CDC director endorses Pfizer booster for frontline workers iPhone 13 is on sale: Best deals China: All cryptocurrency transactions illegal Elon Musk and Grimes 'semi-separated' PS5 restock tracker Google Doodle honors Christopher Reeve
CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

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.

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.

8.1

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G

Like

  • Folds in half
  • Water-resistant
  • Attractive design
  • Bigger cover screen
  • Great main display
  • Lower price

Don't Like

  • Short battery life
  • Cover screen still could do more
  • Long-term durability unknown
  • No dust-resistance rating

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

Phone Storage RAM US price
Galaxy Z Flip 3 128GB 8GB $1,000
Galaxy Z Flip 3 256GB 8GB $1,050
Galaxy Z Fold 3 256GB 12GB $1,800
Galaxy Z Fold 3 512GB 12GB $1,900
Samsung Z Flip 3

The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is Samsung's best foldable phone yet.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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.

Samsung Z Flip 3

On the left is the original Z Flip with its tiny cover screen. On the right, is the Z Flip 3 which has a cover screen that is four times larger.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Galaxy Z Flip 3 photos

In good lighting, the Z Flip 3 yields good photos. It doesn't hurt to have a wonderful view.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Galaxy Z Flip 3 photos

It can capture a good amount of detail and has a decent dynamic range.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Galaxy Z Flip 3 photos

Skin tones look good without too much smoothing.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Galaxy Z Flip 3 photos

The ultrawide camera gives you a dramatic perspective but has less dynamic range and makes things look a bit contrasty.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Galaxy Z Flip 3 photos

In lower-light situations, like under an outdoor dining area in the early evening, you can see the Z Flip 3 struggle.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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.

Galaxy Z Flip 3 photos

Night mode on the Galaxy Z Flip 3 delivers some decent results.

Patrick Holland/CNET
Galaxy Z Flip 3 photos

Night mode photos look soft compared to those from the Galaxy S21.

Patrick Holland/CNET

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.

3DMARK SLINGSHOT UNLIMITED

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G
9,250
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
7,957
Motorola Razr 5G
4,378
Samsung Galaxy S21
10,070

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

GEEKBENCH V.5.0 SINGLE-CORE

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G
1,089
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
722
Motorola Razr 5G
587
Samsung Galaxy S21
1,084

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

GEEKBENCH V.5.0 MULTICORE

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 5G
3,427
Samsung Galaxy Z Flip
2,512
Motorola Razr 5G
1,755
Samsung Galaxy S21
3,282

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

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


Galaxy Z Flip 3 Motorola Razr (2020) Galaxy Z Flip Galaxy S21
Display size, resolution Internal: 6.7-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED; 2,640x1,080 pixels. External: 1.9-inch AMOLED; 512x260 pixels Internal: 6.2-inch, foldable pOLED; 2,142x876 pixels (21:9). External: 2.7-inch glass OLED, 800x600 pixels (4:3) Internal: 6.7-inch FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED; 2,636x1,080 pixels. External: 1.1-inch Super AMOLED; 300x112 pixels 6.2-inch Flat FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2x, 2,400x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 425ppi (internal) / 303ppi (external) 373ppi (internal) 425ppi (internal) / 303ppi (external) 421 ppi
Dimensions (Inches) Folded: 2.84x3.40x6.74 in. Hinge: ~0.66 in (sagging). Unfolded: 2.84x6.54x0.27 in Folded: 2.86x3.61x0.63 in. Unfolded: 2.86x6.66x0.31 in Folded: 2.99x3.44x0.61 ~ 0.68 in. Unfolded: 2.99x6.59x0.27 ~0.28 in 2.80x5.97x0.31 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) Folded: 72x86x17.1mm. Hinge: ~15.9mm (sagging). Unfolded: 72x166x6.9mm Folded: 73x92x16mm. Unfolded: 73x169x7.9mm Folded: 87x74x15.4-17.3mm. Unfolded: 167x74x6.9-7.2mm 71.2x151.7x7.9mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.46 oz; 183g 6.77 oz; 192g 6.46 oz; 183g 6.03 oz; 171g
Mobile software Android 11 Android 10 Android 10 Android 11
Camera 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 48-megapixel (exterior) 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide) 64-megapixel (telephoto), 12-megapixel (wide), 12-megapixel (ultrawide)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 20-megapixel (interior) 10-megapixel 10-megapixel
Video capture 4K (HDR 10+) 4K 4K (HDR 10+) 8K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ Snapdragon 888 64-bit octa-core processor 2.8GHz (max 2.4GHz+1.8GHz)
Storage 128GB/256GB 256GB 256GB 128GB/256GB
RAM 8GB 8GB 8GB 8GB
Expandable storage No No None None
Battery 3,300 mAh 2,800 mAh 3,300 mAh 4,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor Side Back Side In-screen
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No No No
Special features 5G enabled, foldable display, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, 15W fast charging 5G enabled, foldable display, time of flight sensor 5G enabled, Foldable display; wireless PowerShare; wireless charging; fast charging IP68 rating, 5G-enabled, 30x Space Zoom, 10W wireless charging, 120Hz display
Price off-contract (USD) $1,000 (128GB), $1,050 (256GB) $1,400 $1,450 $800 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £949 (128GB), £999 (256GB) £1,400 £1,229 £769
Price (AUD) AU$2,499 (128GB), AU$2,649 converts to AU$1,920 Converts to AU$2,070 AU$1,249