(Pocket-lint) - We're still early in the folding phones movement, yet one manufacturer has shown it's taking this market seriously. Not only was Samsung one of the first phone makers to launch an actual product with a flexible display, it's since launched two more (three if you included the upgraded version of the Z Flip).
That means its ideas are becoming more refined as some of the early quirks and foibles are fixed to make for a more polished experience. With the Z Fold 2, it's matured to a level unreached until now. It's not perfect, and still needs a few key areas of improvement, but this phone is probably the best foldable on the market right now. Here's why.
A promising move forward
- 159.2 x 128.2 x 6.9mm unfolded
- 159.2 x 68 x 16.8mm folded
- Weighs 282g
The first Galaxy Fold faced a number of issues, primarily down to its design. In fact, launch was delayed as Samsung took the phone back to the drawing board to improve durability and stop the display from being as easily destroyed. With the Z Fold 2, those concerns are virtually non-existent.
Its hinge - or spine when closed - is solid and robust feeling, and doesn't leave any gap for anything to get under the flexible display panel. Similarly, there are tapered edges along the top and the bottom parts of the display that are completely covered, and give the phone the illusion that when shut it's properly shut. There's no huge gap in-between the two halves of the screen even though they're not touching at all, as in reality there is a gap internally.
When shut is has a really solid, chunky feel to it that doesn't at all feel flimsy or weak, and the hinge isn't loose either. That means it can hold its position at virtually any angle. So you can use it as a mini laptop if you want, typing on the bottom half in Messages, and then seeing the conversation thread on the top.
As we said, though, when it's shut, it's quite chunky and does mean it's not as natural to use in one hand. We think in order to make a phone with this form factor feel just as good to use when shut as it is when open, it'll mean more innovation and figuring out ways to make it much thinner. Open, it's a really slim device; when shut it's like holding two smartphones together.
Despite the obvious differences, there's plenty about the phone's design language that makes it clearly distinguishable as a Samsung phone. For 2020, the one obvious one is the rose gold colour scheme complete with the frosted glass on the back. It's very reminiscent of the Galaxy Note 20 range, as is the triple camera system on the back sitting in its protruding glass rectangle. It sticks out quite far, but with the phone being narrow, it doesn't feel all that off-balance when lying down on a desk or side table.
Looking around the edges, you'll find a speaker grille on both the top and bottom edges of the front cover. The rear cover just features the Type-C port on its bottom edge, but then has a volume button and fingerprint sensor on the right side.
Thankfully, we've had no issues at all with the fingerprint sensor - it's been quick and reliable. Sometimes too quick - when we've meant to just press it to wake up the lock screen, and then actually authenticated and unlocked the phone in that time without intending to do so.
Huge screen + small screen, what is it good for?
- Internal display: 7.6-inch foldable Dynamic AMOLED panel
- 1768 x 2208 resolution, 120Hz refresh, HDR10+
- External display: 6.23-inch Super AMOLED panel
- 816 x 2260 resolution, 25:9 aspect ratio
With a regular smartphone, we've become so accustomed to a screen that's essentially a jack of all trades. Wide aspect ratios are great for pretty much anything, especially watching movies. But what about everything else? For much of what we consume on a day-to-day basis, a bigger display might actually be more useful for reading emails, texts, browsing, or even using as a camera monitor. More surface area equals seeing more.
Samsung's primary display in the Fold 2 is a 7.6-inch panel. But unlike your usual phone, it's an almost square aspect ratio. Its 1768 x 2208 resolution is far from an industry-standard but opens you up to an entire expanse of screen. It's also relatively sharp with roughly 373 pixels-per-inch packed in. That doesn't exactly tell the whole story, however.
There are so many variables with a panel like this, so while it's sharp, vibrant and bright, with inky dark blacks and great colours, it doesn't take much for that experience to be tarnished. The permanent screen protection film over the surface of the display is definitely not oleophobic, and so within a few minutes of swiping you'll quickly have greasy smudges all over it from your fingers. They can catch light reflections, or cause this unusual but subtle rainbowing distortion on anything beneath them.
Of course, the plastic film also affects the feel of the display. It's almost 'sticky' and doesn't offer that same easy fluidity and smoothness you get from a glass surface. There is also the issue of the crease, which you can feel when you run your finger across the display and you can see it at certain angles. We found after a few days using it full-time this became less of an issue. In fact, we became so accustomed to having the big screen that going back to a smaller one now seems like a downgrade.
The other issue is that with some apps and games - like Mario Kart Tour as an example - that the graphics get scaled up to fill the screen and so in the process lose some of their sharpness. Still, on the flip side, Mario Kart Tour is actually excellent on an almost square screen. We find the long portrait and landscape modes cut into the view significantly - either from the top and bottom or from the sides - so having a square-ish screen is great for that particular game. So you can tick 'perfect for Mario Kart' off your wishlist.
It's brilliant for reading ebooks too. Loading up the Kindle app, turning the phone sideways and enabling columns quickly turns the Fold 2 into a two-page wonder reader. Being slim and light really makes it ideal for this.
It's also much better for split-view multitasking than most other smartphones, purely because you can have one app taking up the left half and one taking up the right.
There is another screen to consider too: the one on the front. It's a much narrower display but takes up nearly all of that space on the front cover. It's much larger than the one that came on the Galaxy Fold and therefore is actually useful.
For those times when you need to read notifications, quickly reply to a message or answer a phone call, it's right there ready to go. When screen estate isn't essential for the task, it's more than capable, although if you do try to type on the tiny keyboard on it, you will probably find it a bit too cramped to do much more than a quick few words and an emoji or two. Of course, you can turn it landscape and type that way, but then you lose pretty much all of the conversation thread.
One element that needs improvement isn't down to just Samsung though. Part of what makes the two displays work is that with some apps - mostly Samsung's own ones - if you launch the app on the small screen and open it to the larger main one, the app just opens and expands to fill the space. Or, if you try to open an app recently running on the large screen - but that's just a background activity - while the phone is closed, it should be able to just carry on from where you were last. For a lot of apps, this just doesn't work. And it's always the third-party apps. Instead, you have to close the app and launch it again, or the phone just does it for you.
Battery life and performance
- Snapdragon 865+ processor (7nm), 12GB RAM
- 256GB or 512GB storage options
- 4500mAh battery capacity
- 25W wired charging
- 11W wireless charge
- 4.5W reverse wireless
As far as overall performance goes, the Fold 2 delivers flagship quality speeds, so there's no worries here when it comes to loading up your games and apps. It's got the Snapdragon 865+ chip inside along with lots of RAM. And you get tonnes of storage space too.
There wasn't any app or game we loaded that it struggled with. It was butter smooth, too, thanks to that 120Hz panel, and quick to load. The only thing missing is a more responsive feeling touchscreen, which will be helped when advancements come to flexible display technology.
It's a similar experience with battery life. The Fold 2 didn't once struggle to get through a day of use, even when we hammered Mario Kart Tour for a couple of hours to test the gaming/display. With moderate use we got to the end of most days with somewhere around the 30 per cent mark still in the tank. And that's actually quite surprising given the battery capacity is pretty much standard, and it's in a phone with two displays, one of which is huge. Saying that, the phone is closed most of the time when not in use, so if any screen does light up, it's typically the smaller one.
Charging speeds didn't blow us away, but 25W wired charging is definitely fast enough that you can plug it in for 30-40 minutes and get enough juice to make it through the day. It also has the convenience of wireless charging, but with maximum 11W speeds, that's nowhere near as quick. In our daily use, the wireless charging option became the go-to at night time when we put it on the bedside charger.
- 12MP triple camera system
- Main (26mm): f/1.6 aperture, Dual Pixel phase-detection autofocus (PDAF), optical image stabilisation (OIS)
- 2x zoom (52mm): f/2.4, OIS
- Ultra-wide (12mm): f/2.2
- 4K video up to 60fps
- 10MP selfie camera
Like the situation with its internal power and performance, Samsung was keen not to leave us with a sub-par experience, and so kitted the Fold 2 out with three great cameras, each with its own use. This isn't one of those multi-camera systems where you only have one good camera.
All three cameras on the rear use a 12-megapixel sensor, but in addition to an optically stabilised primary camera with dual-pixel phase-detection autofocus tech, there's a telephoto with 2x zoom and a 0.5x ultrawide. Use the three in good daylight and you'll get good results from all of them. They're relatively consistent in terms of results, but you will see a little difference in light/shadows and colour reproduction when you compare them closely. It's not all that obvious though, and so Samsung has done a great job of making them consistent.
One of the things that really struck us during our time with the Z Fold 2 was how flexible the entire camera array is. Particularly when it comes to taking selfies. There's a small cutout in the front cover screen with a selfie camera in it, and another one in a punch-hole cutout on the main screen. That way, if you need to take a video call or shoot a quick selfie you have that quick-access convenience, without it intruding on your display real-estate all that much.
However, if you want to take things up a gear, you can actually open up the phone and use the rear cameras to shoot selfies or videos and use the front cover display as your monitor/viewfinder. It means you get better photos, and you can frame the shot at the same time.
Samsung has also done a great job of improving low-light capture, either at night or when you shoot in automatic mode. It seems to understand when you're in a really low-light situation and just kick in an auto night mode. It brings in a lot of light and leaves you with a mind-boggling amount of light and colour even when there's practically zero light. It's pretty impressive.
Feature-wise you get pretty much all the features you'd get from a Galaxy S20 or Note 20. There's single take for taking multiple angles of action all at the same time, plus 4K video shooting at 60fps, and HDR10+ video shooting. In short - it's a fully capable camera. Unlike Moto's nostalgia-driven Razr series, you don't have to compromise on camera or performance here to get a folding phone.
Of all the manufacturers to try and create a folding smartphone with one big tablet-sized screen inside, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the most complete package of the lot. It's a huge improvement on the first-generation device in terms of design, but some issues remain with the flexible display market still being relatively young. Oh, and it's really expensive.
Despite needing improvement in a few areas to make this category of products truly compelling, there are still moments where it does things far better than a traditional smartphone. Reading ebooks or comics, or playing Mario Kart Tour and some other games, won't be the same again if you go back to a narrow, classic smartphone style.
Regardless of its quirks - like a plastic-feeling display and some app compatibility issues when jumping between screens - the Fold 2 is simply the best folding phone on the market. It will give you the most complete experience. It might not have the nostalgic appeal of the Motorola Razr, but as a piece of tech, it's better in nearly every way.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
If you're more after the flip-style phone rather than a folding tablet, the Galaxy Z Flip will give you that Samsung design and software, but in a compact, palm-friendly package.