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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip

In February I posted a short note about the then forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Z Flip. This week I got my hands on one.

It is by far the best foldable phone I’ve seen to date. There’s a satisfying feel to the way it folds.

The way the screen copes with being folded again and again is also satisfying. When you hold and fold the Galaxy Z Flip you are not left wondering if you are dealing with classy engineering.

Impressive

The Flip is technically impressive, cool looking and fun to use. Sadly these three qualities do not necessarily make a great phone.

Mind you, no-one can accuse the Galaxy Z Flip of being boring.

Nor can you accuse it of being cheap.

You could spend the NZ$2400 Samsung asks for the Flip elsewhere, even with Samsung1, and get better value for your money.

The cost of folding

Samsung’s much vaunted foldability adds about NZ$1200 to the device price. Which would be fine. Yet it turns out being able to fold the Flip is not always a huge benefit.

Yes, the neatly folded square is about half the length of and the same width as other premium phones. It also happens to be twice the depth.

In other words, the Flip occupies the same volume of pocket space as any other phone. The difference is that Flip redistributes the volume.

It’s fine in the jacket pockets and loose trouser pockets that might otherwise contain a normal size phone. It’s a problem in the tighter pockets that would struggle with bigger phones.

So while folding could be helpful, it might not always be NZ$1200 worth of helpful.

Samsung Galaxy Flip shown with Apple IPhone 7 for size comparison

Flipping futuristic

Despite all of this, I find myself liking the Flip more and more. It feels right. It also feels futuristic.

Let’s not discount that emotive and subjective response. When you buy a phone you commit to spending a lot of time with the device, you don’t want it to not feel right.

One aspect of being able to open and shut a phone is the distance this activity puts between you and the device. This can be positive or negative.

Most of the time I like the fact that it requires more effect to respond to every incoming stimulus. On the other hand, you can’t surreptitiously glance at the screen without others noticing.

The Galaxy Z Flip has been around for months. You can find plenty of in depth reviews elsewhere. Look harder and you’ll find some long term test drives. For what it’s worth here are my observations:

Screen:

The display is tall and narrow. When you turn it sideways to watch a movie you get black bars unless you watch a widescreen version.

In everyday use the crease stays out of the way although I wouldn’t go as far as to say you don’t notice it. You will, but your eyes and brain adjust so it is less of an issue.

Yet, you constantly feel it with your fingers. There’s also a shallow dip at the top above the selfie camera.

External display:

When the phone is folded there is a tiny display on the outside. You can see the time and date without opening the phone. That turns out to be more useful than you might imagine if you don’t wear a watch.

The small screen will show remaining battery life. I’m not convinced that’s much help.

There are notifications on the small screen. They wizz past fast. Often before you can read them.

By double tapping the power button, you can take pictures with the camera without opening the phone. When you do this, the tiny external display works as a selfie viewfinder.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip closed showing small screen

Durability:

Open or shut, there’s a solid feel to the Galaxy Z Flip. It seems robust enough to take the kind of treatment we usually mete out to phones.

Unlike almost every other modern phone you can buy in 2020 there is no water or dust resistance. This could be a problem for many potential buyers.

I also found dirt, pocket fluff and even hair could get trapped in the fold. It’s not clear what that might mean over the long haul. In the short term it isn’t a problem.

Camera:

Phone makers usually make a great song and dance about the cameras on their phones. There’s a feeling in the industry that people choose cameras rather than phones. I’m not convinced of that. Some will. Others won’t.

Samsung has used the same camera technology as the Galaxy S10. It’s good, but not up there with, say, the iPhone 11. Few people will buy the Samsung Galaxy Flip for the camera.

Verdict

Samsung has got screen folding technology right with the Galaxy Z Flip. You get a phone that looks and feels a little ahead of its time. On paper you might not get a huge amount of phone for the price, in practice this matters less than you might expect.

After a few days with the Flip I found myself coming back to it again and again. Yep, I’d like one of these. But there is one problem that I’m saving for another post.


  1. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is $200 cheaper but does more. ↩︎

quibi

Quibi is the blockbuster streaming video service that you probably never heard of.

There is one big idea behind Quibi: that you want to watch small up-to–10 minute video shows on your phone.

Yeah, me neither.

And as it turns out, that’s most people’s reaction.

The weird name is a contraction of Quick Bites.

Like Netflix only shorter

Quibi’s founders hoped it would be to short form video what Netflix is to video. Early on in the project the founders suggested Quibi would become a verb, the way Google is sometimes used.

It exists as a phone app, the kind that you load and then start paying a monthly subscription. The official price in the US is on a par with the cost of Netflix. You can pay less and get ads served up with your video clips. I’m amazed anyone would pay US$5 for such a service with advertising. But… Americans.

There’s a gimmick or special feature: You can watch everything in portrait or landscape mode on your phone, the app moves seamlessly between the two.

Well the people behind Quibi think that will pull in the punters.

There are dramas, documentaries, talk shows even movies served up in small ten minute segments.

Wall-to-wall celebrities

One of the keys is that almost everything features famous actors or other well known performers. It comes with high production values and wall-to-wall celebrities.

Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman started Quibi. Katzenberg is a film producer and was a founder of Dreamworks. Whitman was the former Hewlett-Packard CEO.

So far Quibi has spectacularly missed its targets. The goal was to get 7.5 million subscribers in the first year. At the moment it looks like it will get around 2 million at the end of its first year.

The 7.5 million target was fairly modest. Netflix has more than 180 million subscribers.

Now the US media is already writing Quibi’s obituary.

Quibi says it failed to meet targets because of the pandemic. But that’s odd because sales of other streaming video services have surged in that time.

Quibi crowded out

It is more likely that the quick bite format isn’t enough to grab audiences. Attention spans may be dropping, but it seems few people are willing to pay a Netflix-like price to fill in the odd spare moments of their lives with yet more video content.

There is an abundance of free, short-form video content. YouTube has more than you could ever watch. That doesn’t help Quibi.

The most likely way out of the dead end that Quibi has found itself in is for the service to switch to a more Netflix-style format. That means longer shows and putting the app on devices other than cellphones.

Although that is now a crowded space, there is still potential for a service with the right content.

Global sales of smartphones to end users declined 20.2 percent in the first quarter of 2020, according to Gartner, Inc. The global shelter-in-place combined with the economic uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic led to demand for smartphones collapsing as consumers stopped spending on nonessential products during the first quarter.

“The coronavirus pandemic caused the global smartphone market to experience its worst decline ever,” said Anshul Gupta, senior research analyst at Gartner.

“Most of the leading Chinese manufacturers and Apple were severely impacted by the temporary closures of their factories in China and reduced consumer spending due to the global shelter-in-place.”

Source: Gartner says global smartphone sales declined 20 percent in first quarter of 2020 due to Covid-19 impact

We knew it was coming. Even so, the raw numbers are still dramatic. All the main phone makers operating in New Zealand suffered big falls. Samsung and Huawei fared worse. Apple, not so much. Gartner also reports people are hanging on to their phones for longer.

The worldwide numbers from Gartner are consistent with the fall in New Zealand device sales.

Gartner says the first quarter could have been worse for Samsung. It has a limited sales presence in China and doesn’t make phones there.

Huawei is the biggest loser with sales dropping 27.3 percent year-on-year. That’s its first decline. The company’s problems are less to do with Covid-19, although heaven knows that is bad enough. Huawei cannot use Google apps or the Google Play store with its new phone models. That is a huge turn off for customers outside of China.

Apple got off to a strong start before the pandemic hit. Garter says it may even have been on track to break records.

Gartner’s latest New Zealand shipment forecasts makes for grim reading if you are in the device business.

The total device market is set to drop by 14.6 percent in 2020 when compared with 2019. That means a total of 360,000 fewer devices.

New Zealand fares worse than the rest of the world which Gartner says will see a 13.6 percent fall in device unit shipments.

Falls everywhere

There are falls in each category Gartner measures, see the table.

New Zealand shipments forecast by device type (thousands of units)
Device Type20192020
Traditional PCs (Desk-Based and Notebook)439396
Ultramobiles (Premium)199190
Total PC Market637585
Ultramobiles (Basic and Utility)538474
Computing Device Market1,1761,059
Mobile Phones1,3251,077
Total Device Market2,5002,136
Due to rounding, some figures may not add up precisely to the totals shown.
Thin and light notebooks are listed under premium ultramobiles
Tablets and Chromebooks are listed under basic ultramobiles
Source: May (2020)

Mobile phone sales have fallen faster than computing devices. Gartner forecasts 1.08 million units in 2020 compared with 1.36 million units in 2019. That’s a drop of nearly 19 percent.

The analyst company says it expects consumers to extend the life of their mobile phones replacing them on average once every 2.7 years. For more on this see How long should I keep my phone?

Pandemic device impact

Looking at the worldwide numbers, Gartner says the fall could have been so much worse if it were not for pandemic lockdowns. Because millions of people were forced to work or study from home there was an increase on spending on notebooks and tablets.

Gartner says getting on for half of all employees will work remotely for some or all of the time after the pandemic. This compares with around 30 percent of employees beforehand.

This has accelerated the move from desktop PCs to notebooks.

Phones

While people have used their phones more during the lockdown, Gartner says lower disposable incomes mean that people will upgrade more slowly than in the past. Gartner sees the average life of a mobile phone increase from 2.5 to 2.7 years.

One other trend spotted by Gartner is the relative lack of interest in 5G handsets. Before the pandemic it was widely thought that the appearance of 5G mobile networks would kick-start a handset upgrade cycle.

Gartner now forecasts that 5G phones will only account for 11 percent of handset shipments this year. In part this is because of the delayed delivery of new handsets. Gartner also says the extra charges imposed on 5G customers is inhibiting sales.

IDC reports shipments1 of new phones dropped 11.7 percent year on year in the first three months of 2020. That’s a total of 275.8 million phones.

It is the biggest year-on-year drop ever seen.

First quarter numbers are usually lower than the fourth quarter which includes all the phones purchased as Christmas gifts. The fourth quarter usually also captures sales of new phones immediately after the major product launches.

Yet this took place before phone buyers faced the full impact of the Covid–19 pandemic. Sure parts of China were closed down. And China does account for about a quarter of the worldwide new phone market. That’s going to have a huge impact.

Likewise, most of the world’s phones are made in China. Production and the pre-production supply chains were badly affected in the second half of the quarter.

It’s unlikely the current quarter will see much improvement. China may be back at work, but people elsewhere have been, many still are, in lockdown. That’s not great for phone sales. Nor is the economic uncertainty. That new phone sale is an easy expense to cut when the future looks tougher.

Samsung hit hard

While Samsung remains top dog with 58.3 million phones and a 21.1 percent share, it suffered the largest drop in shipments during the quarter. Year on year sales are down 18.9 percent.

There is good news for Samsung. IDC says the higher price of the Galaxy G20 phone means better profits.

Samsung has two important phones scheduled for launch later this year. The Fold 2 and the Note 20 are both likely to be expensive phones at a time when demand for pricey high-end models could cool.

Huawei better than you might expect

The political waves rocking Huawei’s boat have harmed phone sales less than you might expect. Year on year sales are down 17 percent. That’s bad, yet not as bad as Samsung.

Apple’s year on year sales were, in effect, flat with a 0.4 percent decline. This translates into an increased share of the overall market. It has 11.8 percent. The company’s success was mainly thanks to its iPhone 11, which in certain configurations is the most expensive non-folding handset.

IDC says that if the trend to lower price phones continues, and let’s face it that looks likely, Apple should have a hit on its hands with the iPhone SE.

What next?

To get an idea of how this quarter could go, Qualcomm, which makes chips for mobile phones, says it expects a 30 percent year on year drop for the current, second quarter. Given that it takes orders from phone makers ahead of manufacturing, it has a good handle on the market. That would be a huge drop.

IDC suggests a bright spot could be 5G. People need new handsets to use the faster wireless technology. It’s possible customers will trade up to 5G phones later in the year.

On the flip side of this, most users won’t notice any performance difference from switching to 5G. Data will download faster, but at the time of writing there are no mobile apps that can use faster data speeds.


  1. Shipments is industry talk for products that have left the warehouse en route for customers. While a shipment is not the same as a sale, it is close enough. Retailers don’t tend to carry huge inventories of product these days. ↩︎