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The Galaxy Z Flip 5 easily won Unpacked
It's not a competition, but if it were, Samsung's latest flip phone easily stole the limelight from the other devices it announced.
It’s not a competition. After all, why would it be? Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked events are meant to be showcases for its latest technologies, the most bleeding-edge features, and a preview of the direction the company sees itself going in over the next year.
But let’s say it were a competition. The latest Unpacked event, which wrapped up yesterday in South Korea—let’s say that was some sort of competition to see which device would turn the most heads. Is it the new Galaxy Watch 6 or Watch 6 Classic? No, they look too much like their predecessors. Is it the Galaxy Tab S9 series? No, that’s just a bunch of premium Android tablets with fancy specs. Is it the Galaxy Z Fold 5? Oddly enough, no, because it’s a pretty boring upgrade over last year.
Instead, it’s the Galaxy Z Flip 5. Earlier leaks suggested this would be a meaningful upgrade over the Z Flip 4, and at least on the outside, that’s abundantly true. It improves the biggest point of contention a lot of folks had with the Flip 4, and it evens out the playing field against the Motorola Razr+, which many reviewers (including myself) deemed the best flip phone you could get.
It’s a pretty boring update beyond that, though. You aren’t getting a fundamental reimagining of what the Galaxy Z Flip series is or how it’s designed, but that goes for a lot of the products Samsung announced today. It’s all very incremental, which I suppose is fine since they have a majority of the market share in each category they spoke to. Still, if you wanted something mind-blowing or revolutionizing, this wasn’t the Unpacked for you.
So, let’s do some Unpacking, shall we?
The Galaxy Z Flip 5 and its
massive larger cover screen
The Z Flip 5 is the winner of Unpacked in my book, if only because the front screen has finally grown to a size where it’s actually useful. Samsung is on its third external display size with its Z Flip line, going from 1.1 inches on the original model to 1.9 inches on the Z Flip 3 and 4. Now, it measures 3.4 inches, which gives you a lot more room to stretch out.
But it’s not the biggest. The Razr+ still has it beat at 3.6 inches, and it even stretches behind the camera sensors for a futuristic look. Samsung decided to keep the portion of the Z Flip 5 behind the cameras completely black, which cuts the display off in an awkward way. Still, it’s a lot bigger than before, and I can’t imagine anyone will complain that its shape is a bit unorthodox.
So, what can you do with it? Everything you already could with the smaller screen on the Z Flip 4, for one. Samsung blew up the interface for widgets, notifications, and quick settings with richer visuals and easier-to-see UIs. Like the Razr+, you’ll also be able to run full-fledged apps on the cover screen, although it’ll be categorized as a Labs feature (at least for now).
I got my review unit in the mail yesterday, and the only thing I’ve done so far is toy around with the cover screen. Samsung calls it a “Flex Window” which… okay, it’s kind of that, but no one is gonna actually say that. I get where they’re coming from, though; the screen is a lot like a window into the normal smartphone experience, with a lot less room to see everything and a somewhat limited experience.
You can do a lot on this cover screen (including typing out replies to messages using the Samsung Keyboard), but you still feel constrained by the space you have, which is a good thing for getting things done quickly on the go. I’ll speak more to what it’s like to use in my full review.
Another aspect of the device Samsung redesigned is the hinge. The Z Flip 5 has switched to a teardrop-style hinge that lets the phone fold completely flat. Yes, there’s still a crease and it’s still pretty deep, but at least you’ll have less of a chance of dirt or dust getting between your screen.
The device is still rated IPX8 for water resistance, with no dust or dirt protection in sight. The Razr+, for the sake of comparison, has an IP52 rating, which gives it dust protection but not much water resistance. I’m not sure whether water or dust resistance is more useful, but I suppose that might be a subjective opinion.
The Z Flip 5 also comes with Gorilla Glass Victus 2, which should give you pretty solid protection against drops and scratches.
Other than that, the Galaxy Z Flip 5 looks just like the Galaxy Z Flip 4. It still has a 6.7-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display, flat edges, dual rear cameras, and a fingerprint scanner on the right side. There are some new colors to differentiate itself from the Flip 4, including a snazzy Mint that every reviewer seems to be getting. There are also four Samsung.com exclusive finishes including Yellow, Green, Blue, and Gray.
Under the hood, you’ll find Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, which has been slightly overclocked for Samsung’s devices. It’s still paired with 8GB of RAM, so anyone hoping to see a 12GB RAM option will be disappointed. Luckily, Samsung has doubled the base storage; now, for $999, you can get a Flip 5 with 256GB of storage. The Z Flip line used to start at that years ago, so it’s cool to see Samsung switch back.
The cameras haven’t changed beyond a few processing improvements. You still get a 12MP main camera on the back paired with a 12MP ultra-wide, plus a 10MP sensor for selfies. Samsung says Nightography is better on the Z Flip 5, as are the company’s AI-powered processing pipelines. But that’s not very much to make up for the same camera hardware as the Flip 4, which was incredibly similar to the hardware on the Flip 3. At least you still get all the neat tricks that come with a flexible smartphone, including FlexCam (prop your phone up for hands-free selfies), Dual Preview (let your subject see what they look like on the cover screen), and camcorder mode (flex the screen slightly to record video while holding the device like an old-school camcorder).
The battery is the same size at 3,700mAh, the charging speed is still locked to 25W (boo!), and you still get 15W wireless charging and 4.5W in reverse.
It’s a very familiar device, the Galaxy Z Flip 5. Whether the improvements Samsung has added will amount to a meaningful upgrade for Z Flip 4 owners and beyond is unclear, but I’ll be on a hunt to find out. Stay tuned to CNN Underscored for more.
The Galaxy Z Fold 5 is a flatter Z Fold 4
If you thought there wasn’t much to get excited about on the Z Flip 5, wait until you see the new Galaxy Z Fold 5. Samsung barely touched its $1,800 folding phone this year, and I sincerely wonder why.
The biggest difference between it and last year’s model is the flatter teardrop hinge. Like the Z Flip 5, the Z Fold 5 can now fold completely flat, leaving little to no gap between the two halves of the 7.6-inch display inside. It’s also a bit thinner and lighter than before; unfolded, the device measures 6.1-mm versus 6.3-mm on the Fold 4. The new device weighs in at 253 grams, whereas its predecessor was 263 grams. Samsung says it’s the thinnest and lightest entry in the Galaxy Z Fold family yet.
It, too, adopts the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 “for Galaxy” for improved performance, paired with 12GB of RAM and up to 1TB of storage. Speaking of performance, Samsung is also enhancing the multitasking features on the Z Fold 5 with a new pop-up mode for apps, allowing them to float above other apps you want to remain active in the background. The device’s signature taskbar at the bottom can now show four of your most recent apps (up from two), and enhanced two-handed drag and drop lets you do things like grab a picture with one finger and use another to open the app you’d like to copy it to.
The display you’ll do all that on still measures 7.6 inches, still has a 2176x1812 resolution and is still AMOLED. For the Z Fold 5, Samsung is increasing its peak brightness to 1,750 nits, up from a meager 1,200 nits on the Z Fold 4. That’s a pretty big difference, and you’ll likely be able to see it the moment you start using the device in direct sunlight.
Beyond that, it’s just the Fold 4 all over again. The Fold 5 has the same triple camera system on the back (save for a repositioned LED flash), the same 4,400mAh battery, the same stereo speakers, and the same fingerprint scanner. In fact, the only other difference worth mentioning is the still-sold-separately S Pen, which is a lot skinnier this time around and sits almost flush in Samsung’s official case.
I wish the 6.2-inch cover screen would’ve changed this generation, especially with the Pixel Fold now on the market. Many folks find its passport-like aspect ratio is far superior to Samsung’s candy bar-like cover screen, and it helps to not feel like you’re missing out on a traditional smartphone experience. The Galaxy Z Fold is weird no matter how you use it, and that’s not changing with the Fold 5.
This device is pretty much a flatter Z Fold 4, for better or for worse. I’ll be curious to see how much consumer interest it gets when it launches.
Galaxy Watch 6 and Galaxy Tab S9
I won’t spend too much time on these next products since I covered them in length for Underscored, but here’s a quick rundown of each.
The new Galaxy Watch 6 and Watch 6 Classic (read) take after their predecessors pretty heavily. The biggest visual differences are 20 percent larger screens, slimmer bezels, and an easier mechanism for changing your band. Samsung has equipped both watches with better sleep tracking, irregular heart rate monitoring, and some updates to Wear OS 4. They start at $299.99 and $399.99, respectively.
The Galaxy Tab S9 series (read) brings OLED displays to every model—even the baseline Tab S9. All three models also include Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processors, IP68 ratings for dust and water resistance, premium designs, and improved thermals. The accompanying S Pen has also gotten upgraded with an IP68 rating and a new Creator Edition, and One UI now ties in more with Samsung’s larger ecosystem. The Tab S9 starts at $799.99, the S9 Plus at $999.99, and the S9 Ultra $1,199.99.
All of Samsung’s new devices are available for preorder from Samsung.com (affiliate links below). They each launch on August 11th, and my reviews of the Galaxy Z Flip 5, Tab S9, and Tab S9 Plus will go live in the coming weeks on Underscored and—for the very first time—The Arena Group’s family of sites.
If you want to preorder one or two devices for yourself, why not use one of my affiliate links? I’ll get a minor kickback if you do.
It was a pretty mundane Unpacked, by all accounts. Part of that is likely because it was held in South Korea, Samsung’s home turf, which didn’t give it very much publicity in the United States. Typically, Samsung hosts a big, splash event in New York or San Francisco. Not this year, which stifled its North American news coverage beyond traditional tech outlets.
Location aside, the products that were (dare I say it) unpacked weren’t anything impressive. We’ve seen a big cover screen on a flip phone before, it feels like we’ve been looking at the same Galaxy Z Fold for three generations, the tablets are nice but nothing special, and the watches have quality-of-life upgrades instead of physical redesigns.
The whole event felt like that: the quality of life in Samsung’s ecosystem is getting better, one small step at a time. That’s always nice to see, but there isn’t anything worth rushing out to the stores to go hands-on with. I suppose the Z Flip 5 might be that for some people, but not any of the other products.
We’re about to nose-dive into the latter half of the year, a time when new product announcements are almost weekly occurrences leading up to the holiday shopping season. I’ll be keeping an eye on Samsung’s newest gadgets to see whether they stand a chance of keeping up as competition continues to rise.