Galaxy Z Flip 3: Why it's so fun to take photos with Samsung's new foldable

Samsung didn't upgrade the cameras, but the Galaxy Z Flip 3 offers a unique and wonderful experience for snapping a picture or recording a video.

Patrick Holland Managing Editor
Patrick Holland has been a phone reviewer for CNET since 2016. He is a former theater director who occasionally makes short films. Patrick has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing, fast-paced world of phones, especially the iPhone and iOS. He used to co-host CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast and interviewed guests like Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard, Stephen Merchant, Sam Jay, Edgar Wright and Roy Wood Jr.
Expertise Apple, iPhone, iOS, Android, Samsung, Sony, Google, Motorola, interviews, coffee equipment, cats Credentials
  • Patrick's play The Cowboy is included in the Best American Short Plays 2011-12 anthology. He co-wrote and starred in the short film Baden Krunk that won the Best Wisconsin Short Film award at the Milwaukee Short Film Festival.
Patrick Holland
8 min read
Samsung Z Flip 3 and Samsung Z Fold 3

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has the same camera hardware as the Z Flip 5G. But its design makes it versatile for capturing photos and videos.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung dropped the price of its compact foldable phone line by bringing the Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G to $1,000 (£949, AU$1,499), which is $450 less than the price of last year's Galaxy Z Flip 5G. That puts the new Flip at the same price as the Galaxy S21 Plus and the iPhone 12 Pro. Arguably, both have better camera systems than the Z Flip 3. Before foldables were even a thing, a phone that had a $1,000 price tag likely meant it had the best cameras a phone-maker could offer.

Watch this: Galaxy Z Flip 3 review: A prime-time foldable

Today, you need to pay a little more to get the best cameras from Apple and Samsung. The Galaxy S21 Ultra costs $1,200 and the iPhone 12 Pro Max costs $1,099. The Galaxy Z Flip 3 doesn't have Samsung's best cameras. These are cameras you'd find on a $700 phone, which for most people will be more than fine. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The reason the Z Flip 3 costs a grand is because it folds in half.

I mention all of this because the Galaxy Z Flip 3 is one of the most fun phones to take photos and shoot video with, even without having the best possible phone camera. Its shape and size mean you can put it just about anywhere to get a unique shot. I put it on the dashboard of my rental car which yielded the dramatic videos below.

Technically you could put most phones on a dashboard, but you'd need some kind of stand or special case to prop them up. The Z Flip 3 is its own tripod. I found myself wanting to take more photos and videos just because of its flexibility.

As I enter my sixth day testing the phone, I'm beginning to appreciate the unique things the Z Flip 3 can do. I am working toward a final in-depth review, but for now, here's my ongoing diary of life with the Galaxy Z Flip 3.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 has the same cameras as the Z Flip 5G

For the most part, the camera hardware on the Galaxy Z Flip remains the same as it was on the Galaxy Z Flip 5G. The cover has wide and ultrawide cameras, while a hole-punch selfie camera is on the main display. The Z Flip 3 doesn't get the under-display camera found on the new Galaxy Z Fold 3.

Samsung imported new camera modes from the Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra like Director's View, which gives you a live preview from all three cameras, and Single Take, which captures a series of photos and videos of your subject as determined by AI. I'd argue that both suit the new Z Flip 5G even better than the S21 series.

As far as image quality, in bright lighting photos look good. The ultrawide-angle camera is addictive to use. In medium and lowlight conditions, like in a dimly lit living room, photos look rough. The phone uses a long shutter speed to compensate for less light, which if your subject is a person and moves even a little can make them look soft.

Night mode is impressive. I'd say the results fall firmly in between what I'd get with the Galaxy S21 and the cheaper Galaxy A52 5G. In total, the Flip's cameras and foldable shape pose a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, you can take photos and videos pretty much anywhere by using the bottom half as a base and folding the top half to various angles. On the other hand, you don't get the absolute best image quality or things like Samsung's wonderful telephoto cameras found on the S21 and S21 Ultra.

Videos are OK. Except in the most ideal situations, videos suffer from moire, also known as the "screen door effect," and have noticeable image noise. Luckily, in lower light, it appears almost like film grain.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a tiny phone with a tiny battery

One feature that wasn't upgraded was the Z Flip 3's dual 3,300-mAh batteries. I'm still in the "new phone (waiting for the batteries to get optimized), who's this?" period with the Z Flip 3. But on medium-to-heavy use days, like using the screen set to the 120Hz adaptive refresh rate and the brightness at 80%, I make it about 11 hours. And that is with the battery fully charged. I'm averaging three hours of screen-on time. On a day of only being connected to 5G, the screen-on time was 3 hours, 34 minutes.

In comparison to other phones, this isn't great. But it's one of the tradeoffs with owning a small phone. Fortunately the Z Flip 3 supports 15-watt fast-charging as well as wireless and reverse wireless charging.

After a little hard work, the Z Flip 3 gets warm to the touch. I recorded a video, uploaded it to Instagram over 5G and then listened to a playlist on Spotify over 5G and the phone was warm. I've been testing the Z Flip 3 in Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina. The weather is hot and humid, which I'm sure doesn't help. Fortunately the Z Flip 3 never got hot, but I'm sure its petite shape means it'll be a hand-warmer more times than not.

Samsung's case for the Z Flip 3 is sporty and bold

I am not a "case guy." Aside from a phone case that had a painting of Bill Murray on it for my iPhone 4, I've never owned one. Samsung sent me one of its cases for the Z Flip 3. It's two silicone pieces held together with a canvas strap. The pieces fit around the top and bottom halves of the phone and the strap hold things taught. I am pleasantly surprised how much I like how this type of case works. When the phone is in the open position, the strap is slack and you can loop a couple of fingers through it for a secure grip. Also the end of the strap has a metal D-ring, which you could hook to a clip on a bag.

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 feels more uniform, like a regular phone

When Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip 3 alongside the new Galaxy Z Fold 3, I was most eager to try out the new Flip. The original 2020 Z Flip is my go-to Android phone between reviews. And as much as I enjoy the first edition of Samsung's clamshell folding phone, there are a number of things that annoy me. Samsung says it improved and addressed many of the shortcomings the original Flip had -- and if that's the case, I'm happy. 

By lowering the price, offering the new Flip in seven colors and selling brightly colored cases that make it look like a toy, Samsung has set up the Galaxy Z Flip 3 to be the first foldable phone many people will consider buying. I can almost hear Samsung in its best Frank Costanza Festivus voice declaring, "A foldable for the rest of us." Granted, that doesn't quite rhyme as well as it did on Seinfeld.

In order for it to be widely adopted, though, Samsung needs to deliver on those Z Flip 3 improvements. People need to see that they can use it and depend on it just like their current phone -- meaning the Z Flip 3 can't make people compromise on their daily phone routines. More details about the foldable phone include:

Samsung made a number of improvements to the body, hinge and screen of the Galaxy Z Flip 3. The body and hinge are made of a harder and more durable material Samsung calls Armor Aluminum, so it's less likely to be damaged or scratched. It's reinforced with other metals, similar to using rebar to strengthen concrete for construction. I can really feel the extra strength that Armor Aluminum adds to the phone. It makes the entire device feel like a single piece -- whereas with the original Flip, or even the Motorola Razr folding phone, I was aware of the separate parts that made up the device. That feeling is absent with the Z Flip 3: It feels like a regular phone that just happens to fold in half.

The Z Flip 3 is roughly the same size and weight as the Z Flip 5G, but it feels different when I hold it. It feels wonderful in my hand. I am confident that I can treat it just like any other phone I test and review. On the whole, the small changes Samsung implemented make the Z Flip 3 feel much less like an experiment or prototype.

The Z Flip 3 has an eye-catching design and comes in 7 colors

See all photos

The screen still has a soft crease across the middle, and I largely don't care about it: It's not distracting and it doesn't prevent me from using the phone in any way. I notice it when I interact with the middle of the screen, but not because it feels weak or like a flaw. I have friends and colleagues who suggest that until there isn't a crease, no one will ever buy it. My personal iPhone 12 Mini has a large black notch that eats into the display; I am far more bothered by that than the Z Flip 3's crease.

The Z Flip 3's screen has a new protective film, which also feels smoother than the previous Flip series phones. It's still not like using a phone with a glass screen, but it feels similar to a phone that has a glass screen with a plastic screen protector on it.

The display has a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, which is lovely so far.

Watch this: Galaxy Z Flip 3: Samsung's smallest foldable phone now costs $1,000

The Z Flip 3 has a much larger cover display

Perhaps the most unusual feature on the original Flip was its tiny, pill-shaped cover screen. There was a nice minimalistic quality about it, and it was fine if all you wanted to see was the time or the battery life percentage. But it was absolutely worthless otherwise. For one, it could only display the first part of messages. So if a friend messaged you, the cover display would show, "Help! You need to come over right away..." which is much different to "Help! You need to come over right away, there's pizza in the break room."


On the left is the original Galaxy Flip. And on the right is the new Galaxy Z Flip 3.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Luckily, the Z Flip 3 has a cover screen that's four times bigger than the original and can display up to four lines of text at a time. You can scroll through notifications. Samsung even added cover screen widgets for the weather, alarms, a timer, music controls, your daily step count and your schedule.

It's such an improvement. The Z Flip 3's cover screen is closer to the Quick View display on the Motorola Razr, but it's still limited. For example, I can view entire notifications but I still need to open the Z Flip 3 to interact or reply. On the Razr, I can take care of that without opening the phone.

When you double-tap the cover screen, animated animals greet you. It's an unexpected and silly delight. Technically, they're on the phone to match similar animals that are on the new Galaxy Watch 4. The animals do nothing but jump up and down. This makes me happy.

I'm still within my first week of testing the Galaxy Z Flip 3, and my full impressions will be coming in a future review.