Toybox: A compelling mix of nostalgia and style in Samsung's Flip
Apple's iPhone 13 line-up was met with an ambivalent shrug by reviewers and even diehard Apple fans when it appeared last month.
The iPhone 13 Pro may have one of the best cameras you will find in a phone. But it's really just a tweaked iPhone 12. Everyone is eager for Apple to show the way ahead with a format that departs from the boring glass rectangle.
But each year, the formula is repeated. The king of smartphones has resisted any sort of radical departure from what has been vastly successful to date.
For a hint of where Apple may go, you have to look to the rival Android camp and its dominant player Samsung. Yes, Samsung produces a new version of its Galaxy S flagship phone each year that also looks much like last year's model.
But it has another line-up, the Z series, where it is prepared to tackle the glass rectangle problem. Samsung is the only phone maker that's made headway with foldable screens, the only fundamental smartphone format innovation in years.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip is a square coaster-sized phone that when closed resembles a clamshell model from the mid-2000s. When open, it expands to look like a regular-size smartphone.
There's a faint crease that gives away the fold mark when the screen catches the light in a certain way. The flexing glass is thinner than a regular screen but just as accurate to the touch and the 6.7 inch full HD (high definition) display beneath it is as bright and detailed as you'd expect for a high-end phone.
In every other respect, the Z Flip is a regular smartphone. It's just easier to fit in your pocket and because it is closed most of the time, it discourages that impulse to constantly glance at the screen.
The statement it makes is this: you don't need to constantly look at me, but when you need to, I'll do everything you expect of me.
The new Z Flip3 5G is actually only the second version of Samsung's foldable phone and some key improvements give it so much more appeal. To start with, the price has dropped a hefty $700 to $1,599. That still puts it in the premium phone category, but finally worth considering as an alternative to the Galaxy S21 5G ($1,399).
This model feels more robust, from the glass-backed case to the all-important hinge. The Z Flip3 is now also waterproofed, removing a major vulnerability.
When closed, a small colour screen displays the time, date, battery life as well as alerts and reminders. It's a touchscreen that you can add widgets to for convenient access to your phone's key functions when it is closed.
While the Z Flip3 has the core processor and memory specifications you'd expect of a premium phone, you do need to make some sacrifices, namely in battery life and camera functions. It has a much smaller battery than the Galaxy S21, just enough to get through the day with moderate use.
The camera set-up, positioned at the edge of the outside screen produces good results. But if photography is your thing, you'll be craving for more options, such as a telephoto lens.
The Z Flip3's killer app is flex mode, which lets you position the hinge to sit the phone at your desired angle. This is most effective for making video calls, but a split-screen function also lets you monitor two apps at once, a feature that will grow in appeal as more apps arrive that support it
Samsung also has the Z Fold3, a much larger proposition in every respect. It folds out to display a 7.6 inch screen and costs $2,699. It's overkill, in my view, unless you are likely to spend a lot of time watching videos or working on documents on the move.
The Flip feels like a format that's here to stay, one that even Apple might draw inspiration from.
Samsung Z Flip3 ($1,599)
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