With the Galaxy Fold 5G, Samsung started the foldable era in 2019. Or at least tried to. Because the first attempts at walking this flexible smartphone were relatively unimpressive, and there was no significant influx of buyers. However, the development of the new models progressed rapidly, so that we now ask ourselves the question: Is the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G finally foldable for the mass market?
Anyone who pulls a foldable out of their pocket when they are together with friends can count on curiosity and sometimes astonished looks. The device then wanders around the table so that everyone can admire this futuristic-looking piece of technology. No other current smartphone, regardless of whether it is the new iPhone or the Android flagship, is attractive. But then, after a short time, the somewhat sobering question often follows: “Is it worth it?” And so far, the best possible answer to that has been a half-hearted “Well, maybe …”. But is it the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G that finally deserves a clear recommendation? Find out in our test.
Design And First Impression: This Is What A Foldable Should Feel Like
First of all: if you only choose your cell phone based on the best specs, you don’t need to read any more here—the reason to select foldable lies in the design and the form factor. Cheaper ordinary smartphones also offer pure hardware performance. So it’s not surprising that Samsung has just changed and optimized the creation of the Z Flip with this new edition.
In terms of size, not much has changed compared to the predecessor. Overall, Samsung could save a few millimetres in practically all dimensions, but this makes no difference when feeling in hand. What is striking, however, is the new two-tone finish on the outside. Not only does it look adorable, but it also serves the additional purpose of bringing enough space for a decent second display. While the outer show of the Galaxy Z Flip was little more than a fig leaf for the phone’s weaknesses, the second screen on the Flip 3 is now reasonably practical.
Here you can display the time, the weather, notifications, your music control and other widgets. The second display is handy for those who do not wear these functions on their wrist via a smartwatch. In addition, the screen can be used as a viewfinder, so you can easily take selfies with the primary camera. This is also recommended because the two outer lenses achieve significantly better results than the inner camera. But more on that later.
When folded, the Z Flip 3 is nice and small and disappears quickly in your pocket. This is a blessing, especially if your pockets are not particularly deep. Where current smartphones like to peek a bit out of their pants, the Z Flip 3 hides well in clothing. I also found the thickness of about 17 mm to be quite pleasant. However, the mobile phone always opens a small gap, which means that tiny particles from your pocket can get between the display. THEREFORE, the Z Flip 3 is not a cell phone for a trip to the beach, even if it is the first foldable with IP certification.
Samsung also likes to emphasize the IPX8 rating, which means that the device is just as waterproof as other current flagships. So rain, splashing water and, in the worst case, falling into the water should no longer scare you with the flip. But this is nothing more than a long-established flagship standard that can already be found in many mid-range devices. Therefore, my enthusiasm for this feature is limited.
Galaxy Z Flip 3 Makes A Long Face
When opened, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is almost an ordinary smartphone. With a height of 166 mm, it is about the same height as my daily driver, a Sony Xperia 1 II. The Sony mobile phone uses the 21: 9 format, and Samsung also comes quite close to this ratio. Compared to devices like the Galaxy S21, the Z Flip 3 is quite long, and the upper end of the touchscreen is difficult to reach with one hand. I’ve got used to this fact from my everyday mobile phone, but it could lead to operating difficulties, especially at the beginning. Especially people with small hands are left behind here. Somewhat ironic: when folded, perfect for women’s jeans, when opened, it’s made for men’s paws.
Despite all the love for the new design, one thing gets on my nerves: the fingerprint sensor. Not because of the reliability, there is nothing to complain about with the capacitive sensor. The speed also leaves nothing to be desired. But the placement is, unfortunately, a bit off. If I take the Galaxy Z Flip 3 in my hand, my thumb rests roughly at the height of the hinge and thus a little bit below the sensor. To unlock the phone, I have to stretch my thumb and loosen my grip on the phone a little or grab the device completely. On my Sony Xperia 1 II, the fingerprint sensor is fittingly precisely in the middle, which is, of course, not technically possible with the Z Flip 3.
Beautiful And Amazingly Stable: The Display
When operating the main display, you notice that the surface is not made of glass. Anyone who switches from a “standard smartphone” to the foldable must first get used to the new feeling under their fingertips. A big problem with foldable smartphones is scratches and dents in the soft display. To counteract this, Samsung has a protective film ex-works. This covers almost the entire screen surface, except for a recess for the front camera. And the foil is at least up to the everyday enemies. Even with a bit of force, fingernails leave no marks, as with the first Z Flip. However, it is best to keep pointed and metal objects away from the device. But when folded, it is not a problem.
The purely technical data of the flexible OLED practically does not differ from its predecessor. You have a 6.7-inch AMOLED display at your disposal, with a maximum resolution of 1080 x 2640 pixels. The only new thing here is the maximum refresh rate of 120 Hertz, with which the operation runs as smooth as butter. Samsung offers the choice between an adaptive frame rate of up to 120 Hz and the energy-saving standard mode of 60 Hz. Due to the somewhat undersized battery, 60 Hz is recommended.
Otherwise, the display is typical for Samsung. Typically brilliant. Samsung delivers top quality in this area, from which the Z Flip 3 also benefits. The colours light up in standard mode, but here you can also readjust using the software. In terms of brightness, there is nothing to complain about, and the display is still straightforward to read even in direct sunlight. The fold in the middle disappears in the front view, but if you hold the flip a little against the light, the kink can still be seen very well. The kink can also be felt, but it doesn’t interfere with operation.
A Lot Of Power With A Top-Of-The-Range Chipset
Inside the Galaxy Z Flip, 3 is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888, supported by 8 GB of RAM. And you notice that too. You can expect the same performance from this foldable that every other Android flagship from 2021 will bring to the screen. There are quite a few cell phones with more memory, but this fact usually makes no difference. In the synthetic benchmark from GeekBench, the device achieved a multi-core value of 3326 in our test, which puts it even ahead of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. At the flagship price, the Z Flip delivers flagship performance – that fits!
Playing games may be unusual on the elongated display, but there is no problem here in terms of performance. Current titles like Wild Rift or Call of Duty Mobile run smoothly with 60 fps. In the Galaxy Z Flip 3, however, we noticed that the heat development of the chipset was relatively high. Especially in the racing game Asphalt 9, the back was uncomfortably warm after a short time. We have never seen this heat build-up on any other phone with a Snapdragon 888, so the Z Flip may not be able to dissipate the heat quite as well. However, there are no problems with this; even after a good half hour of playing, the game ran smoothly as in the first minute.
But anyone familiar with technology knows that where it gets warm, energy is lost. And unfortunately, that is a point that the Galaxy Z Flip 3 cannot afford.
That’s How Quickly The Z Flip 3 Goes Dead
With just 3300 mAh, the battery capacity of the Z Flip 3 is well below the average for Android smartphones. This is probably due to the design and the hinge; simply less battery fits into the small case of the foldable. And where Apple still draws a decent runtime from small batteries through finely tuned software, the Z Flip 3, unfortunately, fails all along the line. Of course, a lot depends on user behaviour, but I could hardly bridge a day without recharging the cell phone. With 60 Hz, dark mode and sparse use, the smartphone may bring you into the evening, but that’s not enough for a flagship.
However, the software is not entirely idle, and One UI 3.1 learns user behaviour after a short time and optimizes the battery consumption. The runtime is better after the first week, but nobody makes an endurance champion out of this smartphone. It is particularly annoying that Samsung does not add a charging adapter to its foldable either. What is excellent for the environment means for you that you can buy an additional fast-charging power supply.
Charging is pretty quick, although the maximum output of 15 watts shouldn’t be the reason for this. A small battery doesn’t have to charge as long as the bigger siblings. It goes from zero to one hundred in about an hour and a half if you charge at full power. Wireless is a bit slower with 10 watts, and, last but not least, the Z Flip 3 also charges your other devices with up to 4.5 watts via reverse wireless charging. Due to the small battery, it is not recommended to charge additional devices with the mobile phone.
Software Optimized For Folding
Here, too, Samsung has no surprises on board. One UI 3.1 is preinstalled, including Android 11. As is now customary, Samsung promises updates for three years, so you will hopefully have something from your foldable for a long time. At least as long as the hardware lasts.
As with other Samsung phones, the user interface is quite pleasant with some Samsung-specific adjustments. You don’t get completely pure Android, as I prefer, here, but One UI is tidy and intuitive to use. You don’t have to worry about bloatware in the classic sense, but some Samsung apps and programs from the Microsoft suite are preinstalled in addition to the Google services. Unfortunately, preinstalled services cannot be completely uninstalled; they can only be deactivated.
A foldable-only feature is the flex mode, in which you can half-open the cell phone and turn it off. The hinge holds the display in place, and basically, two independent smaller screens are formed. At the top, for example, you can see the selected image while you continue swiping through the gallery below. Or YouTube is playing a video at the top while the comments can be read below. Unfortunately, very few programs support the feature natively, and even if this is the case, the benefit seems somewhat questionable. This function can perhaps replace the tripod in video calls, but that seems to be a slightly limited application area. The flex model is not convincing.
An improvement over the predecessor cannot go unmentioned: Samsung has upgraded the speakers to the stereo. With the Z Flip 3, you can throw a YouTube video on or play some background music. Sure, if you want to concentrate fully on the theme, you should put on headphones, but the integrated speakers cut an excellent figure apart from the weak bass. By the way, there is no jack output, so you have to live with Bluetooth or the dreaded dongle.
Unfortunately, The Camera Has No Wow Factor
The design and marketing of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 appeal to a style-conscious audience. And what would such people like to do now and then? Take photos, of course. So Samsung has decent camera hardware in use here, right? Well, unfortunately, it is not quite like that.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 uses a dual camera with both lenses, each offering 12 megapixels. A 27 mm wide-angle lens is used as the primary lens, and there is also an ultra-wide-angle lens with a field of view of 123 degrees. That sounds astonishingly familiar because precisely, these specifications are also found in the first Z Flip. That’s not wrong at first, but you shouldn’t expect a giant leap in quality here.
Despite the somewhat sobering hardware, the Z Flip 3 is competent when it comes to good photos. You get rich colors, good contrasts, and a dynamic range if you take a quick snapshot. However, there is nothing here where the cell phone stands out in particular. It is more likely that the lack of zoom makes you feel a bit limited when using it. The image section can be enlarged digitally, but the resolution of the photos is too poor at four times the zoom.
The ultra-wide-angle camera is similarly unspectacular, although it allows some lovely photos in good light. But nobody has to use the foldable for this camera performance. Even the in-house Galaxy S21 offers more for less money. The party trick of flex mode doesn’t help the Z Flip either. If there is a suitable base, the hinge saves you a tripod, but here, too, this purpose is again minimal.
Selfie King Galaxy Z Flip 3
However, if you like to take selfies, you might have found the right smartphone here. At least under certain circumstances. Because the internal 10 MP camera is not worth mentioning, the quality is acceptable and far better than any webcam for video calls, but the Z Flip 3 has a trick for self-portraits. If the device is folded up, the primary camera can be activated with the power button. So the primary camera is also a selfie camera at the same time.
You not only benefit from the better quality of the primary sensors, but you can also switch to the ultra-wide-angle for group selfies. The small display on the outside serves as a viewfinder, but of course, cannot cover the camera’s entire field of view. Instead, Samsung only shows you the middle part of your picture, which is probably the area in which you place your face. If you value the exact framing of your selfies, you will, unfortunately, be left out here. Due to the difference in quality alone, it is advisable to use the primary camera if possible, even if you have to try a little more to get the right image section.
Not A Night Owl
When it gets dark, Samsung’s scene optimization switches on automatically. So the photos are still well lit in the evening and convince with good colour rendering. However, as the sun sets, details go further and further, and the image noise becomes more apparent. At first glance, you have such good photos that, on closer inspection, cannot compete with other devices in this price range.
To get a little more light out of the scenes, you can also manually activate night mode. Shaded areas are once again lightened here, but the colours look a little washed out compared to the otherwise vivid pictures. In this mode, the flex mode is at least useful once because the stability required for longer exposures can be achieved simply by putting the Z Flip 3 down somewhere.
Why The Galaxy Z Flip 3 Is (not) Worth It
A smartphone for over 1000 euros that cannot keep up with devices around 700 euros in terms of camera or runtime? The Galaxy Z Flip 3 shoots itself out on an objective level with a quick look. But there remains one thing that makes it difficult for me to get the device out again: Foldables, stay cool. Samsung seems to be relying on precisely this factor and again highlights the unique features of a foldable smartphone with the latest attempt.
The display on the outside impresses as a viewfinder for the camera, notification centre, music control, and a clock for a quick look at the mobile phone. And the inner display also cuts a fine figure. It’s noticeably more stable, and at least I wasn’t afraid of damaging the screen during everyday use. The hinge runs very smoothly, but dust and dirt may penetrate here over a long period. Unfortunately, this can only be assessed after a much more extended test period. By the way: opening with one hand remains impossible. That would take so much momentum that you would rather throw the Z Flip 3 around than open the phone.
When asked whether or not to recommend the Galaxy Z Flip 3, it ultimately depends on the price. The feature set on offer is somewhat reminiscent of an FE model from the Galaxy S series, launched in 2020 for just under 750 euros. If we take this model as the “basic price”, Samsung charges a surcharge of 300 euros for the foldable aspect. If you are willing to pay this premium fee, you will get the most sophisticated foldable to date.
Finally, a call to the other cell phone manufacturers out there: Introduce your Flip competitors! In my opinion, Samsung is now on the verge of introducing the foldable category for regular users. As a result, the South Koreans achieve a technical advance that is difficult to catch up with. And as the saying goes: competition stimulates business. In the end, the result is not only better but also cheaper devices for consumers.
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