Galaxy Z Fold 2 Review: Smartphones are exciting again

Ever since the original iPhone ushered in the modern smartphone era more than a decade ago, smartphones have rarely deviated from the single screen slab design. Sure, cameras get a little better and phones get a little faster year over year, but the fundamental way in which you use a smartphone hasn’t changed, writes Krishan Sharma.

Foldables and dual-screen phones change that narrative entirely. Samsung essentially invented the foldable category with the debut of the original Galaxy Z Fold in 2019 – a pocketable smartphone that can be opened like a book and turned into a big screen tablet. Other manufacturers such as Microsoft with the Surface Duo and LG with the V50 take a slightly different approach by adding a second screen instead of one big folding one, letting you do more than one thing at a time. Irrespective of whether it is a foldable or a dual-screen phone, the goal is to empower users to do more on their smartphone by giving them substantially more screen real estate.

Durability concerns marred the launch of the original Galaxy Z Fold but Samsung has come back strong with the sequel by fixing many of the flaws of the original and adding some of the learnings from the Galaxy Z Flip to produce the most enticing and innovative phone in years.

Galaxy Z Fold 2 hands on

Design: Night and day

The original Galaxy Z Fold in many ways resembled an engineering prototype rather than a finished product with a tiny exterior screen that made it hard to use as a smartphone and a fragile interior screen that made it tenuous to use when open. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 on the other hand, looks and feels like an ultra premium device befitting its $3,000 price tag.

The back of the phone aesthetically resembles the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra right down to the copper bronze finish. As was the case with the Note 20 Ultra, the frosted matte finish that feels nicer to the touch and keeps fingerprints at bay, is exclusive to the bronze colour option and not the black colourway. Customers who order the phone directly through the Samsung website have the option to customise the phone’s hinge colour, however, this will add an extra 4-5 weeks wait time to your order.

At 816 pixels wide and 2260 pixels tall, the new 6.2-inch exterior screen is narrower than a regular smartphone display so that you can use the phone one handed to do quick smartphone things such as make calls, check sports scores, scroll through news feeds, perform Google searches, reply to text messages, flip through tracks on Spotify and even make video calls using the front holepunch camera. The on-screen keyboard can feel a bit cramped for typing anything substantial, but if you’re adept at swiping (where you drag your finger from letter to letter without lifting it from the keyboard) you should have no issues.

Even though it is twice as thick and weighs almost 100 grams more than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I found the Z Fold 2 much easier to hold and operate one-handed.

Unfolding the phone – a process which requires two hands – you’re greeted with a gorgeously  bright 7.6-inch OLED display that runs at a buttery smooth 120Hz and this is where the utility of the device really opens up (more on that later).

The unsightly forehead of cameras that flanked the inner display of its predecessor has been replaced by a near bezeless screen and a holepunch camera. The aspect ratio and weight distribution is such that you can comfortably hold the phone while open with one hand irrespective of whether you’re holding it in portrait or landscape orientation, making it in many ways the ideal tablet. The stereo speakers sound great as well though it can distort at the highest volume level and lacks a bit of bass.

Galaxy Z Fold 2 in hands

Hardware: Improved durability

Samsung has brought across the ‘Ultra Thin Glass’ (UTG) material from the Galaxy Z Flip to the Fold 2 so the inner display isn’t as delicate this time around though keep in mind it isn’t as tough as the protective glass normally found on smartphones or the one found on the device’s outer display. That said, it is well protected when closed so you can throw it in your pocket or bag without worrying about damaging it.

On top of the UTG is a plastic layer followed by a pre-applied plastic screen protector so the display feels plastic to the touch and, just like other plastic screen protectors can be marked with a nail if you try. There’s also two plastic nubs on the edge of the display in addition to a border that juts out slightly to prevent the glass from shattering when closing the device. This means that there is still a tiny gap between the screens when folded which never really bothered me.

There is a new rubber brush mechanism inside the hinge to help prevent dust and debris from entering the internals of the phone and, as YouTuber JerryRigEverything proved in his teardown, it performs much better than its predecessor in this department. Keep in mind that unlike most other flagship smartphones, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 isn’t dust or water proof so trips to the beach are out of the question.

There is a visible crease where the device folds but much like the holepunch camera, you forget it’s there from the moment you start using the phone.

My main complaint with the inner display is that it doesn’t take long before the pre-applied screen protector starts to form air bubbles which is much more noticeable and distracting. My review unit began to show air bubbles within the first week and it’s something that seems unavoidable since the underlying display moves slightly every time you open and close the phone. The screen protector isn’t structurally integral to the display like it was in the original model so it can be removed without causing damage to the screen, however, Samsung doesn’t recommend it.

Instead the company advises customers to have the screen protector replaced by an ‘authorised Samsung Service Centre’ but unless you fancy doing so on a regular basis, it’s something you might have to learn to live with it which is far from ideal particularly for a phone that costs this much.

Most are likely to take their chances with the screen protector removed and Samsung does at least offer a one-off reduced cost of screen repair for $220 within the first year should the inner display get damaged.

Hopefully Samsung makes the pre-applied screen protector optional in the next version as it’s really the only thing that encumbers what is otherwise a stellar inner display.

The Galaxy Z Fold 2 doesn’t come with a case in the box or wireless earbuds which are notable omissions given the first model came with both. The cases that Samsung sells separately for the Galaxy Z Fold 2 also only protect the back of the phone and not the front display. The unique form factor of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 means that there isn’t a great deal of case options from third party accessory makers either at least at the time of writing.

If you plan on purchasing the Galaxy Z Fold 2, I would strongly recommend finding a case that protects both the front and back of the phone. While the front of the display is protected by Corning’s Victus Glass, which the glass maker claims can withstand drops of up to two metres, I found this not to be the case during my review period. The phone slipped out of my pocket while seated at my desk and landed on a tile floor causing the glass on the front display to crack from a less than one metre drop.

Overall, the design and durability of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is a night and day difference from the original Fold which is an impressive feat given the short 12 month gap between releases. The hinge feels solid and the satisfying clap it makes when closing the phone reminds me of the satisfaction I used to get from the flip phones of yesteryear. Samsung says the hinge is good for 200,000 folds which equates to five years of use if folded 100 times a day.

Galaxy Z Fold 2 on knee

Phone plans to pair with the Z Fold 2

If you’re interested in the Z Fold 2, you can pick it up through Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Woolworths Mobile on a plan. Picking the handset up on a plan might be an affordable solution for you, as you’d be paying the unit off over 12, 24 or 36 months, depending on the provider you go with and your chosen payment period. In the table below you’ll find postpaid plans that you can couple with the Z Fold 2 at the checkout.

Telstra Upfront plans

The following table shows selected published Telstra Upfront plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products with links to a referral partner.

Optus postpaid plans

The following table shows selected published postpaid Optus plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products that may have links to a referral partner.

Vodafone postpaid plans

The following table shows selected published postpaid Vodafone plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products that may have links to a referral partner.

Woolworths Mobile postpaid plans

The following table shows selected published postpaid Woolworths Mobile plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, from the lowest to highest and then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see plans from a range of other providers. This is a selection of products that may have links to a referral partner.

Battery life: Full day and then some

I was surprised with how well the battery performed during my two week review period. Most days I would end up on at least 30 percent charge with roughly six hours of screen on time, the majority of which was spent using the larger inner display. There’s also a 25W charger in the box so you can top up fairly quickly and a 4.5W reverse wireless charging for juicing up smaller accessories such as wireless buds.

Software: Toeing the line between smartphone and tablet

So what can you do with all that extra screen real estate afforded by that large inner display?

As with the original Fold, you can start any app on the outer screen and then open up the phone to pick up where you left off on the larger display. Playing a YouTube video on the exterior screen and then seeing the video continue playing without skipping a beat on the larger display still feels like magic. There were a few apps that would glitch out on occasion during the transition from the cover display to the inner display but it was mostly a seamless experience.

I gravitated to using the large internal display wherever I could since apps like Gmail give you more than one pane similar to a tablet or desktop layout where you can have a list of emails on the left and the current open email on the right. The inner display uses a split keyboard which puts letters within thumb range, making typing a breeze.

You can also use the screen folded in an L shape to enable what Samsung calls “Flex mode” where it splits some apps into two halves with different things on the upper and lower halves. My favourite is using YouTube in flex mode where the video plays up top and comments down below. The hinge will hold the device open between 75 and 115 degrees so it’s easy enough to find a comfortable angle for watching videos with the base of the phone serving double duty as a handy little stand. You can even play videos on the cover screen and prop it open like a kickstand.

The killer feature is the ability to run two apps side by side complete with drag and drop functionality. You can of course do split-screen with most Android phones nowadays including Samsung’s own Note 20 Ultra but smartphone screens are just too small to make more than one app on screen useful. The wide 7.6-inch display on the Z Fold 2 is perfect for it. Most apps support split-screen with my favourite combos being Gmail and calendar as well as Chrome and YouTube.

The only annoyance is that the phone won’t remember your split-screen state so if you close and reopen the phone, you will need to set it up again.

Almost every app I came across worked with split-screen mode barring a couple of big names such as Netflix and Instagram. However, I was able to get around this by downloading a little known app from Samsung called ‘Good Lock’ that adds a bunch of functionality to the Fold 2 such as forcing all apps to support split-screen, which worked perfectly. Not sure why Samsung doesn’t have this app pre-installed on every Fold 2.

Aside from Samsung and Microsoft apps, dragging and dropping text and images between apps in split-screen mode isn’t as widely supported and can also be a bit inconsistent. For example, I can drag and drop images from the phone’s Gallery into Gmail but I can’t do the same with text. I do hope more apps support drag and drop in the future as it is a great timesaver and goes a long way in making the Fold 2 feel less like a phone and more of a productivity device.

You can also have floating windows of other apps on top that can be tapped away into a bubble when not in use. Regardless of how many apps I had on screen, I never encountered any stutters in performance which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the 12GB of RAM and Snapdragon 865+ onboard.

Galaxy Z Fold 2 camera

Camera: Good but a step behind the best

I won’t be spending much time on the cameras as the triple rear camera array, which consists of a 12MP ultrawide, standard main lens and a 2x telephoto lens, are almost identical to the ones found on the Galaxy S20+. I say almost as I found the optical zoom handled low light situations noticeably better on the S20+ than on the Fold 2.

The cameras are more than adequate but are a step behind what the latest flagship phones can do – namely Samsung’s own Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The main thing I missed coming across from the Note 20 Ultra to the Galaxy Z Fold 2 wasn’t the 5x optical zoom or the 8K video recording but the stellar low light performance and natural looking background blur made possible by the larger 108MP sensor on the Note 20 Ultra. However, that would’ve meant a much more substantial camera hump on the Galaxy Z Fold 2 which is a tradeoff I’m not so sure most people would be willing to make with a phone of this size.

I did enjoy taking pictures and recording video more on the Fold 2 than any other smartphone as the unique foldable form factor allows you to do things like use the top half of the inner display as a viewfinder while the bottom half shows previews of your photos as you take them.

There are two 10MP selfie cameras located on each display and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is actually pretty great for video conferencing as well since the Fold 2’s hinge allows you to prop one side of the phone up at an angle while using the bottom half as a stand. With the Fold 2 you can also use the main rear camera as the selfie camera by simply unfolding the device and tapping a button while using the cover display for framing. It makes the Fold 2 the best smartphone for selfies and vlogging.

Final Verdict

If you think smartphones are getting stale or see foldables as nothing more than a gimmick, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 will turn you into a believer. The Z Fold 2 successfully unifies smartphone and tablet into the one extremely polished and cohesive device, redefining what a smartphone can do in the process.

It isn’t perfect of course – the lack of water and dust resistance and high price tag hurt the most. I also believe making it a little thinner would make the Fold 2 appealing to more people and I would also love to see Samsung incorporate the S-Pen from the Note line in a future version as it would really shine on a larger canvas that the Z Fold 2 offers.

However, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 gets most things right and considering that this is only Samsung’s third attempt at a foldable (after taking into account the Galaxy Z Flip), it’s an impressive achievement.

At $3,000, clearly the Galaxy Z Fold 2 isn’t for most people even if it will replace their phone and tablet. But if you have the means and have been waiting for the right time to get into foldables, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is it.

Pricing and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 is available now from Samsung, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Woolworths Mobile, JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman. The Galaxy Z Fold 2 starts at $2,999 and comes in one storage option (256GB) with two colour choices (bronze or black).

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