Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 review: The first foldable you may actually want to buy
With a lower price, 120Hz refresh-rate screen, an "aluminum armor" body and an improved cover screen, Samsung's new smartphone could be the most "normal" foldable available.
Patrick HollandManaging 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.
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.
When Samsung announced the Galaxy Z Flip 3, I was eager to try it out. You can fold it in half. Flip it open with your wrist one-handed. Use the outside screen when it's closed and place it just about anywhere you want to record videos and take photos. With its lower price, seven colors and the assortment of bold cases that make it look like a toy, the Galaxy Z Flip 3 could be the first foldable phone you'll consider buying. But if Samsung wants the phone to be widely adopted, it needs to deliver on its promised improvements and convince people that they can depend on the Z Flip 3 without compromising their daily phone routine.
The Z Flip 3 starts at $1,000 (£949, AU$1,499) for 128GB and 8GB RAM. Scroll down to the chart below for a full breakdown of prices and specs.
Based on my time with the phone, I believe Samsung mostly got it right. The body, hinge and screen are made with materials that make them stronger and more durable, and the phone is rated for water resistance. A larger cover screen, a better main screen and improved software put the Z Flip 3 on par with most other $1,000 phones. None of this means the Z Flip 3 is without its own quirks or problems. Its battery life is short, there isn't any dust resistance and its long-term durability is unknown.
The screen still has a soft crease across the middle, and it didn't bother me. It's not distracting. It doesn't stop me from using the phone in any way. When I interact with the middle of the screen I notice it. but not because it feels weak or like a flaw. I have friends and colleagues who suggest that as long as there's a crease, no one will ever buy a folding phone. Let me put it this way: The iPhone has a large black notch that eats into the display. That bothers me more than the crease on the Z Flip 3.
The Z Flip 3 is Samsung's most "ready for prime time" foldable yet. It seems ready to sit in more people's hands, pockets and bags. The Z Flip 3 is far from perfect, but it's a solid phone if you can cope with some of the trade-offs. If you're ready to embrace its "different" vibe, it's absolutely fun to use.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is available for preorder and will launch on Friday Aug. 27. To tempt you more, Samsung and carriers are offering a number of trade-in deals that lower the Z Flip 3's price.
Galaxy Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 US prices
Galaxy Z Flip 3
Galaxy Z Flip 3
Galaxy Z Fold 3
Galaxy Z Fold 3
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 feels more uniform, like a regular phone
The body and hinge are made of a material Samsung calls Armor Aluminum, which is reinforced with other metals and is similar to using rebar to strengthen concrete for construction. That extra tensile strength makes it feel more like a single piece. When I used the original Flip, or even the Motorola Razr, I was always aware of the hinge, the screen and the separate parts that made up those phones. With the Z Flip 3, that feeling is gone. It feels like a regular phone that just happens to fold in half.
The screen has a new protective film that feels smooth. It's still not like using a phone with a glass screen, but it feels similar to a glass screen with a plastic protector on it, which technically it is. The screen still collects more fingerprints than a detective on Law & Order: SVU, however, so I find myself wiping it frequently.
The Z Flip 3 has an eye-catching design and comes in 7 colors
Under those smudges, the screen supports a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, which is lovely. Indoors the screen looks fantastic. Outdoors on a bright sunny day, the screen is easy to see and is brighter than the original Z Flip and Z Flip 5G. Overall the main screen is right on par with other phones at this price.
The Z Flip 3's cover screen is a step in the right direction
The new cover screen is four times bigger than the tiny pill-shaped one on the original Flip. A single tap of the screen reveals the time. A double-tap brings up an animated animal to greet you. It's an unexpected and silly delight. The animals do nothing but jump up and down, but they make me happy.
Swipe to the left to reveal your notifications. It can display up to four lines of text at a time, and you can scroll through notifications. Swipe up to change the cover screen brightness or volume. Swipe down to use Samsung Pay. Swipe right to use cover screen widgets for the weather, alarms, a timer, music controls, your daily step count and your schedule. It's such an improvement. I'm curious to see if Samsung will add other widgets, especially from popular apps, in the future.
The new cover screen is a couple of steps closer to the excellent Quick View display on the Motorola Razr 5G. But it's still limited. For example, I can view an entire notification but I need to open the Z Flip 3 to respond to it. You can use Bixby Voice to reply to text messages if you don't mind dealing with Bixby.
Overall this is a step in the right direction, but I wish there were basic reply prompts for texts.
The Z Flip 3 captures good photos and videos
Samsung didn't upgrade the camera hardware. It has wide and ultrawide cameras on the cover and a selfie camera housed inside a hole-punch in the main display. These are the equivalent of the cameras you'd find on a $700 phone, which for most people will be more than fine. The Z Flip 3 costs a grand because it folds in half, not because of its cameras. But that unique build makes taking a photo or recording a video a unique and wonderful experience.
The foldable shape and size mean you can put the Z Flip 3 just about anywhere to get a truly one-of-a-kind shot. I put it on the dashboard of my rental car, behind a tiny statue of a mouse on the sidewalk and next to a dog's water dish to capture a time lapse. The Z Flip 3 is essentially its own tripod. I found myself wanting to take more photos and videos just because of its flexibility.
As far as image quality, its photos look good in bright lighting. In medium and low-light conditions, such as a dimly lit living room, photos look rough. The phone uses a long shutter speed to compensate for less light, so your subject can look soft because of motion blur if they're moving even just a little.
Samsung peppers in new camera modes from the Galaxy S21 and S21 Ultra such as 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. You can use the cover screen to display a preview from the cameras on the outer case. This is great for filming yourself or offering your friends a chance to see what you're capturing. Interestingly, if you do this when the phone is closed, photos have a more square aspect ratio, but if the phone is open, you see the full image.
Night mode is impressive for this camera setup. I'd say the results fall firmly between the Galaxy S21 and the Galaxy A52 5G. Videos are okay, but suffer from moire, also known as the "screen door effect," and there is noticeable image noise except in the most ideal situations. If you drop down in resolution from 4K to 1080p you can take advantage of Samsung's Super Steady Shot, which works like a charm.
Take a look at some videos I shot with the Z Flip 3 below.
The tiny Z Flip 3 has a tiny battery life
One feature that wasn't upgraded was the Z Flip 3's dual 3,300-mAh batteries. On medium-to-heavy use days, with the screen at the 120Hz adaptive refresh rate and the brightness at 80%, I make it about 11 hours. And that's starting with the battery fully charged. During my 10 days with the Z Flip 3, I averaged 3 hours of screen-on time a day. There was one day where I was only connected to 5G and the screen-on time was 3 hours, 34 minutes.
In comparison to other phones, this isn't great. But it's one of the trade-offs with owning a small phone. The Z Flip 3 supports 15-watt fast-charging as well as wireless and reverse-wireless charging. You need to have your own 15-watt charger or wireless charging pad, because the phone doesn't come with one. Also, 15-watt charging isn't that fast.
There were several times where the Z Flip 3 got noticeably warm. For example, I recorded a video, uploaded it to Instagram over 5G and then listened to a playlist on Spotify over and the phone was warm. Fortunately it never got hot, but I'm sure its petite size means it'll sometimes act as a hand-warmer.
The Z Flip 3 get Samsung flagship phone specs
The Z Flip 3 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip and 8GB of RAM. It runs Android 11 and Samsung's OneUI 3. In use, it was peppy and fast. Its benchmark scores were on par with the Galaxy S21. See the Z Flip 3's benchmark test scores below.
You can use the Z Flip 3 like a regular phone, but if you dive into settings, you can customize which apps take advantage of Flex Mode, which is when the phone is left half-open like a laptop. The good news is there are more apps that take advantage of this than on the previous Flips. For example, if I open Spotify, the main window for the app is on the top half and the playback controls on the bottom.
Some apps only move the app window to the top without adding any additional functionality to the bottom half. And other apps, even Samsung's own Gallery app haven't been fully optimized. When I edit photos in the Gallery app, it moves the photo to the middle of the screen which is just annoying. All of this takes a little getting used to.
I'd still like to see more apps take advantage of Flex Mode. Can you imagine a game where you play it in Flex Mode with the controls on the bottom and the game on the top?
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G specs vs. Motorola Razr 5G, Galaxy Z Flip 5G, Galaxy S21