Samsung’s new flip phone highlights the clamshell’s comeback.

Samsung's new flip phone highlights the clamshell's comeback.

The Resurgence of Flip Phones: A Nostalgic and Functional Comeback

Before smartphones took over the world, flip phones were the ultimate status symbol in consumer tech. With their compact and stylish designs, as well as user-friendly features, it’s hard to deny their appeal. Who doesn’t remember the satisfying experience of ending a phone call by snapping the device shut? While flip phones may have taken a backseat in recent years, they are now making a comeback in a smarter and more sophisticated form.

Samsung, one of the leading tech companies, has embraced the resurgence of flip phones with its Galaxy Z Flip 5. To drive home the point that this device is not just a phone, but also an important fashion accessory, they enlisted Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney as their ambassador. In an ad for the Galaxy Z Flip 5, Sweeney proclaims that it is the perfect accessory for how she looks and feels. This collaboration shows how flip phones have evolved to become more than just a communication device, but also an extension of one’s personal style.

In July, Samsung unveiled its latest wave of foldable phones at the Unpacked event. Among them, the Galaxy Z Flip 5 stood out as the star of the show. Compared to its predecessor, the Galaxy Z Flip 4, the Z Flip 5 received significant upgrades, including a redesigned hinge and a much larger cover screen. This larger external display, coupled with software improvements, allows users to perform various functions without unfolding the phone. Whether it’s recording audio, managing a calendar, or tracking the stock market, the Z Flip 5 makes these tasks easier and more convenient. This expanded functionality has been well-received, as Avi Greengart, analyst at Techsponential, mentions, “Larger cover screens make these clamshells both more useful and more deliberate – sometimes you just want a piece of information without falling into a rabbit hole of app content.”

Sydney Sweeney and Jang Wonyoung take a selfie with the Galaxy Z Flip 5 at Samsung’s launch event in Seoul in July.

The resurgence of flip phones extends beyond Samsung. In general, flip phones are undergoing a drastic transformation compared to their book-style counterparts like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Google’s Pixel Fold. One of the key areas of change is the front screen. Motorola, for example, launched the Razr Plus with a larger cover screen, setting a new standard for flip phones everywhere. Oppo, a top Chinese phone maker, also disrupted the flip phone design by introducing a vertically oriented cover screen with its Find N2 Flip. These new flippable cover screens strike a balance between the convenience of a smartwatch and the functionality of a regular phone screen. Unlike the previous generation of flip phones that felt like a regular phone with a smartwatch attached, these new devices offer enhanced usability.

“This is the ‘be first or be better’ moment for smartphone vendors,” says Will Wong, senior research manager at the International Data Corporation. To win the foldable competition, smartphone vendors must strive to be the first or create a more significant differentiation in their offerings. With the introduction of larger cover screens, flippable phones have the potential to make a mainstream comeback, provided durability challenges can be overcome.

The Razr 2023 and the Razr Plus are Motorola’s latest flip phones.

Oppo, for instance, chose the Find N2 Flip as its global foldable phone flagship product, despite previously launching two book-style foldable phones in China. This strategic decision highlights the strong sales performance of flip phones. According to the International Data Corporation, clamshell-style phones accounted for more than 50% of foldable shipments from 2020 to the first quarter of 2023. This trend is expected to continue, as the average selling price of flip phones is generally lower than that of book-style phones.

While foldable phones currently hold a small share in the overall smartphone market, sales of both book-style and flip phones are expected to soar. The International Data Corporation forecasts worldwide shipments of foldable phones to reach 21.4 million units in 2023, a significant increase of over 50% compared to 2022. By 2027, foldable phones are projected to capture 3.5% of the market share, resulting in more than 48 million shipments. These figures highlight the growing popularity and market potential of flip phones.

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5, a book-style foldable phone, was also introduced alongside the Galaxy Z Flip 5. The Z Fold 5 represents a refinement of its predecessor, introducing a different hinge design. While new players are entering the market with various designs, the book-style foldable category seems to have reached a point of stability. The current devices are not dramatically different from their predecessors, but this is not necessarily a shortcoming. Samsung, in particular, set the foundation for book-style foldable phones with its Galaxy Z Fold in 2019. The Z Fold 3, launched two years later with stylus support, marked another milestone in foldable phone innovation. In the short term, major transformations in book-style foldables are not expected on the hardware front. Instead, the focus will be on software optimization, opening up possibilities in areas such as navigation.

Competition is heating up in the world of flip phones.

Flip phones have come a long way since their debut in the late 1990s. Today, their design is defined by large cover screens. Samsung, Oppo, and Motorola, among others, have embraced this trend and integrated bigger displays into their flippable devices. With this change, it is difficult to envision a dramatic evolution in the design of flip phones going forward. According to Will Wong, limitations in hardware, particularly regarding the battery shape, will prevent significant breakthroughs in the short term. Despite the cool factor associated with flip phones, they still face challenges before becoming mainstream. Device makers will need to focus on improving software and durability to overcome concerns about the long-term reliability of foldables. For example, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 5 lacks an official IP rating for dust resistance, which raises concerns about its overall durability. Additionally, flip phones will have to compete with established smartphones in terms of performance, price, and features.

However, for now, the Galaxy Z Flip 5 and its flippable counterparts can revel in their moment in the spotlight. While they may not replace traditional candy bar-shaped smartphones entirely, they offer a unique and nostalgic experience that appeals to those who appreciate their charm. Flip phones are back, reimagined for the modern age, and it’s their time to shine once again.