2023 has been great for foldable phones, with plenty of great options from the likes of Samsung, Motorola, Xiaomi, and more. There are more foldables on the horizon, and it finally feels like we’re getting to see how good the foldable future can be. You currently have to pick between a book-style foldable and a Flip phone, a.k.a. Clamshell foldable. Flip phones are arguably more popular on the market right now, mainly because they’re more affordable than their book-style counterparts, and they’re also more fun to use. But there is one thing you need to know about the Flip phones, though, and I am here to tell you just that.
I’ve been using a flip phone for the better part of the last few weeks, and I can confidently say that a Flip phone is not the compact phone alternative I was hoping it would be. Seriously, there are plenty of reasons to get a flip phone in 2023, but don’t buy it because you have small hands and want something that’s easy to use. It’s sad to see the departure of the last remaining compact phones from the market, and I hope we’re not left with these clamshell phones as an alternative because they’re not. Let me explain why.
Flip phones are a tall order
Clamshell foldables, as you probably already know, fold open vertically, rather than like a book, to reveal a tall inner screen. All clamshell flip phones on the market right have a screen that’s taller than 6.5 inches. The Galaxy Z Flip 5 sports a 6.7-inch screen, whereas the Moto Razr+ sports a 6.9-inch folding screen. Other popular flip phones on the market, from the likes of OPPO and Vivo, are also quite tall. These are some big numbers, especially for someone like me who’s coming from using a compact phone like the Galaxy S23 and the Galaxy S22 that came before that.
Flip phones are indeed more pocketable and easy to carry around, but they’re just as uncomfortable and unwieldy to use on a daily basis in their unfolded state.
It’s true that Flip phones are extremely compact and are half the size when folded, but it doesn’t help when the phone is unfolded, forcing me to handle an extremely unwieldy phone most of the time. It defeats the whole purpose of having a “compact” phone that’s easy to use with one hand. Flip phones are indeed more pocketable and easy to carry around, but they’re just as uncomfortable and unwieldy to use on a daily basis in their full, unfolded state. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5’s display, for instance, is just as tall as the RedMagic 8S Pro’s panel. Here’s a side-by-side comparison to give you a better understanding.
From left to right: RedMagic 8S Pro, Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5, and Galaxy S23.
The RedMagic 8S Pro is already among the tallest phones I’ve used and is by no means an easy phone to carry around or use with one hand. The fact that Flip 5 is just as tall as the RedMagic 8S Pro’s display is exactly why I believe it doesn’t belong in the same league as the compact phones like the Galaxy S23, the ASUS Zenfone 10, and the iPhone 13 Mini. It’s almost impossible to use an unfolded flip phone with one hand unless you shimmy your fingers or adjust the grip entirely and risk dropping it. It’s equally difficult to flip them open with one hand without digging your thumb between the two parts to pry it open or by — literally — flipping them open with an outward motion. You risk damaging the display or the hinge in one way or the other, so your best bet is to use both hands to unfold and use the device.
The fact that Flip 5 is just as tall as the RedMagic 8S Pro’s display is exactly why I believe it doesn’t belong in the same league as the compact phones
Hard to reach the buttons and the fingerprint scanner
Another thing I’d like to highlight here is how hard it is to reach the volume buttons and the fingerprint scanner on the flip phones. Yes, they are both in a very comfortable spot when the phone is folded, but I’d like to — once again — highlight that I’d rather have a more functional device that’s easier to use in its unfolded state. The fingerprint scanner and the volume rocker on the Galaxy Z Flip 5 are almost impossible to reach without adjusting your grip when you’re trying to use it unfolded with one hand. Here’s a side-by-side comparison to show how high the buttons and the scanner are located on the Galaxy Z Flip 5.
From top to bottom: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 (folded), Galaxy Z Flip 5 (unfolded), and Galaxy S23.
Other flip phones like the Razr+ also suffer from the same issue, forcing you to make adjustments to the way you hold your phone and use it every day. It’s easy to ignore the power button/fingerprint scanner placement, as you can wake the phone and unlock it before unfolding, but there’s no other way to change the volume without adjusting your grip or using your other hand.
The fingerprint scanner and the volume rocker on the Galaxy Z Flip 5 are almost impossible to reach without adjusting your grip when you’re trying to use it unfolded with one hand.
I know what you are thinking: The modern clamshell foldables have bigger cover displays, so why not use them without unfolding for the most part? Well, it’s true that the modern clamshell foldables have bigger cover displays, which, in theory, should allow me to use most apps and features without having to unfold them. But I’ve realized that there’s only so much you can do on even a relatively bigger cover screen, and you still have to unfold the phone for a better and more comfortable viewing experience. I still find myself unfolding the phone all the time, be it for taking photos (not selfies) or using apps that are better viewed on a bigger screen, like Instagram, Snapchat, and more.
Thick and heavy
It’s no secret that foldable phones are also twice as thick as a regular slab phone when you fold them up. We’ve started seeing thin foldable phones out there, but it’s safe that there are no thin clamshell phones yet, especially in the U.S. Both Galaxy Z Flip 5 and the Moto Razr+ measure 15.1mm (0.59 inch) when they’re folded. That, in case you’re wondering, is a significant step up from something like the Galaxy S23, which is 7.6mm (0.29) thick. I am glad that you don’t have to worry about the gap between the two folding parts in many of the modern foldables anymore, but they’re still thick overall. You also have to account for the thickness of the case, which you are more likely to install on a fragile flip phone. Some cases add more thickness than others, but you can expect a good-quality protective case to add at least a couple of millimeters to an already thick phone.
Not to mention, these phones are also on the heavier side, weighing as much as 20 grams or more compared to a regular phone. This may or may not be a deal-breaker for you, but I am still getting used to these changes personally, and I know many who find it uncomfortable to stuff a thick and heavy phone in their pockets, irrespective of how tiny or “compact” it is to carry around. Even using a relatively thick and heavy phone may put more pressure on your little finger depending on how you hold your phone while using it. I find it a bit uncomfortable to use a flip phone for a long time when it’s folded due to this reason, and I often unfold them even for replying to messages or for using basic apps, as mentioned in the previous section.
Flip phones are no replacement to compact phones: Final thoughts
As much as I like using and recommending Flip phones as a solid option to consider, I wouldn’t say they’re a good alternative to compact phones. In my experience, in fact, they’re not even close to delivering a comfortable experience to those who enjoy using compact phones due to some practical usability issues that I highlighted above. I hope the existing compact phones on the market continue to thrive because a lot of users with relatively smaller hands genuinely appreciate phones with small footprints, and I don’t see the current clamshell foldables taking that away regardless of how tiny and pocketable they are to carry around. I’ll leave links to buy some of my favorite compact phones below, so be sure to check them out while they’re still available.
$750 $800 Save $50
The regular Galaxy S23 is a great option if you’re in the market for a smaller smartphone thanks to its 6.1-inch display. But despite the size, it’s not lacking any features that the larger S23+ has. It has a 120Hz AMOLED display, a 50MP camera, and more.
Asus Zenfone 10
The Asus Zenfone 10 takes what was great about the previous generation and improves on it without losing what made the phone so wonderful. It’s still compact but full of high-end specs and helpful software features to make it to perfect small phone.
Apple iPhone 13 Mini
$580 $630 Save $50
The iPhone 13 mini is a tiny phone that packs plenty of power. If you dislike big phones, then this is for you.