaining the message or input field at the top so you can see what you’re entering or responding to.

I like having larger keys, but Moto’s layout adds a step where, after typing your reply, you have to back out of the keyboard to the app and hit the submit button. On the Flip 5, the Send button is right above the keyboard and you can tap it when you’re done. I’ll have to spend more time with a review unit to better evaluate the two approaches and see which I prefer.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 folded in half, with the camera preview appearing on its cover screen facing the camera. In the viewfinder is a man using a DSLR to take a photo of the phone.

Cameras and Flex Mode

One of the best things about having a larger cover screen is how much more useful it is as a viewfinder. Most foldable phones let you use the secondary display to preview shots you take with the rear cameras, which are almost always superior to the interior sensors. On the Z Flip 4’s tiny sliver of a panel, it was hard to see what I was recording. This year, you’ll actually be able to view your entire shot before taking it. Like before, you can also swipe to change modes and lenses, as well as pinch to zoom in on your subjects.

The camera hardware hasn’t really changed. Samsung applied a different coating to the primary lens and tweaked some of the software to enable greater digital zoom. But on paper the Flip 5 has the same pair of 12-megapixel main and ultra-wide cameras as its predecessor. Inside, the 10-megapixel selfie camera has a slightly larger aperture of f/2.2 (compared to last year’s f/2.4), which should make for brighter, clearer shots. Without a side by side comparison, though, it’s tough to tell how noticeable of a difference it will make.

It’s not like you’ll want to use the internal camera much, since you can easily frame up shots with the outside sensors now. But it could come in handy for video calls or livestreams, in which case you might find it handy to prop the phone up by folding it at a 90-degree angle and sitting it up on a table.

When you fold the Flip 5 but don’t completely shut it, Flex Mode kicks in (on compatible apps). We’ve seen this on older models — apps like YouTube, Camera and Gallery will adapt their layouts by presenting content on the top half and controls on the bottom. This year, though, Samsung added more shortcuts to the Flex panel that appears on the lower half (if you enable the feature). When the Flip 5 is flexed, a small icon shows up on the bottom left that will bring up the navigational panel and move the rest of the app to the top portion of the screen.

The Galaxy Z Flip 5 folded slightly and propped up on its bottom half, with its internal display facing out.
Photo by Sam Rutherford

Here, you can have settings that make one-handed use slightly easier. You can press a button to bring down the notifications shade instead of having to reach your thumb all the way to the top. You can also take a screenshot using a shortcut or bring up a touchpad for exploring the top half of the screen with a cursor. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the updated Flex Mode at the hands-on session, but I know I was less than impressed when I reviewed the Flip 4 last year, after initially being excited about the feature. This time around, I won’t be so easily fooled (I hope).

New hinge, old crease

One of the more significant changes to the Z Flip line is Samsung’s new “Flex Hinge.” I’m still a little miffed about the obsession with calling everything “Flex” this and “Flex” that and honestly “Flex Hinge” sounds like a dating app exclusively for people showing off their biceps. But it’s just a marketing name for Samsung’s redesigned hinge with a dual-rail structure that is supposed to help diffuse impact.

Putting aside my distaste for the name (once more), I have to admit the new mechanism seems solid. The phone closes, without a noticeable gap like the Flip 4. It still felt as sturdy as older models, holding itself up at various angles from about 20 degrees to 160 degrees or so. Those of you who found the gap irritating should be relieved.

Side view of the Galaxy Z Flip 5 laid flat on a blue surface, with a crease visible in the middle of its internal display.
Photo by Sam Rutherford

People who hated the crease in the middle of the internal screen, though, will be disappointed. When I held up the Flip 5 next to a Flip 4 that I brought, the degree to which their flexible displays wrinkled was pretty much identical. But in my years of testing foldable phones, creases have never been anything more troublesome than an aesthetic quirk. It won’t get in the way of actually using the device.

Processor, storage and other specs

In fact, you’ll probably enjoy the Flip 5’s internal screen, which is a 6.7-inch Full HD AMOLED panel that refreshes at 120Hz. The 22:9 aspect ratio is slightly taller than your average smartphone, but most apps run fine. Powering everything this year is the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset that’s also in the Galaxy S23 series. Samsung doubled the storage for the Flip 5, so the base model gets 256GB (instead of last year’s 128GB) while costing the same. That’s a nice touch, and might even make me forgive the company’s overuse of the word Flex.

Also in Samsung’s favor is this year’s selection of colors. You can choose from the standard black (graphite), cream, lavender or this generation’s signature color — mint. It’s a similar shade of green to the one Apple used for the iPhone 12, which is still one of my favorite colors ever used on a handset. Plus, I was beginning to find the Flip 4’s Bora Purple a little dated.

Four Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 units in graphite, lavender, cream and mint, laid out on a wooden stool. Two stick-it notepads are also on the surface.
Photo by Sam Rutherford

Pretty much everything else about the Flip 5 is the same as its predecessor. The battery size is the same at 3,700mAh, and it recharges at the same rate as well. That’s a little disappointing, considering the Flip 4 already struggled to last an entire day. But, perhaps the new larger cover screen is useful enough that you can conserve battery life by using the internal display less.

The Flip 5 also retains the same IPX8 water-resistance rating as the Flip 4, though it uses the newer Gorilla Glass Victus 2 covering on the outside. The handsets didn’t feel very different to me, so any changes here are pretty subtle.

Frankly, the biggest difference to the Flip 5 is its Flex Window, followed by its Flex Hinge. Some tweaks to Flex Mode round up the set of upgrades Samsung is bringing to its smaller foldable this year. Though I’m a fan of roomier screens on the outside of flip-style foldables, I can’t help but wonder: is Samsung limiting the Flip 5’s potential with its reluctance to run full Android on the small display?

That’s a question I can only answer after spending more time with a review unit and evaluating things like camera quality, battery life and real-world performance. For now, Samsung has brought us hardware that holds a lot of promise. The Galaxy Z Flip 5 starts at $999 and is available for pre-order at Samsung and Amazon starting today.

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