Samsung Z Fold3: Impressive new version of the folding phone

Improved camera, water resistance and durability . . . and a heavy price tag

The new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 looks and acts like a smartphone while closed, and opens into a tablet-style display. Photograph: Martyn Landi/PA

Product name: Samsung Z Fold3

Price: €1899.0

Where to buy: Samsung.com

Website: Samsung.com

Thu, Aug 19, 2021, 05:17

   

Samsung is steaming ahead with folding devices. Like the Note before it, the company seems confident it can make the new flip-and-fold devices a must-have for consumers, carving out a new category in a saturated mobile market.

After a few days with the Z Fold3, I can see the appeal. This is an early review of the device, but so far, the verdict is it is impressive.

There are a lot of similarities between the second iteration of the Fold and this new one. It has similar size displays, at 6.2 inches for the cover display, which means the device looks – and acts – like a smartphone while closed, allowing you to access your apps and camera, and 7.6 inches for the inner, tablet-style display.

But the differences are, obviously, what makes the Fold3 a much more appealing prospect.

The most obvious of the changes is to the inner display’s front-facing camera. First there was the notch, which divided people into camps; then there was the punch hole. Both of them amounted to the same thing: an interruption in the display that Samsung was pitching as an “infinity display”.

The Fold3 changes that, being the first of Samsung’s devices to offer an under-display camera. While other phone-makers such as ZTE have been testing the water with this technology, it’s the first time Samsung has gone for it. It’s not an invisible camera – the cut out can be seen while the screen is off, and it’s not as pixel dense when the display is active – but it fades into the background when needed. When apps use the whole display, that is where the change really comes into its own. It is much more subtle than the punch hole, and it also means you aren’t giving up pixels or sacrificing the camera. It’s a first step; it will be interesting to see what happens with Samsung’s flagship smartphones in the coming months.

Speaking of cameras, that under-display camera is only four megapixels, although it is one of three separate units on the Fold. The cover camera is 10 megapixels, while the rear-facing camera offers a choice of three 12 megapixel cameras: ultra-wide, wide-angle and telephoto with a 2x zoom. It still won’t rival the Note in terms of numbers, but the photos themselves look good.

S Pen support

The Fold3 supports the S Pen, the first of Samsung’s folding devices to do so. It’s a welcome addition, as the Fold was crying out for something like the S Pen to allow you to take notes and so on. It’s not necessarily included in the box though; the review device did not include either version of the S Pen that is compatible with the device, and you can’t just repurpose an old S Pen into service as there is a risk of damaging the screen.

Another major difference is that the Fold3 is now IPX8 rated, offering it more protection against water damage. The previous versions of the Fold seemed much more fragile due to the lack of water resistance, and while most of us won’t be regularly dunking our phones in water, accidents happen. The last thing you want to be doing with your expensive new device is putting it in a bag of rice to try to rescue it from water damage. Be warned though; it’s only for fresh water, so avoid the pool or salt water.

And it is still expensive, although the second change comes with the price tag. Where the Fold2 was more than €2,000, the Fold3 has dropped the price to a slightly more palatable (although not exactly discount) €1,899.

The cover screen has also improved. While the size hasn’t changed, the quality has, with the new version offering 120Hz refresh rate versus the 60Hz of the previous version. It makes for a smoother experience when scrolling, although you can’t enable it permanently, with the phone automatically adjusting it for you, and enabling the 120Hz option will impact on battery life.

The Fold3 is great for multitasking. You can open up to three app windows at once and drag content between them. Plus with flex mode, supported apps such as your camera and YouTube automatically rearrange themselves to a better layout. The new Microsoft integration should also make life easier for people, with Office, Microsoft Teams and Outlook designed to work with the folding screens.

The good

Aside from the water resistance, the new Fold is also made of tougher stuff. The case is “armour aluminium” and the screen has been toughened up with Gorilla Glass Victus. If you were worried about dropping the Fold, the improvements to durability should allay some of those fears.

Multitasking is a breeze, although many of the benefits, such as taking notes on calls, require the S Pen. The Microsoft integration is also welcome.

Lastly, the under-camera display is a first step in eliminating the screen interruptions – always a welcome move.

The not so good

Depending on what deal you get, you may need to invest in the S Pen, which is an additional expense. Previous versions of the S Pen aren’t officially sanctioned for use with the Fold. That will wipe out some of the cost savings the price-drop gave us. There’s also no place to store the S Pen, unless you invest in a case.

The rest

The new Fold comes in green, black and silver, and the choice of 256GB and 512GB in capacity.

Verdict

Pricey, but good. Samsung has addressed some of the issues with folding phones, nudging them out of novelty territory.