Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Review

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The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 launched alongside the Galaxy Z Fold 3 to show just how much the Korean smartphone maker’s prowess in foldable technology has come along. Where the larger phone fumbled with a design that didn’t always make practical sense, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 presents a more familiar form – whether you started using a cell phone in 2001 or 2021. And at $1,000, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 makes the series more approachable than ever. Let’s see how this smartphone-turned-flip-phone plays out.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 – Design and Features

You’ll find two different forms for the Galaxy Z Flip 3. In the way it’ll primarily be used, it feels quite like the Galaxy S21. It’s a tall hunk of phone with a big display, narrow bezels, a solid frame, and a glass rear. The main display itself is actually surprisingly rigid with the crease of the fold providing the only hint that the display isn’t the same sort of glass found on other phones.

The phone is on the tall side. It packs a 6.7-inch, 2640 x 1080 display for a 22:9 aspect ratio. This provides a lot of space for content, whether that’s a movie, a lengthy Twitter feed, or a game. The display is also nearly on par with some of the best smartphone displays, providing a high enough peak brightness for outdoor use as well as an adaptive refresh rate that tops out at a smooth 120Hz. While the crease on the display can be distracting in certain conditions – in very bright environments or with dark on-screen content – it actually all but disappears in many cases, becoming as easy to overlook as notches and punchhole cameras have become in recent years.

When that big display isn’t in use, the phone can fold in half. The hinge is firm, holding in place at almost any angle, though it snaps closed lightly in the last few degrees. Those fond of the old days of folding phones may be a bit disappointed, as the Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn’t whip open and clap closed quite like they used to. It has a satisfying but subdued snap closing, but the tight grip of the hinge prevents the classic thumb-flip to unfold. I found I generally had to unfold the phone with two hands or crack it open with my thumb and then press against my torso or hip to unfold it the rest of the way. It’s possible to swing it mostly open with momentum, but I’d highly recommend getting a case first.

When closed, the phone actually remains quite useful. There’s a small, 1.9-inch external display (bigger than that found on the Z Flip 2, but much smaller than that on the Motorola Razr 5G) that is effectively a stand-in for the status bar and notification shade. It can show notifications from apps, conveniently letting me check to see if a text came in and needs a response. It also offers shortcuts to a small number of extra widgets from weather and timers to Samsung Pay and music playback controls. Chiefly, the external display can also serve as a viewfinder for the main cameras, making selfie photos and video incredibly easy to capture with those higher-quality cameras. The display is also a Super AMOLED type, so it hides itself superbly when not in use.

Like the Galaxy Z Fold 3 this year, the Z Flip 3 offers a side-mounted fingerprint scanner that works quickly. It’s handy for unlocking the small external display to check notifications, though it’s a bit high up on the frame to reach when unlocking the phone in its unfolded position.

One big addition this year is IPX8 water resistance, which makes this premium product far more practical to take with you in everyday life. It’s enough protection to handle a splash into water, and it can shrug off rain. Dust and dirt are more of a threat though, so steer clear of the beach and bakery kitchens.

Altogether the design is quite elegant. The hinge is still a bit boring to look at, but the multi-tone color scheme comes together nicely. Motorola may have an edge for iconic design and a cooler hinge, but Samsung gets out far ahead of Motorola in this race for many other reasons. Samsung may have the most pocket-friendly smartphone on the market with the Z Flip 3 as its tight dimensions are neck and neck with the Motorola Razr 5G’s. The Flip is just a tad thicker, but also shorter and narrower, and it does that all while packing in more battery (3,300mAh), a wireless charging coil, a much bigger internal display, and more cameras. The biggest fault in the design is that, from opening the phone to reaching for the fingerprint scanner and volume buttons to even navigating the UI, this tall device often requires two hands or a bit of shifting my hand around – it’s no one-handed device.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 – Software

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 comes running Android 11 with a special version of Samsung’s One UI 3 with special features for the foldable series. Primarily, that means a new taskbar that tucks away on the right side of the screen and provides a quick shortcut for opening apps in a split-screen view. It can be a little confusing to use, particularly because there seems to be no way to get apps that aren’t in the taskbar to enter the splitscreen, even though you can go to Recent Apps and make an app display as a floating pop-up window. A full-screen app can shrink down to a half-screen if a second app is dragged from the taskbar, but it’s a little bit of a clunky workaround.

The extra tall display on the Z Flip 3 actually makes multitasking somewhat attractive, as it’s easy to squeeze a video into a small window at the top of the display and then browse the web or chat on a larger window at the bottom.

The external display could benefit from some more third-party widgets. Having access to things like NFC payments and calendar entries is useful, but not if you don’t use Samsung’s calendar or Samsung Pay.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 – Gaming and Performance

Let’s not get confused, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 making a big splash with its design doesn’t mean Samsung would neglect to put some muscle under the hood. This phone comes with the same Snapdragon 888 chipset powering the fastest Android smartphones of 2021, and it holds up extremely well in my testing.

Whether the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is launching a pair of apps, running a video in one while I scroll twitter in the other, pulling up the camera, or gaming, it offers responsive performance and a smooth experience. Its 8GB of memory is a bit less than the Galaxy Z Fold 3’s, but it doesn’t need to be ready to run three apps at the same time. Even if Asphalt 9 wasn’t ready to go in memory after an hour of using a ton of other apps, the storage was fast enough to relaunch the game in a few seconds.

The phone holds up in gaming as well. The big screen makes for a great viewing experience, especially considering it’s a quality Samsung AMOLED display. Asphalt 9 runs as smooth as ever, and my thumbs can stay out of the way at the sides, covering up less of the action.

The phone predictably gets warm while in use for more demanding tasks. The camera running, heavy multitasking, and gaming all will see the back glass and frame heat up. It’s not scorching, but it won’t make for the most comfortable gaming experience. The stereo speakers actually pump out some decently loud and clean sound, too, though the earpiece speaker doesn’t contribute nearly as much to the mix as the bottom speaker.

With a 3,300mAh battery, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 isn’t equipped for the same level of daily use as Samsung’s other flagships. That said, I didn’t struggle to get it through a full day of use. A ton of gaming, photography, or video playback on a max-brightness display will hobble the battery, but lighter use should see it to the end of the day with a small margin to spare. The phone is certainly aided by the external display. I’ll often check notifications on that smaller display, which helps conserve battery considerably throughout the day since the large main display doesn’t have to light up everytime I want to see a text or email.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 – Camera

Right after the battery, the cameras are the biggest corner cut in making Galaxy Z Flip 3. I will say, what the cameras offer is good, but it’s more on par with a $700-800 phone than a $1000 one. That said, selfie-takers are in for a treat.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has the following camera setup:

12MP wide at f/1.8 with OIS and 1.4-micron pixels12MP 123-degree ultra-wide at f/2.2 with 1.12-micron pixels10MP selfie at f/2.4 with 1.22-micron pixels

Samsung has the main wide camera game on lock. The 12MP sensor provides enough sharpness to capture fine details while it’s color and high dynamic range do justice to photos in even tricky lighting. It’s shooting pretty much on the same level as the Galaxy S21. It does continue to be a bit officious when it comes to shooting in Night Mode, though, trying to use the longer exposure when it may not be necessary to capture a decent shot.

The ultra-wide camera offers quality that’s just a grade below the wide-sensor, which is pretty standard for most of the flagship phones I’ve tested. It doesn’t diverge on how it handles color, but just tends to get a bit noisy when it gets darker before the wide camera does. The distortion from the ultra-wide is minor, but does leave photos feeling just a bit overly dramatic.

Unfortunately, zooming is pretty much out of the question. There’s no optical zoom sensor, and the results from digital zoom even at 2x are a bit lacking.

The phone really shines for selfies, which fits the showy nature of the device. The 10MP internal selfie camera is a competent shooter, capturing crisp and vibrant enough photos for most uses. But, thanks to the external display’s ability to serve as a viewfinder, the two rear cameras are easy to use for selfies. This makes for selfies with excellent clarity and the option of a wide FOV or the shallower depth of field available from the f/1.8 lens. The downside of shooting this way is that Samsung appears to have it locked down to a square aspect ratio for both photo and video with no clear settings to prevent this cropping. It’s more than a little puzzling given the viewfinder has a wide aspect ratio, and it means what you see in the viewfinder is cropped in from what the phone will actually capture, which is itself cropped in from what the sensor sees. It would be great if Samsung provided more flexibility here, but the resulting photos still look great regardless.

Purchasing Guide

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is available from Samsung for $999.

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