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The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 convinced me that clamshells are the best foldables
The future is foldable — at least if Samsung has anything to say about it. I’ve spent plenty of time with the company’s Galaxy Z lineup, and I’m inclined to agree. They haven’t reached their final forms yet, but the Fold and Flip series are the most fun I’ve had with a pair of devices in a long time. A year later, I’m still reaching for Samsung’s pocket-friendly foldable when I switch phones, and it hasn’t lost any of its charm. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 might not be perfect, but it’s enough to convince me that clamshells are the best foldable phones on the market.
How is it holding up? Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 six months later
The friendliest form factor
Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a large phone, as most 6.7-inch devices are. However, it’s a large phone that rarely feels like one, thanks to its unique folding ability. You never feel like you’re wedging a phablet-sized monster into your pocket, nor do you have to worry about how much space it will take up once you add a case. Instead, it’s friendly enough for most users, even those concerned about the limited real estate of women’s pants pockets.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is, as I see it, the perfect form factor for foldable phones. Its internal and external displays have distinct purposes, offering access to notifications and widgets without demanding that you open your phone every time. It’s easier to use your phone less, checking notifications as needed rather than getting distracted whenever you just need to check the weather. The different uses are a distinct contrast to the Galaxy Z Fold 3, where you could easily get by with the external display alone — defeating the point of the larger internal folding display.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 encourages the use of both displays, while you could easily get by with the Galaxy Z Fold 3's external option.
Also, if you’ve ever tried to prop up a Galaxy Z Fold device to take a picture, you know it feels like a house of cards ready to tumble. You’re relying on a slim, folded edge and a healthy dose of balance. On the other hand, the Flip sits comfortably on a wide, flat platform that’s ready for TikTok dances or carefully posed family photos.
I’ll admit to not having the largest hands, so the ability to open the Flip with one hand and reach everything I need is essential. Of course, I can’t reach the top edge of the display, but that’s what one-handed mode is for. The Fold series, on the other hand, is impossible to use with one hand, at least while open. Its size and weight turn single-handed use into a balancing act, and you’re already limited to the length of your thumb. You can always tap into the S Pen, but you’ll need a second hand or a desk on which you can set your Fold.
There are book-style foldable phones that approach the usability of the Galaxy Z Flip, most notably the Oppo Find N. However, Oppo’s stout device isn’t readily available in the US, which kneecaps its potential for many buyers. If Samsung were to copy the smaller foldable’s approach, we might have a real battle on our hands.
One UI is already one of our favorite Android skins, and the foldable wrinkles make it even better. I’ve customized all of the widgets on my external display so that I seldom have to open my phone unless I want to. I can get the gist of text messages and emails and check the day’s weather without ever laying eyes on the main display. Even better, Samsung keeps adding widgets to the mix, so there are usually new ways to make the phone feel more like your own.
Widgets that encourage light phone usage somehow make the overall experience even more enjoyable.
While widgets are great, the unique twist to the camera app makes the Galaxy Z Flip 3 shine. I mentioned above that it’s much easier to use when folded, and Samsung’s camera controls automatically adapt to the folded shape. Instead of splitting your viewfinder above and below the crease, the image lives above while all your controls live below. You can also use the external display as a selfie preview, giving you a pair of 12MP selfie cameras instead of the internal 10MP option.
Even something as simple as streaming video helps to illustrate the difference between the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and its Galaxy Z Fold sibling. Sure, TVs used to be square, much like the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s internal display, but those days are behind us. Watching a movie leaves you with thick black bars across the top and bottom, chopping the 7.6-inch display to a fraction of its original size. On the other hand, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is ready for the widescreen way of life with minimal loss.
Learn more: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 buyer’s guide
Room to grow
I said it up at the top, but the Galaxy Z Flip series isn’t perfect — at least not yet. Its smaller form factor limits some of its internal components, while the Galaxy Z Fold has more real estate to flex its muscles. The battery and charging capabilities are the biggest gap between the two, with the larger device picking up an extra 1,000mAh over its pocket-friendly sibling. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 also charges at 25W compared to the Flip’s 15W wired rate.
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Then, there’s the matter of the cameras. The diminutive Flip carries a pair of 12MP shooters, which are excellent as dual selfie lenses, yet they feel underpowered as a primary array. You get a third 12MP lens with the Fold and the cool — but not overly helpful — 4MP under-display lens. I’m not asking for an under-display lens on the next Galaxy Z Flip (mostly because it’s not ready yet), but it’s about time the clamshell took a few steps forward.
Samsung has the clamshell market in the palm of its hand, yet it's barely changed the Galaxy Z Flip from its original tooling.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is essentially unchanged from the first version, even though it’s become the most popular foldable phone in the world. Samsung has captured a whopping 88% of the global foldable market yet seems content to sit on an existing design, at least for the moment.
Further, Samsung has the clamshell market by the horns. Its only real competition is the Huawei P50 Pocket, which suffers from Huawei’s usual list of issues. However, the P50 Pocket offers sharper cameras overall and a 4,000mAh battery with much faster 40W charging. Its lack of Google services relegates it to a supporting role, but its hardware should be enough to push Samsung for loftier goals.
In my eyes, the clamshell is safe in its position as the best foldable for most people. The form factor, software tweaks, and touch of nostalgia make it easier to pick up and use daily. However, the Galaxy Z Flip (and, by extension, the Motorola Razr) has some lessons to take from its book-style siblings if it wants to get even better. I’ll continue to reach for my trusty clamshell, but I’m ready for it to take the next step forward.