The foldable Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 feels like the start of something unique for smartphones in the future. Nobody can blame you if you’ve become tired of Samsung, Apple, Google, and OnePlus’ annual revisions on their standard glass rectangular phones. Of course, each new phone is better than the previous year’s model, but micro-advances in quicker processing, better screens, and cameras appear again and again.
However, the year 2021 brought much-needed excitement to the mobile phone market with a pair of foldable phones that no longer feel like prototypes. As I wrote in my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review, the worlds of mobile and tablet have come together nicely to create one of the best tech advancements I’ve had the pleasure of working within recent years – but it’s a pricey piece of equipment. However, if the foldable market takes off, prices are likely to decline over time.
This is where the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip comes into play. It’s a considerably smaller clamshell device that folds out into a conventional phone size, rather than a phone that folds out into a tablet. I initially believed it would pale in contrast to the Fold 3, but after a few months of use, I’m convinced this is the phone that will be remembered as the catalyst for the mobile revolution that has been brewing for years.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: the price is right
Let’s face it, when it comes to the latest technological advancements, price is a huge concern, and there’s a hefty premium to pay. Just ask anyone seeking the finest OLED TVs or the best 120Hz 4K TVs. Samsung managed to make several enhancements to the Fold 3, and it was offered at a lower price of $999/£949, compared to $1199/£1299.
Yes, that’s still not cheap, but it compares favorably to the launch costs of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus and the iPhone 13 Pro. Of course, other phones are more powerful and have better cameras, but the Flip 3 punches well above its weight, especially since the main premium here is for the foldable screen price.
Now that Black Friday has passed, it’s also worth noting how aggressively Samsung has discounted the Flip 3 to get the phone into as many hands as possible. I saw it for $599 at Best Buy at one point, and Samsung.com has a variety of discounts and trade-in offers, so you may purchase it for even less.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: design
The glass body of the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is supported by an aluminum frame and rounded hinge system that feels significantly more durable than the previous generation. It’s a durable design, and having a foldable device protects the screen from scratches and impacts while it’s in your pocket or crammed into a bag gives you a secure sensation.
The hinge is significantly firmer, allowing you to adjust the screen at numerous angles, which is useful for making video calls or leisurely browsing a feed while the phone is placed on a flat surface. The phone is a little tricky to open one-handed because you’ll have to reposition your thumb a few times when you smoosh it against the internal display to pull it open completely.
You could pop it open a little with your thumb, then flick it open the rest of the way, but that requires more force than I’m comfortable with, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea to put that force into the hinge or possibly against the foldable screen – plus there’s a chance the sometimes slippy phone will fly out of your hand.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 features a large 6.7-inch AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate and IPX8 water resistance, rendering the previous model outdated in an instant. However, there is no dust resistance, so keep it away from the sand and sawmills – a tough pass for Trevor from GTA 5.
With its smooth scrolling and ultra brilliant graphics, the internal display is excellent and feels like a flagship experience. Except for the darkest moments, the seam in the middle is scarcely visible. When scrolling, you can feel it, but it’s not obtrusive and has no effect on your interactions with the screen.
However, connecting with the display’s extreme edges, such as dragging the timeline of a Facebook video back to the beginning, can be difficult because there appears to be a ‘dead zone’ right at the edge that’s difficult to deal with.
On the side, there are the standard volume buttons as well as a power button that also serves as a fingerprint scanner. It’s small, but it works well, and I prefer it over the in-screen equivalents, which I always find to be a little slow on Samsung phones.
The Sony Xperia1 III’s button is still the fastest scanner on the market, unlocking the phone with only the lightest of taps as soon as you pick it up. However, compared to using a pattern or Samsung’s notoriously unreliable facial recognition system, unlocking the Flip 3 naturally with a scan of your index finger or thumb, depending on which hand you’re using, is the quickest approach.
There’s also a small display on the outside of the phone, which is significantly larger and more functional than the previous model. It can be set up to easily flip through the time, notifications, calendars, daily steps, timers, voice recorders, or a media controller.
It saves me time and helps me from becoming distracted by not having to open the phone to check things like this (I’m usually just checking the time or dismissing a notice). I also like how I can put two timezones on the clock display, which helps it much easier for me to coordinate meeting times with coworkers across the pond.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: flex mode
When you half-fold the phone into an L-shape, you can get some apps to display differently, which is especially handy if you’re laying it down on a flat surface. This may be used to watch media or make a video call on the top half of the screen at your workplace or a train table during your journey, all without having to worry about your phone toppling over all the time. Maybe just lying in bed with your phone on your chest, watching Disney Plus.
Some apps don’t have as much functionality as others. Netflix will put the material on the top half of the screen and occasionally provide a pause button on the bottom half, whereas Disney Plus offers no bottom screen functionalities at all.
The controls are still overlaid on the video on YouTube, but the lower part allows me to surf through comments or browse a list of other videos while the other one is playing, which is handy if you’re searching for a guide on something and the current one isn’t working.
Split-view, which allows you to run multiple apps on the same screen at the same time, is supported here, as it is on most Samsung phones, but the Z Fold 3’s tablet-like display has damaged it on regular-sized phone displays, making multitasking wins much harder to come by. To be fair, it isn’t what the phone is trying to sell itself on.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: battery
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3’s battery is by far its most serious flaw. It only has 3300mAh, but an S21 has 4000mAh and the S21 Ultra has 5000mAh. To be fair, the folding design does create practical challenges when it comes to fitting larger batteries. However, even with simple use, you’ll only get about four hours of screen time.
Of course,’screen-on time’ sometimes makes things appear worse than they are, as that amount of time still allows me to get through an average day of browsing, YouTube watching, and music listening.
If you want to view lengthier films or play games on your commute and possibly leave work early, you’ll run into issues unless you can recharge it during the day. With just twenty minutes of browsing and emailing, the Z Flip 3 gets hot, nearly unbearably so on the top side of the device.
Some software improvements may help in the future, but the Flip 4 will undoubtedly require a larger battery overall. Fast-charging lovers will be disappointed to learn that the Flip 3 is limited to 15W fast charging and does not come with a charger. I normally end the day at 25% charged, and I’m back to 100% in a little over an hour of charging.
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3: cameras
Let’s get the Galaxy Z Flip 3’s only serious flaw out of the way first. Because it’s a rather costly phone without a telephoto lens, it’s not suitable for long-distance images due to its restricted zoom capability. Yes, the S20 Ultra’s 100x zoom was excessive, especially since fully magnified photographs were quite grainy, but most of Samsung’s newer phones shoot excellent pictures at 20x.
If you’re only interested in close-up shots and fast Instagram snaps, the Z Flip 3 is a great choice. Middle-distance holiday photos are also excellent, although some of you may prefer the greater zoom found on the flagships.
Unlike the Z Fold 3, which cleverly concealed its modest 4MP internal selfie camera below the screen, you have a 10MP pinhole design here, which shoots far better pictures. The main cameras on the back are a wide-angle and ultrawide lens, both of which are 12MP.
Pictures are incredibly bright, as they are on most of Samsung’s top phones, with a small tendency to over-saturate some brighter hues. However, the sharpness and detail are excellent.
Using the camera’s pro modes on a level surface while the phone is in Flex mode allows you to experiment with the extra features while keeping the framing of your photo as all the dials migrate to the bottom half of the screen. The Flip 3 can also capture video in 4K, and the quality is comparable to most other flagships, but it shouldn’t be the primary reason you buy this phone because shooting will drain your battery.
You can also show what you’re shooting on the cover display for the benefit of the folks you’re photographing. However, it’s only a little part of the broader picture, and it rarely aligns to show them anything useful. However, if you want more detail in your selfies, you might use the more capable rear camera.
Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3?
I expected the Flip 3 to come across as a gimmicky diluted device after using the larger Fold 3 for a few months (and loved it). However, its small size benefits it much, whether it’s making excellent use of the external display or enjoying apps in flex mode. Perhaps it’s the wonderful sound it makes when you close it.
With frequent MSRP discounts, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 has already shown to be an excellent value and one of the nicest phones I’ve ever used. The clamshell design makes it the most pocket-friendly phone on the market, and the overall quality of the smartphone, thanks to its speed, design, and excellent displays put it on par with ordinary flagship handsets.
That battery is an issue, too, because you won’t be able to recharge it over the day if you want to play games or view videos on longer commutes. It easily plays games at high settings and they play well, even better if you pair it with a controller, but the heat generated by the battery means you won’t be able to do so for long, and the Flip 3 will be unable to compete with the top gaming phones.
If you can pick with the battery, which most customers should be able to, the Flip 3 is an excellent choice if you want an innovative, high-end smartphone that gives a truly unique experience over any other phone on the market and at a very reasonable price.