Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review: a £1,800 folding phone-tablet that works

Guardian Technology 21 Sep 2020 06:00
With a smaller screen on the outside for phone-type duties and a large unfolding tablet screen on the inside for big-screen apps, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is more than the sum of its parts. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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.

Four months of solid use of the Z Flip proved that the troubles plaguing the original Fold could be solved.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 review
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

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.

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.

Top performance and 32-hour battery

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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