Anton D. Nagy contributed to this “Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 One Month Later: no longer the future?” post.
Alright, if we’re honest, no… You don’t need your phone to flip, just like you don’t “need” an electric car. Both gas and electric perform the same function with similar capabilities and a separate list of conveniences. Now, the reason I use the analogy is that right now the only reason most of us debate buying an electric car is their price difference. Like a foldable, an electric car is cool but has historically included a list of compromises for more money. So what would happen if you were offered a Model 3 for the same price as a Corolla? Would that change your perspective?
Ok, so what if there was a foldable that cost the same or less money than a regular flagship, and brought nearly zero compromises? Get where I’m going? This is the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3. The least expensive of the company’s new foldables, and yet the one I feel is the most important.
So, for the past decade, we’ve kind of seen history repeat itself. Phones are becoming larger as consumers demand larger screens for content consumption, and we have the iPhone 12 mini flop to prove it. In the 90s, phones were large simply because mobile technology was in its infancy. From briefcases to belt holsters, size was all over the place as a necessary evil.
This is why Motorola’s StarTAC was so revolutionary. It started the trend of “more” in less, as it wasn’t just compact, but you could flip it open when in use. The only reason it took almost a decade for the form factor to take off was that it was a crazy $1,000 in 1996, a seventeen hundred dollar equivalent in today’s money. Once technology caught on and the price dropped, flip phones became the standard by the early-to-mid 2000s. This is the reason why I feel the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is so important. Somehow Samsung managed to drop the price into flagship territory in just 3 generations, and fix the compromises in the process.
Now, like in the past, I think the most important premise is not that the phone can flip. I mean it can, but the reasons “why” are more important. As screens get larger, is a flat slab really the best form factor? Think about it: they require more resources. They need a stronger build so they don’t land on Zack’s shelf of shame. The result is a near tablet that’s thick, chunky, and heavy, which is hard to handle in one hand, and hard to carry in your pocket.
The Z Flip 3 addresses most of these issues by being a large phone when you need it, which then collapses in half when you don’t. Call it a gimmick all you want, but since it bends by design, rigidity is no longer a problem, allowing it to be thinner than most phones at just 6.9mm, and lighter at just 183 grams. It’s the reason why even when closed, it snugs in the bottom of your pocket without much bulk.
The second premise is that the Z Flip 3 pays homage to this category better than any other phone before it. I hate how the flip phone eventually dived so low into the cheap food chain. Maybe it’s the reason I like this phone in cream so much, it reminds me of my old Motorola V60i.
The matte borders in a near gold, plus the extension of this finish to the hinge, the glossy top, and bottom, the symmetrical cover display, like seriously, props to these designers cause this is the best looking phone of the year on my book. Place it on a table, and get ready to turn some heads just like the old days.
The only problem with this design is that there is no phone more slippery than this one. So far it’s fallen twice onto the tile, but the improvements in durability are clear. I have zero dents or scratches, which prove the Gorilla Glass Victus and the new Armor aluminum do walk the talk. Samsung even addressed the biggest pain point in making this phone IPX8 water-resistant for added peace of mind, but the X means no dust, so no Spartan Races either.
The cover screen also grew up from gimmick to useful. Give it all the style you want in the main face. Swipe left for notifications. Swipe right for widgets. Sadly you can’t really interact with alerts as many would want, but flipping this phone open with a quick gesture is far easier now than before. The hinge was clearly improved to help you open the phone with one hand, all while not affecting its flex mode if you want to prop the phone on a table.
Inside we have a near borderless 6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED display that now brings major flagship improvements. Variable refresh rate is now here at up to 120Hz. Brightness is no longer a problem at 1,200 nits and you get the typical HDR10+ certification. Sadly it still doesn’t play well with polarized lenses, which somehow doesn’t affect the Z Fold 3. The Ultra-Thin Glass is now stronger, and heck even the screen protector has gotten so good at deterring fingerprints, it’s the first time I don’t remove it from a phone. Yes, there’s no way around the crease, but after a few days of use it never really bothered me. Best of all, we finally get dual firing speakers for enhanced content consumption.
The experience using OneUI 3 on top of Android 11 has proven to be mostly good. You kind of need it if you want to take full advantage of this form factor anyways. It’s the little things like having the side-mounted fingerprint scanner help you swipe down for the notification tray. Apps like YouTube supporting Flex Mode for you to watch a video as you multi-task with another app below. The fact that OneUI remembers these pairs for easy access as I switch between apps.
The Google Feed on the left of the launcher is an option to Samsung Free. Really the only thing I wish Samsung removed was the excessive animations by default. I mean you look at the spec sheet and the chip, the RAM and storage are all more than enough, and yet the UI sometimes doesn’t honor the horsepower or added refresh rate. (Check reviewers guide for any other software tricks)
During my month of testing, the upgrade to all versions of 5G proved to be great. I spent most of my time on AT&T’s 5G in New York City, and that handled itself pretty well. Phone calls were great, and even as I traveled abroad, my switch between countries on Google Fi remained seamless. I did hear complaints about this phone’s endurance, but it’s another reason I didn’t wanna rush this review. At first, it wasn’t great, but over time I have been able to end my days just fine. Not sure if the software updates I’ve received took care of that.
As for photography, this phone is an interesting animal. To keep it compact, it lacks the telephoto lens most flagships bring, and the primary sensor is slightly smaller than say a Galaxy S21. It does compensate with some unique tricks, like using flex mode to prop the phone on a surface for a shot, which is pretty useful. You can even take selfies with the outer screen and the primary camera for better quality, so long as you’re ok with squared results.
As for performance, honestly, I wasn’t expecting this phone to be this good. Even with a smaller sensor, the separation and shallow depth of field this phone provides are just too good. Clearly, Samsung’s processing has gotten a major boost because colors are not overdone. Switch to the ultrawide and distortion is almost inexistent, but the interesting thing is that even if you punch into a digital 2X I’d say most of these photos are good enough for social media.
Even selfies and portraits show some pretty good work in not overdoing skin tones creating separation that’s good enough to not blow out the background.
Switch to night mode and notice the sky is fully portrayed regardless of whatever focal length you choose. Sure the phone takes a bit to finalize the shot, but I find enough detail all over to continue being impressed.
And it’s the same case for video. We have 4K at 60 capabilities from all cameras with easy ways to switch. Dynamic range is preserved regardless of how you move. Stabilization is handled well even without the super steady mode. Ok, can I just say that just because this phone has one less camera than others, you can’t ignore the fact that results are worthy of calling this a flagship? I am seriously very impressed.
To conclude, yes, you don’t need a flip phone, just like you don’t need a smartwatch, or a tablet, or a flagship. If we were to base our buying habits on needs then a lot of products wouldn’t exist. The question is if the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is better than a regular flagship, and I think in many ways, it is, and in others, it’s just as good.
It nails the cool factor that every single product in this price range should have. It becomes a flagship when you need it, and then collapses when you don’t. Even the idea of collapsing this phone for you not to shatter the primary screen in regular use is also a value proposition. For all the above, the Galaxy Z Flip3 is our Editor’s Choice for best affordable foldable smartphone.
Match all that with cameras that are just as good or even better than most flagships in the market, and I think you know where I’m going.
I’m not saying it’s the perfect phone, but after a month of use, I seriously think you should give it a try. Sure, I’d love for it to have a telephoto to punch in further, and even S Pen support, but the most important essentials are all here. It seriously can’t be that flagships today are so boring that the only differentiating factor is a slightly better set of cameras. It’s as if most phones today look like the marching workers in the 1984 ad, and Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the new girl coming to break the establishment. To all that I say Bravo Samsung.