Galaxy Z Fold 2 realizes the foldable phone dream: My thoughts so far

Galaxy Z Fold 2 realizes the foldable phone dream: My thoughts so far

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The Galaxy Z Fold 2 foldable phone is in a class of its own.


Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

From the moment I slid off the sleeve and opened the box, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 hasn’t disappointed. I’ve only spent a day with Samsung’s third foldable phone and sequel to the original Galaxy Fold, but already it’s delivered on its promise of demonstrating that a foldable phone isn’t just a $2,000 tech toy (£1,799 in the UK, which is about AU$3,270), but a device that has real-world value beyond a status symbol for wealthy technocrats.

Before we get into that, let me make one thing clear — this is not a device for the everyday user. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a niche, aspirational foldable phone that opens into a tablet. it isn’t water-resistant. It comes with a long list of care instructions, and when I gripped its 7.6-inch ultrathin screen to take a selfie using a special feature (more below), I worried my nails were clawing into the fragile glass. (It seems fine.)

But here’s why I’ll give the Z Fold 2 some leeway that I didn’t give to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which is a powerhouse phone I nevertheless find overpriced for what it is. The Z Fold 2 is a unique phone on the cutting edge of technology that addresses and overhauls every major Galaxy Fold flaw. If the Fold was a beta device, a blueprint for a risky product that could royally bust, the Z Fold 2 is just as radical in its attempt to realize the dream. It may not wind up proving that foldable phones should be mainstream, but from what I’ve seen in my short time with the device, it has demonstrated that foldable phones should at least be taken seriously.


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The fact that the Z Fold 2 costs just about the same as the first Fold helps, even though there aren’t any other bundled goodies in the box (more at the end). On the one hand, a $2,000 luxury device feels out of place in the coronavirus pandemic and global recession. On the other hand, even if most people would never dream of buying it, it’s exciting to follow along.

Galaxy Z Fold 2 preorders are open now and the phone goes on sale Sept. 18. Read on for everything I love so far and all the specs, hands-on photos and more. Since this is a developing review, keep in mind that opinions are subject to change as the review period progresses.

Day 1: The 5 best Galaxy Z Fold 2 features

An external screen you can actually use. A larger, 6.2-inch display that takes up the entire outer screen looks great in closed position and makes the phone easier to use when you want to type quick replies one-handed or snap and immediately share a photo. I’ve already used it a lot this way in one day. Since the dimensions are tall and narrow, the keyboard is tiny, but it works.

Flexible hinge could be the killer feature. I’ll be the first to agree that screen technology literally makes or breaks a foldable phone, but for me, the Z Fold 2 is all about the hinge. Using carryover technology from the much smaller Galaxy Z Flip, the Z Fold 2 is stiff enough for the two sides to stay open at a variety of angles (Samsung calls this Flex Mode), which means it can prop itself while you take a video call, watch the screen hands-free or shoot photos. This was the most stellar part of the Z Flip and could very well be the Z Fold 2’s most valuable and identifying feature.

Internal glass screen with no notch. Samsung’s most important change is to the internal screen. At 7.6 inches unfolded, the Z Fold 2 features an ultrathin glass cover material that should be stronger than the Fold’s plastic display — and, crucially, less prone to phone-destroying damage. There’s still a factory-installed screen protector on top, but Samsung’s redesign seems to shore up the gaps that could cause an object to get stuck in the hinge or under the display. For example, when I bend the Fold 2, what looks like a fall-through gap is actually plugged in with plastic, with no space for my fingernail to poke through. Progress.

It’s also great to see the Z Fold 2 supports a 120Hz refresh rate, and I’m thrilled Samsung stripped out the original Fold’s thumb-shaped notch, which gives the Z Fold 2’s internal screen much more usable real estate.

Multitasking makes sense now. Splitting the Z Fold 2’s large 7.6-inch display into multiple panes makes perfect sense for a device of this type, but on the original Fold, it didn’t work as well as it should have. Now you get more flexibility in how you arrange and resize up to three apps on the screen (this is called Multi-Active Window), and you can set up a pair of apps (currently from a limited list) to open side by side. YouTube, Gmail, Spotify and mIcrosoft office apps will automatically get a tablet-like split-screen view with a sidebar and main app pane. 

Multitasking on the Z Fold 2 has gotten smarter.


Samsung

It actually feels like a premium phone. Perhaps my main complaint with the original Fold was that it strived so hard to be refined, but was so limited by the available technology, it felt like plastic trying to convince you it was steel. That’s not the case with the Z Fold 2, whose Gorilla Glass Victus outer screen, burnished metal frame and sturdy hinge help keep the materials feeling polished and sleek.

Read on for even more  Z Fold 2 details, including which apps work with the phone when the Z Fold 2 is in Flex Mode, all the perks Samsung will give you for being a VIP foldable phone owner and every important feature and spec.

Galaxy Z Fold 2 screen crease and cameras

All in all, the Z Fold 2 has the same essential design as the Galaxy Fold — it unfolds like a book into a tablet, with a vertical screen crease running from north to south along the display. Although the screen material is topped with ultrathin glass, a crease is still evident, just as it is on the Z Flip. I accept this as part of a foldable design, and I’ll keep an eye on it as I use the device to see when and how it might get in the way.

The Z Fold 2 uses an Infinity-O layout, which gives it a single 10-megapixel camera (on the right panel) as you unfold the phone. You get the same camera on the cover display when the device is closed, and a three-camera system on the back with 12-megapixel wide angle, ultra-wide angle and telephoto sensors. 

It’s disappointing you only get 2x optical zoom here, unlike the 3x and 5x optical zoom on the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra, respectively. There’s no 8K video. This is not a camera phone at the top of its class (although low light photos should be better than on the original Fold), and that’s likely a decision Samsung made to help keep costs in check.

However, there are two camera features I’m excited to use. I already tried Dual Preview, which lets people on either side of the screen see what they look like before snapping the shot. I tried it out with a selfie and found that, while I liked it, it was awkward to use — at least while I was trying to also photograph the image so you could see what it looks like.

There’s also adaptive auto-framing will register if two or more people are detected in frame. If it detects more than three people, the algorithm will automatically switch from the main camera to the ultra-wide sensor.

Flex Mode: More about the flexible hinge and which apps work 

With the Galaxy Z Flip, Samsung started making my foldable phone dream a reality with a self-supporting screen that doesn’t snap shut or flop open until you really want it to. It can prop itself open from a range of 75 to 115 degrees, according to Samsung, though it might be even more flexible than that.

Samsung also said it’s tightened the gaps and shortened the hinge height to keep out more dust and debris using the same “sweeper” technology found in the Galaxy Z Flip clamshell.

The Galaxy Z Fold 2’s hinge can stand upright all on its own.


Samsung

You can use any app in Flex Mode, but only some of them will respond to the bend in the screen and adjust. These include YouTube and Google Duo along with native Samsung apps such as the camera, video call, clock, gallery, video player and calendar. 

I’ve already used it to prop the phone up and read a page, or bend it slightly in half to make the keyboard narrower and easier to type on. This one’s going to take some time to settle into with this screen size, so stay tuned.

Battery life is a serious question mark

One thing I know I’ll keep an eye on is battery life, especially with a 120Hz screen. The Z Fold 2 has a dual-battery system that brings you a combined capacity of 4,500 mAh in two separate battery cells: 2,155 mAh and 2,345 mAh, respectively.

This is the same battery capacity as the Note 20 Ultra (6.9-inch screen), whose battery life seems good — but not great — in daily life. Separate battery cells are inherently less efficient than one larger battery, so it will be interesting to see how the supercharged refresh rate works on such a large screen. For context, the smaller Note 20 Ultra certainly made it through the day, but it didn’t impress me with its longevity.

Now we’re taking the Note 20 Ultra’s battery capacity and applying it to a phone with a full-size 6.2-inch screen in addition to a 7.6-inch display, so it could be potentially less efficient. As with the Note 20 Ultra, the Z Fold 2 will use an adaptive 120Hz screen, which means it’ll kick into high gear for smooth scrolling and drop down to 60Hz when you’re staring at a static image. While 120Hz is known to drain battery faster than 60Hz, this adaptive setting should help keep battery drain under control. The question is, how much? 

I don’t have any observations on this yet since the phone was at about 40% when I unboxed it and I used it throughout the day. The true test will start at a 100% morning while I monitor it throughout the day. Rest assured, I have my eye on it.

Just a glimpse of the Z Fold 2.


Samsung

Drag and drop, new layouts

The Z Fold 2 allows drag and drop between certain apps (including Gmail, Chrome, Microsoft Outlook and Samsung native apps). It also makes it possible to move back and forth with apps: You can start on one screen and continue to watch on the other.

You’ll also be able to select different screen layouts for the outer and inner screens. As with the original Fold, you’ll be able to open any app from the outer screen to use on the inner display.

You can customize the Fold’s hinge color — again

You can buy the Z Fold 2 in mystic bronze and mystic black, and customize the hinge in metallic red, silver, gold or blue. Note that it could takes up to 5 weeks for a custom phone to arrive.

This isn’t the first time Samsung has offered Fold hinge customization. The original Fold was sold in martian green and astro blue before the Fold screen disaster that saw production minimized and those flashy colors pulled. I originally customized my martian green purchase with a gold hinge. Hopefully this time around we’ll see those custom colors shine.

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The original Galaxy Fold came in two colors that never made it to launch, and it let you customize the hinge color.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Galaxy Z Fold 2: What you don’t get

A foldable phone is a device of trade-offs. There’s no waterproofing, no 512GB storage option, no microSD storage card or in-screen fingerprint reader (it’s integrated into the power button).

Unlike last year’s Galaxy Fold, you won’t get wireless or wired earbuds in the box (you can specifically request wired USB-C AKG headphones from Samsung) and there’s no free case.

Samsung’s VIP foldable Z Premiere treatment

Samsung has expanded its VIP club for foldable phones. Anyone who buys a Z Fold 2, Fold or Z Flip (including the new Z Flip 5G) gets access to the program.

  • Galaxy Z Concierge program for on-demand customer service and consultation
  • First-time screen replacement of $149
  • Six months of LinkedIn Premium
  • FoundersCard benefits: 12 month membership when you preorder. After launch, you get six months free
  • A prepared meal from a Michelin starred restaurant through Tock
  • Fairway Pass Elite through ClubCorp, which gives you access to golf clubs
  • Six months of Obe Fitness online workouts
  • $50 off Glamsquad in-home hair service

Galaxy Z Fold 2 versus Galaxy Fold vs Galaxy Z Flip

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 Samsung Galaxy Fold Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
Display size, resolution External 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED; Internal: 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED; External: 2260 x 816 pixels Internal: 2208 x 1768 Internal: 7.3-inch Dynamic AMOLED; 2,152×1,536-pixels (plastic) / External: 4.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED; 1,680×720-pixels (Gorilla Glass 6) Internal: 6.7-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED; 2,636×1,080-pixels / External: 1.1-inch Super AMOLED; 300×112-pixels
Pixel density 386ppi + 373ppi 362ppi (internal screen) 425ppi (internal) / 303ppi (external)
Dimensions (Inches) Folded: 2.67 x 6.26 x 0.6 in (Hinge) ~ 0.54 in(Sagging), Unfolded: 5.04 x 6.26 x 0.27 in(Frame) ~ 0.23 in(Screen) Folded: 6.3 x 2.5 x 0.6 in / Unfolded: 6.3 x 4.6 x 0.3 in Folded: 2.99 x 3.44 x 0.62 ~ 0.68 in / Unfolded: 2.99 x 6.59 x 0.27 ~0.28 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) Folded: 68.0 x 159.2 x 16.8mm (Hinge) ~ 13.8mm(Sagging), Unfolded: 128.2 x 159.2 x 6.9mm(Frame) ~ 6.0mm(Screen) Folded: 62.8 x 161 x 15.7mm ~ 17.1mm / Unfolded: 117.9 x 161 x 6.9mm ~ 7.6mm Folded: 73.6 x 87.4 x 15.4 ~17.3 mm / Unfolded: 73.6 x 167.3 x 6.9 ~ 7.2 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 9.95 oz; 282 grams 9.7 oz; 276g 6.46 oz; 183g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 9.0 with Samsung One UI Android 10
Camera 12-megapixel (main) + 12-megapixel (wide angle) + 12 megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 16-megapixel (ultra wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (ultra wide-angle)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel, 10-megapixel Two 10-megapixel, 8-megapixel 3D depth 10-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K (HDR 10+) 4K (HDR 10+)
Processor Snapdragon 865 Plus Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ (64-bit octa-core)
Storage 256GB 512GB 256GB
RAM 12GBRAM 12GB 8GB
Expandable storage No No None
Battery 4,500 mAh 4,380mAh 3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Side Power button Power button
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No No
Special features Foldable display, 120Hz refresh rate, wireless charging support, Foldable display, wireless charging, fast charging Foldable display; wireless PowerShare; wireless charging; fast charging
Price off-contract (USD) $1,999 $1,980 $1,380
Price (GBP) Converts to £1,480 £2,000 £1,300
Price (AUD) Converts to $AU 2,710 AU$2,950 AU$2,999


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