Galaxy Z Flip 1 to 4: How Samsung’s clamshell evolved to become the most mainstream foldable

Galaxy Z Flip 1 to 4: How Samsung’s clamshell evolved to become the most mainstream foldable

Whether it’s sales figures collected by research firms, Samsung’s own marketing claims, or my own personal anecdotal experience from seeing what phones people use in multiple countries, it’s clear the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 was a big hit, and perhaps the first foldable phone to achieve mainstream status instead of being a niche, enthusiast-only device.

This wasn’t exactly a surprise for many of us in tech media who predicted wider appeal for the Galaxy Z Flip 3 last year. The clamshell foldable brought major improvements over the first two Flips, but perhaps most importantly, Samsung managed to get pricing to under the four-digit mark (and a whopping 50% cheaper than the previous Flip).

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And now with the Galaxy Z Flip 4, Samsung is looking to keep the momentum going despite this year’s model being a more modest, iterative update. But that’s okay because expecting major improvements every year is unrealistic. In this article let’s look back at all four generations of the Galaxy Z Flip and see how Samsung’s clamshell foldable has evolved over the years.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flips

The Galaxy Z Flip 4 (middle) surrounded by the Galaxy Z Flip 3 (left) and Galaxy Z Flip 5G (right).

    The new Galaxy Z Flip 4 takes the absolutely awesome Z Flip 3 and adds a bit of a polish and a much more energy efficient SoC for an even better all-around foldable.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip: The resurrection of the clamshell

original galaxy Z Flip

Launched in February 2020 — just five months after the delayed launch of the original Galaxy Fold — the Z Flip would introduce three things that have since been a constant in Samsung’s foldable series. The first: ultra-thin glass technology that gave the plastic bendy OLED panel a texture closer to resembling glass. Second: the Z Flip was the first foldable to have a hinge that could stay in place mid-fold, which Samsung calls “Flex Mode.” The third is more frivolous: this was the device when Samsung introduced the Z branding (the original Fold was just named the Galaxy Fold without any unnecessary random alphabets).

Galaxy Z Flip

The original Galaxy Z Flip was a new bleeding edge mobile that also felt familiar.

Unlike the Galaxy Fold, which was a new form factor we had not seen before, the Galaxy Z Flip felt familiar from the get-go: a throwback to the clamshell mobile phones of the early 2000s. With a 6.7-inch screen in a more conventional form factor, the Galaxy Z Flip also felt pretty much like a normal slab phone when unfolded. Apps also ran on this phone with no issue, unlike the Galaxy Fold, which dealt with plenty of app scaling issues in its first few months.

Galaxy Z Flip and Galaxy Fold

The original Flip (left) and the original Fold (right).

Let’s go back to Flex Mode, which was and still is an ingenious idea that drastically improved the functionality of foldables. The original Galaxy Fold had a hinge that could only stay still when fully opened or folded. When it’s in between, it would flop around like a dead fish. The Galaxy Z Fold’s much sturdier hinge that could stay still didn’t just inspire a lot more confidence in the hinge’s build quality but also opened up the device to be used hands-free. Because the upper half of the screen could essentially stay upright, the Galaxy Z Flip allowed users to take hands-free selfies or video calls, without needing to prop the phone.

Galaxy Z Flip

And since the Galaxy Fold had already been in retail for months without major issues, there was a lot less skepticism about the durability from consumers and media alike this time around.

In hindsight, the Galaxy Z Flip did have some baffling limitations that were overlooked due to the freshness of the form factor. The first is that the phone shipped with an older Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus chip and it did not support 5G (it’s widely believed that the delayed launch of the original Fold also delayed the Flip’s debut, which really should have come out in late 2019). The second issue is the minuscule 1.1-inch outside “cover display” that was really only good for showing notification icons and time. This meant the Galaxy Z Flip was a phone you still had to unfold every single time you want to do anything with it.


Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G: Just a processor bump

Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Z Flip 5G

The second Flip wasn’t so much a real next-gen device but rather a slightly modified version of the original Flip. It’s basically the same phone except it runs on the newer Snapdragon 865 Plus chip with 5G support.  The newer Snapdragon chip does bring superior CPU and GPU performances too, but the difference isn’t night and day since the previous phone also had a top-end chip.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G


Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: The phone that made foldables mainstream appealing

galaxy Z Flip 3

As mentioned at the beginning, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a major success for Samsung and it’s not hard to see why: Samsung made major improvements this generation, while somehow cutting the price by 50% ($999, compared to the $1,450 price of the Galaxy Z Flip 5G).

The first improvement: the outside “cover display” is 4X larger than the previous Flip’s outside screen. It’s a big enough increase that the Flip 3 can actually do some smartphone things (like read text messages, check weather, and control music playback) in folded form now. The previous two Flips were basically unusable in folded form.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5G and Galaxy Z Flip 3 folded with displays on

The Galaxy Z Flip 3’s much larger cover display (right) compared to the left.

The second improvement is that Samsung made the Flip 3 more durable: not only was the frame been toughened with Samsung’s “Armor Aluminum,” and the display covered by Gorilla Glass Victus coating, but the Flip 3 also gained an official IPX8 rating, which allows it to withstand splashes of water (like using it in the rain). The Flip was, along with the Galaxy Z Fold 3, the first foldable to have any sort of official IP rating.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 essentially addressed all the initial criticism people had about foldables: that they were too fragile and too pricey. We at XDA were also huge fans of the two-tone design compared to the somewhat bland first two Flips.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, folded, in all four colors


Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 4: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Galaxy Z Flip 4

Much like the second Galaxy Z Flip, this fourth generation Galaxy Z Flip 4 is a mostly iterative update, bringing back the same design. The hinge has been improved so the “spine” doesn’t protrude as much in folded form. But unlike the Galaxy Z Fold 4 where this change notably alters in-hand feel, that’s not so much the case here, because the vertical fold nature means our hands don’t really touch the hinge area when the device is folded anyway. Mechanically speaking, and based purely on the in-hand feel, there’s not much difference between the Galaxy Z Fold 4 and last year’s phone, although the Galaxy Z Flip 4 is just a hair thinner overall (0.8mm thinner when unfolded, 1.6mm thinner when folded).

Z Flip hinges

The Galaxy Z Flip 4’s hinge (bottom) doesn’t stick out as much as previous Flips.

That’s not to say the Galaxy Z Flip 4 doesn’t bring improvements. The newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 SoC brings noticeably better battery life than the Snapdragon 888 powering last year’s Galaxy Z Flip 3, and Samsung has added more software features to the outside display, as well as Flex Mode.

flip 4 and flip 3

The Galaxy Z Flip 4 (left) and Z Flip 3 (right).

You can now do hands-free streaming to YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and more. Google apps such as Google Meet are also better optimized to take advantage of the Galaxy Z Flip 4’s unique form factor.

galaxy Z Flip 4

Samsung also says the Galaxy Z Flip 4 is more durable than ever, with improved “Armor Aluminum” enforcing the frame, and Gorilla Glass Victus Plus protecting the display. Still, you’re likely going to want to protect the Galaxy Z Flip 4 with a case, and there are a lot of good options.

The Z Flip 3 and 4

Galaxy Z Flip 3 (back) and Galaxy Z Flip 4 (front)

Overall, the evolution of the Galaxy Z Flip series isn’t as full of ups and downs as the evolution of the Z Fold series. But that’s because the Flip uses a more tried-and-tested design, and it had the benefit of coming after the original Fold, which took the brunt of the trial-and-error. Even with no price drop this year, the Galaxy Z Flip 4 brings enough subtle refinement to further convince the masses that foldable phones are here to stay.

    The new Galaxy Z Flip 4 takes the absolutely awesome Z Flip 3 and adds a bit of a polish and a much more energy efficient SoC for an even better all-around foldable.

About author

Ben Sin
Ben Sin

I'm a senior editor at XDA Developers. I have been a journalist for a decade, the last five years covering the mobile tech scene closely, reviewing just about every phone and attending trade shows and launches. I also run a gadget review channel on YouTube.

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