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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, Z Flip 3 Hands-on review: Foldables whose time has come

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 are two foldables whose time has finally come. More than just a refinement of the previous Z Fold 2 and Z Flip 5G, they represent the maturation of a market that was more or less created by Samsung in 2019.

As the biggest name in the game, Samsung’s new phones represent the best chance the Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 have of becoming mass-market consumer devices. With Samsung Unpacked finally making them official, I got to spend some time playing with both foldables before the launch and I came away with one thought – these are two foldables I would finally buy.

Fold 3 and Flip 3 from the back.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

Harder and stronger

The first- and second-generation Fold and Flip were a bit of a mixed bag in terms of durability. They had an incredibly compelling design, but they suffered from a dubiously durable screen, a breakable hinge, and a lack of waterproofing that made them a step down from Samsung’s mainstay S series flagships.

That’s all changed with the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3. Both phones now boast IPX8 water resistance, meaning that can handle submersion in 1.5 meters of water for up to 30 minutes. They’re not protected against dust ingress due to the nature of the hinge, but according to Samsung while dust can get in, it won’t cause any damage and will be forced out due to the “sweeper” technology on the hinge which has bristles inside to force dust particles out.

The hinge itself is improved, with a less bulky look, but a still satisfyingly clicky opening and closing. On Fold 3 it protrudes less than the one on Fold 2, and presumably the same is the case for the Flip 3, though I didn’t have the previous model on hand for comparison.

They also incorporate aluminum that’s a lighter, more durable metal compared to the previous foldables. The difference was quite noticeable for me, feeling better and lighter in my hand. In terms of dimensions, you’re looking at 67.1 by 158.2 by 16.0mm for Fold 3 when folded and 128.1 by 158.2 by 6.4mm unfolded. The weight is 271g, which is noticeably lighter than the 279 grams on the Fold 2.

As for the Flip 3, you’re looking at 72.2 by 86.4 by 17.1mm folded and 72.2 by 166.0 by 6.9mm unfolded, and a weight of 183g. Both phones were easier to pocket, lighter, and have less of a footprint than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

What’ll make prospective customers particularly happy is the more durable screen on both devices. You now get Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the body to protect against scratches and drops, as well as a pre-installed protective film and screen panel that’s 80% more durable than previous models. Both phones are available with attractive and colorful case options if you want an added bit of protection without adding too much bulk.

The more screens the better

Speaking of screens, both the Fold 3 and the Flip 3 improve their respective panels. The Fold 3 gets a 7.6-inch 2208 x 1768 AMOLED main screen that supports a 120Hz refresh rate. The screen resolution works out to 374ppi, making everything crisp with no noticeable pixels even on close inspection. The cover screen (when folded) is a 6.2-inch 2268 x 832 panel that also supports 120Hz and has 387ppi. It’s very usable one-handed because of its narrowness.

Flip 3 and Fold 3 home screen side by side.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

I wasn’t able to play games or download anything, but browsing was smooth and responsive and YouTube videos looked great spread across both panels. At 1,200 nits for the main screen and 1,500 nits for the cover screen at peak brightness, visibility is excellent even under bright light and colors look exactly as rich and saturated as you’d expect from a Samsung panel. The selfie camera is hidden under the display, and it’s less noticeable than the cutouts that featured on previous models, but you’ll still notice some distortion against white backgrounds.

Despite being smaller, the Flip 3 screens don’t fall short either. It goes with a 6.7-inch 2640 x 1080 AMOLED display which isn’t as high a resolution as the Fold 3, but the pixel density works out to 425ppi, so everything looks just as sharp and viewing angles are excellent.

Fold 3 app page.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

It also supports the 120Hz refresh rate making scrolling and videos smooth and an absolute pleasure to use. The 1.9-inch cover has a 260 x 512 resolution and 302ppi. It’s useful for notifications, time, date, weather, step count, and other quick information at a glance. Brightness hits 935 nits on the cover screen and 1,200 nits on the main screen allowing for strong visibility.

A genuine Note replacement?

While I still need to spend much more time with both phones to really evaluate their productivity and multitasking capabilities on Android 11, things already looked incredibly promising while I was using the S Pen. The Fold 3 supports both the S Pen Fold and Bluetooth-connected S Pen Pro, allowing you to take notes, draw, sketch, and do all the other productivity features you could do on the now-defunct Note series. The S Pen only works on the main screen, but 7.6 inches is plenty of real estate to work with. There isn’t a slot to put the stylus on the phone itself, but Samsung says it’ll have cases that allow you to do that.

Fold 3 with S Pen.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

Flagship capabilities (for the most part)

What I like the most about both the Fold 3 and the Flip 3 is that there is no big trade-off or compromise. It used to be that that foldables had pared down camera capabilities, shorter battery life, or didn’t support higher refresh rate screens. None of that is true anymore as both phones match the power and capabilities of the Galaxy S21 and other mainstream Samsung devices.

Now, I didn’t get the chance to run any benchmarks or do a full camera shootout, but on paper, everything looks incredibly promising. Both have an octa-core 5nm processor, and the Fold 3 comes with 12GB RAM/256GB storage or 12GB RAM/512GB storage options. The rear triple cameras consist of a 12-megapixel (MP) ultra-wide camera, 12MP wide-angle camera, and 12MP telephoto camera which largely matches up with the Galaxy S series phones.

Fold 3 camera array.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

There’s a 4MP under-display camera, which is a lower megapixel count than what you get on the Flip 3, likely due to the sensor size limitations of putting something under the screen. The selfies I took looked fine, but this was in a brightly lit area, so it’s possible there might be some quality differences with a regular sensor. The battery is a dual 4,400mAh cell.

For the Flip 3, there’s a bit of paring down under the hood, but probably not so much so that you’ll notice a huge difference. The configuration is 8GB RAM/128GB storage, 8GB RAM/256GB storage, and it has a rear 12MP ultra-wide and 12MP wide-angle camera, so what you’re missing is the telephoto sensor. The selfie camera is a 10MP sensor. There’s a 3,300mAh dual battery.

Flip 3 camera array.
Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

I didn’t do anything too intensive on either device, but everything was smooth without any noticeable lag or slowdowns. I also took a few rear and front-facing shots in the brightly lit demo area and the pictures came out sharp with great detail and focus. That said, almost every Samsung phone takes great shots in good lighting so the real test will be a comparison shootout in lower light and other more challenging settings.

In terms of other features, both phones support fast charging and wireless charging. The Fold 3 can handle 25W fast charging, 10W fast charging, and 4.5W reverse wireless charging. The Flip 3 has 15W fast charging, 10W fast wireless charging, and 4.5W reverse wireless charging.

Price and availability

Foldables used to cost a pretty premium over non-foldable phones in previous generations, but that’s less true for the Fold 3 and Flip 3. The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 comes in at a starting price of $1,800 and the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 comes in at $1,000, putting them on par with what most other top-tier phones cost. In the U.K. the Galaxy Z Fold 3 starts at 1,599 British pounds, and the Galaxy Z Flip 3 at 949 pounds.

Samsung is also offering a $200 preorder credit for the Z Fold 3 and a $150 credit for the Z Flip 3, along with a free year of Samsung Care+ if ordered between August 11 to August 26. Individual U.S. carriers are also offering various deal options. T-Mobile is offering a free Galaxy Z Flip 3 with an eligible trade-in or $1,000 off the Z Fold 3 on its Magenta MAX plan and an installment plan. AT&T has a similar deal, with $1,000 off the Z Flip 3 or Z Fold 3 with an eligible trade-in, installment plan, and an unlimited plan. That makes the Z Flip 3 free and brings the Z Fold 3 down to $800.

Editors' Recommendations

Ajay Kumar
Freelance Writer, Mobile
Ajay has worked in tech journalism for more than a decade as a reporter, analyst, and editor.
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