To sum up this Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: without a doubt, this is the best foldable phone to date, and it finally looks like a device you would plausibly consider buying.
At Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event in August 2021 two brand new Galaxy phones were unveiled, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G and the more affordable Z Flip 3.
I managed to get my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G. Straight off the bat, it was clear that the smartphone heavyweight is getting closer to making folding phones less of a gimmick and more serious contenders for the best phones you can buy, especially when it comes to gaming and productivity.
In this Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review, I’ll cover everything you need to know about the phone from its design and build, to its two displays and how well it performs against other smartphones. You can also find out about the camera system as well as all of the updated software Samsung has packed into its high-end folding phone.
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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: video overview
Let’s kick things off with a video overview covering what the 2021 Galaxy Z series has to offer.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: price and release date
One factor that makes the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G more convincing than ever is its price tag. You can buy it with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for $1,799 in the US, £1,599 in the UK or AU$2,499 in Australia. For the handset with 512GB of storage, you'll be looking at spending about $1,899 / £1,699 / AU$2,649. It goes on sale in the US and the UK from the 27th August 2021, and the 10th September in Australia. Reserve your new phone from Samsung Unpacked here
It's about $200 / £200 cheaper than the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2 was at launch which makes it more accessible from the word go. Granted, this phone is still going to be far too expensive for most people, but those who can afford it will get more for their money than they would have done from the previous model.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: design and build
After the launch of the original Galaxy Z Fold, a lot of people had problems with the phone being flimsy and fragile. That’s something Samsung has been on a mission to fix ever since. Unfortunately for them, it’s a flaw that the public hasn't forgotten about. Samsung has tried to change that perception by making this their toughest folding phone yet.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is made from Armor Aluminium which Samsung claims is 10% more durable than the materials used in the Fold 2. The switch-up in materials also means it’s now about 10g lighter than before. Don’t let that fool you though, it still feels significantly heavier than a standard smartphone. It measures 67.1 x 158.2 x 16 - 14.4mm so expect it to add a significant amount of bulk to your pocket.
Along with the aluminium chassis, Samsung has covered both the front and back with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus while the screen is more scratch-resistant and supposedly 80% more durable than before. Samsung seems to have achieved its goal because the phone does feel sturdier with a firm hinge and a premium build.
Another big change is the new IPX8 rating which means the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is now completely waterproof, you can chuck it in the bath and you won’t have killed it - hurrah!
To unlock the handset, there's a fingerprint sensor on the power button. I found it worked quickly and efficiently. In the age of facemasks, it makes much more sense than using facial recognition. As you’d expect from a modern smartphone, there’s no 3.5mm audio input here so if you still use wired headphones you’ll have to switch to a pair that use Bluetooth instead.
Overall the phone looks very smart, it's got a sleek matte coating and comes in three sophisticated colours: Phantom Black, Phantom Green and Phantom Silver. For the most part, it stays clean although it does pick up some faint fingerprint marks. The rounded camera module on the back is a welcome change from the rectangular notch that was there before as well.
The design won’t appeal to those who want something slim and compact for their pocket but if you want something sturdy that you can keep in your bag without being worried about knocks and bumps then it’ll be well suited.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: screens
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G has a 6.2inch cover display and a 7.6inch phablet screen on the inside. The Dynamic AMOLED 2X displays are not only brighter than before but they also conserve more battery life.
Like you'd expect from a high-end Samsung device, both screens are crisp and clear with vibrant, accurate colours. The large main screen is great for watching videos and playing mobile games. One problem I did find was that the main screen is very glossy. Because of that, it was reflective which could be distracting and difficult to use in bright sunlight.
Both screens support a 120Hz refresh rate, where before the cover screen could only reach 60Hz. What that means is that you should get the same sort of experience inside and out. Everything from working on spreadsheets to scrolling through web pages felt seriously smooth and easy on both displays.
Switching between the two screens felt relatively seamless as well. You can set the phone to move the app you’re using from the main display onto the cover screen when you fold it over, although the cover screen is a bit too slender for some more complex tasks.
The main screen looks tougher than on previous generations because the ridge from the crease isn't as deep, but the fold in the centre does still make it look weaker down the middle. Head-on, you can’t really see the crease, it’s only when you glance at it from an angle that it becomes more obvious.
There’s one new feature that you might miss if you’re not paying attention. The entire phablet display is uninterrupted because Samsung has done away with the hole punch style camera and replaced it with their first-ever under-display camera. Pixels are applied on top of the camera hole which is meant to make it look almost completely invisible.
It does improve your experience when you’re streaming video, playing games or making video calls. However, you can still see the lens when the whole screen is completely white, black or when the light catches it. So although it seems like a good idea, it isn’t quite as impressive as I expected it to be.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: performance and battery
Under the hood, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G packs the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor along with 12GB of RAM and a choice of either 256GB of storage or 512GB. The handset I tested has 512GB.
The phone is undoubtedly fast, whatever you need it for. It’ll happily chug along with loads of apps open, or with three windows displayed on the screen at once. Mobile games load very quickly and I didn’t find any problems with lag. That’s backed up by its Geekbench 5 scores, it managed to bag 1,087 in single-core and 3,415 in multi-core which is higher than its predecessor and similar to recent flagship phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus and the OnePlus 9 Pro.
5G and Wi-Fi 6E means that you can make the most of superfast internet wherever you are if you live in an area that supports it or you have a compatible router.
Powering the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is a 4,400mAh battery, it did a good job at lasting through the day with different apps and windows open at once. In terms of productivity that’s a great thing and should mean you don’t need to worry about running out of juice. I tested the battery out by running a locally stored video on full brightness over two hours. In that time the battery level dropped by 10% so would have lasted about 20 hours in total. Not only is that better than a lot of mid-range and even flagship phones but it's even a slight improvement on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2. Charging it back up again was equally as speedy, it took just over an hour.
Do bear in mind that there’s no power adaptor included in the box, just a USB-C cable so you’ll need to buy that separately if you don’t have one already.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: software and apps
Neither the Fold nor the Fold 2 had many apps that were optimised to the larger display. Often that meant certain controls were over the crease or some apps like Instagram just didn’t work quite right. That’s an issue Samsung has made an effort to tackle by collaborating with developers from the likes of Microsoft and Google to design apps made specifically for Fold devices.
By the time the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is launched at the end of August 2021, most of the top 100 apps in the Google Play Store will have been tailored to fit the main screen. For any that aren’t, you can use the new Labs feature. When it's switched on it’ll automatically adjust the aspect ratio of the app window to fit the screen, and will let you use it simultaneously with other apps.
Samsung has also improved the Multi-View where you can have up to three app windows open at once. Depending on the task at hand, you can adjust the size of each one individually. That means you can have a video call going on the top while your emails and a web browser are open on the bottom, for example.
With the maximum number of windows open at once, it’s quite difficult to use the two smaller ones because they are just so tiny on this size screen. But I can’t deny that it all feels much more user friendly and optimised than it did before.
Flex Mode comes on when the screen is partially folded, it shifts app content to the top half of the screen and places all of your controls like brightness or volume onto the bottom half. Samsung has also adjusted the size of the menus which ultimately makes them easier to use without disrupting what you’re already doing on the display.
Even the home screen makes more sense, it feels much more like a tablet or computer desktop than a phone because the Fold 3 fits more icons onto the screen at once.
In terms of productivity, these upgrades make the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G more efficient to use. You will have to get used to using all of these features though as there are just so many ways to use this phone!
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: S Pen support
For the first time in the Fold series, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G has S Pen support. It connects using Bluetooth and you’ll be able to use it across all of your compatible Samsung Galaxy phones, tablets and laptops.
For those who don’t own other Galaxy devices, Samsung has just introduced the brand new S Pen Fold which is exclusive to the Fold3. It’s a shorter version of the S Pen which is just 132mm long. It’s perfectly designed to sit alongside the phone. It's also very easy to carry with you when you’re on the go.
When I tried it out, I thought it was incredibly practical and great for multi-tasking. You can use it to take quick notes while you're watching a video, or you can crop out pieces of the screen in a matter of seconds and paste it into a document you're working on. Another great feature is Air Commands which lets you take a picture or pause a show when you click the button on the pen.
At the time of writing, you can claim a free S Pen Fold when you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G. Alternatively, you can buy the S Pen or S Pen Pro separately.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: cameras
The camera tech hasn’t changed from the Fold 2, it’s still the same 12MP wide camera, 12MP ultra-wide camera and a 12MP telephoto lens as before, as well as having a 10MP selfie camera on the cover screen. The 4MP under-display camera on the main screen is new but you’d use that more for video calls than anything else.
It is a massive shame there haven’t been any camera upgrades. When you’re spending this much on a phone you want the cameras to be excellent rather than just good, even if you’re not one for mobile photography.
Like its predecessor, the camera on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 doesn’t quite match up to Samsung’s flagship S series smartphones.
While you can expect bright shots across the board and plenty of detail from the default settings, you won’t get a strong balance between light and dark areas. You may also find some colours look a little dull. When you switch to ultrawide mode, you’re sure to lose out on detail as well. Photos taken at night are sufficiently lightened though which is good. Take a look at some example shots from the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3’s rear camera system below.
When it comes to the two front cameras, the 4MP under-display snapper isn’t great, photos came out looking very grainy. So you definitely won’t be taking selfies with it, but for video calls, it will do. The 10MP selfie camera on the cover screen is much better and is capable of taking bright, flattering selfies.
Samsung's folding phones give you some camera features you won’t get elsewhere. In comparison to earlier models, the Capture Modes and Dual Preview have been adjusted to use the main screen and cover screen even more effectively.
With the phone partially folded, you can change where everything sits on the display, as well as use Capture View to scroll through earlier photos while you’re composing your next shot. For instance, you can move your camera roll to the top half of the screen and place the camera preview on the bottom half which will help you take low-angle shots more easily. Or, with the main screen laid out flat, you can preview your shot in more detail using the entire 7.6inch display.
If you want to take photos hands-free, you can flex the screen and place it on a table in front of you, then you just need to hold your hand up to trigger the camera's timer.
You can also preview shots on the cover screen which means you'll be able to use the rear cameras to take selfies while being able to see yourself on the front display. Using Dual Preview, the live view from the camera appears on each side of the phone so both the photographer and subject can see what the picture will look like.
So while Samsung hasn’t improved the actual camera tech, they have made the system much more customisable and in doing so, easier to use. They're fantastic features which will help you take better pictures than ever.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: verdict
When it comes down to it the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G does actually seem like a folding phone worth buying if you're someone who could make the most of it.
Not everything about it is perfect. For some, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G will still be too pricey. For others, it'll still be a bit too chunky. You might also find the under-display camera underwhelming, while the crease could still get in your way. There are definitely some areas that Samsung can improve on here.
Despite having a few downsides, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is still the best folding phone out there right now. It will boost your productivity on the go, give you more immersive gaming on the main screen and it’ll be great for streaming video on long journeys. The super-long battery life is a major plus-point too.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G review: also consider
While the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G is currently the best folding phablet style phone you’ll find, there are some other options out there. The Huawei Mate Xs offers a bigger screen that folds in the opposite way to the Fold 3 so there’s just one display that wraps around the outside of the phone. It is still incredibly pricey, though.
If you want something more compact, then you could consider clamshell-style folding phones which fold out to the size of a normal smartphone. One of the top picks is the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 5G, but the Motorola Razr is a good option as well. It’s cool, pocket-friendly and has solid everyday performance.
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