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Samsung Galaxy Z flip 3 review: It's the cheapest foldable smartphone yet, but is it worth buying?



Samsung’s Galaxy Z flip 3 is the company’s attempt to make foldable phones fashionable. When opened, the phone looks like any other flagship Android device – albeit with a slight horizontal glint in the middle of the screen that belies its titular feature. When closed, the phone works like a smartwatch, with a small screen that pings notifications and holds a few widgets

In contrast to the larger, productivity-focused, and more expensive Galaxy Z fold 3 (£1,599, Very.co.uk), this £949 foldable is aimed at a more conventional market with a smattering of folding features to make it more appealing over flat phones.

Aside from the external screen, most of these are on the software side with Samsung betting on settings to make apps open across half the screen so the phone can sit upright. This is a theoretical boon for video calls or watching films and TV shows.

Much like the Galaxy Z fold 3, Samsung has made the new flip the most attractive yet and out of all the foldable phones available it’s the one people will feel the most comfortable using (the only other competition is Motorola’s razr – £899.99, Motorola.co.uk – which hardly made waves among users). But whether it can usher in a future Samsung is hardly an open and shut case.

How we tested

We put the Samsung Galaxy Z flip 3 through its paces for two weeks, looking at build quality, camera capabilities, display, and its general performance. Here’s what we thought.

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(Samsung)

Rating: 7/10

  • Weight: 183g
  • Dimensions (folded): 166.0mm x 72.2mm x 6.9mm
  • Dimensions (unfolded): 86.4mm x 72.2mm x 15.9-17.1mm
  • Display: 6.7in internal, 1.9in external
  • Battery: 3300mAh, six hours battery life
  • Camera (rear): 12MP f/1.8, 12MP f/2.2
  • Camera (front): 10MP f/2.4
  • Storage: 128GB built-in
  • Memory: 8GB (RAM)

Design

When open, the Galaxy Z flip 3 has a 2640 x 1080p, 6.7in display with a holepunch notch at the top for its 10MP f/2.4 selfie camera. Unlike the old clamshells, the phone is, unfortunately, too heavy (at 183g) to open with a one-handed flick of the wrist, but can easily be closed with one finger for a dramatic end to a call.

Samsung says that the phone is “designed to be opened with two hands” to improve its sturdiness, and that the rigidity supports “a freestop folding experience, so that it can stay open at a range of points from open to close”. This should allow the phone to be propped up to take calls or record video.

When the phone is closed, meanwhile, notifications pop up on the 260 x 512p, 1.9in display. Double-tapping the screen brings up a customisable clock face, and swiping to the right cycles through widgets: music, weather, calendar information, an alarm, and more.

One neat feature is found by tapping the power button (which is also a fingerprint scanner) on the right, activating the phone’s main camera. The small screen then becomes a viewfinder for photos and, much like the Galaxy Z fold 3, holding up one hand will activate a timer.

This is certainly quicker than opening the phone up and snapping a selfie and is a good way of making use of the superior cameras, but the screen is a tad too small for it to feel natural or to make the entire shot visible. Closing the phone makes it thicker, as one would expect, but no more so than the average wallet and there is no issue fitting it into a pocket or a bag. In fact, it usually fits in tight spaces better than flat competitors.

When closed, the phone fits into tight spaces better than other flat competitors

(Adam Smith)

Samsung has improved the durability of the Galaxy Z flip 3 between versions, so it will now survive in water, but the phone has no dust protection rating, so users should be conscious when taking it to the beach or other place with lots of detritus; much like any other smartphone, it’s better to keep it clean, but these more than most.

Since opening the phone to do almost anything requires two hands, there’s no way of quickly slipping this out of your pocket and sending a text while carrying something. The phone can be left unfolded and used in the conventional way, though, giving it more usability.

Display

The OLED main display is very similar to a standard smartphone, with punchy colours and a good level of detail. While the crease in the middle of the screen is visible and can be felt, it doesn’t hinder the use of the phone at all. Much like notches, it is soon forgotten after a day or two of use.

Samsung has also improved the resilience of the screens on its folding phones so they can be used in water and are more resistant to scratches – neither of which gave the phone any problems during our testing.

Read more: Nokia 1.4 review – an impressive first smartphone for just £90

There is a factory-installed screen protector on top, which Samsung does not recommend removing and suggests you get replaced from the company itself should anything happen, but it is almost indistinguishable from other smartphone screens.

Performance

Inside the Galaxy Z flip 3 is a Qualcomm snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, as well as 5G support. Using the device, apps opened quickly and smoothly without any bugs or jitters, as one would expect from a high-end Samsung phone.

For the most part, the device works like a conventional smartphone. This means that while it is perfectly adequate working normally, all the foldable variations that the Korean company might suggest in its marketing material do not really see the light of day.

Samsung pitches, for example, that you might place the phone sitting upright – like an open make-up compact or mirror – and watch YouTube on the top half of the screen with controls at the bottom. Other apps, like WhatsApp or Teams, are supposed to have similar functionality, splitting the top of the screen into the app’s content and the bottom into buttons.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Many apps lack proper integration with the new form factor. WhatsApp has four buttons when in the Galaxy Z flip 3 is in an L-shape: to control brightness, volume, take a screenshot, and pull notifications down so they cover the entire screen. YouTube, which is supposed to have dedicated support, does not activate it. It is possible that, over time, these functions will come as foldable phones become more mainstream, but for now any futuristic functionality is relatively absent.

Samsung has improved the resilience of the screens on its folding phones so they can be used in water

(Adam Smith)

The small outer display is much more useful, especially for quickly switching songs or checking the time without having to look at the phone’s main screen. It was also useful for checking notifications without being sucked into other distractions – the small screen has its functions, and that’s all you need, like a smartwatch.

One thing that is missing, however, is support for other apps. Google Maps, for example, sends information to the notification screen but there is not a designated widget that could show directions.

Battery life

The Galaxy Z fold 3 has a 3300mAh battery, which the company claims should last up to 13 hours on wifi and 12 hours on mobile internet.

During our testing, we found that the battery drained significantly faster; often during the day the phone would require plugging in to ensure that it would last all day, providing around five or six hours of screen time during a charge.

Read more: Which iPhone should I buy? Comparing Apple’s phones

Compared to the 5000mAh battery that’s found in the Samsung Galaxy S21 ultra (£1,199, Samsung.com) or the 4,500mAh battery in the Galaxy note 20 ultra (£949, Amazon.co.uk) – both of which last all day and then some – this may not be enough for many users and could put people off switching to a foldable lifestyle.

Camera

The two 12MP lenses on the back of the Galaxy Z flip 3 – one a standard wide and one an ultra-wide – do their job adequately, but Samsung has not upgraded the hardware since the last version of the foldable. Colours are bright and punchy enough, with crisp enough detail to keep most people happy. These will be photos that many will want to post on Instagram or Twitter immediately without needing any edits.

Samsung’s attempt to make the foldable phone attractive while also keeping the price down is an unenviable balance, but it does a decent job. However, it feels like many will miss the telephoto lens and the areas where smartphones are significantly improving, such as low-light photography or difficult lighting conditions, are where the Galaxy Z flip 3 cannot keep up.

This is likely the largest compromise buyers will have to make when choosing this phone. For many people, smartphones are more like smart cameras, and while the picture quality is fine for quick shots, it should not be expected to compete with the iPhone 13 or Samsung’s S21 range.

The verdict: Samsung Galaxy Z flip 3

Samsung’s focus on fashion with the Galaxy Z flip 3 is the most compelling argument for foldable phones we’ve seen so far, and one that’s easier for many people to use compared to the productivity-focused Z fold 3.

Pushing a big smartphone that can fit into smaller spaces, with a little notification screen to avoid distractions is something few people are likely to disagree with. There are however some issues – software, battery life, and the camera – that keep the device from feeling like a fully-fledged final product.

While there is undoubtedly a level of compromise that needs to be made for anyone that wants to try something a little bit different, much like the Galaxy Z flip 3 , the South Korean brand feels on more solid ground to deliver what it thinks will be the next generation of smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy Z flip 3

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.



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