This text is based on a shooting script for our video teardown of Samsung’s Z-Flip and Z-Fold 3. It may not precisely match the dialogue in the full video.
This is Samsung’s third year making smartphones that fold, and like always, they’re making some big claims. Big claims, like IPX8 water resistance, a more natural-feeling, scratch-resistant protective layer over the flexible glass, and just better durability all-around.
Today I’m looking at the Galaxy Z Flip and Z Fold3, in a bit of a folding phone extravaganza. Part of me is glad that Samsung keeps trying to make these, because they sure are interesting, but so far they have been pretty terrible to repair. I don’t expect that to change this year, but I am excited to learn how they pulled off water resistance with so many moving parts.
The way I understand it, based on their marketing and their neat exclusive interview with The Verge, is, rather than try to prevent water from getting to the hinges at all, they coated them with water-repellent lubricant, then used glue to seal up both halves of the phone like they normally do.
I’m about to find out how accurate that is, but before I do, a message for Samsung: if you are going to show someone the insides of your hot new phones and explain all your decisions again, maybe call us next time? Anyway.
Like the Galaxy folding phones before them, both of these phones open by carefully removing the adhered glass panels on their backsides. On the Z Flip, you’ll want to watch out for the cables near the hinge! I nicked those pretty bad. Oops.
The Z Fold’s outer display has some interesting adhesive: it’s part foam, part regular Galaxy liner. Heat didn’t seem to loosen it much, so I had to start slicing from the earpiece speaker notch.
Once all four outer panels are dispatched, removing a series of shields and the wireless charging coils allows me to disconnect batteries, then a couple more steps free the display cable connectors.
On the folding display sides, I peel up the raised plastic bezels on my way to the screens. If you’re going to attempt a display repair on either of these, I’d recommend trying to find a new bezel, because you might break or bend yours, like I did! The plastic bumper bezels on the series three Folds are thicker, so they’re more difficult to pull up without bending and snapping.
After a quick trip back to the heat pad, the displays are ready to come free. Like the previous folds, the screens are reinforced by a thin metal plate, which makes cutting through the adhesive underneath less likely to damage the fragile OLED panel.
Less dangerous doesn’t mean easy in the case of the Z Fold though. The adhesive holding down that flexible glass is some of the most obnoxious I’ve ever encountered. It’s sticky, and Samsung has applied it almost all the way to the center of the Fold.
Making matters worse, there’s one cable that just barely doesn’t have enough room to slide through the frame, so I had to loosen the motherboard to give it enough room to wiggle free. After that drama, I can remove both of the bendy displays.
Up to this point both phones have been mostly similar to previous years’, but I have a feeling this is where things are going to get a little different. Samsung’s water resistance strategy is to allow water to get under the screen, then stop it before it gets to anything important. Which is why, since we just submerged these for our intro shot, you’ll see some water under this Z Flip display.
On the backside of the Z Fold display you can see the lines of residual adhesive. Samsung put adhesive perimeters all the way around each of the three cables, which is part of what made separating that screen so difficult.
These glue trails have a purpose beyond general stickiness, though. If we look at the back of the display again, you’ll see the adhesive perimeters are strategically placed to protect each cable from water, which, again, can and will get under the display.
One more neat Z Fold display thing: this is the front-facing camera hole! The dots you can see are OLED pixels, just more spaced out than the rest of the display so the camera can peek through.
Now let’s look under the Z Flip3’s screen.
Last year underneath these stickers, the hinge and cables were exposed. This time, a pair of extra metal plates guards them. The plates are attached to these rubber strips, And under these rubber strips is the goop I’ve been looking for.
So this is where Samsung is hoping to stop liquid from getting to the rest of the phone. In their interview with Dieter, they call this a “cured-in-place gasket.” It’s like a fancy Jell-O. When they dispense it, it’s a liquid, and as it is exposed to air, it solidifies and becomes this wiggly goop you see along the rubber gasket. But … don’t try to eat it.
A little more Z Flip disassembly gets us these close-ups of the nylon brushes, which do their darnedest to keep dust out of the hinge, and then we have the hinge itself. The hinge is improved from the last Z Flip: it can be opened to any angle, not just 90 and 180 degrees.
Back to Z Fold (french accent lol), stickers cover the display-side hinges, then six metal plates, and four of the rubber gaskets, complete with their clear Jell-O. More screws hold the three parts of phone together, and after some de-threading you can see the Z Fold is also equipped with its own nylon dust-brushes.
So, we’ve done our own research, and found that Samsung is not bluffing about their fancy folding phones’ water resistance. We could have just trusted their IP certification, but that’s not fun. Our phones survived their time in the fish tank, and in each disassembly we found a couple subtle new ways that the phones are protected from liquid intrusion. The one thing we didn’t notice was the “lubricant” that Samsung mentioned to Dieter. I’m assuming that’s just lubricating in the gears of the hinges, I kind of just expected it to be… all over the hinges.
Through a repairability lens, neither of these phones is really that different from its predecessor. I will say the new Z Flip is probably the more repairable of the two, thanks to its screen and both batteries being reasonably accessible early in the disassembly process, but it’s pretty obvious that neither one is designed with repair in mind. But, at least they’re a little more durable this year, and hopefully now that Samsung has the folding phone formula more or less figured out, they can start thinking about how to make them easier to fix.
Oh and Samsung, for real: call us. We can help you make these better.