(Pocket-lint) – The history of flip phones is extensive, dating back almost two decades when Motorola launched its iconic Razr V3 in 2004. Since then the company has capitalised on that classic design with a reimagined folding-screen version, which arrived 15 years later, in 2019.
In the short period since then there’s been some competition looking to gain on Motorola’s weaknesses, with Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip a clear contender. The latest iteration of which, the Z Flip 3, is the first foldable to offer certified waterproofing, while upping the ante when it comes to the screen tech.
Amping up its appeal further, the Z Flip 3 is cheaper than its predecessor – although, let’s be clear, starting at £949/€1049 it’s anything but budget – positioning itself around the same price ballpark as other ‘normal’ flagships. Is this the moment, then, for flip phones to become normalised for the everyday owner?
- IPX8 water-resistance – first ever for a foldable device
- Larger and higher resolution front screen
- More colour variants
- Lower asking price
If you’ve ever seen the original Z Flip in the wild – link to our review and pictures here – then the Z Flip 3’s most obvious shift in design is the addition of a much larger screen to the front, flanking a redesigned dual camera arrangement that’s a lot more in tune with Samsung’s 2021 Galaxy designs.
There’s also a bunch more colour variants – it’s just the Phantom Black one on display here – to add to the diversity, while the IPX8 rating means that, although not dust-resistant, the phone can be submerged in water more than a metre in depth for longer than half an hour.
It’s properly waterproof, should you drop it in the wrong place – although if that’s a puddle over some concrete then, well, this dual-screener may well smash to bits, despite its use of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the front.
Design & Displays
- Unfolded display: 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED, 2640 x 1080 resolution, 120Hz dynamic refresh
- Front display: 1.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED, 260 x 512 resolution, Corning Gorilla Glass Victus
- Colours: Cream, Green, Lavender, Phantom Black, Gray, White, Pink
- Dimensions (folded): 72.2 x 86.4 x 17.1mm / Weight: 183g
- Dimensions (unfolded): 128.1mm x 166 x 6.9mm
- Frame: Armor Aluminum
Unlike the Z Fold 3 – read our full preview here – which is more about being true phone form in folded position, and ‘mega phone’ (almost to tablet proportions) in its 7.5-inch open format, the Z Flip 3 is more like a watch-and-phone in one: the front screen is there for at-a-glance notifications and quick interactions; the main screen, at 6.7-inch on the diagonal, is akin to a standard flagship phone. It’s one tasty tech sandwich.
But as it is, indeed, a sandwich format or clamshell design, you’ve effectively got a doubled-up set of screens, which makes the Z Flip 3 chunky – at 17.1mm in its folded form. Open it up, however, and other than the central hinge there’s not a huge amount to distract from a typical phone format. Plus opening and closing it is kinda addictive, you’ll end up doing it a lot for the strange satisfaction it provides.
There are some caveats though: as this is a folding display, it’s plastic coated, meaning its reflective and prone to ‘creases’ across the fold line. No surprises, though, as this is standard across any folding device from any manufacturer – and is one of those concessions that has to currently be made if you’re in the market for a folding device.
Whether the Z Flip 3’s design format will work for you is going to depend on how you use your phone too. That small screen to the front may be nothing but a distraction window for some, while those who often work with multiple devices may find it a refreshing way to handle incoming notifications – a bit like an alternative to a smartwatch, really.
One thing we’re a little surprised by in the Z Flip 3 is that there’s no under panel camera (UPC) for the unfolded main screen. That’s odd, as Samsung has managed to squeeze that design benefit into the Z Fold 3, which launches alongside this device. Having the punch-hole here isn’t a total deal-breaker, of course, but we’d assume the ‘Flip 4’ will push this feature come 2022.
Still, it’s a perfectly good screen, one that will be familiar to any Z Flip 5G users – because it’s more or less the same. Although Samsung hasn’t seen it fit to push the size or resolution here, the panel is now 120Hz capable – meaning an adaptive refresh rate that’s up to double the speed of its predecessor, to help smooth out that visual experience.
That front screen is particularly worthy of attention, too, as it’s far larger than the earlier model. Sure, 1.9-inch sounds tiny for a screen on any phone, but that’s a whole lot bigger than the 1.1-inch panel of its predecessor.
The small screen is also much better integrated into the design: as that whole section of the phone is raised and glossy, you can’t really see the screen at all when it’s not active. Double-tap it, however, and it’ll show your latest notifications in an instant, before fading down to off if you don’t continue to interact. It’s a slick looking implementation.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 8GB RAM
- 128/256GB storage options (UFS 3.1)
- 3300mAh battery capacity
At this early stage it’s always tricky to offer a true representation of a phone’s performance, because we’ve not had much time to play with the Z Flip 3 – we sampled one at Samsung KX, the Korean company’s impressive showroom at London’s King’s Cross – and certainly haven’t lived with it as our own just yet.
What we can assure you, however, is that it’s massively powerful, functions nice and smoothly, and the top-tier Snapdragon 888 processor under the hood is served with 8GB RAM to ensure everything keeps ticking along.
Whether that processor will cause the battery excessive problems is a lingering question though, as the 3,300mAh cell here isn’t especially large – it matches that found in its predecessor – and we found that earlier Z Flip ran down rather quickly and required early evening top-ups to avoid it running out altogether in a single day.
- Dual rear cameras:
- Main: 12-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, Dual Pixel autofocus, optical stabilisation (OIS)
- Wide-angle (0.5x): 12MP, f/2.2
- Front camera: 10MP, f/2.4
Given the limited surface area of a clamshell design, there’s not stacks of room for all manner of cameras to be scattered across the Z Flip 3’s body. But that’s a good thing. Samsung hasn’t littered this device with junk lenses, instead focusing on what matters: a main and wide-angle camera duo. So still no zoom, but we’re sure you can live without that.
Many had hoped that the Z Flip 3 would significantly push forward in the cameras department, though, but what you find in here is a reflection of its predecessor: the 12-megapixel sensors are one and the same.
The big shift is in the camera housing’s design. It looks much neater and tidier, the lenses much larger, arranged in that raised glossy section in a much more naturally flowing design format. Still, we’d like to have seen some higher-resolution offerings in the mix this time around, to put the Flip up there with Samsung’s very best.
Although the Z Flip 3 isn’t a giant leap forward compared to its predecessor, it’s a much more fluidly designed device – and the best flip phone we’ve seen to date (sorry Moto Razr).
Although it’s still pricey, it’s a lot more affordable than its predecessor was at launch, closing in on that all-important triple-figure starting price, placing it in the same ballpark as other ‘normal’ flagship devices. That’s a big step in making such foldable screen technology more accessible.
Whether that’s enough to really lure punters in, however, is another matter, as the Z Flip 3 has a fairly small battery capacity, the screen still suffers reflections given its plastic coating, while simply not all will want or see the benefit of a dual-screen device.
For those who do appreciate the front screen – which is beautifully integrated into the design this time around – the Z Flip 3 is a phone prospect like few others. It’ll certainly turn heads, but it might not quite turn everyone’s minds around just yet.
Writing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on .