The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the first foldable phone we actually recommend
Galaxy Z Flip 3is still expensive at $1,000, but it's a more viable option than previous foldables.
- It's an excellent phone all around, except for the short battery life.
- The screen is narrower than normal phones, and the need to unfold it is an extra step before you can use the phone.
That's still a large sum of money, but it's not out of the question. That's the price tag you'd expect on a super high-end phone, and it's "cheap" compared to previous foldable phones that cost around $1,500 or more.
Apart from the lower price tag, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 marks
AdvertisementEssentially, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 represents something big in the phone world — the potential long-term success of a different kind of phone. You could actually buy this thing and not feel like you've overspent. It's also an open gateway for people who were always curious about foldables, but couldn't justify their traditionally insane prices or questionable durability.
Perhaps it's my affinity for the retro cream color on our review unit, but the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is one gorgeous device, folded or unfolded. The metal frame's flat edges and the flat glass panels lend classic sophistication and maturity to the Galaxy Z Flip 3 than phones with curvier designs.
Folded up, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is no larger or thicker than an average men's folding wallet, and it feels like an unusually heavy wallet in pockets (unless your wallet has a coin purse full of coins). Unfolded, it looks no different to a normal phone, albeit one with a narrower screen than is typical.
One of the Galaxy Z Flip 3's party pieces is its hinge that can keep the phone folded and propped up at any angle. It brings a new kind of hands-free functionality that only Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip series offer, and it's great for video calls. It can even be used like a tripod for taking photos to eliminate hand wobble. So far, few apps support the Galaxy Z Flip 3's flexible functionality, but Samsung is working with app developers to get on board.
The main screen has the tallness of a 6.7-inch phone, but the width of a 6-inch phone. Seeing as most apps scroll vertically, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 still feels like a larger phone, but content is more compact. You really feel the narrowness of the screen when you do things in horizontal mode. For example, videos look smaller than they do on a normal large-screen phone.
You'll still find a crease where the screen folds that all foldable phones have. The crease is a non-issue — it's a bit like phone notches or camera cut-outs, which most people easily learn to ignore after a short while.
The fact that the Galaxy Z Flip 3's screen has 1080p resolution instead of the technically sharper 1440p resolution is also a non-issue. The screen's 120Hz refresh rate is a joy as always, as it makes scrolling and navigating around the phone ultra smooth. I would take a high refresh rate over a 1440p screen any day.
Strangely, the screen is a dust magnet compared to phones with solid glass slabs, which is somewhat unsettling considering the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is not dust resistant. I haven't faced any issues with dust affecting the hinge mechanism, but I've only been using the phone for a couple weeks. While it's not officially dust resistant, Samsung says the hinge design is dust repellent. The company also says the screen is 80% more durable than previous foldables, thanks to improved protective layers.
AdvertisementThere's no need to dwell too much on performance. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 runs on the powerful Snapdragon 888 processor that you'll find on other Android flagships in 2021, and it runs apps and games without much effort.
The Snapdragon runs alongside 6GB of memory (RAM), which is less than what you'd find on many Android flagships, but I never noticed while using the phone. A standard benchmark test using Geekbench 5 reveals that the Galaxy Z Flip 3 performs exactly as expected, with a 1070 score for single-core performance, and 3350 for multi-core performance, which is right in line with the Galaxy S21 series with nearly identical hardware.
AdvertisementThe Galaxy Z Flip 3 has a good set of cameras — one wide and one ultra-wide. While most will be happy with the photos the cameras take, they're typical Samsung cameras with over-eager HDR that flattens out dynamic lighting, and any greenery in photos all look one shade of green. Most people seem to like Samsung's cameras, so my criticism is a matter of personal preference.
One of the things I love about the Galaxy Z Flip 3, and the flippable variety of foldable phones in general, is that you can take a selfie with the superior main cameras while using the cover screen as a viewfinder. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has a dedicated selfie camera, but it's not as good as the main cameras. It's still good for taking quick selfies in social media apps, and for video calls.
AdvertisementHowever, one thing I disliked is that I had to unfold the phone to take a photo of something in front of me, which makes for a fumbling and slow experience to capture something quickly. You could quickly point the cameras while the phone is folded to capture something at the spur of the moment, but you can't see the viewfinder unless you twist your head around to look at the cover screen viewfinder. It's an awkward experience.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3's small 3,300mAh means you'll likely be charging the phone at least once during your waking hours. I was charging the phone on a wireless charger a couple times a day for a top-up with my normal usage, which involves lots of screen time on social media apps, messaging apps, and video streaming. The majority of high-end phones I test can easily last a day with the same kind of usage without any concern. If I were travelling with the Galaxy Z Flip 3, I'd make sure to bring an external battery.
The short battery life issue is compacted by the Galaxy Z Flip 3's comparatively slow 15W charging capacity. Faster charging could help make up for the lacking battery life by letting users get bigger charging bursts in a shorter time.
Using a flip-style foldable phone is different from using a normal phone. Here's what you should know
Unfolded, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 works and feels just like a normal phone. But unfolding the phone to get to that normal experience adds an extra step before you can use the main screen. It's a tiny obstacle, but an obstacle nonetheless. Normal phones are ready to go the moment you pick them up or pull them out of your pocket.
As a test, I carried around the Galaxy Z Flip 3 and a normal phone for several days, and I often found myself reaching for the normal phone because it was easier and quicker to pick up and use. I wanted to pull out the foldable, because it was new and shiny, but the pragmatic part of my brain usually took over and went with the normal phone.
However, when I ditched the normal phone and carried around the Galaxy Z Flip 3 on its own, I wasn't too bothered by the need to unfold it. Interestingly, I found that the need to unfold the Galaxy Z Flip 3 has made me more aware of how often I mindlessly pick up my phone without any real intention.
AdvertisementThe biggest obstacle with using a foldable phone like the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is if you only have one hand available, which makes it harder to unfold the phone. It might be rare that you don't have both your hands available, but it's noticeable when it happens. And it's not designed to be flipped open with your thumb like the Moto Razr 5G — it's a two-handed routine.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3?
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the first foldable phone that isn't an outright "no" in terms of recommendations. It's the first foldable phone that's competitively priced, even if it's still expensive. It's also decently far removed from the first generation of foldables that had massive durability concerns.
AdvertisementStill, it's not an absolute "yes" for everyone, either. Battery life is an issue, and the narrow screen might feel cramped for some. Not to mention, users would have to be comfortable with the extra step of unfolding the phone to use their apps.
If you're really considering the Galaxy Z Flip 3, be aware of the following
Battery life is something you can manage, either with occasional top-up charges or with an external battery.
AdvertisementWhat can't be managed is the cramped width of the main screen, and the extra step of unfolding the phone. If you're really into the idea of foldables, whether it's for its compact folded design, or just the look of it, and you think you can make these compromises, then go for it.
What are your alternatives?
The only other flip-style foldable that's worth consideration is Motorola's Moto Razr 5G. It's down to $1,000, so it's the same price as the Galaxy Z Flip 3. However, it's running on a lesser Snapdragon 765G processor. To be accurate, that's still a good processor, but the choice is clearly in the Galaxy Z Flip 3's favor with its more powerful Snapdragon 888 processor for the same price. Also, the Moto Razr 5G has a smaller 6.2-inch screen.
There's also the $1,800 Galaxy Fold 3, but it's too expensive to recommend with a straight face. It's possible to get the price down to $1,000 on Samsung's website with eligible trade-ins, but the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a different foldable animal altogether. For normal usage, the exterior screen is very cramped, and the main screen is cumbersomely large. It's ideal, however, if you've always wished you could carry around a compact tablet instead of a phone.
Otherwise, if you're put off by the compromises needed to own a foldable phone at the moment, consider good ol' fashioned slab phones. Around the $1,000 price range in the Android family, we strongly recommend Samsung's Galaxy S21 or Galaxy S21 Plus. For less money, absolutely go for Google's latest $450 Pixel 5a 5G, which has speedy performance and Google's class-leading flagship cameras.
The bottom line
Foldable phones offer a big-screen experience in a phone that takes up half the space when not in use, which is nice. But there are still noteworthy trade-offs, like battery life, the need to unfold the screen, and more compact screens in general. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 comes recommended if you've been waiting anxiously to buy a foldable phone, and you're willing to put up with those compromises.
Pros: Sublime design, compact when folded, powerful flagship performance, least expensive foldable, good cameras, cover screen is useful
AdvertisementCons: Short battery life, slow charging, narrow screen, unfolding is an extra step, screen is a dust magnet
This story was originally published on Insider by Antonio Villas-Boas.
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