Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 — this is the rumor that has me worried

Galaxy Z Fliip 5 images posted by WinFuture
(Image credit: WinFuture)

Update: Follow our Samsung Unpacked live blog now for the official Galaxy Z Flip 5 launch news.

2023 is a big year for foldables, and that poses a big problem for Samsung. The company has been mostly unopposed in the foldable phone market, especially in the U.S. But new releases from Google, OnePlus and Motorola mean that’s no longer the case. To make matters worse the next generation of Galaxy Z foldables are shaping up to be mediocre, at best.

The Galaxy Z Flip 5 is arguably in a better position than the bookish Galaxy Z Fold 5. Rumors are promising a significant upgrade, in the form of a larger cover display. The Z Fold 5, on the other hand, is looking to be just as exciting as an elementary school play featuring other peoples’ kids. But that cover display may not be able to live up to its full potential — and that’s a serious problem.

According to a new rumor, the Galaxy Z Flip 5’s cover display will not be able to run full versions of apps — something the Motorola Razr+ can do to varying degrees of effectiveness. Instead, word is the outer display will be limited to widget-based software. 

The larger cover display is a welcome upgrade

Most of the Galaxy Z Flip 5 upgrades that have been rumored are pretty weak. On the plus side it’s claimed that the phone could come with a redesigned hinge, just like the Z Fold 5, alongside a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset — which would enhance both performance and battery life. The camera is also said to offer the same resolution as the Galaxy Z Flip 4, albeit with a larger sensor for capturing more light.

Those are not unwelcome upgrades, but they’re also not very exciting. The camera is particularly disappointing considering the Z Flip 4 wasn’t that much different from the Galaxy Z Flip 3.

The larger cover display is a different matter entirely. It’s something that was originally rumored for the Z Flip 4, but never actually materialized. But now rumors and renders have all but confirmed that the 1.9-inch display is growing to a much larger 3.4-inches

The opportunities for that are pretty clear. The cover display on the Z Flip 5 will be able to do a lot more than just display notifications or the time. That additional display space opens up the possibilities to do so much more. To the point where you may even be able to do a bunch of tasks without ever having to unfold the phone.

After all, the original iPhone, which kicked off the current smartphone trend, had a 3.5-inch display. While that screen was taller than the Z Flip 5’s cover display is likely to be, it does prove not all phones need to have large 6-plus-inch displays to be useful. Heck even the Motorola Razr+ has shown the potential for this, even if its execution wasn’t 100% perfect.

Unfortunately Samsung may end up botching the whole thing by restricting the cover display’s software, and sticking to pre-made widgets rather than full versions of apps.

A widget-only approach puts the Z Flip 5 at a disadvantage

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 render front display

(Image credit: Winfuture)

In a way, I can understand why Samsung may have opted for widgets instead of full apps. Cover display widgets will presumably be purpose built for the screen, which would in turn offer an enhanced user experience. That’s particularly important given the fact that renders show the Z Flip 5 as having a little fin, so to speak, next to the main camera array.

But sticking to a widget-only system would limit the capabilities of the Z Flip 5’s outer display for no good reason. There’s a difference between preferring that people use that slick, optimized software, and actively preventing them from doing anything else. Especially when there’s a competitor out there that offers no such limitation.

In my time with the Motorola Razr+, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the cover display handled apps that weren’t officially supported. You essentially got scaled-down versions of the main app that worked almost identically. There were problems with limited screen space, or the camera array being in the way in full-screen mode, but that didn’t stop the whole system working really well.

Is it better than using an app on the full-size main screen? Not in the slightest, but it was good enough that you didn’t always have to unflip your phone if you wanted to do something quickly.

Combined with the fact that the Motorola Razr+ starts at $999, cheaper than any Galaxy Z Flip phone has launched for, it certainly gives Motorola the advantage. Especially since all those apps can run on the cover display without any input from the developers.

Therein lies another problem. Running unoptimized apps might not be perfect, but it means users have access to almost anything they can download from Google Play. Optimized widgets need developers to have some incentive to put in the extra effort — which they may not be inclined to do.

Historically app developers tend to go where the users are, and foldable phones aren’t exactly big sellers at the moment. 14.2 million foldables were shipped in 2022, according to reports, which is barely anything compared to the 1.2 billion global shipments of all smartphones. In short you can’t rely on developer goodwill forever, which is why Samsung would be foolhardy to launch the Z Flip 5 without some kind of Razr-style app support for its cover display.

Bottom line

So far everything is pointing towards the Galaxy Z flip 5 being rather a mediocre upgrade, compared to the Galaxy Z Flip 4. So really the only thing the phone has going for it is the fact the cover display is getting a much-needed boost in size. But that boost is only going so far if Samsung doesn’t allow that external display to reach its full potential.

Maybe the rumors will turn out to be wrong, and Samsung will be offering full app support alongside an optimized widget-based experience. Combine that with Samsung’s existing foldable software prowess, and you have the potential for a rather good phone — even if the rest of the hardware isn’t getting the upgrades we’d hoped for. 

If not, then the Galaxy Z Flip 5 will be in trouble. The Motorola Razr+ has proven itself to be an excellent foldable, with a versatile cover display, solid features, and a price tag we don’t expect Samsung to match. Compared to that, the Samsung brand recognition may only go so far.

More from Tom's Guide

Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.