Samsung's Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 sales dwarf previous foldable demand

The company has sold more foldables in the past month than in the previous two years -- but it didn't provide actual sales figures, making it hard to gauge the actual demand.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
3 min read

Samsung's Z Flip 3 (left) and Z Fold 3 include improvements like water resistance.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Samsung's new Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 are more popular than their predecessors -- but the South Korean electronics giant isn't giving specific sales data.

The company on Monday said demand for its newest devices "continues to exceed expectations." In the first month, Samsung sold more foldables in the US than in the prior two years, it said in a newsroom post shared ahead of the announcement. US consumers bought five times more Galaxy Z Fold 3 units than last year's Z Fold 2, while they scooped up 40 times more Z Flip 3 units than the earlier Z Flip 5G

Samsung declined to provide actual figures, which means it's difficult to gauge just how high the actual sales are. In August, it said that "preorder volume" for the new devices was already "outpacing total sales for Galaxy Z devices to date in 2021" -- without giving any specific figures.

Samsung likely sold about 1.02 million foldables in 2019 and 2020 combined in the US, Strategy Analytics said. 

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

The global numbers aren't much higher. The research firm estimates that consumers bought only 730,000 foldables across the world in 2019, with about 82% of them coming from Samsung. The following year, vendors sold 2.2 million foldables, with 2 million of them made by Samsung, Strategy Analytics said. In the first half of 2021, Samsung likely sold about 2.3 million foldables around the globe, Strategy Analytics estimated. That brings Samsung's total global sales before its latest models to roughly 4.9 million. In August, it estimated that Samsung would sell 5.2 million foldables this year.

Samsung introduced its $1,000 Galaxy Z Flip 3 and $1,800 Galaxy Z Fold 3 in August during a virtual Unpacked event. In virtually every way, Samsung sought to address the problems found in its earlier foldables, ranging from worries about the screens being too delicate to criticism that only tech ultra-fans could afford their steep prices. 

The company on Monday published a new video showing how it tests its foldables, including putting them in an environmental chamber, looking at water resistant and S Pen usability, and folding them enough times to be sure they'll outlast 200,000 fold -- or around five years of use if folded and unfolded 100 times a day. Tests for the Z Flip 3 and Z Fold 3 "reflect actual user patterns in real-world scenarios such as folding and unfolding using both hands," Samsung said. 

While the improved durability has likely made consumers more willing to try foldables, the lower prices have probably been another major factor in making them more attractive to would-be buyers. By starting this year's foldables lineup at $1,000 -- nearly $400 less than last year's original Z Flip and the same price as Apple's iPhone 13 Pro -- Samsung's aiming to make its foldables mainstream

That's particularly true of the Z Flip 3, which CNET's Patrick Holland called a "scene-stealer" and said "might be the first foldable phone aimed at a mass audience that has a chance of living up to such hype." The device features a compact clamshell design that shields the inner display, while the Z Fold 3 expands outward from a phone into a tablet and comes with S Pen support for the first time.

Samsung has been trying to make foldables popular for years. The company has incorporated the screens in its highest-end products since 2019, but early models didn't attract many buyers. Early flaws in the initial Galaxy Fold's display raised doubts that foldables were strong enough to withstand daily use, let alone a rainstorm or a fall from a nightstand. And prices, which reached as high as $2,000 for last year's Z Fold 2, were aimed more at one-percenters than at typical smartphone buyers. The durability and pricing questions prevented most consumers from buying foldables, particularly in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.