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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Review: Good Smartphone But A Better Tablet
It was October 2019 when Samsung invited a bunch of journalists to experience their first-generation Foldable smartphone in their Gurugram (Haryana) facility. We were awestruck by the remarkable piece of technology and innovation, which as per Samsung, took a whole decade to transform into a market-ready product. However, it wasn't perfect and was more of a test product rather than a production-ready unit.
- Most Refined Foldable Smartphone
- Excellent Displays
- Better Tablet Software Experience
- Good Cameras
- S-Pen Support
- Powerful Speakers
- Still Not Very Affordable
- Poor Ergonomics (Folded State)
- Disappointing Battery Life
- Better Camera Phones Available At Lower Price
But we knew Samsung is going in the right direction and will soon address some of the issues that were holding back the Galaxy Fold to become a mainstream Foldable handset. After two iterations, we now have the third generation Galaxy Fold and it has exceeded my expectations, almost. It has better displays, refined software to make more out of those better displays and the design is now water-resistant.
There are more reasons to consider buying the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 but should you? Let's find out.
Design & Ergonomics- Folded State
A phone is supposed to feel like a phone regardless of the fact that it is a foldable, a flip phone, or just any regular full touch-screen handset. Good ergonomics further ensure better usability and easier handling in day-to-day use. This is the biggest challenge with the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The unique form factor hiding a 7.6-inch tablet has some compromises that affect the handling.
When folded, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 becomes a tall, thick and heavy device, which almost feels like two phones glued together. There's no way your thumb reaches all corners of the screen and I would recommend using Samsung's One UI utilities to ease some handling. More on this in the software part.
Handle It With Care
The phone isn't very pocketable either, especially if you are wearing denim. The extremely tall and narrow design with a weight of 271 g makes you feel its presence. Overall, ease of use and ergonomics aren't the Galaxy Z Fold 3's strongest points and there's no escape from it. You want a phone that's also a tablet; you have to deal with the extra heft and handling issues. Is rollable display an answer to this riddle? You might want to check out the ‘Oppo X 2021 Rollable' phone. Sadly, it's a concept and Samsung might just not adopt it.
Design & Ergonomics- Tablet State
The new Fold has a tad smaller and lighter footprint than its predecessor. It is 11g lighter and some millimeters sleeker, nothing big of a difference that you might notice in real life but still significant enough from design and engineering standards. When unfolded, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 becomes a small-size tablet with a screen measuring 7.6-inch diagonally. It's a perfectly usable tablet with an excellent display and a thin profile.
The fact that the Fold 3 supports Samsung's S-Pen makes it all more useful as a tablet. Sadly, we don't have the stylus handy so we can't talk much about its performance part. It is also worth mentioning that the S-Pen cannot be used on the cover display and the handset has no enclosure to hold the S-Pen.
Big Screen Makes A Difference
Nevertheless, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is easier to handle as a tablet than a phone because while using it as a tablet, you have the intent to work on a big-screen device. The screen is big enough to comfortably show content and small enough to let you hold and use the device with one hand. You can use the phone in its unfolded state with one hand to read news, browse web pages and watch videos.
Galaxy Z Fold 3 Ports & Buttons
The foldable form factor gives enough real estate to place the most required ports and buttons. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 houses a USB Type-C port at the bottom along with a microphone and a speaker unit.
The power button that doubles as a fingerprint scanner and volume rockers are positioned on the right side. The SIM card tray sits on the left side. The top has the second speaker unit and three microphones. The premium phone doesn't support a microSD card for expandable storage.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Build Quality & Durability Standards
The most significant design upgrade to the Galaxy Foldable line-up is water resistivity.. The hinge, internal cable, and several movable parts are sealed with waterproofing solutions, which is no less than an engineering challenge.
The new Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Z Flip 3 are IPX8 certified (up to 1.5m of water for 30 minutes) and can withstand water damage. I used the handset when it was raining cats and dogs in Delhi NCR and faced no issues with usability.
However, you must protect the handset from dust and grit since there's no protective layer to offer the required resistance. I am hopeful that Samsung will find a way to add dust protection in the future iterations of its foldable handsets.
Aluminum Construction & Gorilla Glass Victus
Moving on, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 feels downright premium and very durable. The build quality is as solid as it gets on a top-end Samsung phone. Samsung mentions that the Z Fold 3 is crafted out from the strongest aluminum ever used on a Galaxy smartphone. The hinge feels rock solid and the phone stays firmly at a set angle in the flex mode. You can still see the gap when the phone is folded, which means tiny things can still find their way to scratch the foldable screen.
As for the display, Samsung has used the latest Corning Gorilla Glass Victus to offer protection against scratches and accidental drops. The foldable display also gets a new protective film made of stretchable PET5, which is claimed to offer 80% more durability than the one offered on the predecessors.
In all, Samsung seems to have made the most necessary upgrades to make the new foldable more durable and ready for real-world usage. I was pretty confident in carrying this foldable around without worrying about any possible physical damage.
Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 Display Performance
Let's start with the cover display. It's a 6.2-inch 1080p screen with an odd 24.5:9 aspect ratio. Samsung has used a Dynamic AMOLED 2X display, which means you get a native 120Hz refresh rate support for butter-smooth UI navigation. The display is HDR compatible.
As is expected from any Samsung panel, the 6.2-inch screen is vibrant and has excellent viewing angles. The high resolution of 832 x 2268 pixels ensures sharp visuals and immersive multimedia playback. Importantly, the screen is very color accurate (best used with sRGB profile) and maintains uniformity for color hues when compared to the foldable screen.
Despite being oddly tall and narrow, the cover display is fully functional and can be used for more than just dialing a number, checking your social media timelines, web browsing, and even for gaming. The display also gets adequately bright. I did not face any visibility issues while using the phone under harsh light.
How Good That Foldable Display Is?
The new foldable screen looks identical to the one on the predecessor; however, a lot has changed in terms of technology. Samsung has used a newly developed OLED for the new Fold. It's a 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel that's brighter than before and has smaller bezels surrounding it. It runs smoothly, thanks to the native 120Hz adaptive refresh rate that ensures a buttery smooth scrolling experience. The display is HDR10+ compatible and is WideVine L1 certified.
You can also use the S-Pen to take notes, doodle, or perform various productivity tasks. Sadly, the S-Pen isn't bundled in the box and is sold separately for Fold 3.
First Under-Display-Camera Foldable Phone
Another significant upgrade is the under-display camera tech. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the first handset in the country to flaunt an under-display camera system. While Samsung hasn't used the best implementation of the technology, it does offer a slightly better user experience when compared to the traditional selfie camera housing.
The pixels covering the camera sensor are visible to naked eyes and might look glaring at times but I could easily ignore it while playing games or watching videos. It is much less noticeable than the regular punch-hole selfie cameras. I am expecting Samsung to make it invisible on the next iteration of the Galaxy Fold device.
That Crease Will Stay
Lastly, the crease isn't going anytime soon. It's a byproduct of a big screen that folds into two halves fold and I don't think it's that easy to get rid of. You can see it and feel it with your fingers while scrolling and playing games. Overall, the new advancements in display technology are appreciable but there are some technical restrictions with the foldable tech that you have to live with.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Cameras
The new foldable also does a good job as a camera. The phone has a triple-lens rear camera system featuring a 12MP Sony IMX555 sensor sitting behind an f/1.8 lens. It is accompanied by a 12MP, f/2.2 wide-angle sensor offering a 123-degree field-of-view and another 12MP sensor (f/2.4 aperture) of telephoto nature offering 2x optical zoom and 10x digital zoom. The camera is optically stabilized and also has Dual Pixel Phase detection autofocus.
For self-portraits, the cover screen has a 10MP front-facing camera, and that innovative under-screen camera houses a 4MP sensor.
Picture Quality- Bright, Punchy Colors With Good Dynamic Range
- The familiar 12MP camera setup with Sony IMX555 sensor captures excellent shots in daylight. Pictures show a good dynamic range and near-accurate white balance.
- I noticed some overexposing skies on bright sunny days, something you can counter by tweaking the exposure slider and in post-processing.
- Lately, Samsung has improved the color science, and the good camera tuning yields pictures with natural-looking colors. However, skin tones still look softer and warmer than they appear to eyes.
- Skin tones become even softer in indoor lighting, especially if you are taking pictures with Samsung's portrait mode (Live Focus). This is still the classic Samsung portrait mode that softens things but ends up giving pleasing results with decent bokeh.
Pleasing Portraits & Good Close-Up Shots
- Samsung's portrait mode works effectively with both human and non-human subjects, provided that you get the distance right.
- Close-up shots come out clean and crisp. Portrait mode makes results even better.
- The ultra-wide shots are good enough to make it to your Instagram profiles despite some obvious issues such as relatively narrow dynamic range and average details. However, I am glad that Samsung has managed to maintain the color science across the two sensors.
- The telephoto sensor delivers crisp 2x shots. Even the 4x and 10x shots look clean if you are taking pictures in ample lighting.
- Selfies look good as long as you are clicking them with the 10MP front-facing camera on the cover screen. The 4MP under-display camera delivers over-processed selfies with soft details and visible noise.
Good Low-Light Results & Steady Video Recording
- The Galaxy Z Fold 3 can deliver some well-lit night shots. Just throw in some ambient light and you can get yourself bright low-light pictures with plenty of details and clarity. Noise is kept under control and colors look good too. Notice the greens in the grass and tree leaves.
- The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is also a very capable video camera. The 4K@60fps/30ps and 1080p@60fps video footages come out clean and crisp. The dynamic range is intact and there's no sign of overprocessing. Video recording via the wide-angle and telephoto cameras max at 4K@30fps and results do impress.
- Video recording footages from the main camera and the telephoto sensor are pretty steady, thanks to the OIS. For wide-angle videos, you can use the Super Steady mode that manages to keep the footage steady. The quality maxes out at 1080p@30fps.
- Lastly, I was expecting some excellent HDR video output since the SD888's Spectra 580 ISP features are far better than any chipset out there. But the real-life results are like any previous flagship Samsung device. I think Samsung hasn't fully utilized the SD888's IPS capabilities in terms of AI-based metering and HDR.
Overall, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 has serviceable camera hardware but you can easily find much better-performing camera phones at much lower prices. The Mi 11 Ultra, Galaxy S21 Ultra, Apple's last year iPhones, etc. are some examples.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Performance
I am glad Samsung has finally decided to offer its premium offerings with the absolute best top-tier Snapdragon chipsets. The no-Exynos variant is a relief for Indian consumers. The Fold 3 in India ships with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC paired with 12GB RAM and options to choose between two UFS 3.1 storage variants- 256GB and 512GB. Built on a 5nm fabrication process, the SoC has a Kryo 680 custom CPU design.
This is an 8-CPU cluster system comprising of one Cortex X1, three Cortex A78, and four Cortex A55 CPU cores. The SD888 is better than its predecessor in every possible way. It has world-class 5G and Wi-Fi 6e support, better ISP, Bluetooth 5.2 support, and an Adreno 660 GPU.
Capable Enough To Offer Smooth Multitasking
We experienced smooth and lag-free performance round the clock. The smartphone handles everything with ease, be it the most demanding graphics-intensive games, HDR video playback, 4K video editing in the native video editor, and multitasking on the big 7.6-inch foldable screen. You can have up to three heavy apps running on the display at once with no lags whatsoever.
Since the phone is rather very sleek in its unfolded state, it tends to heat up quite easily. I noticed heat signatures while playing games, recording videos, editing them, and with some other day-to-day tasks. The thin profile, two batteries, and a top-end SD888 tend to take a toll on the phone's thermals. Thankfully, the performance didn't suffer much.
Multimedia & Gaming Delight
That big foldable display and a stereo speaker setup make for an excellent multimedia combo. Games like Asphalt 9 and the newly released Marvel Revolution look stunning on the squarish aspect ratio. Battleground India's graphics also look amazing on the 7.6-inch screen but you have to get used to the big screen form-factor and the layout of the controls. The dual speaker setup produces loud audio with excellent clarity.
Galaxy Z Fold 3 Software Performance- Better Than Many Tablets
As for multitasking is concerned, the big 7.6-inch screen size offers enough real-estate for productivity-centric tasks; however, there's a learning curve to this unique Infinity Flex display. You need to gig in and enable some features and utilities to better use the foldable display. These include- Edge panels & Pinning, Multi-view mode, Samsung Labs features, etc.
We have done a detailed story on how to make the most out of Fold 3's foldable display. With the features and utilities mentioned in the story, the Galaxy Z Fold 3's screen redefines how we use our smartphones in day-to-day use. Once you get accustomed to these big-screen features, you will realize that the Fold 3 is much better of a tablet than a phone.
Battery Life & Connectivity
The Galaxy Z Fold 3 gets a 4,400 mAh battery cell and segment's slowest 25W charging speed. Sadly, Samsung hasn't improved the charging speeds even for its uber premium flagships. The handset barely lasted for a day with my usage, and that too after disabling the ‘Enhanced processing' from the battery settings. The big and gorgeous foldable display doesn't go with a modest 4,400 mAh battery cell that well.
The standby time is good but as soon as you start streaming videos and play games, a charger should be kept handy. The maximum SoT time I got is six hours and the sad part, the battery takes around 1 hour 50 minutes to recharge from flat to 100%. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.2, (aptX HD), NFC, one nano-SIM card along with e-SIM. The phone comes sans a 3.5mm audio jack, microSD card, and FM Radio.
Samsung's constant efforts in the foldable smartphone space are visible in the form of the Galaxy Z Fold 3. The new handset costs less than the first-gen. Galaxy Fold but it's much more refined and an established foldable handset.
The price is still far from being affordable but at least now you get much better returns for your investment- a foldable that's every bit functional and performance-driven. This is the first foldable device I can recommend to friends and family members without any second thoughts.
The only bummer seems to be the one-day battery life and slow charging speeds. If Samsung could have offered faster charging, maybe a 55W fast-charger, things could have been far better in day-to-day usage. The 25W charging speed and 4,400 mAh battery just don't do justice to the overall package.