Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 review: Still the best flip-foldable

Three point five inches. That’s about the size of the original iPhone’s display. That’s downright tiny compared to today’s smartphones, and it’s hard to imagine typing or using most modern apps on such a cramped screen. But as a secondary panel on a phone that folds in half, even 3.4 inches feels positively roomy. At least, it’s much more useful than the 1.9-inch sliver that we got on last year’s Galaxy Z Flip 4. With its latest flip-style foldable, the $1,000 Galaxy Z Flip 5, Samsung brings a 3.4-inch external display that it’s confusingly renamed the Flex Window (it doesn’t flex, so yes, I’m mad at the name). And that’s about it. 

The Flip 5 also has a new hinge that allows for gapless closure when folded, as well as some software tweaks. Aside from those updates, this phone is very similar to its predecessor, with basically the same cameras, water-resistance rating and battery size. It also costs the same as last year’s model and comes with twice the base storage, which is a nice touch. But with greater competition in the US this year, Samsung can no longer coast on being the only player in the space.

Samsung

Samsung Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5

Pros

  • Useful external screen
  • Compact when folded
  • New hinge enables gapless design

Cons

  • A lot of settings to dig through to maximize use
  • Short battery life compared to typical Android phones

Design

One of a few signs that Samsung is coasting? The Flip 5’s design. Setting aside its larger external display, this thing looks pretty much identical to its predecessor, which itself was basically a clone of the version before it. The Flip 5’s frame is the same 6.5 x 2.8-inch rectangle as last year’s model, and it cuts the same 0.27-inch profile, too. It also maintains the same weight, measuring 6.6 ounces (or 187 grams).

Some things have changed this year, though. The external cameras are no longer stacked vertically on top of each other; they’re laid out side by side, presumably to accommodate the new larger screen. The available colors are also different, which I appreciate, since the purple hue on last year’s model was getting a bit stale. This time, you can choose from pink and a minty green, in addition to the standard cream and black. Sadly, our review unit is the basic black version, but the green variant I saw at Samsung’s launch event is worth lusting after.

A notable upgrade on the Z Flip 5 is what Samsung calls its Flex Hinge, which allows the device to fold completely flat and leave no gap between the two halves of its internal screen. This should not only appeal to people who were put off by the asymmetry of the previous design, but it leaves less of a chance that a key in your purse might get lodged in that little opening and scratch the fragile panel.

That’s not to say that the Flip 5 is dust resistant. Its IPX8 waterproof rating means it can withstand brief submersion in water, but it wasn’t tested for protection from foreign solid particles. That’s a lot of jargon to say the Flip 5 will be fine if you drop it in the tub, but it’s more susceptible to, say, sand, than most modern smartphones. However, the phone’s exterior is likely tougher than its inside, thanks to the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus 2 glass covering its rear and Flex Window.

External display

Regardless of my feelings toward Samsung’s absurd name, the Flex Window is a major improvement over last year’s Cover display. It’s a 3.4-inch Super AMOLED panel with a 60Hz refresh rate and 720 x 748 resolution, and the photos I chose as my wallpapers looked crisp and vibrant. But the biggest upgrade is its size.

The benefits are obvious: A larger canvas means you can see more at once and buttons can be bigger and easier to hit. With the extra space, the Weather widget can display the forecast for multiple days, while the Calendar offers a monthly view.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 completely folded shut. It's sitting on its top edge with its external display facing the camera, showing the time and date.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Unlike Motorola’s Razr+, though, the Flip 5 doesn’t behave like full Android on its cover screen. It runs One UI in a way that’s more like the company’s Tizen OS for its older smartwatches. You’ll swipe left through widgets like Timer, Stopwatch, Samsung Health, Dialer and more, drag down from the home page for quick settings and swipe right to see your notifications. But because the Flip 5 supports up to 13 widgets, rotating through the carousel to find what you need can quickly get tedious. Thankfully, Samsung added a new pinch gesture that lets you zoom out to see all your widgets at once and jump to what you want.

Though you can’t natively run every app in the world on the Flex Window, the company did optimize a handful to work on the smaller panel. You have to go into Settings to enable them, but once you do you can launch Google Maps, YouTube, Netflix, Messages and WhatsApp on the external display. I guess these are the ones Samsung thinks people most want to use when the Flip is closed.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can install Good Lock from the Galaxy App Store, which lets you run pretty much any app on the outside. It took me a while to figure out that to get this to work, you’ll have to go into Good Lock and download the MultiStar launcher, then add the launcher as a widget on the Flex Window. Once I did, though, I quickly selected apps like Instagram, Chrome, Reddit and Gallery to run on the outside. Each of them ran as expected — that is, as a mini version of itself on an awkwardly shaped screen.

This is a good time to point out that the Flip 5’s Flex Window isn’t a typical rectangle. It’s shaped more like a document folder, mostly square with a small tab on the bottom left. Functionally, that extra space doesn’t get in the way of apps or widgets. Swiping up on it brings you back to the home page, and if you have a timer or song running, a little countdown shows up there.

Side view of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 folded shut. There is no gap between the two halves of the internal screen.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

You don’t have to install Good Lock to find the new Flex Window useful, but it does make for a better experience. For example, when replying to a notification from an app like Telegram, you won’t actually be able to see the message your friend sent. This might be because Telegram notifications are typically hidden anyway, to prevent onlookers from seeing your chats. So if you want to respond to Telegram contacts, you’ll likely still have to open the Flip to see what they said.

That is, unless you use Good Lock to let the app run outside, in which case tapping the notification on the Flex Window will just take you to the conversation in the app. It’s surprisingly smooth and weirdly satisfying to see a non-native experience work so well.

Replying to messages is another improvement over the Flip 4, by the way. Samsung now has room to offer a QWERTY keyboard, and typing on it is an absolute delight. I have relatively small hands, and reaching across this panel to hit letters like Q and A was no trouble, especially with swipe typing. The Flip 5’s software is more refined than the Moto’s, too, since the latter’s keyboard takes over the entire screen and requires an extra tap to actually send your reply. Samsung’s interface also lets you see some of your conversation above the input field, whereas you won’t see any of it on the Razr+.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 folded shut, held in mid-air. Its external screen shots a person taking a photo of the camera viewfinder feature.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The larger Flex Window also makes for a far superior viewfinder for the external cameras. With the increased space, I can now see the entire frame when lining up a selfie or setting up a video. Swiping sideways on this viewfinder screen switches between Portrait, Photo or Video modes, while pinching changes the level of zoom and the ultrawide camera kicks in at 0.5x.

Cameras

While the experience of using the external 12-megapixel cameras has drastically improved thanks to the Flex Window, image quality itself has not. Samsung uses basically the same sensors on the Flip 5 as those on the Flip 4, and though there’s no generational upgrade, they still take pretty good pictures.

In fact, out of all two flip-style foldables available in the US, the Flip 5 easily gains the upper hand. Its only competition is the Moto Razr+, which has similar sensors on paper but delivers washed out photos in comparison.

My photos of the Metropolitan Museum of Art showed vibrant blue skies and red banners when I used the Z Flip 4 and Flip 5, but the scene seemed pale when I shot it with the Razr+. Though I prefer the rosier hues in selfies I snapped with the Razr+, the ones that Samsung produced had more accurate colors.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 flexed at a 90-degree angle, with its internal display showing the camera app.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

At night, cityscapes were pretty grainy across all three phones I tested, but the Flip 4 and Flip 5 were slightly better at exposing buildings amidst all the lights in New York. Though both Samsung phones were neck-and-neck in terms of low-light photo quality, I was pleasantly surprised that the Flip 5 took about half the time of its predecessor when capturing a shot in Night mode. As a result, I didn’t have to hold still for as long, and my selfies from the newer handset were clearer.

I also enjoyed using the Flip 5 and Razr+ as TikTok machines, setting them up with their cover screens facing out to shoot some (hopefully) humorous clips. Video quality was, again, very close across the three devices. In short, don’t write off the Flip 5’s cameras, but you won’t be writing home about the photos you took, either.

As a “regular” phone

You won’t be spending all your time with the Flip 5 using only its external screen. For the most part, you’ll most likely interact with the flexible 6.7-inch Full HD AMOLED panel inside, which is what I did. I’ll admit, I mostly used this phone to scroll Reddit or Instagram and play mind-numbing puzzle games like Goods Sort and Solitaire.

Everything felt as it did on last year’s Flip — even the crease looks the same. My friends’ vacation photos and game graphics were colorful and crisp. At certain angles, content looked slightly discolored under the wrinkle, but it didn’t bother me. I also enjoyed stroking the crease as much as I did before. There’s something deliciously satisfying about repeatedly running my thumb over it.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 open completely flat, tilted at an angle. A crease is visible in its middle, and words on the Reddit app are slightly distorted over the hinge.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

I also tried a few times to carefully push my thumb into the screen as I started to bend the phone to close it, and I never felt like the panel was going to break. But of course, I’ve only had the Flip 5 for slightly over a week, so long-term use may reveal durability issues. It’s worth noting, though, that compared to Motorola, Samsung has a more established repair and parts replacement system in place. Should you actually damage your foldable, or if you know you’re accident prone, the better company to choose is Samsung.

There are some software updates to Flex Mode that I didn’t spend a lot of time with, mostly because I don’t find them all that useful in daily use. As a refresher, Flex Mode is an interface that kicks in when you bend the phone slightly and have it open at between 20 and 160 degrees (approximately). Compatible apps will split their layout in half, typically showing content up top and controls below. Like on older Flips, apps that work well with this are YouTube, which continues to display the video on the higher half while letting you scroll through comments at the bottom.

This year, though, you can choose to (after first toggling through several hidden settings) display a button at the bottom left of every app. It’ll bring up the Flex dashboard, which offers shortcuts for taking a screenshot, pulling down the notifications shade and more. Some of these, like the two I named, are helpful. But some, like the touchpad that you can enable, are just silly. With the touchpad, you can drag your finger around the bottom half of the screen to maneuver a cursor up top. In some situations, like for people with mobility issues, I can see this being useful. For most other scenarios, however, it’s usually easier to just reach a little and tap the top half of the screen.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 folded at a 90-degree angle and sitting on a stack of books with the camera app showing.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Performance and battery life

We’re reaching a point where smaller foldable phones are pretty much as fast as their non-flexible counterparts, which brings them ever so slightly closer to being feasible as mainstream devices. Thanks to its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy processor, the Flip 5 is on par with flagships like the Galaxy S23+. It also packs the same 8GB of RAM, and this year’s Flip even offers twice the base storage of its predecessor, starting with 256GB.

No matter what I threw at it, the Flip 5 never hiccuped. Granted, I never played a game more demanding than Criminal Minds or CSI: Hidden Crimes on it, but I was also pleased when I realized the phone never really ran alarmingly warm.

The Flip 5’s Geekbench 6 scores of 2,015 (single-core) and 4,972 (multi-core) were about the same as Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5, and significantly better than the Pixel Fold, which uses Google’s own Tensor G2 chip.

This is clearly flagship-level performance, so you’re not sacrificing much if you pick a Flip over a traditional handset. But one area where foldables tend to fall short is battery life. The Flip 5 delivered very similar runtime to its predecessor, which isn’t a shocker considering its battery is the same 3,700mAh. Sure, it has a larger external screen to power, but precisely due to the Flex Window being more useful, I didn’t have to open up the Flip 5 as much as the older model. So it makes sense that both Flips had about the same endurance.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 with its external display facing the camera, showing the viewfinder.

Photo by Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Wrap-up

Here we are, staring at the fifth generation of Samsung’s Galaxy Z series of foldables and still asking the same question: Are phones with flexible displays ready for the mainstream? With its larger and more useful external screen, the Flip 5 is the best candidate in the category’s history to appeal outside the tech-savvy crowd. It offers excellent performance, capable cameras and — lest we forget — it folds in half! Plus, it combines relatively advanced bendable-screen tech with an exterior panel in a size that’s sure to win nostalgia points, meaning it’ll appeal to experimentalists and sentimentalists alike.

If your existing Flip is falling apart, the Flip 5 is worth the upgrade for the Flex Window alone. But if you’re contemplating adopting a foldable for the first time, just know that you’ll probably sacrifice some camera quality, have to take extra care when manhandling the device and resign yourself to always be charging. In exchange, you’ll get a very capable phone, some cool points and an easy conversation starter.

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