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Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 second opinion: This foldable has heart
Foldable phones have their fair share of skeptics. Some call them gimmicks, while others are convinced that the phones are a solution looking for a problem. Specifically, in the case of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, it could be said that a flip phone is practically redundant in an age where users are accustomed to large-screen devices.
However, it is that same quirkiness and moxie that plays a role in Samsung’s cute little foldable’s head-turning appeal. Sure, the big and bold Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the smartphone-tablet hybrid of the future, but for foldable phones to go mainstream, Samsung needs a device that balances price and everyday usability while also being a statement piece in itself.
Does the Galaxy Z Flip 3 achieve that goal? We certainly had some praise for it in our review (check it out below), but I wanted to test the phone for myself to see if the phone’s heady mix of futuristic hardware and a tinge of nostalgia is what the foldable category needs to truly hit its stride.
Our verdict: Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review
There’s magic in here
As someone who writes about technology for a living, I’ve tried my fair share of foldable phones, flippable phones, and even a rollable phone. But the fact of the matter is, it’s still pretty darn cool to open up a phone with a folding screen. On the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, that effect is complemented by the sheer refinement in the hardware. The overhauled aluminum and glass design looks chic, bringing the phone right in line with the rest of Samsung’s premium line-up. This time around, it’s even got an IPX8 rating for water resistance.
Samsung claims that it is using a material called “Armor Aluminum” in the construction of the phone in addition to Gorilla Glass Victus on the cover display. However, in my experience, the aluminum was definitely prone to scratches and I could observe hairline scratches all over the front just from sliding it out of my otherwise empty pocket.
Read more: The best foldable phones you can get
While the upscaled hardware is a welcome but expected move, the real improvements lie elsewhere. Take, for example, the significantly larger 1.9-inch cover display. That increase in size has elevated the screen from a barely usable display to a legitimate quick glance solution for notifications and widgets. Unexpectedly, it also impacted how I used the phone.
Over my ten days or so with the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, I observed that I just wasn’t flipping the phone open as much. More often than not, the cover display had enough glanceable information to allow me to decide whether to take action at the moment, or not. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that it has helped me break away from my habit of dead scrolling or getting distracted by social media when unlocking my phone to check a notification. Samsung didn’t set out to make a digital detox phone, but it might be onto something here.
Samsung didn't set out to make a digital detox phone, but it might be onto something here.
Some of the more subtle modifications like the boxy shape and sharper edges also spoke to me. They give the phone an almost Game Boy Advance SP-esque profile, and as a fan of vintage portables, I’m definitely not complaining.
Those little reductions in corners and size make the phone feel a lot more compact and comfortable while fitting in the palm of your hand. Sliding the phone into your pocket isn’t particularly cumbersome, though it does leave a bigger bulge than regular slabs. Elsewhere, folded down, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 easily slips into a shirt pocket.
Additionally, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that you’re not going to scratch up your phone’s screen jamming it in with keys. The Z Flip 3 might not have the monster multi-tasking capabilities of the Z Fold 3, but it’s an immensely liveable design and I can see that appealing to a lot of users — it certainly did to me.
On the flip side (heh), I wish Samsung had done some work on making it easier to open the phone with one hand. As it stands, the hinge action is just a bit too tight and you will definitely need two hands to pry open the phone, leaving my dreams of whipping out the Z Flip 3 and flipping it open one-handed for a call somewhat unfulfilled. The side-mounted fingerprint reader isn’t the easiest to reach either. Placing it along the lower half of the body might work out a bit better for one-handed use. That said, as Eric mentioned in his review, shutting the phone with one hand after a call is incredibly satisfying.
From a hardware point of view, my chief takeaway from the Galaxy Z Flip 3 has been a feeling of intrigue and astonishment. Sure, I’m a heavy smartphone user by any measure, but the Z Flip 3’s flip-out form factor stretches way beyond nostalgia. In some ways it made me reflect on my current smartphone usage reality. As someone who is in front of a laptop screen for 16 hours a day, the Z Flip 3 pushed me towards deliberate action or inaction. The act of opening up the phone proved to be enough of a barrier that I would often just swipe through notifications on the cover screen itself. And, for me, that was definitely a positive.
Vibrant, fast, and imperfect
The Z Flip 3’s display gets a serious upgrade to bring it in line with 2021 standards. The 6.7-inch display here finally has an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate and that makes a big difference in everyday fluidity. It’s bright, it’s vibrant, and yes, it has a crease along the center.
The Z Flip 3 uses a reinforced protective layer to keep the folding AMOLED screen safe from damage. However, the protective layer makes the display quite reflective. The glare has the added disadvantage of making the central crease particularly noticeable with the screen set to dark mode or while watching darker scenes in movies. Personally, I found the Galaxy Z Flip 3 to be the rare phone where light mode is much more immersive than dark mode.
Finally, the extra tall and narrow 22:9 display takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s a great fit for long web pages and social feeds. Can’t complain.
Camera versatility at a cost
By virtue of its unique form factor, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 affords users a couple of options when taking photographs. Sure, you could just open the phone wide and take a shot, but flipping it half-open lets you use the Galaxy Z Flip 3 camcorder style for some innovative camera angles. Additionally, the phone can be easily propped up on a flat surface to capture time-lapses or even selfies from the rear cameras. There’s a lot of room for experimentation.
The cameras, however, are decidedly last-gen. The 12MP shooters at the back are the same components as on the Galaxy Z Flip 5G, and the image quality is a noticeable step behind current flagship standards.
Check out: The best camera phones you can get
You’ll observe the typical Samsung camera tuning, with contrast levels bumped up and overall exposure levels set just a bit too high. Moreover, it is easy to observe tell-tale signs of aggressive HDR in the clouds to tame highlights.
The camera performs admirably when going up close with a subject, though it is no macro shooter. In the indoor shot of the car, the gauges are brightly exposed and the camera does a good job at pulling details out of darker regions, though this is at the expense of an over-exposed image.
This theme remained consistent even in less than perfect light, where Samsung prioritizes bright exposure levels despite grain and a hint of noise in the shot.
The ultra-wide shooter does just as well, and the camera tuning is consistent across the two devices. I observed distortion along the edges, but the camera does an exemplary job of capturing a great-looking, if not entirely accurate photograph, even with the ultra-wide camera.
While I wasn’t particularly impressed by the selfie camera on the inside of the phone, I didn’t use it much either. Instead, I opted to use the primary cameras with the cover display function. This lets you capture your selfies using the best cameras on board, albeit with a caveat. For some odd reason, Samsung will only let you capture 1:1 square format images when shooting with the main cameras in cover display mode.
In ultra-low-light settings, you can wangle some passable shots out of the Z Flip 3 camera, but this ain’t no Mi 11 Ultra — another quirky phone that has its own use-the-rear-camera-for-selfies workaround. You can take a look at full resolution Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 camera samples over in this Google Drive folder.
Fast and hot
A Snapdragon 888 chipset keeps the phone speedy, and I didn’t run into any performance hiccups. That blazing speed, however, comes with a caveat — the chipset is a scorcher.
Read more: The best Snapdragon 888 phones you can buy
On more occasions than one, I found the top of the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 hot to the touch. It was never worrisome, but intensive games will be best played in a cool environment. Elsewhere, you’ll find Samsung One UI 3.1, which has its pros and cons. There are ample features here, from extensive customization to Samsung-specific features like the ability to copy and paste text or images across Samsung devices. Despite its plans to kill Samsung promotions or ads across its devices, I noticed several spam notifications from Samsung’s first-party apps — definitely not a good look on any device, let alone a premium one.
The Snapdragon 888 chipset is a performance beast, but the battery struggles to keep up.
While on the topic of performance, it bears mentioning that the scorching chipset is also quite the battery hog. With ample use of the full-size display, I averaged about four hours of screen-on time. This is better than my colleague Eric achieved in his testing, but still isn’t very good at all, even if it’s to be expected given the tiny 3,300mAh battery. It doesn’t help that charging speeds top-off at 15W. Wireless charging is slower still at just 10W.
For what it’s worth, I found myself making use of the cover display for many basic tasks and could usually make it to the end of the day on a single charge.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review second opinion: The everyday foldable
Samsung’s pricing for the Galaxy Z Flip 3 truly drives home the fact that the South Korean company is fully invested in making foldable phones its future. The phone starts at $999 in the US, £949 in the UK, and €999 in the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, in India, the phone is priced starting at Rs. 84,999. Compared to the earlier models, we’re finally starting to see price parity between foldable devices and regular high-end smartphones, which could prove to be the tipping point for mainstream adoption.
Setting up the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3, I went in skeptical. Ten days later, I’ve emerged a believer in the form factor. It’s not the phone for the pros — Samsung would rather have you buy a Z Fold 3 for that — but the Z Flip 3 brings a fun factor that we haven’t seen in smartphones for a while.
Samsung's quirky foldable is the right mix of specs and nostalgia at a price point that is bound to entice mainstream buyers.
Call me old-fashioned, but the tactility of folding and unfolding a phone for even the most basic tasks creates a degree of separation between the phone and real life, and I enjoyed that right down to the finality of snapping the phone shut to end a call.
But what really matters is that Samsung has created a foldable that is priced right in line with mainstream flagships and has the specs to match, while offering something we haven’t seen in smartphones for a long time — a cool quotient. And that is the deal clincher.