The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is the company’s most ambitious, productivity-centric smartphone yet. The third-generation model feels refined thanks to the IPX8 rating and S Pen support. Although it looks like a flagship, it is still an attractive option. But can it be used every day or just as a novelty item? The big question is still if it makes sense to buy the Galaxy Z Fold 3 instead of something like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, or the iPhone 12 Pro Max for those with deep pockets (literally and figuratively).
This review was published after I had spent about a week with my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. While this is not a long time, it is enough to get a good idea of who should buy the phone. Let’s get started, there is a lot to do.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 pricing and variations
First, a quick price check. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is priced at Rs. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 starts at Rs. 1,49,999 in India. It comes with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. The second variant comes with twice as much RAM and 512GB storage. It is priced at Rs. 1,57,999 The phone was launched in three colors internationally. However, at the time this review was written, Samsung only had the Phantom Black option for Indian customers. It’s a very expensive phone. If you bought it during the pre-booking period, you might have been eligible for discounts or additional benefits like Samsung Care+.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 design and ergonomics
Except for a small design change to its rear camera module, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 looks almost identical to its predecessor. The phone unfolds a bit thinner than the predecessor, and weighs 271g (vs 282g). However, it is still quite chunky when folded. Also, the two halves of the phone don’t fit flush against each other and leave a gap when closed.
Samsung claims that the new chassis is made from stronger aluminum than the old model. The matte finish on the frame and back panel of the glass is a nice contrast to the glossy hinge and outer display. The entire body is very slippery. This is something I am still trying to adjust to. The Galaxy Fold 3 is difficult to open due to the stiff resistance of the hinge and the slippery frame.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 folds up easily, but it feels bulky when in use. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is almost as tall as the iPhone 12 Pro Max @ 115,900 but it’s also smaller, making it easier to hold. To unfold the phone, however, you’ll need to use two hands. The phone can be viewed as two halves. The upper panel contains the stereo speakers at the top and bottom and a microphone on the right. The lower panel houses the rest of microphones and the USB Type C port (USB3.1 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 has a 6.2-inch AMOLED panel and Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. The display is bright and vivid and can be used for simple tasks like scrolling through Twitter or casual gaming. However, it’s too narrow to be ideal for typing on, unless you are a skilled swipe-typist. The top of the display has a hole-punch camera that can be hidden by smartly-designed wallpapers.
The AMOLED folding display is the main draw. It has a resolution of 2,208×1,768, HDR10 playback, and a refresh rate of 120Hz. Samsung claims that it used a stronger ultra-thin display (UTG), which should provide greater durability.
Although I’ve been very careful with my usage of the folding screen so far, I haven’t noticed any dents or other problems. However, it still feels fragile to me than even the outer display. The screen was scratched by my fingernail when I applied light pressure. Samsung created a special S Pen for the Galaxy Z Fold. Bottom line: Don’t touch the folding screen with anything sharp.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3’s under-display camera is a brand new feature. Although it’s not surprising that Samsung uses such new technology in its most expensive smartphone model, we are here. It is designed to allow the user uninterrupted views of their content. When it works, the result is incredible. It’s easy to see where the camera is if you pay attention. This is because of the low pixel density within the circle. The camera is easily visible against dark backgrounds and is fully visible even when the screen is turned off.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is shipped in a basic package. The box contains a SIM ejector and a USB Type C cable. Your charger will be required.
Software and specifications for Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
Samsung hasn’t compromised on the specifications for the Galaxy Z Fold 3 by any means. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC and plenty of RAM. You can use the phone to access 16 Indian 5G bands. You can use the built-in fingerprint sensor or one of the two internal and external selfie cameras to authenticate your identity. Although the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s 4,400mAh battery is smaller than the previous model, it still offers 25W fast charging. Samsung chargers are not required. Most USB-PD chargers with a rating of 25W or more should be able fast charge the Galaxy Z Fold.
The IPX8 rating is an important addition. This means that this phone will be more durable for everyday use than the previous model, or any other foldable. The X in the rating indicates that it isn’t dust-proof.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports Samsung’s S Pen Fold Edition and the new S Pen Pro. However, older Galaxy Note phones will not work with other S Pens. The accessory is not included with the phone by Samsung. This also means that there is no place in the phone to store the stylus when it’s not being used. Samsung did not send me either of the compatible S Pens to review, so I can’t speak about how this works.
Samsung’s Fold series was designed to allow you to multitask better and provide a more enjoyable content experience. The Galaxy Fold 3 is a great example of this.
One UI 3.1.1 based upon Android 11 was the operating system on my review unit. The cover screen of any app you open will automatically transition to the main screen in the same state as the original. This includes media, games, and social apps. You will need to enable the option manually to continue using the app from the foldable display on the outer screen. Otherwise, the app will close automatically when the phone is folded.
Cover screen mirroring is another useful feature that you should enable. This feature is found under the Home screen settings. It mirrors the widget and app layouts on one screen. Only the top five icons on the main screen will be mirrored onto the outer screen for the static row.
Multitasking allows you to open up to three applications simultaneously. The window for each app will automatically adjust to the space it is dragged into. You can quickly shuffle your apps using the three-dotted menu, or manually resize them. There are also five additional apps that can be run as floating windows in addition to the three. Unsupported apps, such as split view games, can be run. It was possible to simultaneously play Call of Duty: Mobile and browse Twitter while watching a YouTube video. Although I don’t know who would choose to multitask this way, it is possible.
Samsung’s apps are optimized for multi-window usage. However, the company has also collaborated to improve the Galaxy Z Fold 3 experience with Spotify and other companies such as Apple. You can open Spotify on the cover screen. If you continue using it on the main screen you will see the Now Playing widget and controls in a fixed position to the left. While you search for music on your right side, you’ll find the controls and widgets to the right. Samsung’s Web browser allows you to drag and drop links from any webpage into a new tab for a split screen view.
Additional functionality is available in the Settings Labs menu. This includes the ability to pin the floating cartousel as a permanent taskbar or force Flex Mode in applications that aren’t supported. This feature is best used with apps like the Gallery, YouTube, Camera, and Camera app. The content is pushed to one side by the large inner panel, and the rest to another side if you fold the display to avoid the spine. This feature is only available in non-supported apps. It simply moves all content to the top, with your controls for notification shade, screenshots, brightness, display brightness and volume at the bottom.
Dex is also supported by the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. This allows you to project your phone’s contents onto a compatible TV or laptop via wired or wireless connections. It worked well on my Panasonic 49GX750D. Once you have connected the Galaxy Z Fold 3, you can use it as a trackpad by using either its main or cover screen.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Performance and Battery Life
Although the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 took only one week to use, it was a great device. The apps worked well on all screens, everything felt smooth and responsive, and the colours were vivid with great saturation. Because the main screen is more comfortable, typing was almost always done with the phone unfolded. To make it easier for you thumbs to reach, the keyboard automatically splits in two sections. For even greater reach, swipe down from the bottom of either display to shrink its contents. Although the fold in the screen is visible, it’s not noticeable when you view content in full-screen or head-on.
The main display is stunning for viewing content. Because of the dimensions of the main display, videos have thick black bars at the top and bottom. However, most apps allow you to fill the entire screen with your content. Stereo speakers are very loud and sound great. The Galaxy Z Fold 3’s main screen is perfect for watching videos and reading books, whether comic books or novels.
No matter what game you play, games look great on the main screen. With so much screen real-estate, productivity apps like Google Sheets and Microsoft Office are easier to use. There are many Android apps that won’t adapt to large screens as well as some that work poorly, like Slack.
If you have to answer an incoming phone call, you will need to either close the phone or use the loudspeaker. The outer selfie camera is better for video calls. However, you can use the loudspeaker or close the phone to answer incoming calls.
My experience with battery life was mixed. It will all depend on how often you use the main screen. A day of light usage, in which I didn’t view a lot of video or play games on my main screen and only used it to reply to emails and chats, gave me enough juice to last me a full day. It was hard to get more out of my Galaxy Z Fold 3.
Battery life was shorter when the main screen was used more frequently. Our HD video loop test showed this as well, lasting just 12 hours and 20 mins. The battery charge is slower than other flagships and takes over an hour to top up even with a high-wattage USBPD power adapter. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 can be charged wirelessly, and you can use it to wirelessly charge any other devices.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 cameras
Let’s begin with the most intriguing and perhaps the worst quality camera, the under-display self-portrait camera. The resolution is only 4 megapixels, and the aperture is f/1.8. It’s usable for face recognition and video calls, but not for photography. Samsung’s post processing does its best to correct the problem, but the quality of the phone’s photos is still not as good as the 10-megapixel selfie camera on the cover screen. This is despite having a smaller aperture. The phone’s folding design allows you to bypass the selfie camera and use the rear cameras for a selfie. This gives you a much better quality and flexibility when it comes to lenses.
Except for the under-display cam, all the rest are identical to what the Galaxy Z Fold 2 had except that the 2X Telephoto camera is now optically stabilized. All three main cameras, telephoto, ultra-wide and wide, have 12-megapixel sensors. I would have liked to see camera improvements from the Galaxy S21 UltraRs 105,999 make their way here, such as laser autofocus or higher optical telephoto magnification, but sadly, none of that is present.
You have the option to use the rear cameras for a selfie when you open the camera app. The viewfinder and controls can be accessed on the right side of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. The controls will move to the bottom with your last photo preview, and you can switch to landscape orientation by opening the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 halfway.
Overall, the camera performance is solid but not as good as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The landscapes and close-ups are excellent during the day with good details and vibrant colours. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is able to resolve finer details like textures on distant objects, but it’s not as good as the Galaxy S21 Ultra. You will have to hunt for them. Close-ups are crisp and have a pleasing background blur. The ultra-wide camera also does a good job. The telephoto camera has a 2X optical zoom, and a maximum digital zoom limit of 10X. It is somewhat disappointing.
Night mode automatically kicks in when the ambient light is not ideal. This allows for well-exposed landscape shots using both the main and ultra wide cameras. It was difficult to get blur-free close-ups in low-light, even with optical stabilizer and steady hands. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is capable of recording videos at up 4K 60fps, and can also shoot HDR10+ clips. The video quality and stability is excellent during daylight, but there is noticeable noise and jitter in low-light situations.
Over the years, technology for folding smartphones has advanced rapidly. Samsung’s new foldables prove that this isn’t a novelty feature, but something that will eventually be the norm. This future seems far away though, as folding displays still have much to catch up with flat displays before they can be as robust and reliable.
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. Although it’s still a novelty product, it is a very well-refined item. 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. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is also available. However, it’s aimed at a different audience. We’ll be covering that review in more detail.
For all those undecided between the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra, it’s pretty simple. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a better choice if you are concerned about battery life and cameras. The Galaxy Z Fold is a better choice if you are looking for a tablet-sized screen and are prepared to compromise on ergonomics, camera and battery life.