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Samsung's new 'flip' phone. Image/Supplied

The flip phone is back: Samsung’s new line-up revealed

Samsung reveals its 2020 smartphone line-up - NOTED got the chance to play with them before they go on sale March 6.

The Samsung phone that will attract all the buzz this year is not the Galaxy S20 or S20 Ultra, two of the models unveiled today as part of the Korean phone maker’s annual refresh, but the Galaxy Z Flip.

A long-anticipated creation that is part throwback to flip phone glory days, part evolution of Samsung’s nascent efforts in foldable screens, this is the phone that will get people talking and flocking to stores to touch it for themselves.

Before Christmas, I reviewed the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the phone that folds out into a tablet, priced at an eyewatering $3,699. The Flip is designed with the same philosophy, trying to get away from the inflexible black rectangle of the smartphone format.

The Flip starts out like this, but then folds in on itself to form a compact square-shaped device when closed, reminiscent of the old Motorola Razr, but with more screen real estate instead of a keyboard. In fact, earlier this month Motorola pipped Samsung to the post with a reboot of the Razr that has a foldable screen and clamshell design.

It's unclear whether the Razr (US$1,500) will go on sale in New Zealand, but the Flip definitely will, just after the S20 range, in April or May. Priced at $2,499, it's an expensive phone by any measure but I see plenty of appeal in the format, more so than the higher-priced and bulkier Fold. 

Clamshell style

A lot of us are still nostalgic for the clamshell days, when you could easily slip your phone into a pocket. But we also want everything a big-screen phone offers. The Flip seems like a good stab at satisfying both desires. It’s compact when closed and at 183 grams about the same weight as a typical smartphone. 

I slipped it into my suit breast pocket and was pleasantly surprised at how little space it took up. The main screen is a 6.7-inch OLED display built with foldable glass. As with the Galaxy Fold, you do see that crease on the screen above the phone’s hinge. But once the screen is lit up, you don’t tend to notice it unless the light reflects it.

There’s no camera interrupting the main display; instead a 10MP (megapixel) selfie camera is positioned above it. On the rear of the phone are two 12MP cameras (ultrawide and wide-angle format). That’s where the sacrifice comes in – the hardware specs on the Flip aren’t as impressive as the new S20 line-up (see below) and that’s most noticeable when it comes to the cameras.

When shut, there’s no big display that functions as a second screen as there is on the Fold. But there is a small 1.1-inch cover display that will show notifications when the phone is closed, which is handy.

The phone is designed to be able to sit flat on a table and have the top part of the screen positioned at your preferred angle, like a laptop screen. Samsung worked with Google to create ‘Flex’ mode, which lets you display images or videos in one half of the screen and content or an app in the other. 

The big question mark, as with the Fold, will be over durability. Yes, it is rated to be able to flip open and shut 200,000 times and Samsung has done a lot of dust-proofing of the Flip’s hinge. But remember how beaten up your old clamshell used to get. Will the expensive Flip withstand some rough treatment?

Only time and real-life use will answer that question, but the format is a breath of fresh air, a pivot away from ever-increasing smartphone screen displays.

Read more: NOTED's top 10 smartphone picks from budget to high-end | What to look for before you buy a smartphone

From left, the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+ and s20 Ultra. Image/Supplied

The S20 line-up

The new Galaxy S20 line-up aesthetics are rather underwhelming in comparison. If anything, the overall design has gone backwards, thanks to the huge new camera housing on the back of S20+ and S20 Ultra in particular. 

To be fair, Apple went the same way last year with the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro. It means that these phones are now pretty unstable when you are trying to tap them when they are sitting on a table.

That usability drawback (corrected by the addition of a case I was reminded by Samsung) is countered by the improved camera technology which is the real selling point, of the S20 Ultra in particular.

Consider these impressive features:

  • 8K video recording
  • 100x zoom camera
  • 108MP photos

The 8K video recording is common to all of the cameras and while few people have an 8K TV screen to view the results, there’s no denying the quality is incredible – if shot properly. Samsung showed some video of the Auckland skyline shot on the S20 Ultra mounted on a gimbal and it looked very impressive. Moving to 8K across the range is a world-first and one we’ll increasingly come to appreciate.

The 100x optical-digital hybrid zoom sounds impressive, but as with Huawei’s 50x digital zoom, once you really zoom in, getting a decent photo is really difficult. I zoomed in on port workers on the Auckland waterfront, 500 metres or more away, and the resulting photos were a bit blurry. At 10x optical zoom, the images are crisp. Still, even being able to use the zoom as a makeshift pair of binoculars is useful.

I’ve yet to carefully examine the results of the shots from the large camera sensor on the Ultra (there are four cameras on the rear), but what I saw displayed in the gallery of shots I took looked very promising.

The Galaxy S20+ (6.7 inches) and the entry-level S20 (6.2 inches) don’t have the same camera capabilities as the Ultra, with total maximum resolution scaled down to 64MP. But those phones do also feature a 120Hz AMOLED display, the same as the iPad Pro – great for video and gaming and snappy flicking between app screens.

All of the phones are also 5G capable – the S20+ and S20 Ultra support sub-6 standard 5G and mmWave, the latter of which hasn’t debuted in New Zealand yet. So these phones are future-proofed for 5G in New Zealand

The S20 batteries have also increased in size, including a 5,000mAh battery for the S20 Ultra, which is huge – you should be able to get 36 hours of use. The S20 gets a respectable 4,000mAh battery. 

Read more: 5G is live – now what? | Why the arrival of 5G means the 4G experience is getting better

Great new features

The S20 smartphones all get a great new feature that is likely to prove popular – Single Take. This lets you take ten photos and four videos all at once (you typically need to hold the camera steady for up to 10 seconds a bit like when using night mode). 

You are then presented with a selection of videos and photos, taken at slightly different angles, with different lenses and with different effects applied to them. The phone’s AI then selects what it thinks is the best. If you’ve spent a lot of time retaking photos to get the best results or messing around with filters for the right look and tone, you’ll love this camera setting.

Also, Google Duo, Google’s under-rated video calling service, is hard-baked into the Samsung user-interface. I for one am very happy about this as I’m a big Duo user, so being able to activate it seamlessly is a bonus.

Overall then, a good jump up in display functionality and 5G capability to accommodate the latest network technology. 

The S20 line-up goes on sale in New Zealand on March 6 (pre-orders available from February 13). The Flip is expected to go on sale in April/May.

Pricing:

  • Samsung S20 - $1499
  • Samsung S20+ - $1899
  • S20 Ultra - $2199
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Flip - $2,499 (no official launch date yet)

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