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My favorite Z Fold 3 feature? Using it as a ‘normal’ smartphone

A few weeks ago, while waiting for a new review phone to arrive, I returned to the Galaxy Z Fold 3. During that time, I’ve used it more with the screen closed than open. At first, this may sound like an admission that folding smartphones are gimmicky failures — but it’s not. It’s proof that folding phones work well normally, in everyday, general circumstances. More important, it’s something that may help people still on the fence jump off and into the waiting arms of a foldable device.

Folded up, it’s a normal phone

Closed, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 has a standard-sounding 6.2-inch AMOLED screen, 2268 x 832 resolution, and a dynamic refresh rate up to 120Hz. Where it differs from other phones with similar-sized screens is in its overall dimensions. It’s 67mm wide, while an iPhone 13 with its 6.1-inch screen is nearly 72mm wide. Yet it’s much taller at 158mm compared to the iPhone 13’s 146mm. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is tall and slim when folded up. It’s also, obviously, quite thick. At its largest point, it’s 16mm — twice the nearly 8mm thick iPhone 13.

Man holding a Galaxy Z Fold 3 showing a browser window on the outer screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

While the Z Fold 3 does feel very unusual at first, it’s something I’ve grown used to after using the phone since launch. I’ve quickly discovered the Fold 3 works really well when it’s closed, which is perhaps at odds with some perceptions of the device. I open the screen out when needed, not because I have to.

Google Discover looks fine when you slide it in from the home screen. Instagram formats perfectly (and better than it does on the tablet screen), as do Twitter, Chrome, Teams, Outlook, and WhatsApp. I can swipe-type with one hand, but the tallness makes constant one-hand use quite difficult, much like it is on most modern large-screen phones. If all this sounds like what you do with a non-folding phone, you’re getting my point. After that initial adjustment period, the Z Fold 3 is a normal phone.

When making calls, the bar-like dimensions means there’s more to hold. It’s also super secure in your hand, and the speaker is loud and clear. The Fold 3 is also easy to accurately place against your ear, and I’ve done far less shifting around trying to find the speaker’s sweet spot than usual when using it. The fingerprint sensor in the power button is fast, to the point where I use it more than the face unlock system.

The unusual size and shape of the folded-up Galaxy Z Fold 3 can be off-putting, but the more I use the phone, the less of an issue it has become. It’s a very different experience from the original Galaxy Fold, which I used almost solely with the screen open.

Durable and well-engineered

If I use the Galaxy Z Fold 3 more folded up, why bother having an $1,800 folding phone? Over the past weeks, life has dictated I use the Z Fold 3 for more basic tasks — calls, messages, and web browsing — than usual. And the effortless way the Fold 3 has excelled at them has been beyond impressive. After all, it won’t come as a surprise that when you open the Z Fold 3 to watch videos, read, or play a game that it’s brilliant. That’s what it’s for.

Galaxy Z Fold 3 held by a man while it plays video on the open screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The general livability is what people may not be expecting. Yes, there’s a period of adjustment needed, but it’s not extreme, nor is it long and drawn out. I’ve not babied the Z Fold 3 either, and have no concerns over its build quality or toughness. It’s not in a case, nor does it have any additional screen protection. I keep it in my pocket or bag and treat it like any other phone I own or review.

There are no scratches on the outer screen or the rear panel, the outer part of the hinge on my Phantom Silver version is unmarked, and the inner screen appears new. The crease is there, but I don’t notice it when the screen is active. The under-display selfie camera is so effectively hidden I’ve forgotten it’s there. Samsung made a big deal over the Z Fold 3’s durability, and so far, it’s justified. For some context, my review Pixel 6 Pro picked up scratches on the front and back within a few days of similar use, and the screen on my iPhone 13 Pro has several light scratches that it’s gathered over the past eight months.

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 on a table, showing wallpaper on the outer screen.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

The Fold 3’s hinge has softened over time, but that’s a good thing! Early on, it was very stiff, to the point where it was a bit of an effort to get the motion started. Now, however, it’s perfectly weighted. There are no unsettling sounds from the hinge when you open it up, and closing it is a tactile joy. It maintains a similar resistance throughout the motion, right up until the last second when it pulls itself closed. There’s no snap, no clunk, and no evidence of any grind from the hinge.

The only game in town

Complaints about the Galaxy Z Fold 3 after about eight months? It’s expensive, heavy, and Google still hasn’t released a split-screen version of its Gboard keyboard. Otherwise, Samsung has kept on top of software updates. My phone has OneUI 4.1 with the May 2022 Google security patch, plus the most recent update added some new camera features.

The camera’s performance has improved since launch, too. Although it doesn’t have the Galaxy S22 Ultra’s full telephoto capabilities, the dynamic range, color reproduction, and often beautiful balance in its photos mean a lot of people won’t mind — particularly if sharing online is a priority. You can see some examples taken over the last few weeks in the gallery above.

Samsung is still the only game in town if you want a foldable smartphone, but I don’t see many (any?) out in the wild, suggesting there are continued barriers to adoption. Price is clearly the largest to overcome, but having now lived with the phone for a substantial amount of time, it’s delivered an experience I only continue enjoying. If you do have the budget, don’t think you’re compromising that much over a non-folding phone. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a powerful, capable, different, exciting, and shockingly normal smartphone, folded or unfolded.

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Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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