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 best 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. These phones have a screen that stretches over both sides of the fold when opened up – creating a tablet display that closes up neatly when not in use. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Designed specifically with older users in mind, this phone features a simplified version of the Android 8.1 operating system. Special features for seniors include an SOS button that called up to 5 emergency contacts and shares the phone’s GPS location, and photo contacts that let you add up to 8 faces which can be called at the touch of a number (or the touch screen). Although TTFone has alternatives, they say the flip design eliminates pocket dials.
The dock charger is harder to lose down a table than a USB/Lightning cable, and the buttons are a decent size. The phone offers voice and video calling – including via Whatsapp – which will help keep the call bills down in wi-fi locations. Whether the design touches for elderly users can truly be considered to help the technophobic is another matter, but the buttons are a good size.
Typically sold without a contract, this is a senior-friendly flip phone with all the protection that comes from the clamshell design, plus a few more features designed specifically with more frail users, specifically the SOS button. This automatically reaches out to 5 emergency contacts – but only when it’s very definitely pressed for over a second. There are also two very clearly marked memory numbers – so no diving through contact menus – and, surprisingly useful for many, a charging dock. There was a time when Apple included them! Finally it’s worth noting that the screen is a very good size for a basic phone, as well as the keys, so more usability points!
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.