Samsung defined the market for foldable phones with the original Galaxy Fold in 2019. It offered people the utility of a tablet in a device that fits into your pocket thanks to the technically advanced folding display. The Fold was fragile, however, and unaffordable for most. Samsung addressed the fragility with the Z Fold 2, but not the cost. This year the Galaxy Z Fold 3 sees Samsung making strides in both areas thanks to an even more robust folding screen and a lower price of entry.
These updates help the Galaxy Z Fold 3 remain the standard for what a folding phone can and should do, leaving many rivals far behind. Huawei is, at the moment, the only real challenger, though its folding phones are strictly limited in availability. With so few folding phones available, Samsung more or less has the market on lock. Will any phone maker ever step up or catch up?
Find out what sets the Fold apart in the Android Authority Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review.
What you need to know about the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 (256GB): $1,799 / €1,799 / £1,599
- Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 (512GB): $1,899 / €1,899 / £1,699
Samsung is back with its third-generation Galaxy Z Fold, a device that opens like a book to reveal a large internal screen. The device boasts two displays, and apps that can seamlessly transition from one to the other to help you maximize your productivity and fun. This year’s phone sees tasteful but important updates to the hardware that make it a stronger, more useful device that’s easier than ever to recommend. But the phone comes at a cost — and I’m not talking about the price tag. Samsung made the Z Fold 3 compatible with its S Pen stylus while at the same time it nixed its beloved, stylus-toting Note series. Can the Z Fold 3 pull double duty, serving as Samsung’s top foldable and Note replacement all in one? It’s a tall order.
What’s the difference? Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs Galaxy Z Fold 2
If Samsung has tempted you with its Galaxy Z Fold 3 smartphone, your best bet is to preorder the phone directly from Samsung before it reaches general retail. The company is offering generous trade-in values on your old phones, multiple financing options, and free credit toward accessories. Pre-orders are open now and run through August 26. The phone goes on sale on August 27. In the US, you can also score some deals via carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, though none are quite so appealing as those on offer from Samsung itself.
You’re going to need those deals. At $1,799 for the 256GB model and $1,899 for the 512GB model, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 might cost 10% less than the old models did, but that doesn’t mean it’s affordable yet. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 remains one of the most expensive smartphones in the market and that relegates it to the absolute top of the premium tier. No other device has quite the cachet as a folding phone and you’ll pay for the experience.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 remains one of the most expensive smartphones in the market.
This year, Samsung is shipping the phone with the absolute minimum in the way of in-box goodies. There’s no charger, no headphones, and no case, just a USB-C cable, and a SIM ejector tool. It comes in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, and Phantom Green. The S Pen is sold separately. There are two options, the S Pen Fold ($49), which is only compatible with the Z Fold 3, or the S Pen Pro ($99), which is much bigger and adds Bluetooth and compatibility with many older Samsung phones and tablets.
Design: A step up
- Armor Aluminum, Gorilla Glass Victus
- 158.2 x 67.1 x 16mm (folded), 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4mm (unfolded)
- Side-mounted fingerprint reader
- Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, Phantom Green
Samsung nipped and tucked the design here and there in just the right ways to boost the Z Fold 3’s appeal when compared to its predecessors.
Let’s start with the materials. Samsung upgraded the chassis to what it calls Armor Aluminum, something that’s purported to be stronger than 7,000 series aluminum. As before, each half of the phone has a full metal frame that attaches to the hinge mechanism in the middle. The two outer glass panels have been upgraded to Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, the company’s most shatter-proof material yet. I like that the glass is curved along the edges where it tucks into the metal frame. This helps smooth out the profile of the phone to a small degree. The four corners of the phone have been rounded off just a hair, too.
These changes make for a more robust piece of hardware that’s also more comfortable in the hand. The phone simply feels stronger. It doesn’t hurt that the device is also fractionally thinner and lighter. The squarish shape is still awkward to use when open because it’s hard to grip one-handed, but that’s something I think owners will get used to over time.
The flexible screen is some of the most advanced tech available to consumers.
The hinge continues to be a wonder. It is covered by a thick aluminum spine that runs the entire length of the phone. All the mechanics are hidden within, leaving the end-user with a seamless experience when opening and closing the device. The action of the hinge is smooth and fluid, and it holds the Z Fold 3 at any angle so you can position the phone in myriad different ways. I particularly like the way the spine disappears as you open the phone.
Then there’s the inner panel. The flexible screen is some of the most advanced tech available to consumers and Samsung managed to really step it up compared to last year’s model. It has a new outer protective layer that Samsung claims is 80% stronger than that of the Z Fold 2. This improved screen protector (which you absolutely shouldn’t remove) is obvious as you interact with the phone; it comes across as less flimsy. Samsung did this to help ready the screen for S Pen stylus support. Samsung also minimized the gaps at the top and bottom of the display where it covers the hinge. The fit and finish of the panel as it moves within the chassis are second to none.
If there’s one simple design element that’s plainly updated, it’s the camera array. Where the Z Fold 2 had a large, rectangular camera module that was in step with the design of the Note 20 series, the Z Fold 3 smooths things over into a smaller, rounder three-lens strip.
The controls and functional elements that are built into the edges around the frame are more or less identical to last year’s phone. The screen lock button, which doubles as a fingerprint reader, is positioned almost in the middle of the chassis on the right edge. As a button, some might say it’s too flush with the surface of the frame around it, which makes it harder to find in a hurry. The action is good, though. As a fingerprint reader, it’s quick and accurate once trained. It’s nice to have dedicated biometrics that work so well. The volume toggle is a little on the short side, but travel and feedback are good. The USB-C port is built into the bottom edge, where you’ll also note a speaker grille and microphone. A matching speaker grille and more microphones are drilled into the top edge of the phone.
The stereo speakers provide Dolby Atmos sound. I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity and balance. Highs, mids, and lows were all present in the mix, which was punchy without being overly bright. What’s more, you can crank the volume high enough to fill a standard room with plenty of sound without worrying about distortion. Bluetooth codec support is very good.
The SIM situation is a bit disappointing. The international version of the phone supports two SIM cards in addition to an eSIM. The US model, however, supports only a single physical SIM card and the electronic SIM is disabled. This is surely a move meant to appease US carriers. It’s anti-consumer and a bummer to boot. The phone doesn’t support expandable memory cards in any model.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3's last, most significant improvement is an IPX8 rating for protection against water.
The Z Fold 3’s last, and perhaps most significant, improvement is an IPX8 rating for protection against water. This is a huge step up even if it has limitations. Samsung said it sealed off the two separate halves of the phone in the normal fashion with tape and glue. It then used a special process that includes some sort of goo to protect the cabling that runs between the two halves so water can’t get in. The hinge itself will expel water that gets inside through its action. The Z Fold 3 is not, however, protected from dust. Remember, an IP rating is twofold: The first number represents protection from dust/dirt and the second number represents protection from liquids. The IPX8 rating means the Z Fold 3 can sit in up to 1.5m of fresh water for up to 30 minutes without a problem. Samsung doesn’t recommend you take the phone to the beach, where sand could cause problems. I (very reluctantly) placed the Z Fold 3 in a shallow pan of water and let it sit for a few minutes. It still works fine.
For those that want the full Z Fold 3 experience, you’ll want to pair it with Samsung’s signature stylus, the S Pen. The S Pen is an optional (and expensive) accessory that doesn’t come with the Z Fold 3. Your old S Pen stylus will not work with the Z Fold 3. Critically, Samsung says older S Pens might damage the screen of the Z Fold 3, so keep them away. The new S Pens have a special retracting point that is meant to protect the Z Fold 3’s folding display from damage. Bottom line: Yes, you’ll have to fork over $50 to $100 to get a new S Pen if you want one for the Z Fold 3.
The smaller of the two S Pens, which we sampled, is a good size and feels comfortable in the hand. Using the stylus comes across as natural on the screen, though you can feel the seam as you drag the stylus back and forth. It’s as responsive as you expect a good stylus to be.
If there’s one major complaint to levy against the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s hardware it’s that the phone doesn’t have a storage space to garage the S Pen. The Galaxy Note, which the Z Fold 3 replaces this year, always featured an internal slot for the S Pen. Granted, the space needed for the S Pen comes at a premium in a device such as the Z Fold 3, where every square millimeter is needed for vital components, but still. Part of the appeal of the Galaxy Note is that the S Pen is always there. With the Galaxy Z Fold 3, you’ll have to either carry the S Pen around separately in a bag or buy a case that includes a slot for the S Pen. Samsung sells the latter online for $80.
In all, Samsung gave the Galaxy Z Fold 3 meaningful design updates that may not be entirely obvious to the naked eye but that add up to a wholly improved phone and experience.
Display: Two for the price of two
- 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED
- 2,268 x 832 resolution
- 25:9 aspect ratio, 120Hz refresh rate
- 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED Infinity X Display
- 2,208 x 1,768 resolution
- 22.5:18 aspect ratio, 120Hz refresh rate
The Z Fold 3 largely carries over the screens from last year’s phone with a couple of small changes to each panel. Let’s talk about each separately.
The smaller external display shares its dimensions and shape with the Z Fold 2, but it tosses in a few more pixels and boosts the refresh rate from 60Hz to 120Hz. The change isn’t overly dramatic but is appreciated nonetheless.
The Z Fold 3’s outer screen is an AMOLED affair in typically saturated Samsung style that offers more than enough real estate for most smartphone tasks. It’s bright, colorful, and easy to use outdoors under the sun. Critically, I was consistently able to rely on the outer screen to act as a camera viewfinder even under the brightest conditions.
The boosted 120Hz refresh rate does make a difference. Thanks to the outer screen’s narrow shape, it’s a natural place to take care of your inbox or scroll through Twitter or other social feeds. The 120Hz rating, which dynamically adjusts depending on the task at hand, improves the smoothness of scrolling in a big way.
Samsung made just the right touches to boost the experience of using the outer screen.
The inner 7.6-inch dynamic AMOLED screen is why you buy the Galaxy Z Fold 3. It’s a fine panel that offers plenty of space for multitasking and media consumption.
Samsung kept the same resolution as last year’s phone, which means a better-than-full-HD experience that’s excellent but not mindboggling. There are plenty of pixels here, but the 374ppi is below the 525ppi number we’ve seen on some standard flagships.
Contrast, color, and brightness are all top-notch, especially considering that this screen bends in half. Full HD content from Netflix and other video purveyors looks excellent, though the odd aspect ratio of the panel means you have thicker black bars above and below your content. The screen also boasts a variable 120Hz refresh rate. I spent hours scrolling through Twitter and Instagram one night and relished the lush experience of pushing the screen up and down.
The uninterrupted look of the huge Z Fold 3 screen is something you can't get from many other phones.
Due to the nature of the protective cover and the materials used, you’ll notice a crazy amount of glare on this screen as you move around light sources. It’s particularly a problem outdoors, where the brightness can’t always balance out the glare from the sun. It’s not egregious, but it is noticeable.
Where the Z Fold 2’s display featured a punch hole camera, the Z Fold 3 adopts an under-display camera (UDC) design, which means pixels from the display cover and mostly obscure the inner panel selfie camera lens. You can absolutely still see the camera with the naked eye, but the pixels do help contribute to a more edge-to-edge seamless screen experience. I don’t mind punch hole cameras, so this isn’t an update that I was angling for, particularly since it impacts imaging quality for the inner selfie camera (more on that later.) That said, I am sure there are some people who are longing to buy a phone that features a UDC design. The uninterrupted look of the huge Z Fold 3 screen is something you can’t get from many other phones.
The last thing I’ll say is that the crease in the middle of the screen is still there. It’s not as obvious to the eye or the finger as it was on previous Fold devices, but you can’t miss it either. It does disappear from time to time depending on what you’ve got on the display but by and large, you’ll always know it’s there. And remember, the screen protector is vital and should not be removed!
The final word here is that the screen is more about the large size and shape, which gives the phone its multitasking powers than it is about the raw pixel density.
Performance: Top tier
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor
- Adreno 660 GPU
- 256GB/512GB storage
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has the near-finest chip from Qualcomm in addition to a reasonable allotment of RAM and fast UFS 3.1 storage. It runs in the top circle of mobile devices out there, though some of our benchmark test results fell behind other top Snapdragon 888 phones from Oppo, Xiaomi, and others.
Daily performance of the Z Fold 3 is absolutely fine. The regular experience of using the phone for normal smartphone stuff demonstrates no issues with respect to speed or anything else. The huge package of RAM allows the phone to run multiple apps at a time with no problem, no hesitation, no issue. Dragging content from window to window was always smooth and clean and I didn’t see any stuttering or hanging. Demanding games ran perfectly.
The day-to-day experience of using the phone proved to be excellent.
The phone did well on most benchmarks, though a few scores were a little short of the competition. For example, the phone beat only 88% of other phones in the 3DMark database. Many other Snapdragon 888 devices posted better scores. The phone’s Geekbench scores, which measure raw computing power, did compare favorably to other Snapdragon 888 phones such as the OnePlus 9 Pro.
In our homegrown Speed Test G performance test, which measures computing and graphics capabilities together, the Z Fold 3 put up a time of one minute and 21 seconds. That’s in the right ballpark for a flagship and close to Samsung’s own Galaxy S21 Ultra.
I wouldn’t worry about the slightly less-than-perfect benchmark scores, however, as the day-to-day experience of using the phone proved to be excellent — and that’s what counts.
The phone packs 5G, as well, and supports both sub-6GHz and mmWave for use in markets where mmWave exists. Samsung lent us the phone with a T-Mobile SIM inside and the Z Fold 3 handily connected to T-Mobile’s 5G spectrum in the greater New York City area. In my experience with the phone, wireless performance was quite good even without the speed boost available from mmWave, which isn’t available where I live. The phone is compatible with AT&T and Verizon’s 5G networks too. It’s also future-proofed with Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 support.
Battery: A little short
- 4,400mAh battery
- 25W USB PD PPS wired charging
- 10W wireless charging
- 4.5W reverse charging
Samsung actually reduced the size of the Z Fold 3’s battery when compared to the Z Fold 2, which is surprising considering the premium consumers put on battery life. It’s only smaller by 100mAh, but that’s enough to matter at the end of a long day.
In my time with the phone, it lasted a day with mixed use of both screens, though it was pushing the 20% mark come bedtime. On days that I relied more on the outer display, it fared slightly better, and on days that I relied more on the inner display, it fared slightly worse. Total screen-on time when using mostly the inner display measured only five hours, which is not great. We like to see a minimum of six hours, if not longer. Granted, the Z Fold 3 has a larger display than most phones in the market, but five hours is a little disappointing.
Related: The best phone charging accessories
There are plenty of tools on board to tweak the way the phone consumes power. First and foremost, we did all our testing with the screen set to the 120Hz adaptive mode, which is how it is configured out of the box. You can reduce both screens’ refresh rate to the standard 60Hz, which could help conserve some battery life. You can adjust the brightness, futz with background apps, and more to fine-tune the Z Fold 3 for your power needs. Personally, I think I’d keep a charger handy.
I was hoping for slightly better battery life performance.
Samsung kept charging speeds in check. Wired charging maxes out at 25W, which is well below the 30W-65W+ speeds available from some competitors. The 4,400mAh battery took about 90 minutes to charge with a 25W USB PD PPS charger. Remember, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 doesn’t include a charger in the box, so you’ll have to supply your own power brick and if you want the very top speeds, you’ll need one that’s USB PD PPS compatible, like several of those sold by Samsung.
Wireless charging is limited to 10W, which is slower than the 18W or higher available to some devices in the market. I have an 18W wireless charger handy and replenishing the battery from zero to full took about one hour 50 minutes. That’s not terrible, though it’s not overly swift either. The Z Fold 3 also supports wireless power share. The rate is really slow at 4.5W. This means powering up your accessories or another phone might take a while.
I didn’t expect the Z Fold 3 to set any battery benchmarks, but I was hoping for slightly better numbers than it delivered.
Camera: Could be better
- 12MP, OIS, Dual Pixel PDAF, (f/1.8, 1.8μm)
- 12MP ultra-wide, 123-degree field of view, (f/2.2, 1.12μm)
- 12MP telephoto, OIS, 2x optical zoom, Dual Pixel PDAF, (f/2.4, 1.0μm)
- Under-display camera: 4MP, (f/1.8, 2.0μm)
- Cover camera: 10MP, (f/2.2, 1.22μm)
- 4K video at up to 60fps
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 has five cameras. It packs a standard arrangement on the rear with main, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses, in addition to a user-facing camera on the front of the phone as well as the under-display camera that’s built into the screen. These give you plenty of options for capturing photos.
Samsung appears to have carried over the main three cameras from last year’s phone, meaning you’ve got three 12MP sensors running in a vertical strip on the rear of the device. The selfie camera rates 10MP and the UDC rates 4MP. If you’re disappointed by the camera specs, it’s important to point out that the Fold series hasn’t traditionally served as Samsung’s top imaging device. At the same time, however, the Note series always stood for top-class imaging. With the Galaxy Z Fold 3 effectively standing in for the Note series this year, its carry-over camera configuration is a bit disappointing.
There are lots of ways to take pictures. The easiest is to keep the phone closed and rely on the outer display as your viewfinder. You have full access to all the phone’s photography tools when the phone is closed. The added benefit here is that the Z Fold 3 is more manageable in the hand this way as opposed to shooting snaps when opened up. However, if you want to use the full screen as the viewfinder go right ahead.
See also: The best camera phones you can get
Samsung’s camera software is powerful. There is a multitude of shooting modes available, with photo, video, portrait, and Samsung’s “Single Take” prioritized in the mode picker. The app provides easy access to the flash, settings, aspect ratio, and other basic settings tools, and of course using the shutter button is a walk in the park.
Photos captured with the main camera are very good, but short of excellent. Shots taken outdoors on a sunny day looked predictably good. With plenty of light, the sensor does well and captures good color and exposure with sharp focus. Some images were a touch noisy but nothing too terrible. You can see how the camera handled greens, blues, reds, and yellows in the color samples below.
Things weren’t as good once the sun went down. In the post-sunset shots below, you can see the loss of detail in the dark regions of the photos. Though the HDR tool was in effect, there’s a lack of range in some of these shots. The colors turned out a bit muted in the twilight photos, as well, and the amount of noise is ramped up. The shots are still usable, but they could be better.
Shots taken at night were fine. The street scene below is fairly accurate when compared to what my eyes saw, though there’s a lot more noise in the photo. In the samples below, the first two shots were taken with the camera in standard mode while the last shot was taken in night mode. It was able to capture this scene despite the near-total darkness in which it was taken.
The three lenses mean you have a solid zoom range for a smartphone. The ultra-wide broadens things out to 0.5x, with the main lens giving you 1x, and the telephoto providing 2x optical magnification. You can zoom as much as 10x, though everything above 2x is accomplished via digital crop. The ultra-wide does a solid job, though I noticed some odd distortion and noise near the corners of a few images. At least colors and exposure looked good. The zoom camera does a respectable job as well, particularly at 2x. Zooming beyond about 4x leads to noisy results and zooming all the way out to 10x generates even noisier photos that are hardly worth taking. Moreover, zoomed shots lose a lot of dynamic range, which leaves a lot of underexposed pockets in your photos.
Portaits work out okay. You can see in this series a regular photo, a group portrait, and a single portrait. The camera does well enough with edge detection and the amount of background blur is rather skimpy in the group portrait but is on target for the close-up portrait.
There are two ways to take selfies with the Z Fold 3. The easiest is to keep the phone closed and use the front-facing outer camera. This ensures that you can easily hold the phone, compose your shot, and capture a solid-looking selfie. This outer camera is decent but could be better. While the subject (you) is often in good focus, the outer camera struggles a bit with balancing the exposure of the background. Moreover, selfie shots with this camera tended to be noisy and rather flat in terms of color.
You can also use the UDC that’s built into the main screen. This gives you the full display to use to compose your shot and really lets you see what’s in the background as you move the camera around. However, the UDC produces images that aren’t great. Shots are noisy, soft, and demonstrate odd color and white balance. Most importantly, your face doesn’t look that good. Samsung suggests using the UDC for video calls only and it’s clear why: It doesn’t take very good pictures.
Video capture is limited to a max of 4K at 60fps with a range of different frame rates available, so you can take slow-motion and time-lapse video if you wish. The Z Fold 3 does not capture 8K video. Samsung is betting that Z Fold 3 buyers don’t care as much about top-tier video as buyers of the Galaxy S series. The 4K footage I shot was sharp, colorful, and properly exposed. Most people should be happy with what the Z Fold 3 produces, but video addicts will find better options elsewhere.
In the end, the Z Fold 3 outperforms the Z Fold 2 in the imaging department by a respectable margin. The photos are generally cleaner and sharper with better color. However, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 does not compare favorably to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which has higher-resolution sensors and far superior zoom capabilities. Other flagships, such as the Apple iPhone 12 Max Pro and Google Pixel 5 are better at basic photography, too. Perhaps most disappointingly, the Z Fold 3 is surely not as good as a standalone Galaxy Note 21 would have been.
You can check out the full-resolution camera samples in this Google Drive folder.
Software: Subtle S Pen power
- Android 11
- One UI 3.1.1
- Three years of promised software updates
Android 11 is the core platform and the phone runs Samsung’s One UI 3.1 on top. This is the same general software available to Samsung’s current crop of phones, such as the Galaxy S21 family. Samsung has committed to three years of software updates for the Z Fold 3, which means it should receive Android 12, 13, and 14 over time. Samsung’s class-leading update policy also guarantees four years’ worth of security updates.
There are a fair number of apps preinstalled on the phone, with most coming from Google, Samsung, and Microsoft. There was no real bloatware on our review unit, but you can expect carrier-branded devices to have carrier-branded apps on board.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3’s software is unique among smartphones. The fact that it has two screens mandated Samsung to take steps to ensure a seamless experience as users transition between the two displays. Thus, we have app continuity, which allows apps open on the outer screen to properly reconfigure themselves when switching to the inner screen. If you want apps to transition from the inner display to the outer display upon closing, however, you’ll have to enable this feature on an app-by-app basis in the Settings menu. This can be helpful for apps such as the calendar or messaging. If you don’t enable it, closing the larger screen turns off both displays.
Samsung says about half of the global top 100 apps have specifically adapted to the Z Fold 3’s main screen, allowing for special features such as dedicated control panels. The rest will default to the tablet view, the effectiveness of which varies by application. You can force apps that don’t behave to adapt the aspect ratio of the Z Fold 3 via Settings if it bugs you one way or the other.
One of the special features of the Z Fold 3 is Flex Mode, which is enabled when you’ve set the device up as a tiny makeshift laptop. In this orientation, the app you’re using will appear on the top of the screen and a panel will appear at the bottom of the screen with extra controls to help you use the app. Some apps — such as those from Samsung, including the camera — support this natively, but you can force it on for other apps through the Labs tool in the settings. Flex Mode can be helpful at times when you’re looking for a simpler way to manage an app’s controls while the device is semi-folded.
I really like how customizable these advanced features are, but it could be easier to activate some of them. There’s a bit of a learning curve with some of these tools, though once mastered they make the Z Fold 3 all the more powerful.
Then there’s multitasking, which is the Z Fold 3’s specialty. Managing multiple apps at a time on the main screen is as simple as dragging them over from the Edge Panel and dropping them where you want them. The screen supports up to three apps at a time, allowing you to manage your inbox, watch YouTube, and surf the web all at once. You can mix and match which apps appear in the panels, and dragging content from one to the other is a piece of cake. It’s the phone’s superpower.
Multitasking is the Galazy Z Fold 3's specialty.
What does the S Pen do? Bringing the new S Pen near the Z Fold 3 will automatically launch the floating Air Command tool, which you can reposition to anywhere on the screen. There’s no pairing necessary, which I appreciate. Air Command gives you quick access to the S Pen’s features, which are carried over from the Note series of the past and haven’t changed much in the last few years. Create note is what you expect and is the core power of the S Pen. The note-taking app is robust and gives you plenty of ways to jot down notes, convert your scribbles to actual text, share your musings, and so on. If you’re an S Pen power user, the Z Fold 3 offers all you could want when it comes to stylus-enabled functionality. The major missing component here is, of course, a way to carry the S Pen with you that doesn’t require an expensive case on top of your already expensive phone and stylus.
In all, you’ll find no shortage of advanced tools, settings, and features to futz with. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 offers some of the most practical and potent software of any smartphone. I just wish some of it were easier to use and discover.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 specs
|Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3|
- 6.2-inch AMOLED
- 120Hz refresh rate
- 2,268 x 832 resolution at 387ppi
- Gorilla Glass Victus
- 7.6-inch AMOLED
- 120Hz refresh rate
- 2,208 x 1,768 resolution at 374ppi
- Foldable display covering
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888|
|Storage||256GB or 512GB|
No expandable storage
25W wired charging
10W wireless charging
4.5W reverse charging
No charger in box
- 12MP wide, 1.8μm, OIS, Dual Pixel AF, ƒ/1.8
- 12MP ultra-wide, 1.12μm, ƒ/2.2
- 12MP telephoto, 1.0μm, OIS, 2x zoom, ƒ/2.4
- 10MP ƒ/2.2
- 4MP, 2.0μm, ƒ/1.8
Dolby Atmos support
No 3.5mm headphone port
|SIM||Dual nano-SIM tray|
|Biometrics||Side-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor|
|Dimensions and weight||Folded dimensions:|
- 158.2 x 67.1 x 16mm (measured at hinge)
- 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4mm
|Colors||Phantom Green, Phantom Black, Phantom Silver|
Value and competition
The Z Fold 3’s value equation depends wholly on how much you pay for it. The sticker price is $200 lower than its predecessors, but at $1,799.99, the Z Fold 3 is far from cheap or affordable. Toss in an S Pen and a case and you’re looking at $2,000 all over again. Can such a pricey phone deliver a return on the investment? It will depend a lot on how you plan to use it. Power users who take advantage of the multitude of features stand more of a chance to get their money’s worth from this premium piece of hardware.
The Z Fold 3 starts to make more sense if you’re able to score a trade-in deal or other discount from Samsung. To provide a quick example: I could trade in my Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus and receive $475 off the price of the Z Fold 3, knocking it down to $1,325. That’s a good start, but during the pre-order window, Samsung is allowing you to trade in up to four phones towards the Z Fold 3, meaning you could knock the price down even further. There are some limitations, though. Samsung is only accepting Apple, Google, LG, Motorola, and Samsung devices for trade, at least in the US.
Even at a reduced price such as $1,325, the Z Fold 3 is more expensive than nearly every other phone in the market.
Even at a reduced price such as $1,325, the Z Fold 3 is still more expensive than nearly every other phone in the market. But at that price, I think it’s closer to being worth it.
Then there’s the competition. Wait. What competition?!? There are no other folding phones in this class. True, there’s the excellent Huawei Mate X2, but it doesn’t have access to Google Play Services, nor is it widely available outside of China. That makes it a non-starter for most.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 doesn’t have any real competitors but there are alternatives. To start, if you’re looking for the folding phone experience but you’re on a budget, the Z Flip 3 is a good place to look. It costs $999 as standard, which is a much more palatable price point. The clamshell form factor doesn’t offer as many unique use cases, nor the multitasking and S Pen powers, but this year’s redesigned model is a legit hot commodity that finally makes foldable phones affordable.
Then there’s an entire range of $1,000+ premium flagships that offer a more traditional experience — often with better battery and camera performance — that may simply be more practical for general buyers that don’t crave an innovative form factor.
For example, you could target the Galaxy Note 20 ($949) itself (despite its age) or competitors to the Note series from the likes of Xiaomi or Oppo to at least get the big-screened, multitasking experience. Not all of these come with or support styli, however. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra ($1,199) is another, newer contender and is compatible with the S Pen in the same way as the Z Fold 3 (i.e. sold separately, no storage). Look further afield and you have the OnePlus 9 Pro ($1,069) and the Sony Xperia 1 III ($1,299), both of which are solid flagships in their own right that offer a more well-rounded experience than the Galaxy Z Fold 3 without the folding perks.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: The verdict
There’s no question the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a better phone than either of its predecessors. Samsung did a commendable job updating the hardware in just the right ways to deliver a superior experience. Critically, Samsung overhauled the folding display tech to give it a more robust feel that’s not only stronger but supports the S Pen stylus for expanded functionality. Both displays boast improvements, as do all the general specs, and the chassis is now at least waterproof (though not dustproof).
Despite Samsung’s efforts, the company did stumble here and there with the phone. For starters, battery life is somewhat limited and may not get power users through a full day. Moreover, the camera is merely good and not great. My guess is most people expect a $1,799.99 phone to include a great camera, not a good one.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a stellar device that capitalizes well on the lack of competition. No other phone offers the polished foldable experience that's available from the Z Fold 3
Samsung nixed its Note series for the year and instead ported the Note’s S Pen features to the Z Fold 3. While the Z Fold 3 does support the powerful stylus tools we know and love, the S Pen is an optional accessory that has no home in the Z Fold 3 itself. I’d be more comfortable about calling the Z Fold 3 a Note replacement if the stylus were somehow integrated into the hardware. Alas, it is not. This makes the Z Fold 3 a double up-sell for those seeking a Note replacement. Not only is the phone itself dramatically more expensive than the outgoing Note series, the S Pen only adds further to the cost.
All that said, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a stellar device that capitalizes well on the lack of competition. No other phone in the market offers the polished foldable experience that’s available from the Z Fold 3. If you want a pocketable phone that converts into a tablet, the Z Fold 3 is the only one to get. You can get better battery life, better cameras, and lower prices from other phones, but nowhere can you get everything in a single, high-end, tablet-sized package that impresses so much.