Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 review: A splash-proof foldable display multi-tasker now made a reality
Design & Handling, Display & Audio, User Interface
Note: This review was first published on 30 August 2021.
Third time's the charm?
The Galaxy Z Fold3 seeks to repeat the allure of its preceding Fold2. It’s the same book-style foldable display with a full-length Cover Screen and a squarish Main Screen tucked within the handset. At its core, it’s designed to accomplish everything it had before.
But, the Galaxy Z Fold3 does it with a slightly slimmer and lighter body, while throwing in S Pen support, better Main Screen optimisations (Labs and Taskbar pinning), an updated Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 flagship processor, and a Cover Screen with a higher refresh rate. It had to make do by packing in a slightly smaller battery, sitting at 4,400mAh.
Other changes that went into improving the Z Flip3 - like IPX8 water resistance, Armor Aluminium, improved Main Screen durability for scratches - are also present on Fold3.
With a starting price of S$2,398 for 256GB (and S$2,548 for 512GB), the new premium flagship foldable is significantly more affordable than its older variants. The first commercially available Galaxy Fold was S$3,088, and its follow-up Z Fold2 started at S$2,888. It’s still really pricey among Android alternatives, though.
Can the Galaxy Z Fold3 finally make you part with all that money? Is the third time a charm, or does it fall short despite the big price cut? Let’s find out.
|Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G|
Design and Handling
The Galaxy Z Fold3 5G has many durability upgrades seen in Samsung’s other foldable phone. As mentioned, Fold3 5G itself and its users are also getting perks like upgraded Armor Aluminum frame, IPX8-certified water resistance, and an enhanced film layer that’s more durable to scratches on the Main Screen. We’ve covered them over at the Flip3 5G review, so be sure to check these features out over at that piece.
With Samsung making Fold3 slightly lighter (by 11g) and thinner (by 0.8mm at the hinge), the phone does feel a little friendlier in hand. Despite these improvements, the Z Fold3 is still heavier and bigger than typical Android phones. However, downsizing the Fold’s hefty stature didn’t take away its premium build quality, and the Z Fold3 upholds that with a solid, responsive hinge, tight form, and a matte finish to top it off.
While it feels nice to hold, the phone’s handling traits stayed the same. Cover Screen offers a typical phone experience, albeit in a narrower frame. It’s extremely convenient for tasks that don't involve typing (like reading articles and hilarious conspiracy theories in Telegram and Facebook ‘expert’ groups), but it’s still really easy to make fat-finger typos when replying to anything due to the narrow screen width.
While its Main Screen is an impressive display that’s better for replying to e-mails and messages, it’s still prone to accidental input. Turning the phone around or reaching a finger further in to tap on stuff might make the handset register inputs from your palm.
If you’re interacting with highly visual content (videos, Instagram, TikTok), the Main Screen still offers a better overall experience since the Cover Screen feels claustrophobic, especially if you’re used to regular phones.
Display and Audio
On the outside is the same 6.2-inch HD+ Cover Screen as before, but it now uses Dynamic AMOLED 2X instead of Super AMOLED, with slightly higher pixel resolution and pixel density (by 1 PPI, which is quite negligible). The biggest upgrade is 120Hz refresh rate - apps feel more seamless when switching between either display, and browsing is buttery smooth.
Inside is a 7.6-inch QXGA+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Main Screen. Its core upgrades, however, lies in S Pen support and 120Hz refresh rate.
Yet another new feature of the Main Screen is the half-hidden under-display front camera. In our first encounter with the Fold3, we’ve seen how the camera stayed visible despite patching up the camera hole - especially for apps with white backgrounds. Our extra time with the phone showed us how the camera is less prominent on lower brightness settings and darker background colours.
It’s also less noticeable when watching videos in landscape mode. If so, the camera ‘eats’ into your 16:9 videos, but it’s away from the central action to really detract you (as seen in the snap above). You could always watch your streaming videos in portrait mode to avoid it, but that would mean bigger black bars. Nevertheless, we feel that an under-display camera still beats having a permanent cutout.
The Galaxy Z Fold3’s crease feels even more prominent than on the Flip3. That’s because the Fold3’s vertical crease always meets your gaze whenever you’re browsing on your phone, assuming your line of sight starts from the top before going down. The Flip3’s horizontal crease, while equally present, isn’t always immediately visible at first glance. They share similar viewing angles limitations too, so previewing shots during photography can get challenging when your subject is center-focused. Fortunately with its creaseless Cover Screen, it’s better to keep the device folded when shooting with its rear cameras.
Like the Z Flip3, Samsung also needs to figure out ways to improve the viewing angles around the crease to maximise Z Fold3’s premium asking price and display quality. The heartache of seeing the crease on a S$2,000+ device is very real, even if we’re fully aware of current display technology limitations. That said, if you do own the phone for a while, the crease may not bother you too much as you would have adapted to its traits, including enjoying the expansive real estate that no other phone accords you.
UI and Features
Galaxy Z Fold3 uses Android 11 with Samsung’s One UI interface - no surprises there, so we’ll look at the cooler software features the Koreans plonked in to make the foldable more user-friendly.
Labs and pinnable Taskbar for Main Screen
If you intend to use Galaxy Z Fold3 as your daily driver, you must check out Labs. Under the Settings > Advanced Feature tab is the Labs submenu that houses all old, new, and experimental tweaks to maximise the Main Screen’s real estate. Controls are very granular; for example, Auto-Rotate lets you decide - on a per-app basis - whether to follow the phone’s orientation or let the app’s natural orientation take precedence.
Almost every app you have installed can be manipulated through Labs - whether to abide by Flex Mode (where you half-fold the device for use), what aspect ratio it needs, and whether you permit Multi-Window multitasking.
Another cool new feature is the ability to pin your Edge Panel inside the Main Screen. Doing so transforms the normally-hidden apps there into a Taskbar similar to pinned taskbar programs seen on Windows 10. If you’re busy with a fullscreen app, the pinned taskbar (along with Android’s three-button navigation) hides away, and shows up only when you swipe away from the display’s edge. Very handy.
These extras play nicely with older features, like App Continuity (app remains active when you switch displays) and resizable Multi-Active Windows. No doubt, the Main Screen is better than before, thanks to all these additions.
Face recognition unlock, even with an under-display camera
The Z Fold3 5G’s face recognition unlock via its under-display camera has no accuracy problems - it doesn’t matter if you choose to unlock through the Cover Screen or its under-display camera on the Main Screen. We’ve also experimented with the lens by testing face unlock with a mask on, and it rightfully denied access.
S Pen support sold separately
At the time of writing this review, Samsung has yet to provide its separately-sold S Pen Fold Edition stylus (S$78) for us to explore the Galaxy Z Fold3’s viability as a Galaxy Note replacement.
At our physical first looks demo, we’ve tried swiping and annotating, and Z Fold3 could handle it all. However, we’ve yet to see how it holds up for handwriting and cross-app use, seeing how the S Pen Fold Edition is specially made to be soft-nibbed and spring-loaded to prevent damage to the Main Screen. JerryRigEverything explored this in his video that we think you'll be interested to know.
This is why Samsung discourages users from using older S Pens on the Z Fold3. Our attempts with an older S Pen from a Galaxy Note20 Ultra saw the phone detecting, and then refusing to let the old S Pen do its work by warning you about potential damage to the Z Fold3’s display.
If you have every intention of using an S Pen without destroying your S$2,398 phone, you absolutely have to get either the soft-nibbed S Pen Fold Edition, or the S Pen Pro (S$168), which has a physical toggle to switch between solid and retractable nib (the latter called Z Fold mode).
If you’re hoping to replace an ageing Galaxy Note with the Galaxy Z Fold3, it's great to know that the stylus’ features are mostly intact. Our gripe lies in having to ‘top up’ for what was once a core feature on Samsung’s stylus-friendly phones. Galaxy Z Fold3 also lacks a dedicated slot to store the S Pen Fold Edition, which inadvertently (or by design) makes the Flip Cover with S Pen (S$118) necessary just to hold both tools conveniently.
We’ve mentioned several Fold3 accessories at this point. If you’re really curious, the official retail prices for all Z Fold3’s add-ons are here.
SIM card matters
The Fold3 has the space to take in two nano-SIM cards and a digital eSIM, making it very versatile for business travellers. Despite that, the phone lacks a microSD slot.