Note: This feature was first published on 11 August 2021.
By now, you should’ve already seen the official announcements Samsung made at its August 2021 Unpacked event. The hero products are the two foldable phones - Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3, along with its companion wearables - the Galaxy Watch 4, Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, and Galaxy Buds 2.
We’ve also had the opportunity to try each device at a physical demo session briefly. Since it was done before its global announcement (with all distancing measures and restrictions adhered to), the devices weren’t packing the latest, compatible software that touted all the announced features. It may be brief, but it gave the HWZ team a sense of what Samsung brings to Singapore.
The first elephant in the room was understanding where the new Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 stand in Samsung’s expansive flagship lineup. If you recall, 2020 saw Samsung launching at least ten different flagship-grade mobile handsets and devices within a span of 12 months. This was a huge difference to its approach this year, since its last major announcement was January 2021’s Galaxy S21 series devices.
And it is here where we heard with our very own ears - there will be no Galaxy Note model launched this year. Instead, the Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 are respectively the premium flagship and mainstream flagship Samsung Galaxy handsets for H2 2021. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that Samsung’s flagship tour is over for this year, it does mean that the Galaxy Z devices are the H2 major mobile products headlining Samsung’s second-half of 2021.
The S Pen itself is far from dead, though. Besides introducing S Pen support to the Galaxy S21 Ultra, S Pen support also goes to the Galaxy Z Fold3. The new, non-Bluetooth stylus sold separately is the S Pen Fold Edition (S$78), and no, it doesn’t work with the older Fold2 - it’s specifically designed for the Galaxy Z Fold3. The S Pen Fold Edition also doesn’t ‘work’ on the Galaxy S21 Ultra we had on hand. While S21 Ultra could receive tap inputs from the new S Pen, it can’t write or annotate anything on the S21 Ultra despite making the swishy sound effects whenever you put an S Pen to a supported device.
Another stylus present was the S Pen Pro (S$168) announced earlier this year. S Pen Pro is significantly longer (173.64mm) and heavier (13.8g) than the typical satay stick form factor synonymous with S Pens of old. In fact, if you’re used to a certain Pencil by a certain U.S.fruit-based technology company, you’ll find the S Pen Pro very similar to its rival in size, weight, and handling.
What sets the S Pen Pro aside from other S Pens? It’s Bluetooth-capable, so it works across all other S Pen supported devices, on top of offering Air Command, Air Gestures, or other Air Actions. The lists of supported devices and compatible Air Actions are pretty long. Still, it’s worth noting that S Pen Pro also works on Samsung devices with S Pens or S Pen support (Galaxy Tabs, Galaxy Books, older Galaxy Note, etc.).
The first thing that stood out to us on the Z Fold3 was a significantly brighter Main Screen. Samsung said that the Fold3 has a display 29% brighter than the one on the Z Fold2, which explains why the Main Screen panel appeared really bright even with a casual glance.
Fundamentally, the Galaxy Z Fold3 doesn’t feel very different from the Z Fold2, since the reduced thickness and weight are slight, while the folding mechanism didn’t change between generations. It’s clear to us that the fundamental flaws of foldable displays are still present on both devices - the folding crease is on the Z Fold3 and Z Flip3 is visible if your ambient light hits it just right.
What also caught our attention was the under-display camera on the Z Fold2. In our brief experimentation with it, the display quality isn’t greatly affected by the hidden camera - sure, it’s slightly visible when you put on a bright image, but that’s the extent of under-display cameras thus far. However, we’ll need to use it more to fully understand how it impacts our use both ways - the imaging quality, as well as our browsing experience.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to try out the 120Hz displays on either handset, or explore the software improvements, since it was a preview before all official announcements were made, and the phones did not yet have their respective updated OSes or online connectivity.
The demo could’ve gone further if we were able to give the phones’ IPX8 water resistance and Armor Aluminum bodies a go, but we also weren’t ready to be excluded from all future previews with Samsung - so we didn’t push our luck here either.
A major point headlining Samsung’s Galaxy Buds2 true wireless earbuds was its Active Noise Cancelling. According to Samsung, the improved noise cancellation reduces external background noise by up to 98%. While our ears can’t tell 98% from not-98%, the Galaxy Buds2’s noise cancellation is noticeably ‘clean’.
What do we mean by clean? For active noise cancellation to happen, the device detects ambient noise and ‘counters’ them by playing back inversed versions of said noise. While it cancels out noise, the void is usually filled with a high-pressure ‘white noise’ that can exhaust your ears after extended periods of wearing. The Galaxy Buds2 had none of that.
Galaxy Buds2 also offers three levels of Ambient Sound, and it’s super effective - we had to constantly ask the Samsung spokesperson to repeat what was last said when we toggled about with Ambient Sound settings - and mind you, it was a one-to-one demonstration in a quiet office with no external disruptions. The right Ambient Sound toggle would make conversations clear, and it could cut out conversation even at max level.
Again, we couldn’t test the IPX2 water resistance on the Buds2, because we still wanted to attend future Samsung previews, and it was crucial we didn’t destroy the prototypes available to us.
The key difference between Galaxy Watch4 Classic and the Galaxy Watch4 is the rotating bezel on the former smartwatch. The rotating bezel acts as a navigator, which adds a tactile input to the touchscreen controls on the smartwatch. The Galaxy Watch4 didn’t have that, and we felt the difference keenly - having a tactile bezel just made menu-flipping way easier, even if we didn’t look cool while doing it.
An important upgrade to the Galaxy Watch4 series is the 3-in-1 sensor and the resulting measurements offered. Collectively known as the Samsung BioActive Sensor, it offers an optical heart rate sensor (PPG), electrical heart rate sensor (ECG), and bioelectrical impedance analysis sensor (BIA).
Together, the sensors not only offer conventional readings of health measures like blood oxygen and active/sedentary heart rate, but they can also give us our Body Composition readings. The smartwatch only needs 15 to 30 seconds of your time, with two fingers resting on its buttons. Once ready, the device tells you more about your Body Composition - skeletal muscle, fat mass, body fat, BMI, and body water volume. Absolutely insane.
Samsung said that these measurements are best taken in context. That is, if you already use existing professional equipment to measure your body composition, the Galaxy Watch4’s Body Composition measurements should act as a guide to what you already know. That said, the sensors offer ‘98% accuracy’, but Samsung didn’t specify what the sensor’s accuracy was pegged to, in comparison.
Without the latest firmware and the liberty to put these devices through their paces, these first impressions were all we could take away from the demo session. However, it’s also clear that Samsung’s confident with their latest offerings, given how comprehensive each device is. Water-resistant everything? Foldable phone with S Pen support? A watch that tells you how fat you are? Proper noise cancellation for its true wireless earbuds? We can’t wait to get our hands on the review units.
Until then, don’t forget to check out our existing Samsung Unpacked August 2021 coverage.