Phones Editor, Tech AdvisorAUG 11, 2023 10:56 am BST
At a glance
Premium build quality
It’s fun to have a flip phone
Clever software features
Outer screen a solution to a created problem
Middling battery life
Cameras solid but same as Z Flip 4
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 is a fun folding flip phone that breaks the monotony of glass slab smartphones and is a great choice if you want a smaller phone in your pocket. But there are several compromises here, from the outer screen to battery life to camera quality.
Price When Reviewed
I can’t decide if folding phones are great or stupid, and it’s messing with my brain.
On one hand, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 is a marvel. It folds down from a regular smartphone size into a smaller, pocketable square shape. It’s fun. It comes in mint green.
But on the other hand its outer screen, while larger than on previous versions, is an admission of the compromise of a folding flip phone. It is meant to be folded shut sometimes. If you need a screen, just open it up! Don’t make me run apps on a tiny outer screen!
I’ve also found battery life to be merely OK, and the cameras on this $1,000/£1,000+ phone are not good enough – both areas have not improved from 2022’s Z Flip 4.
None of this changes the fact the Z Flip 5 is still probably the best foldable you can buy in various ways. That’s mainly down to Samsung’s five years of software support, and the better after-sales support globally compared to flip phone rival Motorola. It’s also a cheaper foldable than Samsung’s own Galaxy Z Fold 5.
But after using the Flip for more than a week I can’t help but conclude you can get better cameras, battery life, and display from several phones that cost less. I don’t think you should buy this phone just because it folds in half, yet that remains the main reason to buy one.
Design & build
Folds flat when closed
Compact when closed
Glossy and slippery
The Galaxy Z Flip 5 folds shut like the classic flip phones of the early 2000s, so it’s smaller to hold in your hand or store in a pocket or bag. It’s the opposite idea of the Galaxy Z Fold 5, which is the size of a normal phone but unfolds into a larger tablet size screen.
This ability to shut flat without the small gap of previous Flips is down to a slight redesign in the hinge of the phone, which allows the screen to billow more at the crease in a waterdrop shape and shut flat – and hopefully put less stress on the folding display over time.
Samsung rates the hinge and screen to play nice together for 200,000 movements without breaking – that’s over five years if you open and close it 100 times per day.
The outside of the phone is mainly made of glass and aluminium, with a slippery texture thanks to both. Very slippery indeed. The phone slid off my level desktop and it won’t stay still on many surfaces. You’ll want a case, though the Flip is impressively IPX8 water resistant – no dustproof rating here, though.
Despite not having the matt glass finish of the Z Flip 4, my mint green review sample did quite well to hid fingerprints. That might not be the case for other colour options.
An outer display covers most of the front of the top half of the phone’s back, while the rest is adorned with dual main cameras, a USB-C port, volume rocker, and side mounted fingerprint sensor. The latter works well for authenticating apps and unlocking the phone when it’s open or closed.
The haptics on the Z Flip 5 are also great, with tight, clipped buzzes for the keyboard and great use of different vibration patterns around the user interface (UI).
Screens & speakers
6.7in 120Hz AMOLED main screen
3.4in 60Hz AMOLED outer screen
Dual stereo speakers
Unfolded, the Z Flip 5 has a 6.7in OLED 120Hz folding screen that’s a tall 22:9 aspect ratio and has a large crease right across the middle horizontally. To fold, Samsung uses a plastic and glass composite, but in daily use it feels like tapping and swiping directly on plastic.
That it works is a marvel, but it’s a less premium feeling than directly interacting with the glass of a regular smartphone. The outer layer gets mucky with fingerprints and hand oil very fast.
I found my thumb didn’t often touch the crease when scrolling because of how I held the Flip, but if you do go over it you can feel a definite ridge, and at some angles text contorts slightly as it passes over it.
Turned sideways the screen is a nice wide size, but I had to learn to not keep looking at the now-vertical crease. It’s more noticeable here than on the larger folding screen of the Z Fold 5.
The main upgrade for the Z Flip 5 over previous models is the outer screen, which is now a 3.4in 60Hz display that can show far more information than the dinky ones before. It dips down at the bottom left edge to get around the cameras.
The idea is you can run large widgets for apps like calendar, weather, and alarms, as well as view and interact with notifications without opening the phone.
Like key rival, the Motorola Razr 40 Ultra (Razr+ in the USA), you can also run full apps on there such as Google Maps, YouTube, and WhatsApp, the latter complete with tiny keyboard to type out messages.
It’s impressive and looks cool, but it feels like a solution to a problem Samsung has created itself. The whole point of a flip phone – today and 20 years ago – is it’s a compact design that you close and put away. You are allowed to stop using it and are encouraged to do so. You have a whole inner screen to use if you need it.
Using the outer display is much worse in every instance. The one useful thing is that it can be a viewfinder to snap a selfie or group photo with the main camera. Otherwise, everything it can do is more annoying and a worse experience than just opening the phone.
I prefer the small screens on the older Z Flip 4 or the Motorola Razr 40 that don’t distract you but still display key information.
When closed and with the always on screen turned on, it’s useful to glance down at the time, date, notifications, or battery percentage. This is useful information and means I can keep my phone closed. I don’t want to watch Netflix videos on it. That’s stupid.
In a pinch maybe I’d use Google Maps and hold the closed phone easier in one hand. But I’ve never been holding a normal smartphone while using Google Maps and thinking it’d be better if the screen was much smaller and displayed much less information.
Here’s how Google Maps on the Z Flip 5 (left) compares to the outer display on the Motorola Razr 40 Ultra:
If anything, the cover screen highlights that Samsung needs to change something once a year on the Flip to make it different from the last one. That’s the thing this year. To be fair, you might dig it. I think the outer display of the Z Fold 5 makes far more sense as it’s an actual full phone screen rather than a half-baked widget window but you might not want a phone that big and heavy.
The dual stereo speakers located in the earpiece and the bottom edge pump out decent volume and don’t distort even at the highest level, though do become piercing. Like all phones – great for YouTube and podcasts, but for music, get a Bluetooth speaker.
Specs & performance
Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
Runs very well
The Z Flip 5’s performance is very good thanks to the special overclocked version of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 also found in the Z Fold 5 and Galaxy S23 phones. The Flip runs a smidge slower when truly pushing it with high-end games and multitasking as it has 8GB RAM compared to 12GB in the Fold or Galaxy S23 Ultra.
In benchmark tests, the Flip performed noticeably better than last year’s Flip 4 in CPU use, but graphical results were very similar:
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 benchmarks
Every version of the Z Flip 5 has 8GB RAM, with either 256- or 512GB non-expandable storage. It’s good to see Samsung ditching the 128GB model and starting with double that.
My review sample ran Call of Duty Mobile absolutely fine, though the crease right down the middle of the screen was distracting.
Connectivity comes in the form of Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC, 4G, and 5G.
Camera & video
Solid 12Mp main sensor
12Mp ultra-wide and 10Mp selfie
Often over-saturated colours
The cameras on the Z Flip 5 are solid and perfectly acceptable, but they are not as good as some other phones in this price range.
That said, the main lens has great dynamic range and is a very good camera you’ll be pleased to carry everywhere with you for the next few years. I got some shots out of it that I am really pleased with, but it’s not the most consistent.
That 12Mp main lens is f/1.8 and has optical image stabilisation (OIS), and takes clear, sharp shots in daylight. I’ve been impressed with the sharpness and level of detail, though a couple of shots have areas of blur in them. I also found that sometimes the colours are saturated up to within an inch of their dayglo ideal, particularly the blues and greens:
Henry Burrell / Foundry
Here’s more of that main lens in action, including using the front screen as a selfie viewfinder, and in low light:
Maybe I am being nitpicky, but the colour palettes of both the iPhone 14 and particularly Google Pixel 7 are much more natural to my eyes (phones that cost less than the Flip but don’t, y’know, flip).
You can shoot in RAW, which is good to see, and video is great, with stabilised footage able to process at up to Ultra HD (4K) at 60fps.
The ultra-wide camera is also 12Mp but a different sensor with f/2.2 but no OIS, and it’s not as good in quality. Fine for capturing more of a scene, but the colour is also too vibrant in many scenarios:
Don’t get me wrong, the cameras here are solid and will be more than enough for casual photographers. Here’s portrait mode at work, too:
Henry Burrell / Foundry
But if you are after the best camera phone, this ain’t it, especially if you want an optical telephoto lens, as the Z Flip 4 doesn’t have one. Zoom is digitally cropped from the main lens and you can punch in at 2x, 4x, and 10x using the UI. 10x looks shoddy but shots are surprisingly good at 4x:
A 10Mp front-facing camera cut-out on the main screen is solid and does well with selfies as long as you’ve turned off Samsung’s beautifying modes (you don’t need ‘em, hun):
Battery life & charging
Slow 25W wired charging
Qi wireless charging
Reverse wireless charging
The Z Flip 5 comes with just a USB-C to -C cable in the box and can only charge at a pitiful 25W whatever charger you use. This is far behind the OnePlus 11 (100W) or even Samsung’s own 23 Ultra (45W).
I charged the phone from dead to only 22% in 15 minutes and 40% in 30 minutes, despite the small capacity. The OnePlus 11 can fully charge in 26 minutes. If you value fast charging, the Z Flip 5 is not for you.
I found battery life to be fine, just about lasting a day when using the phone a lot. In PC Mark’s battery test, the phone lasted 11 hours and five minutes.
Given the small size of the device, there’s only a 3,700mAh cell but the Razr 40 (regular model) fits in a 4,200mAh cell. This is no two-day phone by any means, and I saw the phone lose more than 10% overnight while doing nothing. Keeping the always-on function on the outer screen activated may have something to do with this.
Once, the phone got to 19% with just two hours and 11 minutes of screen on time. That is bad, but it was usually better than this. You may have to charge before the end of the day if you are a heavy phone user.
If you have juice though you can reverse charge compatible accessories such as earbuds, or charge the phone itself on a Qi charging pad.
Software & features
Five years of support
Out of the box, you can only run a select number of full apps on the outside screen, but there’s a way to run any you like. It’s the most insanely hidden software feature – Samsung clearly doesn’t want you to turn it on because it’s a bad experience, so I’m not sure why you are able to turn it on.
You download Samsung app Good Lock through the Galaxy Store, then download a feature called MultiStar (obviously!). Then you tap MultiStar and tap, I kid you not, ‘I ♡ Galaxy Foldable’ and then enable the Launcher Widget. From there you can select all the apps you’d like to run on the outer display. You then must add the Good Lock widget to the outer display. How user friendly!
They work well enough, but Samsung is clearly trying to control which apps are used on it by most people. Why not let all apps on there like on the Motorola Razr 40 Ultra?
On the main screen, One UI 5.1.1 does a great job of looking and behaving like you’d expect from a normal Samsung smartphone. It’s very customisable and does take a little tinkering to be happy with it in my experience, but I am no One UI hater. I could easily use it every day and prefer it to the Android skins used by Xiaomi, Vivo, and OnePlus.
Samsung’s ‘flex mode’ works with a few apps such as the camera and YouTube, where folding the phone halfway can act like a tripod to use hands-free. It’s great for video calls and works with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as well as Google calling apps.
There’s also a feature you can switch on called ‘flex mode panel’ that keeps any app open on the top half of the screen and turns the bottom half into a touchpad, turning the phone into a tiny laptop with mouse control. It’s cute, and might work as an accessibility option for some.
Samsung still has the best software support of any Android manufacturer, offering four years of Android updates and five years of security patches for the Z Flip 5, so you’re good until 2027 and 2028 respectively.
With all the power the phone has, I’m not sure why Samsung doesn’t add its desktop mode DeX to the Z Flip 5. The Z Fold 5 runs it, as do the S23 phones. Plugging in the phone to a monitor to run apps in a Windows-style desktop mode is very handy, if niche, and the hardware here could certainly cope with it.
Price & availability
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 costs from $999.99/£1,049 for a model with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage.
Non-folding phones such as the $599/£599 Google Pixel 7 represent much better value, with superior cameras, display, and battery life.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 is a great choice if you want a modern folding flip phone. It has a very premium design, clever software features, battery that should last you a day, and is truly compact when folded shut.
Its outer screen might charm you, and it is good for checking time, notifications, and key information without unfolding the device. But I found myself annoyed at its limitations while trying to be useful, and it feels redundant to run full apps on it when you can just unfold the phone and use the superior internal screen.
The fact Samsung tries to limit which apps you can use on the small display shows you the company doesn’t really want you to.
It makes the Z Flip 5 feel like a bit of a ‘where next?’ kind of phone. It’s very similar to the Z Flip 4, and for the price I recommend getting a regular smartphone that will have a better screen, camera, and battery life, such as the Google Pixel 7, iPhone 14, or any of the GalaxyS23series.
Android 13 with One UI 5.1.1
6.7in Full HD+ 120Hz (2640×1080) foldable 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED 2X with HDR10+ support
3.4in Super AMOLED (260×512) 60Hz cover screen
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset
256/512GB internal storage
12Mp, f/1.8, OIS rear camera + 12Mp ultra wide, f/2.2
Henry is Tech Advisor’s Phones Editor, ensuring he and the team covers and reviews every smartphone worth knowing about for readers and viewers all over the world. He spends a lot of time moving between different handsets and shouting at WhatsApp to support multiple devices at once.