The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is seriously encouraging from various angles. That's not just because it's shaping up to be an improvement over last year's model or that it's cheaper. Just the fact that it exists in its third iteration is proof that Samsung has faith that foldable phones are set to become the next big thing in mobile technology. I'm very much hoping it's right.
As shown in my Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 hands-on preview, the company is trying to cut the retail prices of this emerging tech each time around. The compact Flip 3 dips under the $1000/£1,000 barrier, while the Galaxy Fold 3 will cost you less than last year's model at $1,799/£1,599.
Ok, that's still a huge amount of money, but we're going in the right direction. If you've got the budget to match your desire for an outrageously hot device, then the Galaxy Fold 3 might be the foldable phone/tablet hybrid you've been waiting for. That's because the tech inside the foldable display is starting to match the kind seen in the wider flagship mobile world, and that's very exciting if you don't want to compromise on performance or features.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: what's improved?
The displays on foldable phones just keep getting better, but Samsung is pushing the envelope this time by improving the cover screen on the Fold 3 to match the 120Hz smoothness seen on the phone's internal foldable display. You're also getting the same Dynamic AMOLED tech for improved HDR and less blue light, so when combined with the new Echo Square technology that makes both displays 29% brighter than before, everything has that extra pop to it. Providing you whack up the brightness settings, that is.
According to Won-Joon Choi, head of Flagship Product R&D Team, the durability of the flexible display has apparently been increased by around 80% compared to the previous foldables thanks to a redesigned layer structure and a new protective film on the screens. Improved scratch resistance and more durability on the folding element of the screen are big wins in my book.
Elsewhere, the Fold 3's design looks capable of taking some punishment. The metal frame of the phone, plus the hinge, is made from 10% stronger aluminium (a new material called Armor Aluminium), while Gorilla Victus Glass is now being used as well. This is 50% stronger than the old Gorillas Glass 6, so the Fold 3 is a little sturdier. Even so, don't drop it, like, ever. Glass is still glass.
It's covered even if your phone goes for a dip. For the first time in the Fold series, you're protected by IPX8 technology. That’s the highest water-resistant standard you’ll find on any foldable smartphone, and it was a major sticking point on forking out for previous foldables.
Meanwhile, the new Snapdragon 888 5G processor helps alleviate concerns about power. This will provide an extra boost for all the multitasking you're going to be throwing at the Fold 3, and I was able to nip between apps with ease. There's wasn't much opportunity to do some gaming during my session (too early to call it for a spot on our best gaming phones guide), but we'll be sure to put it through its paces when we get one in for review. The Fold 2 was very capable though, so I'm confident it'll do well.
In terms of other improvements, the Galaxy Fold 3's dimensions are largely the same as the Fold 2, but it's slightly thinner in profile with less of a sloping bulk to it in the body behind the center of the screen. Similarly, I was excited to see that the selfie camera now lies under the display itself. You can see a very small mesh-like circle that's hiding the lens, but it's barely noticeable after a very short time.
Audio hasn't been ignored either, as the upgraded speakers really make that Dolby Atmos add depth to tunes on Spotify and provide a more involving soundscape for movie content.
Finally, the Galaxy Fold 3 now includes S Pen support, which might be an even bigger bonus for you given the Note series is taking a break this year. The S-Pen Fold Edition is a separate purchase though. If you opt for the official Samsung cover, there's a space to slot this version of the S-Pen into as well. Sure, it adds some extra bulk to the overall footprint, but given the folded phone is quite narrow anyway, the case with S-Pen at the side takes the overall width to something akin to that of the Note 20 Ultra - not bad at all and still quite pocket friendly, even with the added thickness of the folded screen. Not that you're going to fit anything else in that pocket, of course.
A multitasking beast
Splitting apps is something we've been able to do on other Samsung phones for a while, but it's often quite awkward and the usefulness can go out the window as soon as you needed to bring up the keyboard too. There are no such problems with the Fold series though, and it's even better this time around.
A new Labs feature lets you tailor the size of the app window more than before to best allow you to use them simultaneously with other apps, and you can really adapt your setup depending on the app - not to mention set behaviors in advance. There's also a new taskbar at the side of the screen that aims to cut down the number of touches required when swapping between some of your most-used apps.
Plus, you can now have two instances of the same app open at once. I'm not sure at this time if this is supported by all apps, but it'll certainly be handy for working apps like Google Docs or Microsoft Excel.
The UI has been designed to suit the extended dimensions of the internal display too. I loved using the on-screen keyboard that was split in two to make it easier to just use my thumbs on either side of the screen to type. However, it's easy to switch to a regular keyboard layout if you prefer.
The triple camera setup on the back features three healthy 12MP lenses, while the front camera weighs in with 10MP. When taking pictures of friends with the rear camera and using the internal display to frame your shot, the front display will actually show them the same image, which is great to make sure everyone's happy and know if they're in the shot or not or how they look. A godsend if they're usually asking to retake the shot for various reasons.
If you do want to tinker, diving into the camera's pro mode settings is a breeze when using the phone folded into a L-shape and putting it on a flat surface horizontally. The top half is your viewfinder, then the bottom part of the display can be used to navigate and tweak settings. It's just so much easier than trying to do it with a regular smartphone, especially something larger like a Note 20 Ultra.
This same L-shape position is excellent for watching TV/movie content too as even half of the screen size is large enough. The folded design will be ideal for watching content in bed without having to hold the phone or prop it up against something.
Can you justify buying one?
There's no getting around the fact that this is still an extremely expensive device. So you'll really need to consider how much of a benefit it will be to your life having a phone that expands into a tablet-esque screen. One thing's clear straight away though, the Fold 3 is shaking off the feeling of it being a cool novelty concept product with a few rough edges that isn't quite ready for anyone but the keenest early adopter of the coolest tech the world can offer. Even though I only had a few hours with it, this feels like the polished final product I wanted the first two Folds to be.
If you're regularly on the move and are tired of traveling with a smartphone and a tablet, especially if you're paying extra for a data SIM on that tablet to stay online, then the Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 could be a smart investment especially as a productivity tool that doubles up as a device with a decent camera and entertainment features. In addition, the displays have improved and the IPX8 rating adds some assurance against a slight drizzle or leaky drink in your bag, while the enhanced durability of the display means it should keep you going for a good few years.
Stay tuned for our full verdict at a later date.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 launches August 27 for $1799/£1599 for the 256GB model or $1899/£1699 for the 512GB one in Phantom Black, Phantom Silver, and Phantom Green. Samsung is taking pre-orders right now. Be sure to check out our Samsung Galaxy Watch 4 hands-on preview too.