Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 review: the foldable for everyone

 

Verdict:

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 has fully instilled my confidence in foldable smartphones. Compact, robust and well-made, the phone has the power to handle demanding tasks and features all-day battery life. The folding display enables a few nifty tricks and turns the phone into its own stand, handy for taking pictures alone or using it as a spotlight. Although the Flip 4 is an incremental upgrade over last year’s Flip 3, the increased battery and storage capacity are all welcome features.
Pros:

  • Gorgeous 120Hz folding display
  • The cover display is small but handy
  • Good cameras
  • Compact and fits anywhere
  • Foldable body enables cool features and feels well-made
  • Powerful hardware
  • All-day battery life
  • 5 years of software support
Cons:

  • Battery life is still shorter than slab flagship phones
  • Other flagships have better cameras
  • One-handed operation can be challenging
  • No adaptive brightness for the cover display

 

 

 

Reviewers need to examine every product with an objective eye, but it’s sometimes difficult to abandon preconceived reservations. Given the relatively new state of the foldable smartphone market, and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 being the first foldable smartphone I’ve ever tested, I was wary of it being just a novelty.

To my relief, Samsung’s Flip 4 passed my tests with flying colours and really showcased just how far foldables have come since their first entry into the market just three years ago.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 Specifications

Device Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4 Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G
Display  

Main display: 6.7-inch, 2,640 x 1,080 Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz

Cover display: 1.9-inch, 512 x 260 Super AMOLED Display

 

Main display: 6.7-inch, 2,640 x 1,080 Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz

Cover display: 1.9-inch, 512 x 260 Super AMOLED Display

SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1+ Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Camera Rear:

Ultrawide – 12MP, f/ 1.8

Main – 12MP, f/ 2.2

Pinhole selfie camera: 10MP, f/ 2.4

Rear:

Ultrawide – 12MP, f/ 1.8

Main – 12MP, f/ 2.2

Pinhole selfie camera: 10MP, f/ 2.4

Memory 8GB 8GB
Storage 128GB/256GB/512GB 128GB/256GB
Battery 3,700mAh 3,300 mAh
OS Android 12 Android 12
Security Fingerprint sensor in power button, basic 2D face recognition Fingerprint sensor in power button, basic 2D face recognition
Durability IPX8 IPX8
Dimensions and weight 187g

Closed – 71.9 x 84.9 x 17.1mm

Open – 71.9 x 165.2 x 6.9mm

183g

Closed -72.2 x 86.4 x 17.1mm

Open – 72.2 x 166.0 x 6.9mm

 

Price
C$1,260 C$1,130 at launch, around C$964 on Amazon

 

Design

The cover display is just as important as the main display. It lets me control music, view recent notifications, send simple replies and even use the camera.

When unfolded, the Flip 4 is as slim as any other smartphone.

A fingerprint sensor power button and a volume rocker sit on the left side. There’s a small gap at the hinge when the phone’s folded.

On the bottom we see a USB-C port, a microphone array, and a bottom-firing speaker. The speaker works in tandem with the earpiece speaker to produce sound that’s loud enough to fill a small room. It’s also crystal clear in calls.

You can still answer calls with the phone folded, but it automatically answers them in speaker mode. Be prepared.

The outer shell is constructed using Corning’s durable Gorilla Glass Victus and has received a soft touch finish. In addition to adding grip, fingerprints barely stick to it. The top bar, containing the camera array and the cover display, provides a nice contrast to the design but attracts fingerprints.

The hinge feels very sturdy and held firmly at every angle. The thin bezels are slightly raised to add a bumper that prevents the two halves of the display from bumping into each other when the phone’s folded.

Display

This is what I spent the bulk of my time reviewing.

Setting the folding aspect aside for now, the Flip 4’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X Fold display sports a 2,640×1,080p resolution, rated at an impressive 1,000 nits peak brightness and 120Hz refresh rate. To enable the bendiness, the Flip 4 uses an Ultra Thin Glass (UTG) with a screen protector pre-applied. While the screen protector can be removed, it’s strongly recommended to keep it on, as even a small scratch could compromise the fragile base glass.

Unsurprisingly, the high refresh rate made scrolling and animations flow like a graceful stream. The colours themselves are quite saturated in vivid mode, but I was able to dial it back a touch by selecting the natural colour profile. Adding to the display’s impressive list of specs is a coveted HDR10+ certification.

The high brightness proved usable even directly under the midday sun, although at the default setting, the display is way too bright for comfort in the dark. For reasons unknown, the auto brightness adjustment doesn’t pull the brightness below 20 per cent. Samsung even included an “Extra dim” mode tucked away in the Accessibility settings. Not entirely sure why this couldn’t be a part of the automated process.

With Dynamic Refresh Rate turned on, the main display’s refresh rate ramps up to 120Hz whenever the user touches the display. When it’s displaying a static image or sitting idle, the refresh rate falls to 24Hz. When streaming or typing, the refresh rate sits at 60Hz.

Moving the attention onto the crease. Yes, it’s still there, though it’s nearly imperceptible when viewed perpendicularly. However, the creased area does exhibit colour distortion when viewed at around 60 degrees. The colour change is most noticeable on white backgrounds. I didn’t find it irritating, just an intrusion that I noticed at times when the phone is laying flat.

crease on the Flip 4's folding display
The crease on the Flip 4 becomes visible when viewed at an angle against a white background. Image credit: Tom Li

Samsung’s decision to include a cover display has paid off in dividends. I believe it’s a key reason behind the popularity of Samsung’s foldable phones (we’ll get to the other reason later). Nested next to the Flip 4’s rear camera array is a 1.9-inch touchscreen. Through it, I can view my recent notifications, check the time, control music, and even take selfies using the rear cameras. Although limited, this set of functions and widgets greatly enhances the phone’s usability; just imagine how cumbersome it would be to have to unfold it for every notification.

With that said, since the cover display lacks an ambient light sensor, it can’t automatically adjust its brightness according to its environment. There were several occasions during testing when the sun overpowered the display, rendering it illegible. The saving grace is that I could adjust the display brightness manually through the cover display.

Performance

The Flip 4 comes with the speedy Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 system-on-chip (SoC), 8GB of memory, and up to 512GB of storage.

As expected, the device achieved excellent performance in synthetic benchmarks, scoring 721 in Geekbench’s single-core test and 3731 in multicore, seating it as one of the fastest phones I’ve tested. Its graphics score was equally impressive, clocking in at 2,846 in UL 3DMark Extreme’s Wild Life Extreme test. Its storage speed peaked at 1,288MB/s read and 236MB/s write.

Those numbers translated to a sublime experience in all my daily workloads. Whether it be launching complex apps or multitasking, the phone handled it without a hitch. And although it comes with “just” 8GB of memory, I never once experienced app crashes or slowdowns. With that said, the area around the camera can become warm when running more intensive workloads, such as gaming. It never reached an uncomfortable level, but it is noticeable.

Camera

The Flip 4 comes with one 12MP wide and a 12MP ultrawide camera. The telephoto versus ultrawide debate is still hot as the day it started. Personally, I’d have preferred a telephoto, but that’s only because I need to zoom in on speakers at events.

The camera array sits flush with the cover display. Image credit: Tom Li

In good lighting, the Galaxy Flip 4 produces excellent images from both of its shooters. The main camera in particular captures excellent detail and offers excellent depth of field. In some shots, however, the bokeh effect can appear a little unnatural. I’m not entirely sure if this is from the actual aperture in the lens or through post-processing.

Main camera image samples

Click on the image for full-res image samples. Image credit: Tom Li

The ultrawide camera, on the other hand, handles landscape scenes with impressive dynamic range. The software effects easily captured vibrant colours and recovered details in shadows when shooting directly into the sun. Although when it comes to sharp, contrasting colours, it can sometimes exhibit fringing. Notice the purple discolouration around the green leaves and branches against the blue sky in the shot below.

Ultrawide camera image samples

Click on the image for full-res image samples. Image credit: Tom Li

Night mode performance varies between the two cameras. It sometimes gets stunning shots and makes almost no difference in others. The ultrawide camera likes to apply weird tinting in night mode, skewing colours.

Low-light image samples

Click on the image for full-res image samples. Image credit: Tom Li

The pinhole front camera is just average. It’s good enough for video calls and selfies in decent lighting, but details can become a bit blotchy in lower lighting, and colours muted. With that said, it does provide a decent edge definition so the subject is never completely lost.

It’s not the nearly invisible under-display camera on the Galaxy Z Fold 4, but the pinhole front camera isn’t obtrusive either. Image credit: Tom Li

Samsung’s default camera app provides tons of functions that take advantage of AI processing. Features like object eraser helped me remove distracting objects in pictures without resorting to a clunkier editing app. It can also extract text from images, and straighten out images taken at an angle. I found this helpful when capturing pictures of presentations and slideshows.

Battery

I can confidently say that the Flip 4’s 3,700mAh battery can last all day. A full charge logged about 5.5 hours of screen-on time, give or take 30 minutes depending on my routine. As a writer, my day is filled with copious emails, social media, messaging, calling, and watching videos. When I’m out and about, I rely on my phone to navigate through mapping and ride-hailing apps. It’s also an invaluable tool for recording interviews, capturing events, and taking snapshots of speakers.

When the phone enters power saving mode, it locks the display refresh rate to 60Hz. I’d like to see Samsung limit the peak frame rate instead, to allow the phone to still lower the frame rate when displaying static elements. Honestly, I didn’t notice a massive battery life improvement when I manually set the refresh rate to 60Hz, but I did notice that scrolling and animations became choppier.

Software and support

The Galaxy Z Flip 4 uses Samsung’s operating system based on Android 12. At the time of writing, Android 13 is already on the way. Samsung has promised four major software feature updates and five years of security updates for the device.

Overall, Samsung’s interface is very clean. Most of the settings can be accessed with a couple of taps in the Settings app.

A handy taskbar makes all the frequently accessed apps available at all times. It can be turned on or off. Image credit: Tom Li

There are several additional nifty features to spice things up. A persistent sidebar can be accessed by swiping in from the edge, providing instant access to the most frequently accessed apps. The software also offers the ability to set up dual accounts for popular social media apps like WhatsApp and Messenger, which can be extremely helpful for setting up work and personal accounts on one device. Bixby is unfortunately still tethered to the power button by default, but that can be easily restored to power options in settings.

Moreover, there are some extra cool features, like background blur in video apps, that are offered by the device itself. Samsung does a pretty good job of showing the phone’s hidden capabilities through the tutorial app.

With that said, I must mention the popup ads that occasionally fill up my notifications or even show up as floating windows. This is the most intrusive aspect of the software and I do wish that Samsung would put a stop to this. I don’t need to be reminded to upgrade to the Flip 4 when I’m using it.

Pricing and competition

Unfortunately, a big chunk of foldable competition is centralized overseas. While foldable offerings from companies like Oppo are enticing alternatives to Samsung’s, many of them can’t install the Google Play Store. They’re also difficult to purchase since they aren’t sold through major retailers and carriers, whereas Samsung devices are readily available.

That leaves just a couple of competing products in North America. Besides Samsung’s own Fold Series, the closest direct competitor is the Motorola Razr. The issue is that the Razr was released in 2020, and the appeal offered by its 48MP camera is offset by its anemic 2,800mAh battery. Its SoC, an aging Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, is also leagues behind the top-shelf chip inside the Flip 4. The final nail in the coffin is its price. The phone is actually more expensive than the Flip 4 on Amazon, the only trustworthy outlet where it’s available.

The other is the Microsoft Surface Duo 2. It isn’t as cool as the Flip 4 and Fold4 in that it offers two separate halves instead of a unified folding display, but it does run Android, has three beefy cameras, a 120Hz display, and is more affordable than either the Fold 4 and Flip 4. It also has a much larger battery, rated at 4,449mAh. Although its specs sound impressive, the Surface Duo 2 is also much clunkier and less intuitive because it lacks a cover display. That omission forces users to have to open the device for any interaction, leading to frustration when used with one hand.

Finally, there’s the last generation Galaxy Flip3. As welcome as the larger battery and faster processor are, owners of the Flip3 shouldn’t rush out to upgrade. The camera performance is relatively the same, and its hardware should still be perfectly adequate for another couple of years.

Conclusion

After almost a month of rigorous hands-on, I’d have no qualms with using the Galaxy Flip 4 as my daily driver. The bigger battery and its 5 hours of screen-on time assuaged my fear that it would die halfway through the day. Moreover, its solid-feeling hinge and gorgeous display eliminated my doubts about the display’s reliability. I never felt like I was going to damage the device even as I mindlessly bent it.

With that said, I will caution that I only had the phone for a month. One component that deteriorated the fastest in the last generation was the screen protector, an essential safeguard that ensures the integrity of the delicate folding glass it’s layered over. It remains to be seen how the screen protector in this generation will hold up.

More than just compressing its size, the bendiness also turns the phone into its own stand. This can be helpful for streamers and for taking group photos. The two cameras were capable in daylight, but shooting at night can cause them to become a bit inconsistent.

The phone doubles as its own stand. Most apps can be set to automatically take up half of the screen when the phone folds at 90 degrees. Image credit: Tom Li

I’d be remiss without highlighting some of its shortcomings. Although the Flip line’s battery is getting better every iteration, it still can’t hold a candle to non-folding phablets that can last for more than a day. The Flip’s cameras also fall short when compared to other flagships. And at C$1,260, it must contend with other traditional smartphones with better core features.

If I had to summarize the Samsung Galaxy Flip 4 with one sentence, it would be that it’s almost there. It’s astoundingly impressive that Samsung has developed its folding phone into what it is today.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Tom Li
Tom Li
Telecommunication and consumer hardware are Tom's main beats at IT World Canada. He loves to talk about Canada's network infrastructure, semiconductor products, and of course, anything hot and new in the consumer technology space. You'll also occasionally see his name appended to articles on cloud, security, and SaaS-related news. If you're ever up for a lengthy discussion about the nuances of each of the above sectors or have an upcoming product that people will love, feel free to drop him a line at [email protected]

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