Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Review: A Refined Novelty

An unmatched viewing experience awaits if you can live with some compromises

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Review: A Refined Novelty

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is waterproof and supports an S Pen stylus

Highlights
  • The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is powered by the Snapdragon 888 5G SoC
  • The cover screen now has a 120Hz maximum refresh rate
  • Battery life and low-light camera performance could be better

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the company's most ambitious, productivity-centric smartphone yet. This third-generation model feels more refined thanks to improvements such as an IPX8 rating and S Pen support. It has all the makings of a proper flagship on paper but can it be an option for everyday use or is it still a novelty item? For a lot of people with deep pockets (both figuratively and literally), the big question still remains – does it make sense buying the Galaxy Z Fold 3 over something like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or an iPhone 12 Pro Max?

By the time this review is published, I would have spent a little more than a week with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, and while this is certainly not a very long time for such a device, it's enough for me to come to an understanding about who should actually buy this phone. Let's begin as there's a lot to unpack.

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The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a tall phone but it's narrow when folded, making it easy to handle

 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 pricing and variants

First, a quick price check. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 starts at Rs. 1,49,999 in India with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. There's a second variant with the same amount of RAM but twice the storage (512GB) priced at Rs. 1,57,999. It has been launched in three colours internationally, however at the time of this review, Samsung only has the Phantom Black option available for Indian customers. This is an expensive phone and there's no two ways about it. However, if you picked it up during the pre-booking phase, chances are you would have gotten some discounts and additional benefits such as Samsung Care+ with it.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 design and ergonomics

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 looks very similar to its predecessor, except for a minor design change to the rear camera module. This phone is a little bit slimmer than its predecessor when unfolded and the overall weight is a bit lower at 271g (vs 282g), but it's still just as chunky in its folded state and the two halves don't sit flush against each other, leaving a gap when the phone is closed.

Samsung boasts that it is now using a stronger aluminium material for the chassis compared to the previous model. I like the fact that the frame and glass back panel have a matte finish, which contrasts well with the glossy hinge and outer display. One thing that I still have to get used to is just how slippery the entire body feels. Opening the Galaxy Fold 3 takes a bit of an effort due to the strong resistance of the hinge, and the slippery finish of the frame doesn't make this any easier.

samsung galaxy z fold 3 review sides gadgets360 ww

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is built very well and is now IPX8 rated for water resistance

 

In the folded state, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is easy enough to hold but feels quite bulky in a pocket. It's nearly as tall as an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but narrower, which makes it more comfortable to grasp. However, you will need two hands to unfold it. If we look at the phone as two halves, then the upper one has the stereo speakers on the top and bottom, plus a microphone and a dual-SIM card tray on the right, while the lower panel has the rest of the microphones and the USB Type-C port (USB 3.1 Gen1).

The outer display or ‘cover screen' on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is more or less the same as it was on the Galaxy Z Fold 2, except that it now supports an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. It's a 6.2-inch AMOLED panel with an HD+ resolution (2,268x832) and Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. This display is bright and vibrant, and is useful for simple tasks such as scrolling through your Twitter feed or playing casual games, but it's not ideal for typing on unless you're a skilled swipe-typer because of how narrow it is. There's a hole-punch camera on the top, which can be masked by using smartly designed wallpapers.

The main attraction is of course the folding 7.6-inch AMOLED display which has a higher resolution of 2,208x1,768, along with HDR10 playback and a 120Hz refresh rate. More importantly, Samsung claims it has used a much stronger ultra-thin glass (UTG) over the AMOLED display which should offer more durability.

samsung galaxy z fold 3 review UD selfie gadgets360 ww

The under-display camera in the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is clearly noticeable with lighter backgrounds

 

So far, with my super-careful usage, I haven't noticed any dents or other issues with the folding screen, but in my opinion it still feels more fragile than even this phone's own outer display. Applying light pressure with my fingernail left a little mark on the screen, which explains why Samsung had to develop a special S Pen just for the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The bottom line is – don't go poking at or even tapping on the folding display with anything sharp.

A brand new feature of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is its under-display camera. It's a little surprising to see Samsung use such nascent technology in its most expensive smartphone, but here we are. The idea is to give the user an uninterrupted view of their content, and when it works, the effect is amazing. However, if your attention is focused, it's easy to tell where the camera is due to the low pixel density in the circular area over it. It's very obvious under light backgrounds, and the camera is completely visible when the screen is off.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 comes in a barebones package. In the box, you get only a SIM eject tool and a USB Type-C cable. You'll have to use your own charger.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 specifications and software

Samsung hasn't skimped on the specifications of the Galaxy Z Fold 3. You get a top-tier Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC plus ample RAM and storage. The phone supports a total of 16 5G bands in India. For authentication, you can use face recognition with either of the selfie cameras (internal and external) or the fingerprint sensor that's integrated into the power button. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 has a slightly smaller 4,400mAh battery than the previous model, but with the same 25W fast charging capability. You don't need to buy a Samsung-branded charger as most USB-PD chargers up to or higher than 25W should be able to fast charge the Galaxy Z Fold 3.

samsung galaxy z fold 3 review comic book gadgets360 ww

The IPX8 rating means you can continue to read your comic books on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 even in the rain

 

One of the big additions is an IPX8 rating for water resistance, which means this phone should be a lot more resilient for everyday use compared to the previous model or any other foldable for that matter. Keep in mind that the ‘X' in the rating means it hasn't been certified to be dust-proof so that's something you're still going to have to be careful about.

As I mentioned earlier, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 also supports Samsung's S Pen ‘Fold Edition' and the new S Pen Pro, but other S Pens from older Galaxy Note phones won't work. Unfortunately, Samsung doesn't include one with the phone; it's an optional accessory. That also means there's no silo in the phone's body to stash the stylus when not in use. Samsung didn't send either of the compatible S Pens for this review so I won't be able to say much about how well this works.

The whole premise of Samsung's Fold series is to be able to multitask more efficiently and to have a more enjoyable content consumption experience. This has only improved since the first model, and the Galaxy Fold 3 has some new software tricks that are worth talking about.

My review unit was running One UI 3.1.1 based on Android 11. Any app that you open on the cover screen will transition to the main display in its exact same state, be it games, media, social apps etc, the moment you unfold the phone. However, in order to continue using an app from the folding display on the outer display, you'll need to manually enable an option, otherwise the app will simply close when you fold the phone.

Another useful feature worth enabling is ‘Cover screen mirroring'. You'll find this under the Home screen settings, and it essentially mirrors the app and widget layout of one screen to the other. For the static row of icons at the bottom, only the first five on the main screen will be mirrored to the outer screen.

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Samsung's software lets you have a pinned 'taskbar' (left), open three apps at once (middle), and open additional apps as floating windows (right)

 

For multitasking, you can open up to three apps simultaneously, and the window for each one will automatically conform to the space you drag it into. The three-dotted menu lets you quickly shuffle the positions of the apps, or you can manually resize the windows. You can also have up to five more apps running as floating windows on top of these three. You can even run unsupported apps such as games in split view. I was able to play Call of Duty: Mobile, browse Twitter, and watch a YouTube video at the same time, without any issues. I'm not sure who would want to multitask like this, but you can do it if you want.

Samsung's own apps are already optimised for multi-window use but the company has also collaborated with others including Spotify for better experiences on the Galaxy Z Fold 3. If you open Spotify on the cover screen and continue to use it on the main screen, the Now Playing widget and controls will stick to a fixed place to the left, while you search for music on the right side of the app. Samsung's own Web browser now lets you drag and drop any link from a webpage into a new window for a split-screen view.

samsung galaxy z fold 3 review flex mode gadgets360 ww

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3's Flex Mode lets you force a split view in unsupported apps (top), re-configure your camera controls (bottom left) and use any of the rear cameras for a selfie (bottom right)

 

The Labs menu in the Settings offers additional functionality such as the ability to pin the floating carousel as a permanent ‘taskbar' or force Flex Mode in apps that aren't supported. The latter feature works best with apps such as the Gallery, YouTube, and Camera app. This pushes part of the content to one side of the large inner panel and the rest to the other side when you partially fold the display in order to avoid the spine. Forcing this feature in unsupported apps simply pushes all content to the top half, while giving your controls for the notification shade, screenshot, display brightness, and volume at the bottom, which is not particularly useful.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports Dex too, allowing you to project the contents of your phone in a desktop-like layout to your laptop or a compatible TV, either wired or wirelessly. I tested this on my Panasonic 49GX750D and it worked quite well. Once connected, you can use the Galaxy Z Fold 3's main or cover screen as a trackpad.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 performance and battery life

A week with the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is pretty short but performance was top-notch throughout. Apps transitioned well from one screen to the other, the displays were bright with good colour saturation, and everything felt fluid and snappy. When it came to typing, I nearly always had to unfold the phone and use the main screen since it's more comfortable. The keyboard automatically splits into two sections for better reachability for your thumbs. A swipe-down gesture from the bottom of either display shrinks its contents for even better reach. The crease in the folding screen is still very much there, but when viewing content in full-screen and head-on, it's barely noticeable.

The main display is simply gorgeous for consuming content. Videos generally have thick black bars on the top and bottom because of its dimensions, but most apps will let you fill the full screen at the cost of cropping the frame. The stereo speakers sound really good and get quite loud too. Other than videos, the Galaxy Z Fold 3's main display is great for reading books on, be it novels or comic books.

Games look amazing on the main display, no matter what you play. Productivity apps such as Microsoft Office and Google Sheets are much nicer to use when you have so much screen real estate. Of course, there are a bunch of Android apps that don't adapt to the large screen as well as they should, such as Slack, and some that don't work well at all, like Instagram.

samsung galaxy z fold 3 review games gadgets360 ww

Games look spectacular on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3's main display

 

You'll have to close the phone if you need to answer an incoming call, or use the loudspeaker. For video calls, the outer selfie camera definitely offers a sharper and clearer picture, but the under-display camera embedded into the main display is not too bad as long as there's sufficient light around you.

Battery life was a bit of a mixed bag in my experience, and will depend on how much you use the main display. On a day with light usage, when I didn't watch a lot of videos or play games on the main screen, and only opened it to reply to chats and emails, I was just about able to sail past one full day on a charge. Getting anything more out of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 was difficult.

With heavier use of the main screen, battery life was much shorter. This was also reflected in our HD video loop test, which ran for just 12 hours and 20 minutes. Charging the battery isn't the quickest when compared to other flagships, and it takes more than an hour to fully top it up, even when connected to a high-wattage USB-PD power adapter. You can also charge the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 wirelessly and use the phone itself to wirelessly charge other devices.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 cameras

Let's start with the most interesting and arguably the lowest quality camera of the bunch – the under-display selfie camera. It's resolution is just 4-megapixels and the aperture is f/1.8. While it's serviceable for video calls or face recognition, it's not very good for taking photos. Samsung's post-processing tries its best to fix things but there's still a noticeable difference in quality between it and the 10-megapixel selfie camera in the cover screen, despite the latter's even narrower aperture. Thanks to the folding nature of the phone, you can bypass both selfie cameras and simply use the rear cameras to take a selfie, thereby giving you vastly better quality and flexibility in terms of lenses.

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 daylight selfie camera comparison

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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 low-light selfie camera comparison

 

Other than the under-display camera, the rest of them are exactly the same as what the Galaxy Z Fold 2 had, except now the 2X telephoto camera is also optically stabilised. The three main cameras – wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto – all have 12-megapixel sensors. I would have liked to see camera improvements from the Galaxy S21 Ultra make their way here, such as laser autofocus or higher optical telephoto magnification, but sadly, none of that is present.

When you open the camera app from the cover screen, you have the option of using the rear cameras to take a selfie. Opening the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 halfway lets you see your most recent photos and videos on the left, while the viewfinder and controls are on the right. Switching to a landscape orientation in the same half-folded state, the controls then move to the bottom along with the preview of your last photo.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 main camera sample (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 ultra-wide camera sample (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 telephoto (2X) camera sample (tap to see full size)

 

Camera performance overall is pretty solid, just not in the same league as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Landscapes and close-ups look good during the day, with decent details and punchy colours. Finer details such as textures on distant objects aren't resolved as well as what the Galaxy S21 Ultra can manage, but you really have to go hunting for differences in order to spot them. Close-ups pack in good details with a pleasing level of background blur. The ultra-wide camera does a decent job too. The telephoto camera is slightly disappointing since it only offers 2X optical zoom and a maximum digital zoom of 10X.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 low-light main camera sample (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 low-light main camera sample (tap to see full size)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 low-light ultra-wide camera sample (tap to see full size)

 

Night mode kicks in automatically when ambient light is less than ideal, which helps getting well-exposed landscape shots with the main and ultra-wide cameras. I struggled a bit with close-ups in low light, as even with optical stabilisation and steady hands, getting a blur-free shot was a bit challenging. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 can record videos at up to 4K 60fps and there's an option for shooting HDR10+ clips too. Video quality and stabilisation is good during the day, but in low light, there's noise and noticeable jitter when you're walking around.

Verdict

The technology behind folding smartphones has been progressing rapidly over the years. Samsung's latest foldables are proof that this is not going to be merely a one-off novelty feature but something that could eventually become the norm. That future still seems far off though, as folding displays have a lot of catching up to do before they can be as strong or reliable as standard flat displays.

Still, if you're someone who wants to live on the bleeding edge of tech, then the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is possibly the most refined foldable in the market right now. It's still a bit of a novelty item but a well-refined one. You still need to be mindful of how you use the folding display as it can get damaged easily despite Samsung's claims of improved durability. There's also the Galaxy Z Flip 3 to consider, but that's targeted at a different audience and we'll dive into more details on that in its full review.

For all those undecided between the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra, it's pretty simple. If cameras and battery life are important to you, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the better choice. On the other hand, if you want to be able to have a tablet-sized screen in your pocket and are willing to live with some compromises such as ergonomics, cameras and battery life, then nothing comes close to the Galaxy Z Fold 3.


Are the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 still made for enthusiasts — or are they good enough for everyone? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and wherever you get your podcasts.
  • Design
  • Display
  • Software
  • Performance
  • Battery Life
  • Camera
  • Value for Money
  • Good
  • Large, vibrant folding display
  • Intuitive software for multitasking
  • Top-tier performance
  • Great-sounding speakers
  • Water-resistant design
  • Bad
  • Average battery life
  • Cameras could do better in low light
  • Heavy, bulky when folded
  • Expensive
Display (Primary) 7.60-inch
Processor octa-core
Front Camera 10-megapixel + 4-megapixel
Rear Camera 12-megapixel + 12-megapixel + 12-megapixel
RAM 12GB
Storage 256GB
Battery Capacity 4400mAh
OS Android 11
Resolution 2208x1768 pixels
Comments

For the latest tech news and reviews, follow Gadgets 360 on Twitter, Facebook, and Google News. For the latest videos on gadgets and tech, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Roydon Cerejo writes about smartphones and laptops for Gadgets 360, out of Mumbai. He is the Deputy Editor (Reviews) at Gadgets 360. He has frequently written about the smartphone and PC industry and also has an interest in photography. With over a decade of experience covering the consumer technology space, he is also an avid sci-fi movie and TV show geek and is always up for good horror flick. Roydon is available at roydon@gadgets360.com, so please send in your leads and tips. More
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