Looking for the best flip phone, because you love the traditional clamshell design? Or are you after the best fold phone – the new breed of state-of-the-art foldable smartphones? Whatever your budget or needs, this guide will help you find the best flip phone or fold phone for you – and help you find it at the best price.
Flip phones can be smart or traditional, but folding like a clamshell helps make them more pocketable, and perhaps more practical – and give an alternative to the big screen handsets with no buttons that dominate the flagship camera phone models.
The arrival of the smartphone temporarily killed the flip phone market, which was disappointing for anyone who loved to snap the handset shut to finish a call. It was immensely satisfying and, though we might forget it, very practical – closing the phone to hide the screen and buttons does help with longevity. Now, though, technology has moved on, meaning you can have a flip phone without compromising on screen size.
At the same time old flip handsets have shown they have many uses even now. Traditional flip phones offer a less feature-cluttered experience for those who find smartphones overwhelming, be that seniors or those taking their digital detox very seriously. Even the best flip phones are also far less expensive, making them well suited for kids or as backup devices.
Secondly, more excitingly for tech heads, foldable screens have reached the point it’s possible to build a folding or flipping smartphone, offering further improvements in screen real estate without stretching pockets beyond breaking point. Predictably the best fold phones will be more of an assault on the budget, and do come with some concerns about early iterations of tech, though perhaps you won’t need that tablet after all… so… maybe?
Best fold phones in 2021
On paper, the 7.6-inch screen-size might not sound much bigger than a 6.7-inch phablet, but it feels like a whole new product category (it is). By folding, rather than flipping, this is smaller than some, but encloses a screen 1.4 times bigger than the giant Galaxy Note 10 Plus. It might cost the same as an average handset and a tablet, but is both.
The crease down the centre of the screen can be used to side-by-side some apps, making this live up to ‘small tablet’ more than any other phone. Full-screening an app makes for amazing photo editing and you’d be churlish to notice the slight bend; similarly gaming doesn’t only get a lot of real estate but also 120MHz for fluid visuals.
A smaller outer screen means you don’t even need to open the device for most uses – checking messages and framing photos are easily achieved while the phone is still closed. It’s good to see Samsung have upped the main camera array to three lenses, but it's still not their best. The real improvements are the arrival of an ultra thin glass display and better looking hinge which should eliminate the reliability issues and reward those who waited for version 2.
While it’s certainly a nostalgic form factor, the Galaxy flip – now with added 5G – hasn’t been on the line up long and benefits from all the lessons Samsung learned after their first Fold (which isn’t on this list). It’ll be hard not to about the hinge being an entry point for dust, but the phone has a convincing feeling in use.
The flip does pose problems for a lot of phone features, like notifications, so hidden under the shell is a tiny 1.1-inch Super AMOLED display, just opposite the main cameras, which can muster a couple of lines of text. It also allows square selfies to be caught with the main cameras without opening the camera, but the real photographer’s benefit of the flip is that you can part-open the phone and rest it on something to capture things without a tripod, great for time-lapse.
It is a bit of a shame there is no telephoto camera – the same money would get you more optical oomph with an iPhone 12 Pro Max or Samsung Galaxy 21 Ultra but ultimately it’s the design, not the megapixels, which will impress your entourage, as will the ‘mystic’ bronze or gray casings that also pack a decent 3,300mAh battery – enough that 5G will speed you up, not slow you down.
This is the original 2019 version of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold - and now that the Mark 2 model is on sale, you can now get this a vastly reduced price, making it a tempting proposition if you want a foldable phone, but don't want to pay top dollar for the privilege.
Instead of going the whole hog and offering flip phones with flexible screens, LG has taken its above-average smartphones and added a detachable additional screen, which pops on and off like a phone case but doubles the already generous 6.4-inch screen when attached. You can use both as separate displays – two apps at once – or in the case of some apps (including all Android’s core apps), spread it across a single expansive display.
There is a chunky bar down the middle, of course, so this isn’t suited to viewing video as on the Samsung Galaxy Fold, but it is a proven tech and LG continue to offer it with newer ‘Velvet’ models (though sometimes with the phone and sometimes as an optional upgrade). Camera-wise, there is a lot to be pleased with here – the ultra-wide rear camera is really wide with a 136-degree field of view, and the selfie camera has an impressive 32 megapixel resolution. Sadly no telephoto lens joins the cluster, but the digital zoom is adequate and it’s worth bearing in mind that this handset is noticeably cheaper than, say, Galaxy S20 Ultra which doesn’t come with an extra screen.
With two screens separated by a small hinge, the Surface Duo is impressively thin – sub 5mm when open – and shiny, with gorilla glass on both the screen size and outside of the case. Since the hinge can stop in any position, the device can be used like a book, a tiny laptop (Psion PDA style), a tablet or a single-screen phone. There are even extra options like ‘peak mode’ (rather than an extra external screen).
Microsoft are now using Android 10 rather than their own OS (they don’t even force Bing on you), meaning you have access to a good range of apps. The Snapdragon 855 and 6GB of RAM are enough though the big bezels mean the screen is ‘only’ 8.1 inches, and a single 11MP camera won’t please photographers – but instagramers are definitely not the intended market (like a MacBook Air the camera keeps things thin and is fine for video calls). For productivity tool users the real gains are in software space. Microsoft have updated their suite of apps to work on both screens effectively, but multitaskers really power ahead by using ‘app groups’ to choose pairs of apps to run one on each screen, side by side.
Best flip phones in 2021
It’s perfectly possible to have grown up and not even remember phones with 700 hours standby and removable batteries, so the younger generation might find this phone, which probably needs charging twice a month, something of a revelation. Admittedly this ‘feature phone’ sucks the juice rather more rapidly if you actually use it, and you can use KaiOS to do some reasonably ‘smart’ things, like play video, browse the web, and use WhatsApp.
Indeed Facebook, Google Assistant and Google Maps are amongst the available apps, although GPS isn’t included on this particular phone so location is derived from cell towers. On the plus side you can enjoy the FM radio – one up on the iPhone!
Sadly the single camera, at 2MP is really the same sort of quality you’d expect when flip phones were new. It isn’t even capable of recording video, though you will see motion blur in a lot of the stills.
This is Motorola’s second attempt at reviving the once-dominant Razr brand with modern folding screens, but – like Samsung – they had some issues first time out. Motorola haven’t replaced the screen technology though – it’s still plastic OLED – but the battery life is better, the cameras are better (the main has a quad-pixel low-light option) and the secondary external display much bigger.
It does seem slightly magical that a 6.2-inch screen can halve in size so easily; it’ll certainly impress. Ultimately, though, it is a phone you buy for nostalgia value; it encapsulates the look and feel of perhaps the noughties’ most iconic phone (prior to June 2007, anyway) without making too many sacrifices from a high-end Android 10 handset.
The 2MP camera resolution is a bit of a poor show, though it is able to capture 720P video which puts it some other budget flip phones. The 8GB is also bigger than some, and can be extended further by means of MicroSD card.
In terms of communications, Wi-Fi and 4G are on offer, so this isn’t as painfully slow as some of the bargain basement flip phones, and it’s even capable of creating a Wi-Fi hotspot should you prefer to use a laptop over the phone’s built-in web browser.
Running KaiOS with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 210 like many other feature phones does offer the possibility of apps, but doesn’t feel super-quick. Then again, with up to 12 days standby time, this phone has other advantages.
While this phone is distinctly flip in nature, it does have a few traits in common with smarter devices, running Android (although admittedly the historic version 5.1). Despite its relative age, it’s also 4G LTE and Wi-Fi equipped and the rugged build does give it a USP.
If you’re a smartphone users going somewhere you wouldn’t risk your delicate big-screen slab-style smartphone, this might be a good backup device, with an even safer screen than that on smart devices like the Caterpillar Cat S40.
At 5MP the camera could be worse, and can record 720P video. You can add to the memory via MicroSD.
Video-capable, and running an admittedly old version of Android (6.0, “Marshmallow,” since you ask), this is a more powerful device than many of the flip phones on offer, with a bigger and better screen to boot. Despite that, there are no worries about a delicate flexible screen technology so, if you don’t mind the t9 text-entry system but are going to be taking the phone through some difficult conditions, this might be the choice for you.
The handset is also equipped with all the communications basics – wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS and a MicroUSB connector, and the main camera can capture video at 1080P30, while you can use the other for VoLTE. The camera is also more modern than many flip phones, with face detection and touch-to-focus ontop of the 3264x2448 image resolution. That said, you might have to pay for it – in some places only a very pricey gold edition can be found.
Okay, so this is a bit of a stretch as a flip phone but, in common with other handsets in the category, there is a physical part of the phone which closes to protect the keyboard. Unlike the snappy jaw-like flippers, the screen remains exposed on the 4G 8110, so there is no need for any dual-screen nonsense to see the caller ID. Best of both?
It nearly was – it even has a version of Snake on board – but it’s let down by a feeble 2MP rear camera which can only boast an LED flash as any kind of useful feature, and no selfie camera at all. It can shoot video, not that you’ll be especially pleased with the results. Build quality isn’t ideal either; the plastic is easily scuffed. On the plus side, it does look cool when the button backlight pops on as you slide the cover down.
With gently curved edges and a small overall size, this is a very traditional flip phone which might make an excellent companion on a trip you wouldn’t want to take your main device. Not only that, but the bright red case means it should be easy to find should you end up needing it (and if you prefer, there is a black version too).
Features-wise, there isn’t anything to get excited about, though the headphones to allow you to use the FM Radio are bundled with the handset, which is nice. Other than that calendar, calculator and alarm are about it – digital detox max!
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