Review of Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Exercise in Ambitions
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 was one of the few ‘wow’ devices to arrive in 2021. Not because it’s a huge advancement over its predecessor – as it’s really not – but because that massive foldable screen is probably unlike anything else you’ll have ever seen. It’s like staring into the future.
Key to that display is the under panel camera (UPC), which attempts to hide the selfie camera from view for an uninterrupted visual experience. It’s certainly representative of the Z Fold 3’s sheer ambition, despite not being entirely successful in its endeavours.
There are other tweaks in an attempt to make this third-gen device more enticing than ever before, too: the asking price, while still massive at £1599 / €1799 / $1799, isn’t as large as its predecessor at launch. Plus, there’s the addition of S Pen stylus support.
Our quick take
On the face of it, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 isn’t vastly different to the Z Fold 2 that came before it. Even still, though, it continues its position as the top dog of foldable phones. That massive folding display is a real eye-catcher, even if the under panel camera (UPC) isn’t always totally convincing.
That there’s been no price increase for the Z Fold 3 is a real statement of intent. It’s actually a lower asking price than when its predecessor first went on sale. Don’t get us wrong, though, it’s not cheap by any means, and so you’ve got to really want to invest in this ambitious idea, including the aspects that don’t feel quite ready.
Owning a folding device inevitably comes with its share of foibles – here, the screen reflections, central crease and the under-display camera are the obvious ones – but, for sheer show-off factor, the Z Fold 3 is an unbeatable piece of modern technology.
Galaxy Z Fold 3 revisited: Long term test
A lot can change in the months after any phone launch. The speed at which new iterations of products can arrive is breathtaking, after all. Since the Z Fold 3 was first launched, we’ve seen a number of companies release foldable phones. Honor released the Magic V, which is along the same lines as the Samsung but isn’t yet widely available.
The one that really stands out to us – however – is the Oppo Find N. While only available in China currently, it showed that Samsung’s approach to design wasn’t the only way to do a book-style foldable. It isn’t as narrow and long as the Samsung, offering a display on the front that is more useful for a lot of tasks.
Still, we’ve gone back to the Z Fold 3 for a few weeks to revisit it, and there are a few things that stick out now – maybe more than they did in the initial launch. Firstly, that long, narrow display on the front has real benefits. When reading message threads or Twitter feeds, it seems to fit more rows in. But, more crucially, the narrow size makes it really convenient to reply to those with just one hand.
Having a phone that’s actually great for one-handed use is a rarity in this day and age. So, whether you want to snap a quick photo, reply to a message or read an email, you can do it without having to use both hands.
How does it compare to the Z Fold 2?
S Pen stylus support
Slightly slimmer (16mm)
More powerful processor
A more streamlined rear camera array
120Hz dynamic refresh for the front screen
Under display camera for the foldable screen
If you lay the Z Fold 2 next to the Z Fold 3 you’ll see they’re not massively different looking. However, the newer device does streamline the camera arrangement so it’s smaller – although that now causes irksome ‘table wobble’ when popping it onto a desk or other flat surface – and the front display is actually a little less tall (it’s 24.5:9 aspect rather than 25:9 of the older device) but offers a 120Hz refresh rate too.
Design and displays
Colours: Phantom Black, Phantom Green, Phantom Silver
Dimensions (folded): 67.1 x 158.2 x 16mm / Weight: 271g
Dimensions (unfolded): 128.1mm x 158.2 x 6.4mm
Front display: 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED, 2268 x 832 resolution, 120Hz dynamic refresh
Unfolded display: 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED, 2208 x 1768 resolution (XQGA+), 120Hz dynamic refresh
In its folded position the Z Fold 3 is the slightest bit slimmer than its predecessor – at a neat 16mm on the folding edge; 14.4mm at the opposite end – but that’s hardly slim by any modern phone standards. It’s therefore a big wedge to hold in this ‘normal phone’ format.
The front panel is also marginally different to before, now delivering that 120Hz refresh rate and that 24.5:9 aspect ratio, so it’s shaved a millimetre off the overall footprint height. You won’t really feel that in the hand, though, but at least this main display fills the majority of the device’s front – something that wasn’t the case with the first-generation model. That said, the front display has an almost perplexingly small sense about it – it’s just a bit too narrow to really feel like an expansive flagship device in this folded sandwich format.
As exciting as this massive screen is, it does still suffer from the inherent issues that plague any foldable device. As the OLED panel beneath needs to be protected – and obviously glass can’t fold, so that’s not a material option – this is achieved by using a plasticky coating to allow for all this bending and flexing. That works well, except plastic is reflective and so catches reflections far more than a well-made glass panel.
It’s also the reason why foldable panels often show a ‘crease’ across the fold, where the panel isn’t quite perfectly flat – which also rings true with the Z Fold 3, but as the face-on user of the device, you’ll rarely ever focus on this (those viewing adjacently are more likely to see the crease catching reflections, but that’s not a realistic use-case, and more just the viewpoint of a curious observer).
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 12GB RAM
4400mAh battery capacity
After transferring our apps and digital life over to the Z Fold 3, we’ve found it to function every bit as smoothly as anticipated. It’s a massively powerful device, thanks to a Snapdragon 888 processor under the hood, alongside a meaty 12GB RAM as standard. That ensures running multiple apps, including those optimises for the larger screen, function with little delay and navigating between them is a breeze.
Just as we said of the earlier Z Fold 2, once you get used to this giant panel you’ll begin to appreciate its adeptness with different layouts in certain apps – Outlook, for example, is a split-screen experience with inbox on the left and preview on the right – which is why this ultra-unusual aspect ratio and real-estate makes a lot of practical sense.
When it comes to gaming that much larger aspect ratio is like a whole new view of virtual worlds, too, with our favourite games revelling in the additional height that’s on offer here when playing in landscape orientation. There are also Game Booster controls to ensure no unwanted distractions from other apps come into play, which is certainly handy.
Sadly, however, Samsung doesn’t include an actual wall plug in the Z Fold 3’s box. You only get a USB-C-to-USB-C cable (i.e. small fitting at both ends). This, for us, isn’t very useful as we don’t have any spare mains plugs with a USB-C port type, they’re all Type-A instead (the larger fitting). Seeing as we write about tech and move into a new phone for review pretty much every other week, if we find that a problem, then most buyers will have a conundrum when it comes to charging.
Triple rear cameras:
Main: 12-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, Dual Pixel autofocus
Tele (2x): 12MP, f/2.4, optical stabilisation (OIS),
Wide-angle (0.5x): 12MP, f/2.2
Cover camera: 10MP, f/2.2 / Under display camera: 4MP, f/1.8
Samsung hasn’t significantly pushed forward in terms of the Fold 3’s camera spec – as you’re getting a triple 12-megapixel offering, delivering a wide-angle, ultra-wide, and 2x telephoto zoom (with up to 10x digital zoom) – but these are fairly decent cameras overall.
The big shift for this third-gen device is with the camera housing design. It looks much neater and tidier, in a smaller container, and doesn’t protrude an unsightly amount from the rear of the phone. It fits better into the Samsung family design overall. Still, we’d rather have seen some higher-resolution offerings in the mix this time around, to put the Fold up there with Samsung’s very best. This, surely, will be where the next-gen Z Fold 4 will step things up in 2022.
Anyway, back to the phone at hand. Using the Z Fold 3 to take pictures can at times feel a little strange, as the sheer scale of the unfolded phone makes it feel more like shooting with a tablet. That said you don’t have to have the phone unfolded, the same cameras are available in its closed position, too, but the image preview is a little small with a lot of the screen blacked out in order to maintain the shooting aspect ratio.
Samsung has also done a great job with low-light capture, either when shooting at night or just when there’s little lux available. The camera just seems to understand when you’re in a really low-light situation and kick into the appropriate auto night mode, continuing to deliver decent quality results. Sometimes the numerical values really aren’t what matters, it’s down to the results, as this foldable acquits itself well.
Although it’s not massively different to its predecessor, Samsung continues to deliver the most complete foldable experience on the market. Any such device inevitably comes with its share of issues – here, there are screen reflections, a central crease, and the under panel camera (UPC) isn’t entirely successful in its endeavours – but for sheer show-off factor the Z Fold 3’s uninterrupted view really delivers the wow factor.
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