Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: Unfold the future, today 

Samsung is going all out to convince skeptics that foldables are here to stay

author_img Tushar Kanwar Published :  08th September 2021 02:14 PM   |   Published :   |  08th September 2021 02:14 PM
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is Samsung going all out to convince skeptics that foldables are here to stay. Everything about it is mega, right from the upgraded internals and upgraded outer and inner screens, to improvements in durability, support for the fabled S Pen and even improved software to leverage the unique form factor. Crucially, it’s the all-round refinements that come together to allow the Z Fold 3 to legitimately make the leap from something that feels eccentric and experimental to something that feels ready to be recommended without any major caveats. For all of its bleeding edge credentials, the Z Fold 3 also has a price tag to match. After well over a week of using this in place of my trusty Note 20 Ultra, I’ve got a pretty good idea about who the Z Fold 3 is for. Is that you, and does splurging on this make sense over other super-premium offerings from Samsung and Apple? Read on…

 

 

Unboxing the Fold 3 is a somewhat barebones experience, something one has gotten used to in high-end phones – all you get is a SIM ejector tool and a USB-C cable, aside from the phone itself. Conspicuous in its absence is an S Pen, compatibility with which is a big new feature this time around, so it’s odd that that the actual ‘Fold Edition’ S Pen is a separate purchase. Comparing the design to the Z Fold 2, it may seem that the two share the same broad design, yet the Fold 3 folds a bit flatter, is a tad lighter and there’s a stronger ‘Armor Aluminum’ body with a matte finish (plus Gorilla Glass Victus protection on the front and rear panels) that’s better designed to resist scratches and (gulp!) drops. While the Z Fold 2 was a vast improvement over the original Fold in terms of structural rigidity, the Z Fold 3 is the first time I felt I could use the form factor without always babying the device. The hinge feels solid and sturdy, which allows the Fold 3 to be used in Flex Mode at any angle less than completely flat. 

 

It helps immensely that Samsung has added an IPX8 rating for water resistance, so you can use it outdoors in the rain or in the bathtub without worrying about the damage a dunking can do. Kudos to Samsung for pulling off this engineering feat in a phone with this many moving parts! Bear in mind, the phone is still vulnerable to dust so while the pool is cool, the beach is out of reach! And despite the nips and tucks all around, there’s no denying it’s still a chunky, bulky feeling phone and you can feel the weight both in the hand and in the pocket, not to mention the hand calisthenics you need to perform to use the Fold 3 one-handed, especially if it is for a selfie using the front display as a viewfinder. This is a proper two-hands-required device and thanks to the hinge, opening the device is a very deliberate action. It’s a good thing then that Samsung’s stuck with a side-mounted fingerprint scanner which allows you to quickly unlock the device whether closed or open.

 

Of course, it’s all about the displays on the Z Fold 3, and there are a bunch of improvements that make a discernible difference, some of which you can see and some you can’t (deliberately so!) First, the outer Cover display gets the 120Hz fluidity upgrade to match the inner display, which makes the narrow, tall screen a joy to view. The fact that it’s narrow works both ways – it’s easy to grip and to operate single handed, and I found myself using the cover display a lot more than I expected. Doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s narrow, so some might have issues with typing out long messages or watching content on the 22.5:18 aspect ratio screen. For all those situations, plus any time I wanted to read/watch something or lazily scroll through my social feeds, I’d pry open the phone and, thanks to Samsung’s app continuity feature, pick up on the big screen exactly where I left off on the small screen. 

 

 

Inside, it’s the familiar expansive screen real estate one has come to expect from a Fold, and the brighter 7.6-inch 2208x1768-pixel 120Hz display now has a layer of stronger ultra-thin glass covered by a PET screen protector (yes, the same PET as the beverage bottles). Using PET allows the protector to feel like glass yet flex along with the flexible OLED display underneath. It’s still not something you’d consciously want to mess around with, which explains why Samsung had to develop a special softer S Pen ‘Fold Edition’ just for the Z Fold 3 instead of using the older, sharper stylus we saw on the Note 20 Ultra. 

The other brand-new feature of the Fold 3 is its under-display camera on its inner screen, in place of the punch-hole camera from the Fold 2. It’s still a punch-hole, to be fair, but the camera cutout is covered by a grid of pixels that’s less pixel-dense than the rest of the screen, giving it a sort of a mesh effect that’s decidedly an improvement over the black camera hole from previous generations. Depending on how you’re holding it and what you’re doing on the screen, it can go from being super obvious and visible (with light colors or when the screen is off) to nearly invisible when you’re watching videos (side note: the speakers on the Z Fold 3 are all manners of amazing!) In all, the under-display camera is a step in the right direction and a clear indication that Samsung is packing the Z Fold 3 with all the tech firepower to justify its premium pricing, even if the tech has some ways to go before it is refined enough for primetime use. 

 

 

About that S Pen support for the inner screen, the bit of news that matters to the Note faithful who won’t be seeing a new Note this year…and will either splurge for the Z Fold 3 or clutch onto their Note 20 Ultras a little harder! The S Pen is a separate purchase, and you’ll likely want to consider the Flip Cover which comes with an S Pen Fold Edition plus a compartment to stow away the pen when not in use. Folks familiar with the Note series will be right at home with the feature set, including all the Air Commands, sketching features in Notes et al. Here’s the bit I wasn’t prepared for as a Note user – the ability to hold the Z Fold 3 like a book lends a sense of authenticity to the note-taking experience unlike any Note before it. Whether it’s coloring a drawing in PenUp or free-hand scribbling or doodling in Notes (even with the Fold 3 folded at an angle) or annotating screenshots, the S Pen just feels so much more of a natural fit with this form factor. 

 

 

Performance was almost a given with Samsung opting for the top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 to power its lineup of foldables. No surprises there - the Z Fold 3 responds with aplomb even when you throw three apps in multi-view mode while streaming music in the background. Playing games like Asphalt has the Z Flip 3 flying through its paces, but slightly heavier ones like Genshin Impact do see the occasional drops in frame rates over extended gameplay sessions. The Z Fold 3’s larger tablet-like display flexes the device’s unique advantage over other smartphones during multitasking. You can comfortably fit 3 apps on the screen at once, with each app displaying enough information without requiring you to squint…plus add in five pop-out floating windows over this. The sidebar can dock in place on the side, and apps can be made to fit into a multitasking view or float above existing apps. A lot of these are hidden under the Labs advanced features settings, and it’s worth the reward if you spend some time digging into these features while setting the phone up. Over time, you’ll find a happy balance of which apps are comfortable to use on the cover display, and which ones need the luxurious inner display and that extra screen real estate. On the matter of performance, battery life is acceptable if not the battery monster the size and thickness of the device would suggest. The slightly smaller 4400mAh battery inside the Z Fold 3 lasts about 5 hours of screen-on-time, which can last you a day of use but just about. Charging speeds are reasonable at 25W, though I expected they’d switch to faster charging speeds support in their most premium flagship. No charger in the box either.

With five cameras on the Z Fold 3 – three 12MP shooters on the rear with a primary, ultrawide and 2x telephoto, a 4MP under display camera on the inner display and a 10MP selfie camera on the cover display – most of the camera setup is shared with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (save for an optically stabilized 2x telephoto). Clearly, the big camera upgrades we saw in the S21 Ultra haven’t made their way over, but the Z Fold 3 cameras aren’t exactly a pushover either. Daytime performance is good, with good details and punchy colors. Telephoto is limited to 2x optical / 10x digital zoom, which is a bit limiting. Night mode shots are pretty impressive too, and the auto night mode works well to get a usable shot each time. In general, the Z Fold 3 has a perfectly good set of cameras and takes most of the shots you’d intended, but it’s far from the best camera setup around. 

Yet, it was the under-display camera I was intrigued by, and while it’s fine for video calls or face unlocks, it’s not very high quality and not a great showcase for an under-display camera. Fortunately, you can use the rear cameras to take a selfie, with the cover display acting as a perfectly serviceable viewfinder. Videos recording at 4K 60fps is exceptional in day light, but falters in less-than-ideal shooting conditions.

This is not a device for those who want the best cameras, the fastest charging, the best absolute gaming performance…but none of those devices can pull the Fold 3’s unique magic trick out of the hat. As it stands, the Z Fold 3 is the most well thought-through and refined foldable out there, even if the pricing ensures it appeals only to the well-heeled or folks who must live on the (wallet) bleeding edge of tech. While water resistance and S Pen compatibility will be the biggest selling points for this generation, it’s really about how the rest of the experience – a more durable screen, excellent content consumption and a better tablet-aware software experience – comes together to make this the best foldable experience around. Nothing comes close.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Pros: Best-in-class foldable display, software improvements for larger display, good performance, great speakers, water resistance and S Pen support, reliable cameras, great multitasking experience

Cons: Bulky, expensive, middling battery life, under display camera isnt ready for the primetime, S Pen is an additional purchase

Rating: 8/10

Price: Rs 1,49,999 (12GB RAM/256GB storage), Rs 1,57,999 (12GB RAM/512GB storage) in Phantom Black

Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar

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