Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 Review: The foldable future is now ready for everyone
“The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the first folding smartphone most people should consider buying. It’s compact, powerful, and durable, and costs about the same as its competitors. Plus, it’s really fun to use.”
- Truly compact
- Water resistance increases durability
- Beautiful screen
- Cutting-edge, eye-catching design
- One-day battery life
- Cover Screen lacks features
Folding smartphones have a reputation, and it’s one of fragility, compromise, and expense, leaving many people to dismiss them as pricey playthings for the most eager early adopters. Thebanishes that reputation thanks to a tougher body, a smaller design, and, most crucially, a lower price.
Samsung considers both the Z Flip 3 and its larger sister phone, the Galaxy Z Fold 3, to be mainstream devices. But is this actually true? Yes, it really is.
Living with the folding Z Flip 3
Take your regular mainstream smartphone, something like the Galaxy S21+ or OnePlus 9 Pro, and imagine folding it in half when you’re finished with it. That’s the Galaxy Z Flip 3. It’s not the first phone of its type, but it’s the first that will gain, and deserve, mainstream attention, all due to various enhancements made over the previous models. Therefore, it’s important to understand what benefits it brings to everyday life and the difference between using it and the Z Fold 3.
They may both fold up, but Samsung’s two new foldable smartphones are very different from each other. The Z Fold 3 is all about having a bigger screen in a normal-sized phone, while the Z Flip 3 is about having a normal size screen in a smaller than usual phone. It’s not designed to be used when closed up, unlike the Z Fold 3, and its existence is one based on portability and convenience, rather than increased productivity.
Living with the Z Flip 3 is not really any different from living with any other smartphone with a 6.7-inch screen, until you finish using it and go to put it in your pocket. Folding the phone up, which is in a way reminiscent of a 1990s flip phone or a makeup compact, is satisfying, different, and actually fun. The action hasn’t got old. You’ll do it without thinking about it, like clicking a pen top, and sometimes you’ll just pick the phone up and open it, despite not actually needing to use it. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a tactile, friendly, and interactive piece of mobile tech.
Closed, the 4.2-inch Z Flip 3 is just over half the length of what it is when open, but is more than twice as thick at 17.1mm. It’s light at 183 grams, though. The reduced footprint means it takes up less space overall in a bag or pocket, but it’s still noticeable due to the thick case. Folded up, it’s comfortable and natural to hold, especially if you have small hands. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 really is all about convenience, and it succeeds at being way more convenient to live with than other big, modern smartphones.
However, I’ve often left the Z Flip 3 open when I’m at home, which feels oddly wrong. Why? You can’t do anything meaningful with the phone when it’s closed, due to the Cover Screen not being as useful as it needs to be, so if I expected to pick the phone up again, it didn’t make sense to keep closing it. This highlights the Z Flip 3’s folding design is about portability, not usability. But not closing the Flip is a bit like telling Placido Domingo not to sing.
Many people probably picture the larger Z Fold 3 — a normal phone that turns into a tablet — when thinking about folding smartphones. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is not like that at all. It’s a 6.7-inch smartphone that folds down into one less bothersome to carry around as other similarly sized, non-folding models. If you’ve ever thought “modern phones are just too big,” but never want to give up the big screen experience, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the phone for you.
Samsung highlights the increased durability as one of the prime reasons why the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is ready for mainstream audiences and it’s right, but another reason is the emphasis on fashion, style, design, and fun. The Z Fold 3 puts tech before design, but the Z Flip 3 turns that on its head with an equally fun folding motion, a choice of colors, eye-catching accessories, and a delicate and stylish minimalist design. It reminds me of electric cars like the Honda E, which carefully blends modern tech with cool retro design cues for wide appeal.
My review model is in cream with a silver frame, and it’s one of seven combinations in total. Each phone is two-tone, with the colored glass panels matched to a black glass camera module and a contrasting chassis color. There is a range of fun silicone covers available with straps or rings to attach the phone to a bag or lanyard, and if you buy a Galaxy Watch 4 or Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, the phone’s Cover Screen wallpaper can be set to match the watch face. This depth of personalization really suits the Z Flip 3’s fun nature.
Samsung has used a tougher new aluminum it calls Armor Aluminum for the construction, along with stronger flexible glass over the screen, then given the whole thing an IPX8 rating for water resistance. It makes the Z Flip 3 more durable than previous versions. It feels like it, too. There’s no flex where there shouldn’t be, a solidity to the construction, and no obvious gaps around the hinge either. The smooth glass body makes the phone quite slippery, and it will slide out of loose pockets or across some surfaces. The chassis provides enough grip that it’s not likely to slip from your hand, though.
Magnets keep the phone securely closed, the unfolding motion is smooth and almost silent, and it locks itself into place when fully open. It’s satisfying and tactile to open and close the Z Flip 3, and the action feels solid and high quality. At first, the Z Flip 3 required more effort than expected to open but after about a week of use, the hinge has loosened up. However, it’s always going to be a two-handed operation due to the hinge having enough resistance to hold the phone open at any angle.
The Z Flip 3 is cuter than any smartphone really has the right to be, it feels supremely solid and well-made, and it’s a phone that makes you smile when you see it sitting around. It has also been expertly designed with some wonderful little touches such as the curved glass around the camera module, the logo stamped into the hinge that disappears when the phone is open so it becomes devoid of any branding, and the fingerprint sensor that’s integrated into the small, slender power key. Fashion meets technology on the Galaxy Z Flip 3, and it’s done in exactly the right way.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has two screens. On the front of the closed phone is the Cover Screen, which is a small 1.9-inch, 260 x 512 pixel Super AMOLED panel. When open, you’re looking at a 6.7-inch, 2640 x 1080 pixel, 120Hz Dynamic AMOLED screen with a 22:9 aspect ratio.
Yes, there is a crease on the open screen but it’s not noticeable when the screen is active and viewed straight-on, and is barely felt when you run your finger up and down the screen. Having the phone and apps in dark mode helps if you can still see the crease and it bothers you. Dust and lint are more of a bother, as it seems to collect a lot more than other screens, especially when the phone is closed and in your pocket. The newly designed screen protector needs special mention, as it has a much more glasslike texture than older versions.
The main screen is bright and detailed, the 120Hz refresh rate is beautifully smooth and effectively reduces eye strain, and video performance is up to Samsung’s usual standards. Kwon Eun Bi’s vibrant and colorful Door music video shows the high levels of contrast and strong colors, but is less natural-looking than the iPhone 12 Pro’s screen. Compare it with the Galaxy S21+ and there’s almost nothing to separate them, apart from a little more gloss and reflection from the glass of the S21+.
Open, the Z Flip 3’s screen is excellent. Closed, it’s not so good. The Cover Screen is one of two downsides to the phone, and it’s all due to the software not taking full advantage of its ability. The Cover Screen is interactive, and you can swipe to the left to see music controls, the weather, the voice recorder, and a selection of other customizable widgets. Swipe right and you get a vertical list of notifications, which when tapped show plenty of detail and offer the chance to interact with them, too.
However, the notifications aren’t glanceable like a normal always-on screen. The Cover Screen’s clock also doesn’t have the option to show icons for notifications, so if you miss them coming through when they show on the screen for a split second, you have to wake the screen and swipe. Leave the Z Flip 3 open and a normal Samsung always-on screen, complete with notification icons, is shown.
It gets worse because the Cover Screen isn’t very responsive. It requires you to physically press the Power key to wake it up, it doesn’t always react to wake-up taps, and then takes a few beats too long to react to a swipe, lengthening the time it takes to see notifications. You can’t activate the camera from the Cover Screen either, so you have to open the phone. It’s disappointingly basic, and also pushes me to leave the phone open when I expect to do things regularly.
The Galaxy Z Flip is not a camera superstar like the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but its ability is similar to the Galaxy S21. There are two 12-megapixel cameras on the back, one of them being a wide-angle, and both come with Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). There’s dual-pixel autofocus on the main camera, HDR10+, and up to 4K resolution video recording at 60 frames per second, but no telephoto camera or 8K video recording. There’s a 10MP camera at the top center of the screen for selfies.
It’s a good camera for everyday photos and, when the situation is right, it can take some stellar ones. However, there’s some evidence of overprocessing, and the software-driven portrait mode isn’t as good as it should be. On the positive side, I took several photos of insects on flowers (don’t ask, it’s just coincidence that I took so many) and they came out very well indeed, all without much input from me at all, which is exactly what I want. The autofocus system is intelligent and accurate, which really helped.
On sunny days, the colors will be too saturated for some, but I quite like the level of pop Samsung has built into the camera, and the white balance is good, too. In most situations, the balance and dynamic range stays consistent when switching between the main and the wide-angle cameras. Photos are not so good when the light is poor, and it struggles to reveal detail in shadowy areas.
The autofocus system is intelligent and accurate.
Samsung’s image processing can sometimes be seen at work. For example, take a look at the scene with a wire stretched across a pond, and you can see tons of edge enhancement around it, which really detracts from the photo. The portrait mode, front or rear, also isn’t very accurate and gets confused by even the most basic shapes.
The Z Flip 3’s hinge supports the screen at any angle between open and closed, serving as a mini stand for the camera. Angle the hinge while in the camera app and the viewfinder shifts to the top half of the screen, where Samsung’s gesture control system lets you snap a photo without tapping a button or setting the timer, so you can do so from a distance by just showing an open hand to the camera. There’s a button to switch to the lower half of the screen if that works better, or when you’re using the rear camera, the Cover Screen can also be activated to show a preview.
However, because of its shape, the preview only provides part of the image, so it’s hard to use as anything more than a basic guide. The image also stays in portrait orientation unless you turn the phone onto its side, which is less stable, and the Cover Screen then shows even less. It’s most useful when paired with Google Duo, as the video call display shifts automatically to the top half of the screen, saving you from propping the phone up against something else. However, it doesn’t work with other messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Performance, software, and battery
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G processor (regardless if you’re in the U.S. or U.K., as there’s no Exynos-powered model this time) with 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of storage space. Android 11 with One UI 3.1.1 is installed. This makes it identical to the Galaxy S21 range, and one of the highest-specced smartphones you can buy today.
Performance is excellent, all apps run without a problem, and there are none of the compatibility or formatting issues that sometimes show up on large-scale folding smartphones. The Z Flip 3 is also a great gaming phone, although it can get quite warm to the touch. Playing Asphalt 9: Legends shows off the wide display really well, and the stereo speakers provide plenty of volume and punch. However, the area on the back around the camera module is where heat is generated. It’s never too hot to touch, but it’s definitely noticeable.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 isn’t designed to hugely increase productivity, but it does have Samsung’s usual multitasking mode which, is easy to use. Just slide in the sidebar and drag the apps you want onto the main screen, where they stack vertically and allow you to use two at once. The Cover Screen gets its own Z Flip 3-specific Settings menu, where you can choose between different wallpapers and change the widgets that show when you slide across the screen.
Now we come to the Z Flip 3’s other major downside — the battery. It’s a 3,300mAh cell, and it just doesn’t have the strength to compete with its peers. Even staying at home with the phone connected to Wi-Fi won’t see the battery last much longer than a full day, especially if you play a few games or watch video. Go out into the world with a 4G or 5G connection, use the phone normally, take a few pictures, and you may struggle to reach the end of the night. I have been using the phone connected to a Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, but even on the days when I haven’t, the battery was still around 25% after a regular day.
If you consider yourself a heavy user, the Z Flip 3’s battery is going to be an issue. The phone supports 15-watt wired charging and 10W wireless charging, so there’s not a superfast, OnePlus-like fast-charging system to fall back on either. After years of not really needing to carry a battery pack or suffering battery anxiety on a day out, the Z Flip 3 sadly brings some of that back, and it’s at odds with its futuristic design.
Price and availability
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 costs $1,000 for the 128GB model and it comes in cream, phantom black, green, or lavender colors. If you order directly from Samsung’s online store, however, there are three additional exclusive colors: Gray, white, or pink. In the U.S., a 256GB Z Flip 3 costs $1,050. In the U.K., the 128GB Galaxy Z Flip 3 costs 949 British pounds, or 999 pounds for the 256GB model.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is the first folding smartphone with true mainstream appeal, mostly due to a price that keeps it competitive against other high-end non-folding models. It has all the performance needed today, a good camera, and a lovely minimalist design with the best party trick in mobile tech to top it all off. It hits the spot on durability, too, and while it’s not dustproof, the water resistance will really help overcome fears about it being too fragile for everyday use.
Durability is no longer a serious compromise then, but a new one has reared its head and that’s battery life. Two days of moderate use is really achievable across most smartphones today, and most are equipped with 4,000mAh-plus cells. The Z Flip 3’s battery life is almost from a different era. The Cover Screen isn’t as helpful as it could be either, but Samsung may address this in a future software update.
How should you think about the Galaxy Z Flip 3? Samsung has effectively taken a Galaxy S21+ and fitted it with a hinge, making it more portable and more convenient to carry around. If you’re looking at buying the S21+, or any other similar phone, you really should pay close attention to the Z Flip 3, too. Recommending a folding smartphone in this way, alongside its peers, cements the Z Flip 3’s place in the mainstream.
Is there a better alternative?
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 stands alone if you’re specifically looking for a phone that folds in half to become smaller. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 does something similar, but serves a different need. If you want a phone that gets bigger than a “normal” phone when it’s unfolded, then you should look in its direction.
Its competition comes from the usual suspects. For $1,000, you should be looking at the OnePlus 9 Pro, the Apple iPhone 12 Pro, or with the right deal, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. All provide not only exceptional performance and beautiful screens, but also better and more versatile cameras, plus much longer battery life. But they don’t fold away when you’re done with them.
How long will it last?
The Armor Aluminum increases durability by 20% over other aluminum, according to Samsung, and the IPX8 rating means the phone has been tested to a depth of 1.5 meters for 30 minutes. The X means the phone is not dust resistant, and as the water resistance is against freshwater and not seawater, the phone may not enjoy the beach much. Only time will tell how the screen and flexible glass respond to extended use, but Samsung has used a new material for the screen protector that’s more resistant to fingerprints and scratches.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3’s folding design makes it about as cutting-edge as phones get.
Samsung is offering a free year of Samsung Care+ with the Z Flip 3, which kicks in after the main one-year warranty and covers accidental damage from drops and provides a cracked screen repair for $249. It costs $13 per month after the first year, and can be canceled at any time. In terms of technology and software, it’s right up to date today, plus Samsung provides three years of Android software updates and four years of security updates.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3’s folding design makes it about as cutting-edge as phones get, and with the durability improvements and extended warranty, plus 5G and an eSIM option alongside the standard SIM, the phone will easily serve you for three years or more.
Should you buy it?
Yes. It’s the folding smartphone regular people can feel safe and confident about buying, happy in the knowledge that not only are they not really compromising by opting against buying a non-folding phone, but they’re also embracing the future of phone design today.