Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 review: Three features I love (and two that I still wish for)
Jul 03, 2023
'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
Part of the fun and excitement when reviewing a foldable phone are the first impressions from family members, friends, and others around me. Those raw, perplexed reactions are something I've missed with today's consumer technology. And lately, Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 5 can take credit for revitalizing those intimate moments.
The new Z Flip 5 doesn't push the needle, as they say, but, unless Samsung unveils some form of XR headset later this year, it is without question the company's most ambitious product of 2023.
Also: Samsung's answer to Apple Vision Pro may be announced soon
A bigger, bolder, and brighter external display headlines the Z Flip 5's list of notable upgrades. But it is also in the areas where Samsung chose to refine more than define that make the Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 5 still the best foldable phone for most people, even with Motorola and Google hovering over its shoulder.
External: 3.4-inch AMOLED at 60Hz, Internal: 6.7-inch AMOLED at 120Hz
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy
8GB with 256GB/512GB
3,700mAh with 25W charging
12MP wide, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP front
IPX8 water resistance
Starting at $999
On paper, the new Z Flip 5 appears to be an iterative upgrade over last year's Z Flip 4, but trust me when I say that the three most notable changes with the updated model make a big difference in how you use and experience the foldable.
The biggest question going into the Unpacked event this summer was how Samsung would respond to Motorola's new Razr Plus and the wave of new entrants in the foldable phone space. I reviewed the Moto back in June and rightfully named it "the best flipping foldable right now." At the time, there was no other device that had both a large, fully functional outer display and a compact, ultraportable form factor.
With the Z Flip 5, Samsung has swapped out last year's insufficient 1.9-inch screen with a brighter, better-looking 3.4-inch square. (It's technically not a square, but I'm discounting the small indent on the bottom left corner since it doesn't add much to the phone's functionality.) On the new panel, you're able to watch YouTube videos, get a much clearer sense of how subjects are framed when taking flex mode selfies, and can finally see and respond to notifications without squinting your eyes or opening up the phone to type.
Also: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Motorola Razr Plus: Comparing the best flip phones
I was able to do all of that on the Motorola Razr Plus, too, but the flatter, clean-cut framing of the Z Flip 5 makes using it feel more like a premium pocket companion versus a collapsable toy.
That said, I'm not fully convinced that Samsung's larger 3.4-inch Flex Window is a better interpretation of the pocketable display than Motorola's, but it's a valiant attempt nonetheless. Interacting with the Flex Window is similar to how you would on a Samsung Galaxy Watch; depending on which direction you swipe from the home screen, you'll be presented with a notification panel, quick toggles, and slides of widgets -- though not all of them are interactive.
One of my gripes with the Z Flip's outer display is the feeling of restraint as you tap different weather elements and calendar dates and realize that they don't expand to anything more -- nor do they prompt you to flip open the phone for a detailed view. Tapping on a chain of LinkedIn message notifications reveals the full conversation, but the same tap action doesn't expand Facebook Messenger chats.
Also: Samsung's Z Flip 5 finally has the one feature everyone's been asking for
Likewise, the number of "optimized apps" for the Flex Window can be counted with just my fingers. To truly take advantage of the outer screen, you'll need to download Good Lock from the Galaxy Store and force apps to open in the 3.4-inch dimension via MultiStar.
Before I move on, I have to give Samsung some credit for how thoughtfully integrated the flashlight is when the phone is folded. Remember, the cameras and flash are facing you when you're holding the phone, so before the flashlight blinks on, the Z Flip 5 prompts you to turn the device over and use the volume rocker to turn it on and off.
This year's Z Flip 5 also features a gapless hinge design, meaning the top and bottom sides of the inner display fold completely shut, leaving little to no space in between. Besides a more refined aesthetic, having no gap at the center means dust and debris are less likely to breach into the fragile inner display and cause any physical damage.
Samsung tells me that while the Z Flip 5 still has an IPX8 rating -- and no official dust resistance certification like on the Razr Plus -- it's notably more durable and should survive trips to the beach and other dusty environments better than before.
Also: Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 5 has a new screen layering design, and it's a big deal
Here's my only call-out with the new gapless hinge design: it's not the most finger-friendly if you're flipping the phone open with one hand. With minimal space separating the two halves of the inner display, there's now less area for you to tuck your finger in and flick the thing open. (I know, it's quite the first world problem, but as someone who grew up opening flip phones with wrist strength and all the attitude, this was an underwhelming experience.)
A Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 for Galaxy chipset, which debuted with Samsung's high-end Galaxy S23 Ultra, powers the Z Flip 5. That means the usual onslaught of apps and games run blazingly fast on the phone, and multitasking -- whether you're the split screen type or Picture-in-Picture (PiP) type -- is a burdenless experience.
Due to the nature of dual-screen flip phones, I've found myself using the camera app and flex mode media player a lot more than usual. From my week's time with the Z Flip 5, I've yet to see any major hiccups or app crashes, even when I spent one afternoon switching between emailing and Slack while keeping my security camera feed open in PiP.
Will most people be able to tell the difference between the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and last year's Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1? Probably not. But it's good to know that while the Z Flip isn't Samsung's top-of-the-line foldable, it's just as performant as its $1,799 sibling.
Review: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: Three upgrades that make a notable difference
Unfortunately, while I expected the more efficient chipset to bring better battery life to the Z Flip 5, I saw numbers that were relatively similar to the Z Flip 4. The phone is able to get me through a workday with around 15% power left, but I wouldn't feel comfortable bringing it on trips and other times that call for more photo and video loads.
While I plan on testing the Z Flip 5 for longer and will hold off on giving it a review score until then, it's clear to me (and, hopefully, to you) that the phone is not perfect. Here are the areas that I'd like to see improvements in, especially if Samsung wants to stay at the top of the foldable phone power rankings.
For a device that's pitched toward content creators and fashion-forward consumers, the Z Flip 5's dual camera system, which fields the same 12MP sensors as last year's model, is not the most exciting. I'm not saying the cameras are bad -- they're more than capable of capturing vibrant, color-popping eye candy of photos and videos that require little to no post-editing -- I just wish Samsung had brought over at least the telephoto sensor of the Galaxy S23 series.
For all the portrait-style content you'll likely capture with the flex-hinge form factor, hardware that can properly isolate distant subjects would be a killer thing to have.
Review: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Best smartphone of the year (still)
Wishful thinking aside, my biggest issue with the Z Flip 5's camera is oversaturation. I captured the below photo samples with the default auto mode, no exposure or white balance settings adjusted. Besides the patches of grass and tree leaves being unnaturally green, the sky in the background is also warmer than how it looked in reality. Everything is in focus and the HDR is reliable, I'll give Samsung that.
Captured with the 12MP main wide lens.
I'm also a fan of the Z Flip 5's rather consistent color reproduction, with both the main and ultrawide sensors capturing subjects in ways that are not too contrasting. With the ultrawide lens in particular, I'm delighted to see how the corners of shots don't look overly distorted or blurred.
Captured with the 12MP ultrawide lens.
I touched on the main flaw with the new Flex Window earlier, but if there's anything else that I'd like to see done differently (or, additionally), it would be smarter, adaptive widget screens. Apple's WatchOS 10 spoiled me with its new Smart Stack feature, which reorganizes your column of widgets based on the time of day and/or upcoming events. For example, in the morning, Smart Stack will populate relevant widgets like the weather and calendar. When you're out on a run, the Apple Music and Podcasts widgets will float to the top.
Also: Galaxy Z Flip 5 could be the ultimate work machine if it had this one Samsung feature
Adapting a similar behavior to the Z Flip 5's Flex Window would make it more convenient and purposeful to use. It would give the outer display more significance as opposed to just being a smaller version of the interface underneath it.
Unlike the Z Fold 5, the Z Flip is geared toward a more mainstream audience, including parents who want a self-mounting handset for the easiest family photos and videos, gymgoers who value pocket space, and Gen Zers who want a device that they can literally close their digital lives shut.
By adding a larger external display, buffing the processing power, and creating a more durable design, the Galaxy Z Flip 5 fixes most of its last-gen woes and remains the best flip-style phone you can buy today. It's also worth noting that Samsung has doubled the base storage of the Z Flip this year, upping it from 128GB to 256GB. As someone who always takes an extra photo or two "just in case," that's my favorite upgrade with the new model.
I'd also factor in Samsung's rich infrastructure of after-sales support, including a software update policy that spans up to five years and a customer support system that includes more than 900 stores nationwide plus at-home consultations. And if you're an existing Samsung Galaxy phone user, consider the aggressive trade-in offers available on Samsung.com and carriers. There's a good chance you'll be able to snag a Z Flip 5 for at least a third of the price.
The closest competitor to the Z Flip 5, Motorola's latest Razr foldable offers a more customizable outer screen and a larger 6.9-inch inner display.
If you fancy a tablet-sized foldable experience, check out Samsung's larger Z Fold 5, which is ideal for multitasking and power users.ProsConsAlso: Samsung's answer to Apple Vision Pro may be announced soonAlso: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 vs. Motorola Razr Plus: Comparing the best flip phonesAlso: Samsung's Z Flip 5 finally has the one feature everyone's been asking forAlso: Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 5 has a new screen layering design, and it's a big dealReview: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5: Three upgrades that make a notable differenceReview: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Best smartphone of the year (still)Also: Galaxy Z Flip 5 could be the ultimate work machine if it had this one Samsung feature