Last year’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 was already a great device, with a ton of improvements over the original Fold, and Samsung has taken things up a few notches with the Z Fold 3. The Z Fold 3 is the world’s first water-resistant foldable phone and Samsung’s first-ever phone with an under-display camera. But, more importantly, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports the SPen, which has been perhaps the biggest demand from fans of the company who wanted to get on board the foldable hype train.
And, except for the cameras, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 also has fully decked out flagship-grade hardware, along with numerous software features that Samsung believes make it the best productivity-focused phone you could find in 2021. But does the Z Fold 3 deliver the goods, or should you be waiting for Samsung’s foldable lineup to mature further before consider buying it?
Let’s find out in this review. Before we start, we should mention that this review will not cover the SPen, as Samsung didn’t send one to us along with our Z Fold 3 review unit.
At first glance, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is very similar to the Z Fold 2 both inside and out. The two have basically the same dimensions, with this year’s model coming in a little thicker. But despite gaining 0.4mm when unfolded, the Z Fold 3 is actually 0.8mm thinner than the Z Fold 2 when closed. It appears Samsung might have been able to reduce the gap between the two halves of the screen when it refined its hinge mechanism.
But Samsung has made plenty of refinements too. The first impression, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 feels ultra-premium in the hand. The body is stronger thanks to what Samsung calls Armor Aluminum, and like the Z Fold 2, Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus protects the back and the cover display.
The main display still uses ultra-thin glass, but Samsung has increased durability by 80% by improving the plastic film that sits on top. And the difference is noticeable, with the screen feeling a lot stronger when you’re running your fingers across it. When open, the Z Fold 3 is easy enough to hold with one hand, though I generally held it with both for easier typing.
The biggest design change is completely invisible, of course: The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is IPX8 rated, which means it can survive submersion in up to 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. The water resistance makes for greater peace of mind than was possible with the Z Fold 2 and original Fold, and it’s much appreciated.
Like the Z Fold 2, the Z Fold 3 features Flex Mode, so you can unfold it at an angle. And the phone feels rock solid and has no play or wiggle when you do that. Flex Mode is great for hands-free video calls, shooting long-exposure pictures in the camera’s Night mode, or capturing beautiful time-lapse videos; in various apps, it puts important controls on one half of the screen for quicker control. More on that in the software section below.
The Galaxy zFold 3 sees no change in display sizes – there’s a 6.2-inch cover display and a 7.6-inch folding display. However, the cover display now supports an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate like the inner display, which means you get the same smooth experience no matter which screen you’re using.
It also uses a Dynamic AMOLED panel, which supports HDR10+ as opposed to last generation’s Super AMOLED. The faster screen makes scrolling my neverending inbox super smooth, and pictures on my Instagram feed look vibrant. Aside from these upgrades, the Z Fold 3’s external display is basically the same as its predecessor’s, which means it has a similarly narrow aspect ratio.
Since the inner display is where all the major action happens, it’s no wonder Samsung has added a number of enhancements. The plastic film on top of the screen is 80% stronger and, therefore, less prone to scratches, and the display itself is 29% brighter. It’s still nowhere near as bright as the displays on Samsung’s Galaxy S or Note flagships, but it’s bright enough that legibility is never a problem. And, of course, since it’s an AMOLED screen, you get the vivid colors and deep blacks that we’ve all come to love.
The 7.6 inches viewing area is big enough to make everything from browsing through gaming to watching videos enjoyable. But, like before, watching videos isn’t necessarily an improved experience compared to those big Galaxy S and Note flagships, because the non-standard aspect ratio of the folding screen means you get black bars on the top and bottom both in portrait and landscape mode. Naturally, the best thing about the big display is that it provides a large canvas for writing and drawing with the SPen.
The under-display camera (UDC); 4 MP, f/1.8 camera on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a pretty big deal, as it’s the first one we’ve seen on a Samsung smartphone. The question is: Is it completely invisible when you’re not taking photos?
At first, it almost feels like the screen is broken at the spot where the camera resides, and when you focus your eyes on that spot, there is no scenario where you would think that there’s nothing there.
But that’s the thing: Unless you’re looking for it, the under-display camera is hidden well enough that Samsung’s claims of an uninterrupted viewing experience aren’t just a marketing gimmick.
In landscape orientation, when you’re watching videos or playing a game, the under-display camera is noticeable, especially with a white image. But like the crease in the middle of the display, it’s quite easy to ignore after a couple of days. It might seem like I’m making excuses for Samsung here, but I’m not.
But what about the quality of pictures and videos shot with the under-display camera? The camera is not a thing to shout out for the Z Fold 3. Except for the under-display camera, the Z Fold 3 uses the exact same sensors as the Z Fold 2 at the back – a 12MP Dual Pixel main camera with OIS, a 12MP ultra-wide camera, and a 12MP 2x telephoto camera.
In general, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 offers excellent picture quality with all cameras. The main camera takes photos with high detail, wide dynamic range, and vivid (but not overly vivid) colors, both during the day and in low-light conditions, with the latter being helped along by the automatic Night mode that kicks in through Samsung’s Scene Optimizer feature.
The ultra-wide camera is good, too, but it does introduce considerable noise in low-light conditions, which is standard fare for ultra-wide cameras on most phones. As for the zoom camera, it’s only good for daylight pictures, as more often than not the phone uses the main camera for magnification when the lighting isn’t great. Thankfully, Samsung seems to have improved post-processing to a point where the Z Fold 3 offers pleasing quality till 4x
Where Samsung’s foldable truly shines when it comes to the camera experience is all the software features made possible by the foldable form factor. Flex Mode lets you take hands-free pictures and videos, while cover screen preview lets you use the rear cameras for higher-quality, ultra-wide, and zoomed-in selfies. Flex Mode can be combined with Auto Framing, which automatically zooms in and out as people move around, enter, and leave the scene.
Then there’s Capture View, which shows you the results on the left side of the screen while putting the camera viewfinder on the other half so you can quickly see if you need to take another shot. Samsung has also brought over Director’s View from the Galaxy S21 series. When shooting videos, Director’s View lets you see the output from all three rear cameras and the front-facing camera at the same time and also switch between them on the fly.
Speaking of videos, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports 4K 60 fps videos with the primary rear camera and cover display camera and Full HD 60 fps videos with the under-display camera. For the ultra-wide and telephoto lenses, only 4K 30 fps video recording is supported. The results are pretty good with each of the cameras. The Z Fold 3 won’t win any awards for video recording, but it’s certainly got the chops to impress most customers.
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 runs Android 11 with One UI 3.1.1 on top, but naturally, all those unique software features that take advantage of the foldable form factor are where it shines. Plenty of them is carrying over from the Galaxy Z Fold 2, like the ability to run up to three apps at the same time and being able to go from the outer screen to the foldable screen without needing to reopen the app you’re using.
But there’s also some new stuff and improvements to existing features. Perhaps the best new software feature is the persistent multitasking taskbar, which can be pinned to the right side of the screen for quick access to your favorite apps. It’s a much faster way of opening your favorite apps compared to going to the home screen/app drawer – your three recently used apps also show up in this taskbar, which is great.
If you run two or three apps in Multi Window mode, you can save that pair of apps in the taskbar and quickly jump back to the same Multi Window arrangement whenever you want. As you would expect, you can also customize the app shortcuts in the taskbar. This is a feature that will be especially appreciated by anyone who used the Galaxy Note Edge, which had an actually useful curved display that gave you quick access to various functions on one side of the screen.
Another neat feature is Drag & Split, an extension of Multi Window. When you’re browsing a shopping site on Samsung Internet and want to look at an item, you can drag it over to the right side of the screen to open its details in a new window while keeping the old window active on the left side. In the Messages app, you can do this for any links that you might want to open from an SMS, and the same goes for notes in the Samsung Notes app or documents in MS Office.
As you would expect, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 gets all the flagship features we see on Samsung’s high-end phones, including DeX mode. It’s also guaranteed to get three major OS upgrades and up to five years of security updates.
With the Snapdragon 888 under the hood and 12GB of RAM as standard, it should come as no surprise that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an excellent performer. Everything is stupid fast and fluid, with no hint of lags or slowdowns no matter what you might be doing, whether it’s gaming, running multiple apps side by side, or just navigating through the user interface.
Battery life is perhaps the only area in which the Galaxy Z Fold 3 brings a downgrade over its predecessor. Its 4,400 mAh battery is 100 mAh smaller, and with the cover display also running at a 120Hz refresh rate, the decrease in battery life is notable. But the battery life isn’t bad at all. We have personally used the Galaxy Z Fold for 1.5 days on a single charge. Which is quite impressive.
It’s a good thing then that the Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports 25W fast charging, even though you have to buy the charger separately. A 30-minute charge can take the battery up to almost 50%, while a full charge is attained in around an hour and 15 minutes.
The Z Fold 3 also supports wireless charging at 10W and can wirelessly charge other devices at 4.5W. Both standard features on Samsung’s flagships the last couple of years, although the wireless charging speed is a little slower here than on Galaxy S and Note-series handsets (that charge wirelessly at 15W).
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 makes the Galaxy Z Fold 2 obsolete, and it does so at a lower price, which is the best praise one can give it. That it adds features like water resistance, SPen support, and an under-display camera to the package is a cherry on top. For those with the requisite amount of cash, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is absolutely amazing.
However, like the Galaxy Z Fold 2, the Z Fold 3 is only fully worth it if you’re going to put all the software features, like the excellent multitasking features and the SPen, to good use. It’s not for those who just want the cool factor of a foldable device – the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is better suited for such a user (we will review this device on our next review too). It’s also not for those who want the absolute best camera hardware similar to what we get on Samsung’s Ultra Galaxy S and Note flagships.
If you tick all those boxes, then the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is absolutely worth it. It’s a great entry point for those who haven’t yet jumped on the foldable bandwagon and a fantastic upgrade for owners of the original Galaxy Fold. Even Galaxy Z Fold 2 owners will find something to like.
Currently, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is open for pre-order and is priced starting from RM 6,699. Any pre-order on the Z Fold 3, starting 19 August until 21 September 2021 will also receive a complimentary Samsung Care+ 1 Year Plan worth RM799 and a Samsung Online Store e-voucher worth RM850 too. For more information on Samsung Galaxy zFold 3, check out their website at https://www.samsung.com/my/smartphones/galaxy-z-fold3-5g/?cid=my_pd_ppc_adwords-search_gzf3_pre-order_samsung-brand-fold_text-ad_none_none&utm_source=adwords-search&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=galaxyzfold35gpreorder-zfold-brandwarm&utm_term=w&utm_content=none&gclid=Cj0KCQjwpreJBhDvARIsAF1_BU3-E-qI99M8u5L_FdZboP1T5t_AjphqU6UrjOGaBsiX1OqPMZNzrF4aApQjEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds