What’s old is hot again, and flip phones are so very hot right now.
These phones are a far cry from the phone that you mastered T9 texting on in college. Today’s flip phones are garden-variety 2023 smartphones that happen to fold in half — plus a screen on the front cover.
They’ve been making a kind of comeback over the past few years, but until now, they’ve existed in the shadows of their bigger, pricier fold-style counterparts. That’s understandable, considering that their small cover screens haven’t been good for much more than checking the weather and pressing pause on a podcast. But that’s all changing this year: in a round of updates from Motorola, Oppo, and very likely Samsung next, cover screens are getting much larger and way more useful. And that’s a big deal.
That’s a big deal
Samsung will likely announce its fifth-generation Z Fold 5 and Z Flip 5 this week at Unpacked, which has become its annual summer foldable-fest. They’ll be thinner and lighter than last year’s models — that’s what TM Roh told us, anyway — and will both likely use new hinges that fold totally flat. The Z Flip 5 is heavily rumored to come with a much bigger cover screen than previous generations. The Z Fold 5? Well, rumors point to a very boring update, frankly.
Don’t get me wrong. Fold-style phones are having a good year, too. We got the Google Pixel Fold after years of anticipation, and it turned out to be a success, at least by first-gen standards. Honor just launched a folding phone that’s nearly as thin and light as a regular phone, which is a big achievement on its own. OnePlus will likely enter the chat later this year and could bring some much-needed competition on price — the foldables sold in the US right now start at around $1,700.
But even this new crop of folding phones is basically a riff on what was already out there. They aren’t fundamentally different in terms of build than the past two years of Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold phones. They’re going to keep getting thinner, lighter, more durable (please?), and God willing, cheaper. But in four years, they probably won’t look vastly different than they do now. Flippables, on the other hand, are undergoing a more radical transformation.
The previous generation of flip-style phones felt like a regular phone with a smartwatch on the front — good for checking quick information but not a lot more. The new flippable cover screens sit in a more comfortable place between a smartwatch and a full-size phone.
They’re big enough to provide a lot more information at a glance than a watch, but you can’t comfortably do everything you’d do on a normal phone screen. As a result, you get a little bit of your attention back that you would have spent mindlessly scrolling Instagram when all you wanted to do was check the weather.
On the other hand, a folding phone gives you a standard-size screen on the outside and a tablet-size screen on the inside. At a minimum, you have a regular amount of phone in your hands, and when you want more phone, you open it up and get phone plus. If you’re the kind of person who wants to run four apps at a time for tasks that usually require a computer, it’s a glorious experience.
But again, a folding phone will run you almost two grand. And that’s where flippables are poised to take on more mainstream appeal: they cost about the same as standard flagship phones. And price is one of the biggest question marks going into Wednesday’s Unpacked: if the Z Flip 5 gets that bigger cover screen, will the price increase, too? If it stays at $999, that could be bad news for the Motorola Razr Plus. The Moto is $999 but lacks the full IPX8 water resistance that the Z Flip series has included for the past couple of generations.
Competition — what a concept!
It’s Samsung’s move, but Motorola’s potential loss is our gain. Samsung might push Motorola to offer more discounts on the Razr Plus. In turn, maybe we’ll see more aggressive promotions for the Z Flip 5. Competition! What a concept! Either way, flip-style phones are finally living up to their potential, and they’re getting some well-deserved attention. About flipping time.