Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G review: the cool Communicator23
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Does Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2 finally keep the foldable phones' biggest promise of an everyday display and a larger one when you need it all in one pocketable device? If it did, that would make the Z Fold 2 the current best foldable phone given its display and hardware specs.
As we find out in our review, largely yes, taking the crown of the best foldable phone from Huawei's Mate Xs, but with some expected caveats.
Chief among those are the price for a still relatively thick and heavy design, and some aspect ratio limitations when displaying games or video that offset the usefulness of the large screen. All of these seem to be common for foldable phones, though, at least these first iterations, as the market niche is still in its nascence.
Other than those, we found the Galaxy Z Fold 2 to be a great living proof for the foldable phone concept, with serious added value when it comes to multitasking. We enjoyed to carry it around, and use the large external display for our day-to-day smartphone-ing, then unfurl it open for longer reads, browsing sessions, working on documents, to game or watch video.
It performs heavy tasks with aplomb, the battery life in everyday activities is good, the new Hideaway Hinge moves in a smooth yet sturdy manner, and the camera samples are up there with the best, especially the selfie shots with the main sensor. All in all, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 can convince you in the viability of bendy phones as the future going forward, if you can swallow that early adopter pricing... and (nudge, wink) a skinny jeans bulge.
What's in the Galaxy Z Fold 2 box? Sorry, no earphones or case of any kind, just like with the Note 20 in the US:
- Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G
- Data Cable
- Travel Adapter
- Ejection Pin
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 hinge durability and displays
Why you Flex-ing when you should be Z Fold-ing?
We'll start with the most pressing question on your mind - how durable is the Galaxy Z Fold 2 compared to its Galaxy Fold predecessor that had its fair share of opening and closing issues? Well, we are glad to report that Samsung has improved greatly in that respect, and not only have the two pre-launch issues with the OG Fold - the polyimide display cover and the hinge gaps - been addressed, but the two components have been entirely replaced with new approaches to the foldable phone design.
Also, the Galaxy Z Premier Service that comes with the phone offers a one-time display replacement for accidental damage at just $149, taking the load off your worried shoulders, along with other concierge and club membership services.
First off, the 7.6" foldable display is now covered with Samsung's Ultra Thin Glass (UTG) material that it used on the Z Flip. This not only prevents deeper scratches and peeling that were common on the review OG Fold units, but also provides a clearer, more transparent display window. The UTG layer is still covered with a protective film, though, just as on the Z Flip, which would ding if you are not careful. The 6.2" external display is protected with the newest Gorilla Glass Victus, just as on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. There is a pre-applied plastic screen protector on top, which is nice to have, but that protector amassed a few tiny scratches quickly after a day or two of use. The rear body cover is made of Gorilla Glass 6, as Samsung deemed it sufficient to handle high drops when in a case.
There's still a crease in the middle, though, and don't expect hardness wonders compared to the Z Flip, as Korean sources tip that the Z Fold 2's display surface durability nearly matches that of the clamshell foldable, and it is only next year when we can expect the second UTG generation to change things for the better. Still, the UTG cover can be bent hundreds of thousands of times with no issues.
Moving on to the so-called Hideaway Hinge, Samsung has miniaturized and upgraded the "sweeper" tech of the Flip's hinge to prevent dust and debris lodging between the hinge components, or, worse, reaching the display underside like they did on the first Fold. We are also very happy to report that Samsung has all but eliminated the strange squeaking and other ungodly hinge noises that are present on first-gen foldables like the Mate Xs or the OG Fold with this design.
In 21 countries, including the US and Europe, the hinge can be customized in several extra colors than the Bronze and Black of the Z Fold 2's body via an online tool - Metallic Silver, Metallic Gold, Metallic Red, and Metallic Blue, sweet! As for new functionality, the smooth Hideaway Hinge can now deliver several "Flex" modes for the screen halves - from 75 to 115 degrees - depending on the usage scenario.
Is the Galaxy Z Fold 2's hinge indeed sturdier and more user-friendly than before? We tested the modes, and it indeed tilts and holds the promised Flex mode range in a smooth and stable manner, while we were able to extend that range beyond the 75-115 degrees that Samsung promises, boding well for the long-term endurance, as Samsung has apparently left some leeway in the hinge's movements.
The Flex modes present some interesting use cases, too, allowing us to split the screen halves between content and navigation interface, like in the video and music players, or the camera app, and even with chatting or typing messages. Not a breathtaking added value, but it's there, and wasn't present on the OG Fold.
How good are the actual displays? The external one on the Z Fold 2, called Cover Display, is with a bit squished aspect ratio, so its content-showing area is smaller than you'd expect from the touted 6.2" diagonal.
We've been getting increasingly used to these tall and narrow designs, as manufacturers don't leave us much choice in the name of ergonomics and "all-screen" designs but the keyboard on the external screen feels very cramped when you have to shoot back a reply or share something with one hand and don't want to open the phone to do it.
On the other hand, the narrow Cover Display makes for a very narrow phone when closed, surprisingly usable when holding it with one hand, and frolicking around, better than the Note 20 Ultra, in any case. The fingerprint scanner on the side works like a charm, and we actually prefer it this way, as the under-display ultrasonic one that Samsung uses for its flagships, is slower than the good ol' capacitive one of the Z Fold 2.
Our display benchmarks of the cover screen showed a panel worthy to be your daily driver, with high peak brightness, correct white balance, and good color representation. This is important, as that's the screen you may be using most often on the Z Fold 2 if out and about. Unfortunately, it's a 60Hz affair, but baby steps.
The star of the show, the 7.6" flexible main screen, gives away a bit in terms of brightness and color presentation, compared to the best rigid displays, as you can see in our measurements above, but it's still plenty bright for outdoor viewing, and has a white balance very close to the ideal reference point, no yellow or blue tints here.
The Main Display also has a new 120Hz adaptive refresh mode - a first for a foldable phone - that ups or lowers the refresh speed depending on the content shown to save on battery. That dynamic refresh has been lacking in the S20 series 120Hz panels, but was introduced in the Note 20 Ultra, and we are glad to see the smooth scrolling and uninterrupted interface flow have carried over to Samsung's Galaxy Z Fold 2, despite its bendy display nature. Does the 120Hz refresh work at full resolution? Still not, but it works well in the default mode, and is for us the biggest, most refreshing update a phone's screen can currently have.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2's performance and best multitasking features
120Hz screen is limited for media buffs, but great for browsing, Kindle-ing, and multitasking
Here are the best new app multitasking features that the Z Fold 2's foldable design and Flex modes allow:
- Use Gmail, YouTube, Spotify, Outlook or native apps in a split mode between content and interface in Flex mode.
- Work on Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or PowerPoint presentations with PC-like toolbars.
- Advanced Multi-Active Window mode lets you open 3 apps (from 11 supported) or files from the same app (Samsung Notes, Internet, Myfiles, or Office apps) in flexible layouts.
- Drag and drop content between app windows (Gallery, Internet, Message, Myfiles, Notes, Microsoft and Google apps) with the Split Screen Capture option.
- App continuity - watch a YouTube video on the cover screen, swirl the phone and continue on the main screen with the comments on the bottom half.
This is a partial list of the one that we found to be ready for the enhanced Multi-Active window mode from the get-go, and Samsung promises that it will be adding more 3rd party apps to the optimized multitasking display list as time goes along. The split-screen mode works on the Cover Display, too, albeit with two apps side by side.
When unfurled, the main screen has the same almost square aspect ratio as other vertical foldables, but most apps nonetheless make very good use of it, with only a few popular apps like Instagram failing to visualize properly (but a soon-to-come update promises to fix that).
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 multimedia, gaming, sound and call quality
As one can expect from such a large phone when opened, the new stereo speakers work like a charm, and we found Samsung's claims of "enhanced stereo effect and clearer sound provided by high-dynamic dual speakers" to hold water in the end.
Call quality is excellent, too, with a generous earpiece pill tucked in the top frame emitting loud and clear voices in our convo, and a bunch of mics scattered all around the Z Fold 2 relaying our own voice strong and clean to the receiving end. Those same mics did a stellar stereo sound capture job while recording video, too.
Unfortunately, when it comes to playback, YouTube and other videos needn't apply, of course, as they are mostly shot with a 16:9 aspect, losing almost half of the screen in the displaying process.
Ditto for a lot of games, and we were especially miffed about Samsung's Xbox Pass partnership, as your Xbox controller can be hooked to the Z Fold 2 to play Halo, but it shows with two thick black strips as it's not meant for square displays, bummer. Oh, the PowerA MOGA XP5-X Plus controller clip that is bundled with that is too tight for the open Z Fold 2, so you'd need to play from afar and with the phone propped.
- Read all about the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 gaming, video, YouTube and Netflix display experience
For reading in the Kindle app, skimming large documents, or browsing Facebook and websites, however, the 7.6" display is a delight to use compared to your typical smartphone screen, what with the huge canvas, and the oily 120Hz scrolling.
As for system and processor performance that makes this heavy multitasking possible, both our Galaxy Z Fold 2's synthetic benchmarks and real-life observation indicate that it's as good as it gets - Snapdragon 865+, 12GB RAM and all. In fact, its scores got beat only by souped-up gaming phones like the Asus ROG 3 with its overclocked 865+ and a bunch of extra cooling solutions.
We are a bit miffed that a phone of this class and price comes with 256GB of base storage, and the 512GB model is extra, unlike the OG Fold but it's still plenty of storage to work with. The available storage is quite a bit less, of course, as all those new multitasking and camera features come at a space.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 camera and video samples quality
Main camera selfies, a new era. Oh, the rest of the shots are great, too.
The best new Galaxy Z Fold 2 multitasking features in the camera app:
- Scroll through already taken shots on one Main Screen half in the camera app, while previewing the next shot on the other half.
- Using the Main and Cover screens simultaneously with Dual Preview, so both photographer and subject see the shot preview.
- Take selfies with the quality of the main camera by using the Cover Screen as a viewfinder.
While seemingly having the same 12MP wide, ultra-wide and telephoto cameras as on the OG Fold, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 carries important upgrades when it comes to sensor sizes. The main 12MP camera, for instance, has a new sensor with larger - 1.8 vs 1.4 micron pixels - resulting in better low-light photography. The ultra-wide angle 12MP camera also has larger pixels, indicating a new sensor on board, while the telephoto shooter seems to have been inherited from its predecessor.
The pictures from the rear cameras turned out great, with very good dynamic range coverage that exposes both brighter areas like the clouds in the sky, and the shady ones like bushes well. The colors are a bit on the yellowish and saturated side, as we are accustomed to on Samsung phones but this is by no means a dis in their direction, as most people prefer jolly, warm hues in their shots.
Samsung's typical overzealous sharpening is present, too, with the result a bit noisy but well-defined object borders, with a bit of visible edge artifacts only if you zoom in the photo. Again, people prefer their photos sharp and detailed, instead of soft and pure, so the Galaxy Z Fold 2 strikes the right balance. When it comes to dimly-lit environments, though, like bars and clubs, the picture quality drops precipitously, main camera or not, to the tune of blurry, barely usable photos but that's a common theme for all but the very best of phone cameras.
When it comes to the selfie cameras, however, the colors are vastly different, more subdued and realistic, but not as punchy as we'd like. Plus, the biggest advantage of the foldable phone design when it comes to cameras, is that you can take selfie with the main one, using the Cover Display as a viewfinder. The process is not very intuitive, but the results are stellar, as you can see towards the end of our camera samples gallery below
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 daylight, night, macro, selfie, zoom and portrait camera samples
The phone doesn't take advantage of the Snapdragon 865+ abilities to process 8K video recording, on account of the fact that it simply doesn't sport as high of a camera resolution as is needed to record footage with that many pixels. 8K video needs at least a 32MP camera, and the Z Fold 2 tops out at 12MP, not that it's a huge loss considering the storage space and resources that it takes to record and save such a high-def video, but still...
The 4K footage looks gorgeous, though, both at 60fps and 30fps, as you can see below, yet history shows that you will mostly be recording in the default 1080p mode that looks equally stunning, with excellent image stabilization, very fast focusing, and no visible recording artifacts.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 battery life and charging speed
Striking a good balance, very fast charging
The two Galaxy Z Fold 2 battery packs provide a combined capacity of 4500mAh vs the 4380mAh on the Galaxy Fold. The battery allows for 15W wireless charging and 25W fast charging with the adapter in the box which in Samsung's case takes about an hour to fill a big battery, regardless if it's the 5000mAh one on the S20 Ultra, or the 4500mAh capacity of the Note 20 Ultra and Z Fold 2.
The phone also comes with Samsung's Wireless Power Share which is known generically as reverse wireless charging that lets you top off your Galaxy Buds Live or Watch by simply placing them on top of the rear Z Fold 2's cover. Works like a charm in urgent scenarios, albeit with a 9W output, lessened with the efficiency losses on the way to the coil in your Watch 3.
Needless to say, the huge main display, especially in its 120Hz mode, is a bit of a battery hog, so we clocked about 7 hours of browsing and scrolling, or YouTube watching on it which is still a fine result considering the size and resolution. The Cover Display, however, is very frugal, and, considering that you will be spending a lot of time on it when out and about, the Z Fold 2 manages to strike the right battery life balance.
At the beginning, however, you only want to use the big, beautiful, unfurling screen, whether for bragging rights, or simply for the marvel of it, and battery life will drop precipitously, especially if you are gaming or reading outside at peak brightness.
Check out all the relevant Galaxy Z Fold 2 content below, for the best deals and key comparisons:
- Best Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 5G deals and prices at Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, or Best Buy
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 gaming, YouTube and Netflix video display experience
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: classic vs cosmic
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- Microsoft Surface Duo vs Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2, it's not even funny