The Galaxy Z Flip 5 is incredibly frustrating for one reason

Trying to run apps on the cover screen shouldn't be this hard.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 cover screen on top of other models.

I’m in the process of writing my review of the new Galaxy Z Flip 5 from Samsung, which will go live on CNN Underscored when it’s finished. Spoiler alert: I really like this phone, and many of my fellow tech buddies/reviewers do too. It gets a lot of stuff right in its execution, to the point where you could consider it the perfect flip phone.

Except it’s not perfect. I have one huge issue with the Galaxy Z Flip 5, one so big it warranted its own article to talk about: the cover screen and trying to run apps on it.

The marquee feature of the Z Flip 5 is its larger cover display, which has grown from 1.9 inches to 3.4 inches. Not only does the extra screen real estate make it more useful, but it also allows the device to compete head-to-head with the Motorola Razr+, which has an even larger 3.6-inch cover screen. Samsung’s is designed a bit more conservatively, stopping short of the rear cameras instead of stretching behind them like the Razr, but it’s still a huge improvement nonetheless.

You also get a lot of similar functionality to the Razr like widgets, quick settings, music controls, and more. The bigger screen means you can do more things without having to open your phone, which is great when you’re on the go.

That idea correlates directly with my biggest point of contention with the Z Flip 5. Like the Razr+, you can run full apps on the cover screen, which comes in handy if you want to check directions in Google Maps or check something off your Todoist while your phone is closed. It’s also pretty comical watching YouTube or playing Call of Duty on the–by comparison–tiny display, but it can be done.

Here’s my problem: Motorola wants you to do this, and Samsung practically asks you not to.

Here’s TikTok running on the Razr+’s cover display. | Photo: Max Buondonno

With the Razr+, the second widget panel on the cover screen is the Apps panel, complete with shortcuts to some apps like Maps and Spotify. You can customize which apps appear on the list to your liking, and when you’re done, you can open any of the apps you chose without having to open your phone first. Some apps work better than others, but you can freely use whatever app you want.

On the Z Flip 5, that’s not the case, at least not really. For starters, the apps panel on the cover screen isn’t enabled by default–it’s considered a Labs feature, so you have to dive into settings and flick the toggle that says “Apps allowed on cover screen.” After that, you can only use six apps that Samsung has deemed compatible with the Z Flip 5’s cover display, including Google Maps, Google Messages, Samsung Messages, WhatsApp, Netflix, and YouTube. (I was pretty surprised to see Spotify missing from this list given Samsung and Spotify’s partnerships throughout the years, especially since it doesn’t look that bad on the screen.)

Then, if you want to run other apps that Samsung hasn’t officially certified, you need to download an app called Good Lock from the Samsung Galaxy Store. This app doesn’t actually let you run the apps, mind you–it’s just a bridge between the cover screen and a Good Lock module called “MultiStar.” The module, which can be installed from the “Life Up” tab in the Good Lock app, is what will give you extra features for your foldable through a menu called “I ♥ Galaxy Foldable.” From there, you’ll find extra “Cover Widgets” including one called “Launcher Widget,” which will give you access to more apps on your cover screen.

These are the steps you need to take to do the same thing the Razr+ can do straight out of the box. It’s a wildly frustrating experience, one that seems to set up as many roadblocks as possible to stop you from attempting to run third-party apps on your Z Flip 5’s cover display.

My question is why? Why does Samsung make it so difficult to run apps on the cover screen? Motorola gives you the option up front, and their cover display is wackier than what’s on the Z Flip 5. Where’s the logic?

The only reason that seems obvious to me is quality control of the cover screen experience. Samsung knows that most apps will suck when they’re opened on the cover display, and it would take too long and too many resources to have third-party developers optimize their apps for it. So, to keep consumers away from a bad experience in their favorite apps, the Z Flip 5 buries the necessary settings and makes you hunt them down. If you’re willing to jump through all the hoops, you’ll likely be okay with a subpar version of your apps.

But here’s the thing: since when has Samsung cared about app quality on different form factors? Forget about all the headaches foldables have caused for app developers–tablet apps on Android have sucked for years, and Samsung has tried to convince people that using them to get things done on devices like the Galaxy Tab Ultra series is a good idea.

It’s too hard to optimize enough Android apps on weird hardware to make the experience feel natural and headache-free. In fact, it’s basically impossible; not only is Samsung incapable of solving the problem, but so is Google, whose Pixel Fold is susceptible to the same problems every folding phone is in terms of app compatibility. But at that point, if you know the apps will suck and there’s nothing you can do about it, why stop users from using them?

Instagram always looks hideous on large-screen folding phones, games are notorious for having UI elements cut off by weird aspect ratios, and any app with an interface that isn’t a couple of buttons and long lists look rough on three- to four-inch cover screens on flip phones. We’ve seen it with the Razr, and we’re seeing it again with the Z Flip 5.

I just don’t get why that warrants not enabling the feature out of the box. Motorola’s doing it, and we’re all aware that it’s a shaky experience. Just let people launch apps from the Z Flip 5’s cover display the moment they take it out of the box. They’ll discover which apps work and which ones don’t, and at that point, they can decide whether to use the feature.

If anything, just ship the whole feature as a single toggle in Labs. The moment you flick it on, I want to be able to run any app I want. Don’t make me go hunting through the Galaxy Store for an obscure app I’ve never heard of, only to download a second module no one knows exists and then open said module to find a menu with a bunch of options to add various widgets to your cover screen.

It’s too complicated, and it ticks me off every time I compare it to the simplified experience of the Razr+. Is it a deal breaker? By no means; the feature is there for those who want it. But it’s unnecessarily difficult to turn on, and for no good reason.