- Cutting-edge foldable confines previous missteps to the past for a truly special device that will one day become mainstream
The Guardian (UK), Samuel Gibbs, Consumer technology Editor, Monday 21 September 2020
Following a bit of a false start with the original Fold last year, Samsung has hit a home run in its second attempt to make cutting-edge folding phone-tablets a reality – as the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is something really quite special.
The new device costs £1,799, which makes it a super luxury purchase. Make no mistake, this is absolutely not a smartphone for the masses, but it is a very important device.
It follows the success of the Galaxy Z Flip phone launched in February, which introduced two key things: ultra-thin glass for the flexible screen and a laptop-like hinge that could hold itself open at a variety of angles.
The metal body, glass front and back, and smooth-opening hinge feel every bit as premium as they should for £1,799. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
Everything about the Z Fold 2 is better made than the original. It is still bleeding-edge technology, but it looks, works and feels like an ultra-premium device actually worth the best part of £2,000, not a prototype.
The Z Fold 2 is a two-in-one device unlike anything else on the market. When folded, it is a chunky but regular smartphone with a long, thin display on the outside. Open it up like a book and you’ve got a tablet that’s about the same size as Apple’s popular iPad Mini.
The outside screen is crisp, bright and useful for the sorts of things you use a smartphone for: messaging, checking the weather, quick Google searches, loading Spotify playlists and checking the Premier League scores.
If you’re coming from a big-screen phone the keyboard will feel cramped, but it is only a few millimetres narrower than an iPhone SE, so I quickly got used to it. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
It is easy to hold with lots of edge to grip. In two weeks of use not once did I feel I could drop the phone using it in one or two hands despite weighing a not inconsiderable 282g – Samsung’s massive Galaxy Note 20 Ultra only weighs 208g, while Apple’s iPhone 11 Pro Max weighs 226g.
After using hand-stretching big phones for years, using the Z Fold 2 when folded was surprisingly refreshing and its thickness wasn’t a problem fitting it in jeans or jacket pockets.
But for those things that demand a big screen, you simply unfold it and away you go. The inside display is fantastic; big, bright, colour-rich and crisp. It runs at 120Hz, which eliminates any potential problems around scrolling lag. A selfie-camera pokes through the screen at 25mm in from the right edge and blends into the background just fine.
The crease in the middle of the screen is a compromise necessary to have it fold in half. While you can see it when the screen is off or with glare on the screen at certain angles, it totally disappears when you’re actually using it.
You can feel the crease when you run your finger over it, but it is in a position you barely ever will and feels smooth and uniform when you do. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The screen is made of ultra-thin glass, but that glass is sandwiched between multiple layers of hi-tech adhesive and plastic, including a screen protector on top that is replaceable by a service centre. It feels solid like glass when you tap or run your finger over it, but just like any common plastic screen protector it can be marked by a nail if you try and is ultimately softer and less durable than a traditional glass display.
There are two zoom modes available for the inner screen. By default it acts like a blown up phone screen making everything bigger, but I switched it to the tablet mode, which made text, icons and the user interface smaller so you could fit more on screen at once.
In this mode some apps give you more than one pane similar to a tablet or desktop layout, such as showing a list of emails on the left and the current open email on the right.
The back is frosted glass with an attractive camera lump that looks like the Note 20 Ultra but only sticks out about half as far. The bronze colour, as tested here, varies between looking purply brown in some lights to matt pink in others.
- Main screen: 7.6in QXGA+ Dynamic Amoled 2X Infinity Flex Display
- Cover screen: 6.2in HD+ Super Amoled
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+
- RAM: 12GB of RAM
- Storage: 256GB
- Operating system: One UI 2.5 based on Android 10
- Camera: Triple rear: 12MP wide angle, 12MP ultra-wide angle, 12MP 2x telephoto; two separate 10MP selfie cameras
- Connectivity: 5G, single nano sim + esim, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5, UWB and location
- Water resistance: none
- Dimensions folded: 159.2 x 68 x 16.8mm
- Dimensions unfolded: 159.2 x 128.2 x 6.9mm
- Weight: 282g
Top performance and 32-hour battery
It takes 88 minutes to fully charge the Z Fold 2 using the included 25W USB-C fast charger. This is about 20 minutes longer than for the Note 20 Ultra. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Z Fold 2 has Qualcomm’s latest top Snapdragon 865+ processor. Other Samsung phones such as Note 20 Ultra have the firm’s own Exynos 990 chip in the EU, which is slightly inferior on raw performance and energy efficiency.
That means the foldable has the highest performance available in an Android smartphone or tablet. With 12GB of RAM available it can run any number of apps simultaneously without breaking a sweat, which is something you may actually want to do with the solid split-screen experience – more on that later.
Battery life is surprisingly good considering the number and size of the screens. The Z Fold 2 lasts about 32 hours between charges with the screens on for a total of five hours. That matches the OnePlus 8 Pro and is two hours longer than the EU version of the Note 20 Ultra. It lasts long enough to get you through even the hardest of use days or about two days if used a bit lighter.
During the 32 hours the Z Fold 2 was used on 4 and 5G for three hours, the rest on wifi. I spent about one third of the time using the small outer screen and two-thirds using the big inner screen, often with two or more apps open at the same time.
Samsung declined to provide an estimate for the expected lifespan of the battery in the Z Fold 2, which is typically 500 full charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% capacity for other rechargeable batteries. The device is generally repairable and the battery is replaceable by authorised service centres. Battery replacements will cost no more than £59. Smashed screens will be replaced at a cost of £119 for the first repair within the first 12 months arranged through the Galaxy Z Premier service. Repair specialists iFixit awarded the Z Fold 2 only three out of 10 in repairability.
One UI 2.5
Closed the phone just acts like a chunky regular smartphone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Z Fold 2 runs Samsung’s latest One UI 2.5, which is based on last year’s Android 10, not the recently released Android 11. An update to One UI 3 and Android 11 is expected in the next six months. Samsung has pledged three years of major Android updates and monthly security patches, which is good for Android devices, but is still some way behind Apple’s five-plus years of software support for its phones and tablets.
Like the Z Flip, One UI has some customisation to take advantage of the folding screen.
It has two different home screen layouts for the cover and internal screens, which appears odd at first, but is actually very handy. All the apps I want to use when the phone is closed go on the outside home screen, such as messaging apps, the calculator, smart home controls, Spotify and so on. Big-screen apps went on the inside home screen.
My home screen on the inside display is more like a tablet with lots of video, books and comics, plus office apps and so on – anything that’s better done on a tablet-sized screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
This split rammed home that this is two devices in one, not just a giant phone. It forced me to relearn how I set up and use a device for the better for the first time in about five years of testing phones and tablets.
Multi-window you may actually want to use
The Z Fold 2 also has an enhanced version of Samsung’s powerful multi-window software that, according to the company, only 4% of users actually use on its other smartphones, including the large Note series.
While smartphone screens are just too small to make more than one app on screen useful, the big internal tablet display of the Z Fold 2 is perfect for it. It allows up to three apps to run in a split-screen configuration, plus any number in pop-out windows. It’s all very slick using either the recently used apps menu or, better, Samsung’s slide-out edge panel to deploy the apps and you can save layouts for quick redeployment.
You can swap apps between panes, resize them and so on using the divider lines and handles at the top of each window. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
I ended up using a whole bunch of apps in pairs such as the Premier League app next to WhatsApp or the calculator app next to Evernote. Most apps can be used in some sort of split-screen mode. Notable exceptions are Signal and Instagram, the latter of which notoriously doesn’t have any tablet support across Android or on an iPad.
The only downside is that if you switch to an app that’s full-screen you can’t just switch back to your multi-window layout, meaning you have to manually set it up again.
The two screens are also linked. The app you have open on the cover screen automatically opens full-screen on the inside when you unfold it. It is very slick. The reverse can be set to happen on an app-by-app basis too. But it is actually very nice to be able to shut the Z Fold 2 to turn it off just like the Z Flip, so I limited it to just a handful of apps.
Setting Google Maps to open from inside screen to outside screen allowed me to set up walking directions on the big screen then immediately follow them on the small screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Z Fold 2 has a “flex mode” like the Z Flip too, which allows apps such as YouTube to display different things on the upper and lower halves of the screen when it is open at less than 180 degrees, such as a video up top and comments down below. You can play videos on the cover screen and prop it open like a kickstand or an A-frame.
You can shoot with the tablet closed like a traditional phone or open to shoot like you might on an iPad. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
The Z Fold 2 has five cameras in total. It has two 10-megapixel selfie cameras that are on par with Samsung’s others, one positioned in the cover screen and one in the internal screen.
The back features three 12-megapixel cameras, one ultra-wide angle, one normal wide angle and one 2x telephoto. The cameras are good but not class leading, and no match for those on the Note 20 Ultra. That’s partly down to size and cost. As such they can produce some really good photos and low light performance is pretty good. The 2x telephoto camera is the weakest of the three, matching good ones from last year, not the significantly improved 3, 4 or 5x telephoto cameras on the best phones of 2020.
Simply put, you don’t buy the Z Fold 2 for the best cameras on the market. But it does have a few fancy tricks. Using flex mode, the camera can display controls and previous image previews on the bottom half, with a view finder on the top half. You can also prop the phone up for longer-exposure shots and set it up to automatically track and zoom in you when shooting video.
My favourite feature turns the cover screen into a preview pane when shooting with the tablet screen open. This means the person having their picture taken can see the image in real time while the photographer is looking at the same image on the larger screen. The model can even trigger a photo themselves by putting up a palm to set off a countdown timer. A selfie mode does the same thing so you can take far superior images of yourself using the main rear cameras.
The power button doubles as a fingerprint sensor, which works well as is considerably faster and more reliable than Samsung’s in-display sensors in its regular phones. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
- The hinge will hold the device open between 75 and 115 degrees for flex mode.
- The two halves close with a satisfying snap.
- The stereo speakers are very good for a smartphone or small tablet.
- A list of warnings comes with the device, including to not press too hard on the screen, don’t fold anything in the screen, don’t remove the screen protector yourself and keep away from liquids and dust.
- Samsung’s Keyboard app remembers different layouts for each screen, such as condensed on the outside and split for easier typing on the inside.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 costs £1,799 and ships on 2 October.
For comparison, the original Galaxy Fold cost £1,900, the Galaxy Z Flip costs from £1,300, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra costs £1,179, the OnePlus 8 Pro costs £799 and the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max costs £1,149.
The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is an absolute triumph for Samsung, cementing foldable screen devices as not only a possible novelty but as an actually good, useful device worth buying right now.
I am by no means suggesting everyone should run out and buy one – £1,799 is far too much to spend on a phone when you can buy really good ones for under £350. No, this is a phone for wealthy people – for people who buy luxury cars or watches. Or those who must have the very best piece of technology for being on the bleeding edge and drawing attention in public.
But at the same time you are getting a lot of device for the money, more so than other £1,000+ phones. The Z Fold 2 is exciting, useful in ways you may not expect and proves that the future of smartphones, tablets and computers is one unified adaptable device. One day relatively soon folding screen devices will be mainstream and we need devices like the Z Fold 2 to make that happen.
Of course the Z Fold 2 is not perfect. The cameras could be better, so could app support for the larger screen, the cover screen could be wider and it could be water and dust resistant, although I’m not sure that’s actually physically possible yet with this type of hinge.
There’s also a durability question over the internal screen. I’ve used it for two weeks and it is still perfect. I’ll use it for another couple of months to see how it holds up, but if the Z Flip is anything to go by, as long as you treat it with the care that a super expensive phone deserves it should be fine. It is well protected when closed.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the most exciting new device I’ve used in a very long time. If you’re bored stiff by the monotony of traditional smartphones with minor improvements and don’t just want a £379 good budget phone, this is the device for you. It defies expectations and makes me smile every time I open it.