Samsung’s transforming phone is back for a third time. The jump from the original Fold to the Fold 2 was huge, but the hop to the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 isn’t quite as dramatic.
Instead Samsung has drilled down into what makes the Fold series unique and refined that experience. All over the phone, I found improved multitasking and processes that clearly shows some thought had gone into how people use the flexible handset.
For all of its hit and miss gimmicky stuff, Samsung does refinement very well. But I do have concerns about the camera and how practical it really is as an every day phone. It’s an exciting, ambitious device that comes with a pesky asterisk that won’t go away. Read on to find out why.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 In a Nutshell
- Two outstanding QHD+, 120HZ displays
- Vastly improved multitasking is an elite mobile experience
- S-pen support
- Softer, improved design
- It’s a tablet that folds in half
- No 10x optical zoom
- Old camera technology
- Middling battery life
- It’s still very, very big
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: Technical Specifications
Price $1799 | Cameras: 12MP ultra wide, 12MP wide, 12MP telephoto with 2x optical zoom | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G (5 nm) | Foldable Display: 7.6-inch dynamic AMOLED 2x QHD display, 120Hz | Cover Display: 6.2-inch dynamic AMOLED 2x QHD display, 120Hz | Storage: No SD slot, 256GB – 512GB internal | RAM: 12GB | Battery size: 4400 mAh | Folded Dimensions: 158.2 x 67.1 x 14.4 mm | Unfolded: 158.2 x 128.1 x 6.4 mm | Weight 271g
A new genre
Samsung created the phablet genre with the first Note, or at least put it on the map. Since then, big phones with big screens have become the norm, so the Korean company has again pushed the boundaries of phone sizes with the Fold 3.
It’s a big, bulky, cumbersome piece of kit. Unlike the phablets of yore, the Fold 3 is a tablet that doubles as a phone rather than the reverse. Officially the genre is ‘foldable’ but I’m going to coin ‘tabset’ (tablet + handset) as a new, more appropriate colloquialism. Ultimately this is a tablet. The main 7.6-inch screen is better and more functional than the outer screen, which is there for quick-use only. But more on that later.
The phone is lighter (271g versus 282g) and slimmer (158.2 x 67.1 x 14.4-16 mm versus 159.2 x 68 x 13.8-16.8 mm) than its predecessor. Edges have been rounded and Samsung has trimmed where it could pinch an inch. For example the camera bump has a slimmer traffic light profile and, to my eye, the device closes flatter than the previous phone.
The hinge has a more purposeful stiffness and it it no longer makes that clicking sound. There’s also a new IP68 water resistance that keeps out water, but not dust, which is kryptonite to the mechanical mysteries of the folding bits. It’s clear from holding both the Fold 2 and Fold 3 in both hands that the upgrade is a more refined device.
But it still looks and feels like two phones stacked on top of each other. For people who value short pockets, this is a challenging phone. When my pockets are fully loaded up with the tabset (just accept it), keys, wallet, mask, hand gel and other bits, I need to tighten my belt one extra notch.
After receiving the Fold 3 I bought this very nice North Face cross body bag, which earned me three WhatsApp roasts, but changed how I viewed carrying around a small tablet all of the time. You don’t need a bag, but it helps.
Outside of portability, the device is very familiar. The inner display is 7.6-inches large, the buttons are in the same places (although the sim tray has moved from below the power button to above) and the inner-screen crease looks the same. However, the outer display is marginally larger and has an improved refresh rate. But after three generations, I’m still confused about the purpose of that cover display.
Too many displays
The new larger outer screen is of predictable Samsung quality: bright, vivid and detailed. It looks incredible. But the tall, narrow aspect ratio still looks and feels cramped to me. It’s unsatisfying to use purely as a phone and at 120Hz, it’s draining a lot of battery for a slightly worse experience than a regular-sized phone.
So I want to ask, why is it there at all? There’s certainly some cool functionality here like being a view finder for people you’re taking a photo of. But over the last two weeks I’ve mostly used it to quickly check notifications, or as a gateway to the bigger screen via app continuity, which continues apps started on the cover display when the Fold is opened. It’s seamless. But that doesn’t justify this decadent additional screen for me.
I wonder if the Fold 3 would benefit from a small, basic Flip 3 style display on the outside, which could mean better battery life and a lower price. Perhaps this is something we’ll see in a future Fold Lite.
The inner 7.6-inch display looks outstanding with vivid colors and a sharp resolution. The buttery 120Hz refresh rate adds to the luxuriousness of the expansive canvas. The crease where the phone folds still exists but I haven’t found this to be a noticeable problem with extended use.
As a small tablet, it really is a perfect size for a lot of situations. Long commutes (remember those?) are transformed and just having the option to watch the latest Spiderman trailer on a bigger screen at your finger tips is very welcome. RTS games—which have struggled on mobile—also really benefit from the 4:3 aspect ratio, giving users a more expansive view.
It’s also brighter than the previous Fold (1200 nits peak) and it has an imperceptible better pixel density (374 PPI versus 373 PPI) and screen to body ratio (88.8% versus 88.6%). That may be to do with the new under display camera which allowed Samsung to avoid cutting out a piece of the screen.
It looks much more flush and I was one of those people bothered by a permanent hole in the screen. When content is displayed over it, it creates this pixelated circle like Pacman with his mouth shut. But the new snapper isn’t noticeable unless you look for it. Try and spot it in the top right of the display below.
The screen has a new reinforced protective film that Samsung says is 80% tougher, under which is the company’s ultra thin glass technology. But that screen protector adds the slightest haze to the screen, like any screen protector does. It feels disappointing to have this giant amazing display and a thick film veil concealing it. We’re probably a few cycles away from ultra thin glass being tough enough to use without the need for a protective plastic layer.
Part of the reason for that rock solid screen protector is because the phone now supports S Pen use. It’s compatible with the regular S Pen, but you can also buy a special one specifically designed for the Z Fold 3 with a retractable softer tip that won’t damage the display.
I didn’t get one with my review unit and you’ll have to buy this separately, and you’ll probably want a case to house it in if you want to carry it around. I do have a glut of S Pens from other Samsung devices which I tried to use, but when the tip got close to the screen, I was served a warning about using a non-Fold stylus.
Big screen, big power
Adobe’s suite of apps now work on the Fold 3, which includes the powerful video editing program Premiere Rush. The app looks really nice on the 4:3 screen and I feel comfortable cutting videos for my Instagram page on this, particularly on the go. It isn’t cramped like a smartphone and not too big to use on the sofa like a 10-inch tablet is.
The Fold 3 stayed cool during editing sessions and handled simultaneously watching editing tips on YouTube or keeping WhatsApp permanently open on the other side of the display. Comfortably cutting clips on my mobile whilst simultaneously searching for Adobe tips and chatting with friends—all without killing the processor—is an elite experience, especially at 120Hz.
In terms of gaming, Genshin Impact at maximum settings looks and plays great. When I switched to the highest graphical settings at 60FPS, the game warned me about overload (as it does on every phone I’ve played it on) and the processor heats up pretty quickly, but not more than you’d expect. It stayed at a manageable level for an entire gaming session.
The battery life suffers with heavy use because of that large display, but it’s passable in less intensive situations. With conservative use, which includes Spotify, multi-tasking, limited 5G usage and occasionally taking pictures—all at 120Hz—I’m getting around four or five hours of screen time. The tabset is hovering under 15% by 9pm. With more intensive use, like playing Genshin impact, the battery depletes quickly.
If I’m home and giving the Fold a lot of attention, I find myself zapping it in the middle of the day. If I was heading out for the evening I would make sure the Fold 3 was fully charged before leaving the house, whereas I don’t have that worry with the Galaxy S21 Ultra or the Pixel 5.
This is roughly similar to my experience of the Fold 2. Considering Samsung has cut the battery size down in the new device, that’s not too bad. Behind this is a 25% more efficient “Eco2” OLED display that draws less power and a more efficient chipset. Again, I feel a lot more comfortable carrying this around with a power bank in my cross body bag because, ultimately, a phone-sized battery powering two displays, is never going to be known for long lasting power.
The outer design improvements have been conservative. Inside, under the skin, the upgrades are far more ambitious. The Fold 2 opened up a new world of mobile multitasking for me, but there was a very clear ceiling to its abilities. Sometimes I felt like I was peering through a glass barrier of possibilities that were only inches away. The Fold 3 breaks through that blockade.
Multi View encompasses this perfectly. When activated, the UI reconfigures whatever app you’re using into two screens with extra information. For example, in the settings menu, one side has the master list of settings options whilst the other side features sub menus. Or, the camera app displays shooting modes on one side with the viewfinder on the other. Netflix, WhatsApp, emails and other apps can offer this functionality too.
Elsewhere, apps that were previously hostile to the 4:3 aspect ratio are now displaying properly. Instagram is chief among them. Honestly? It looks OK. The low resolution of Instagram content is really exposed on the bigger screen, but it’s a welcome change either way.
The real draw is raw, pure multitasking. Let me tell you readers: It’s so, so good. Multitasking on the Fold 3 is the highest grade, unrefined info-drug that our addled, content-addicted minds crave.
Remember I mentioned buying a cross body bag? I researched which one to buy whilst watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares at the same time. I tweaked my fantasy football team in a third window when I lost concentration. Eventually I started drilling down into a selection of bags. I swapped out Kitchen Nightmares and fantasy football for a side-by-side view of two bags I wanted to buy and compared them. I then bought one. Apps can be swapped to either side, sizes can be adjusted quickly and they can be rotated to a horizontal view. It’s customizable without being fiddly.
Recently created app combinations are also saved in recents, so you don’t have to remake them. It was so natural and fluid that going back to a regular phone feels like a step backwards. This alone is a good enough reason to buy the Fold 3 as there’s nothing else quite like it.
There are some other tricks up the tabset’s sleeve, like Drag & Split, which lets you drag out a shopping item into a new window on the right side of the display for quick comparisons. But it only works with Samsung’s own apps like Samsung Internet, Notes and some Office apps. It seems a shame to restrict a very useful feature to select, less popular apps, but I suspect it requires app developers to make this possible, which is obviously harder with third party companies.
The S Pen clearly has also bought a lot of functionality including; using Whiteboard on Microsoft Teams, drawing, writing notes during videos calls and more. But as I didn’t get a review unit, I can’t test any of that, nor can I test the latency. I hope to test this more in the future.
The under-screen selfie camera is bad. Let’s just get that out of the way. Images are hazy, noisy, lack detail and look washed out. The pictures do go through some processing to clear them up, but it’s not enough to rescue them. Take a look at the sample shots below. This is very much first generation technology.
What makes more sense is using the rear cameras for selfie shots, because you can do that by turning on the cover screen preview. It’s a bit more awkward to hold but yields the best results. There’s also a 10MP selfie camera on the outer display that produces well exposed, natural images but they lack the detail of the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 40MP selfie snapper. It’s perfectly passable in the right conditions but I do wonder why the high-end selfie camera from the Ultra wasn’t ported over to this expensive device.
I have the same questions about the rear camera setup, which includes a 12MP standard wide, a 12MP telephoto (2x optical zoom) and a 12MP ultra wide. Pictures don’t look wildly different compared to the Fold 2, which is likely because the Fold 3 uses the same hardware.
Broadly, images are well-exposed with good contrast and vibrant colors, but there’s an element of over-sharpening in a lot of the pictures. It’s deceptive because there isn’t much detail in most shots, which gets worse with the ultra-wide lens. The shot below of a street shows decent dynamic range and vibrant, but not natural, colors. This was early evening as the sun was setting, which is a potentially challenging shot, but I thought the Fold 3 captured that well enough. It’s a good picture.
However, in the picture of me below, you can see a lot of detail is lost. Even partially zoomed in, my beard and the leaves behind me look like a rough sketch. Unlike the S21 Ultra, the wide camera did largely handle accurate reproduction of my skin tone in the yellow evening sun without washing it out.
Indoors, the lack of detail is more obvious, which is also a problem on the S21 Ultra. But in the low light shot below, the Fold 3 handled itself well up against the S21 Ultra and Pixel 5. The S21 Ultra wins, but I’d say there’s more detail and light in the Fold 3 than the Pixel 5, which is known for its night sight skills.
What’s really missing is the 10x optical zoom on the S21 Ultra’s telephoto lens. The Fold 3 only has a 2x optical zoom, which is fairly standard for most phones. When you’re spending $1799 on a handset, I’d expect the best camera tech available. This is a big drawback.
Portrait shots are a mixed bag. You need to get the focal length right and lower the intensity of the blur effect to get a natural look. If it’s too high, the edge detection technology collapses. However, you can actually capture good, natural depth-of-field images without portrait mode if you’re positioned correctly.
On the video side, the Fold 3 can record 4K at 60FPS and there’s an option to capture HDR10+ videos, but I can’t say I saw much difference in shots with that option toggled on or off. 4K videos at 60FPS look really nice, but I feel like the gimbal effect could be better. There’s also the option of taking stills from 4K videos but they look quite a bit worse than simply taking a regular still image.
One of my favorite features from the S21 Ultra was Director’s View, which captures video on both the front and rear cameras. But that doesn’t appear to work on the Fold 3, which only captures footage on the rear cameras at different zoom levels.
What I do like is how Flex Mode works with the camera app. Bending the phone vertically splits the app into the live view on one side and recently taken pics on the other. Turning to landscape adds a separate space for controls. If you move the preview down to the bottom side of the display, you can use the fold to capture more awkward angles that can’t be done on other phones.
Combining the cover screen preview with all of that, you have the ultimate picture taking suite and the most comprehensive camera software experience available on any smartphone. It’s all very swish.
Is the Galaxy Z Fold 3 worth your money?
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an ambitious phone that refines rather than advances the foldable genre. The multitasking improvements truly lean into what this phone is about and successfully creates an elite experience.
Trimming down the dimensions and making the main display more flush with the under-screen camera feels like Samsung is headed in the right direction with this technology. I genuinely love using this phone. For someone who tries to limit screen time, this is the one of few devices I look forward to using for long periods of time.
But it’s hard to ignore the camera situation. Samsung should have matched the S21 Ultra snapper. This form factor also needs more refining, it’s still too cumbersome unless you have a bag to carry it in. In that respect, it wasn’t ambitious enough. The Galaxy Fold 3 is an indulgence for people with YOLO money.
I’m not entirely sure there’s practical justification to buy it, but ‘insanely fun’ is a damn good reason to. If you’re not sold, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 may be more your style.