Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review: The best foldable?

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(Pocket-lint) – The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is one of just a few wow moment devices to arrive in 2021. Not because it’s a huge advancement over its predecessor – as, really, it’s not – but because that massive foldable screen now hosts a convincing under display camera, keeping that visual experience extra slick.

There are other tweaks too: the asking price, while still massive – don’t gasp too loudly, it’s from £1599/€1799 – isn’t as large as its predecessor; there’s also more power under the hood, plus the new addition of S Pen stylus support. All of which adds up to make this the foldable phone to beat. But is that quite enough?

What’s new?

  • S Pen stylus support
  • Slightly slimmer (16mm)
  • More powerful processor
  • More streamlined rear camera array
  • 120Hz dynamic refresh for front screen
  • Under display camera for foldable screen

If you plant the Z Fold 2 next to the Z Fold 3 they’re not massively different looking. However, the newer device does streamline the camera arrangement so it’s smaller – although that now causes irksome ‘table wobble’ when popping it onto a desk or other flat surface – and the front display is actually a little less tall (it’s 24.5:9 aspect rather than 25:9 of the older device) and offers a 120Hz refresh rate too.

The bigger take-aways are, as we pointed out up top, the under display camera – or ‘under panel camera’ (UPC), as Samsung prefers to call it – and the addition of S Pen support, but the stylus isn’t integrated into the device so doesn’t make as significant a change as you might think. There’s a new no-Bluetooth S Pen Fold Edition which, as its name suggests, only works with the Z Fold 3 (the S Pen Pro is also compatible, while being suitable for other supporting devices in Samsung’s range too).

Design & Displays

  • Colours: Phantom Black, Phantom Green, Phantom Silver
  • Dimensions (folded): 67.1 x 158.2 x 16mm / Weight: 271g
  • Dimensions (unfolded): 128.1mm x 158.2 x 6.4mm
  • Front display: 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED, 2268 x 832 resolution, 120Hz dynamic refresh
  • Unfolded display: 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED, 2208 x 1768 resolution (XQGA+), 120Hz dynamic refresh

In its folded position the Z Fold 3 is the slightest bit slimmer than its predecessor – at a neat 16mm on the folding edge; 14.4mm at the opposite end – but that’s hardly slim by any modern phone standards. It’s therefore a bit of a wedge to hold in this ‘normal phone’ format.

The front panel is also marginally different to before, now delivering a 120Hz refresh rate and that 24.5:9 aspect ratio, so it’s shaved a millimetre off the overall footprint height. You won’t really feel that in the hand, though, but at least this main display fills the majority of the device’s front – something that wasn’t the case with the first-generation model.

But the real reason to buy the Z Fold 3 is because of its massive foldable screen, which measures 7.6-inches on the diagonal when open, and delivers a high resolution and 120Hz refresh rate too. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s identical to the Z Fold 2’s offering. So it’s no bigger, no sharper, no better.

Except, actually, it is far better for one single reason: that under panel camera (UPC) does absolute wonders in removing the need for a punch-hole, which gives the Z Fold 3’s display the cleanest, neatest large panel you’ll see in any folding device to date. Nothing else on the market can yet touch this, which goes to show that Samsung is well in the lead. It’s not totally invisible, though, as you can see from the faint circular appearance in the below image:

Pocket-lintZ Fold 3 folded photo 9

That said, there have been inherent issues with foldable panels from the off. As the OLED panel beneath needs to be protected, and obviously glass can’t fold, this is achieved by using a plasticky coating to allow for all this bending and flexing. That works well, except plastic is reflective and so catches reflections far more than a well-made glass panel. It’s just a by-product of folding displays at the moment. It’s also the reason why foldable panels often show a ‘crease’ across the fold, where the panel isn’t quite perfectly flat – which also rings true with the Z Fold 3.

But that’s all part and parcel of owning a folding phone, really, as the pay-off is the humongous screen. Here it’s bright, it’s colourful, it’ll be glorious for consuming content. And just as we said of the Z Fold 2, once you get used to this giant panel you’ll begin to appreciate its adeptness with different layouts in certain apps – almost like split-screen given the degree of space on offer.

Performance

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, 12GB RAM
  • 4400mAh battery capacity

At this stage we’ve not had heaps of time to play with the Z Fold 3 – we sampled the phone 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.

Pocket-lintZ Fold 3 folded photo 14

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 a meaty 12GB RAM as standard to ensure those big-screen experiences won’t even come unstuck (well, if they’re programmed in properly).

Whether that processor will cause the battery excessive pain is a lingering question though, in part because the 4,400mAh cell here is actually a small reduction on the 4,500mAh one in the older Z Fold 2. Probably nothing that some software optimisation can’t fix, not to mention that SD888 is a 5nm technology rather than 7nm of the last-gen SD865.

Cameras

  • Triple rear cameras:
    • Main: 12-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, Dual Pixel autofocus
    • Tele (2x): 12MP, f/2.4, optical stabilisation (OIS),
    • Wide-angle (0.5x): 12MP, f/2.2
  • Cover camera: 10MP, f/2.2 / Under display camera: 4MP, f/1.8

Cameras is one area where many had hopes that the Z Fold 3 would significantly push forward. But, actually, its triple rear setup is barely any different from the Z Fold 2’s one. That’s to say it’s a tri 12-megapixel offering, delivering a wide-angle, ultra-wide, and 2x telephoto zoom (with up to 10x digital zoom).

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review photo 4

The big shift is in the camera housing’s design. It looks much neater and tidier, in a smaller container, and doesn’t protrude an unsightly amount from the rear of the phone. It fits better into the Samsung family design overall. Still, we’d rather have seen some higher-resolution offerings in the mix this time around, to put the Fold up there with Samsung’s very best. This, surely, will be where the next-gen Z Fold 4 will step things up in 2022.

Much more impressive is what you can’t see though: that under panel camera tucked behind the main foldable display. It’s really hidden from view in a way that you don’t look for it at all. Sure, its just a 4-megapixel offering, so it’s hardly going to blow your socks off with the most resolute of results, but that’s still Full HD capable no problems. It’s this neat trick that really defines the Z Fold 3.

First Impressions

On the face of it the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 isn’t vastly different to the Z Fold 2 that came before it. But that’s just fine, because it continues its position as the top dog of foldable phones. That massive unfolding display is a real eye-catcher, especially with the new under panel camera ensuring an uninterrupted view.

Furthermore there’s no price increase for the Z Fold 3; it’s actually a lower asking price than when its predecessor first went on sale. Don’t get us wrong, though, it’s not cheap by any means – starting at £1599/€1799 – but for that you get a step-up in processing power, thanks to Snapdragon 888, plus the option to use an S Pen stylus to further add appeal.

Just as before, then, Samsung continues to deliver the most complete foldable experience on the market. That inevitably comes with its share of foibles – screen reflections and creases being two obvious ones; the rear cameras setup not advancing being another separate point here – but for sheer show-off factor the Z Fold 3 is truly an unbeatable piece of modern technology.

Writing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on .





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