The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is a big jump for foldable phones. While it’s not as futuristic as the Z Fold 3, it’s more usable and more affordable. The improvements to durability are welcome, as are the multiple screen upgrades.
- Folds up into a neat package
- Smooth 120Hz inner display
- Water resistant
- Much cheaper (but still not cheap)
- The outer display is better but still fairly limited
- Mid-range cameras
- Average battery life
- UKRRP: £949
- USARRP: $999
- EuropeRRP: €1049
- AustraliaRRP: AU$1499
- DisplayFar larger outer screen is much more useful
- High-end specsSnapdragon 888, 8GB RAM and 128GB storage
- CamerasTwo rear 12MP snapper along with a 10MP selfie camera inside
With the Galaxy Z Flip 3, Samsung has finally made a foldable clamshell phone that can be taken seriously.
It has taken a couple of attempts, but Samsung’s latest line of foldable phones finally have a clear reason to exist. While the Z Fold 3 might get the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ due to its futuristic look, the retro charm of the Z Flip 3 surely gives it the tag as the most unique phone of 2021.
It’s also the most fun I’ve had reviewing a phone all year. While I don’t think it quite takes foldables into the mainstream (that could happen in 2022), it’s certainly the easiest device like this to recommend to the mainstream audience.
Design and Screen
- The improved outer display is useful now
- Stronger aluminium body
- It’s now IPX8 rated for water resistance
Samsung hasn’t made any particularly sweeping changes for the third iteration of its modern clamshell phone, instead tweaking and tuning lots of smaller bits. This bevvy of changes makes for a far better phone.
The hefty price drop is also important. The sub £1000/$1000 price point is still, of course, very expensive. However, it’s not too dissimilar to phones such as the iPhone 12 Pro or Galaxy S21 Plus. This takes the Flip 3 out of the luxury market and makes it far more accessible to those who would typically spend big on an iPhone.
Since Samsung’s first Fold device was heavily delayed after durability issues, the strength and long-term viability of these devices had been called into question. I’ve been using the Z Flip 3 solidly as my main phone for over a week now, which is enough to give a general overview but not enough time to see if it can survive over a long 24-month contract.
To try and up the Z Flip 3’s durability, Samsung has changed a number of things. There’s a stronger coating over the ultra-thin glass display; Gorilla Glass Victus on the outside and tougher ‘Armor’ aluminium around the sides. It does feel more rigid than before and while it’s still delicate (you get a pretty hefty warning when you first boot it up), I’d have hope it’ll last.
The stronger covering layer – basically a fancy screen protector you won’t want to take off – is a big deal in a number of ways. It’s not as smudgy as before and far less prone to picking up dings. After a week of use, the screen is still perfectly clear.
Arguably the biggest durability improvement is the IPX8 rating. That ‘X’ portion means it’s not resistant to dust, but the ‘8’ means it’s finally water resistant – the first foldable to pack this feature.
I’ve been completely taken with the look and feel of the Z Flip 3. The clamshell design makes it immensely pocketable and oozes nostalgia. Snapping it shut to end a call remains consistently satisfying, while having such a small closed device has made me use the phone less – which is very much a good thing.
While the previous Z Flip had a virtually useless outer display, the Z Flip 3 has a 1.9-inch display that uses four times the space of before. This display can show the time, upcoming calendar appointments, a couple of recent notifications, alarms and the like. It can also act as a quirky little viewfinder for the camera.
It’s not quite as practical as the outer display on the Moto Razr that lets you basically use any app, but it remains a big improvement.
Flip the phone open and it becomes a lot less miniature. The 6.7-inch inner display is one of the tallest around, making it ideal for scrolling through social feeds but less so for navigating with one hand.
Bang in the middle of the very smooth 120hz 1080p OLED panel is a crease. This divet in the display is noticeable when you’re scrolling and it does remain one of the biggest drawbacks of foldable tech. I don’t mind it as much here as I do on the large Fold devices though, and it is easy enough to ignore.
The screen itself is better this time around, too, especially in terms of brightness levels. I recorded a brightness of just below the quoted 900 nits, which is ideal for outdoor viewing.
- Speedy performance thanks to the Snapdragon 888
- No microSD, so choose either 128 or 256GB wisely
- Only one RAM option – 8GB
The Z Flip 3 is an interesting phone as it doesn’t really sell itself on being the fastest, most powerful or having the best camera. The uniqueness of the design and the fantastic way it has been implemented allows for a focus away from simply stating speed improvements.
But, of course, this is still a near £1000/$1000 phone, and certain expectations must be met. There’s a Snapdragon 888 at the heart of the Z Flip 3, available in whatever region you buy it in, as well as 8GB RAM. It benchmarks as well as any other high-end Android phone and is a capable gaming device, even if the aspect ratio isn’t ideal for such tasks.
The previous default storage of 256GB has been sliced in half – likely to save extra costs – and you’ll have to pay extra to bump up the initial 128GB. There’s no SD card either, which is becoming the norm on high-end Android phones.
The rest of the phone performs well. It’s one of the best phones around for call experience, as the shape of the foldable curves around your face when you’re on the phone. There’s support for Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, too.
Having a flexible display lets Samsung be a little bit more creative with the software. In apps such as YouTube and Google’s video chat app Duo, you can bend the display halfway to prop it up, producing a built-in stand. It’s a nice touch, made better by the sturdy hinge. While only a few apps support this natively, Samsung has added a function to force any app to split.
The rest of the software is very much the same One UI from Samsung’s other phones. There are lots of Samsung’s own services included like Samsung Pay and Bixby, so if you’d prefer Google’s alternatives there’s a bit of work to be done.
- A pretty good camera but it’s not the focus
- Two 12MP cameras sit on the cover
- And there’s another inside
If there’s one area you’re not quite getting the £1000/$1000 phone experience it’s with the camera. The three cameras here are all good and can take very usable shots, but they’re more comparable to mid-range devices like the Pixel 5 or a Samsung flagship from a couple of years ago than the best camera phones.
On the cover you’ve got the two main cameras. Both are 12-megapixel sensors, with the wide packing an f/1.8 lens with OIS and the ultra wide an f/2.2 lens. Thanks to the cover display you can use these two cameras for selfies too, so the 10MP inside sensor will likely be more appropriate for video calls.
The main camera copes well when you’re shooting in bright situations, with nice colours and that trademark Samsung’s processing upping the saturation to give a rich feel. Next to the Pixel 5, the snaps aren’t as natural nor as packed with dynamic range, and they can’t match the S21 range or the iPhone 12 for detail.
Switch over to the ultra wide and you can fit more in, with a little less of the oomph of colour you get from the main sensor. Ultrawide cameras have come a long way in 2021, with the OnePlus 9 Pro and Oppo Find X3 Pro both focusing as much here as they do with the main sensor so the Z Flip 3 does feel left behind in this respect.
In trickier situations the Z Flip 3 can perform, but again it’s far from the best camera phone around. When shooting at night, I found bright light sources often blew out the whole picture and the night mode did little more than brighten the shot.
The lack of a dedicated zoom camera is a shame, meaning you’ll need to use a digital crop to get closer to a subject and this, of course, loses detail. If you really want the camera to be the best it can be, you’ll probably prefer the S21 line where the S21 Ultra has some of the best zoom skills around.
Video capture is fine with the main camera capable of 4K up to 60fps and slow-mo 720p at 960fps. There’s also support for HDR10+ shooting to add some more dynamic range to your footage.
I think it’s clear the focus here was not on the cameras – and that’s fine. This is a phone that puts form over function and it works. The pictures it captures are adequate for social media, and in daylight situations don’t look much different from the competition. It’s those trickier situations like a darkened bar where you can really tell the difference.
- No charger is included in the box
- Supports wired (10w) and Qi wireless charging
- Good, but not great, endurance
This is a relatively small phone so it probably comes as little shock that it doesn’t have a huge battery. The 3300mAh cell is smaller than much of the competition and translates to good, but not great, endurance.
On a typical day I was making it to bedtime with only a couple of percentage points left, and on a few particularly busy days I was reaching for a quick top-up in the evening to feel confident it would make it through.
What I did notice was that after using the phone for a while I was opening it up less and using the cover display more. This outer display works a lot like a smartwatch, and when used properly it can lead to you opening the phone less and saving more juice. If you’re not the heaviest of users – maybe around 3-4 hours of screen-on time per day – you’ll get through without many issues.
An hour of Netflix streaming took the battery down 13%, while the same amount of time spent gaming took off another 15%. These are slightly higher than other Samsung phones from this year, but then this has a smaller battery.
When it comes to charging you’ll need to provide your own plug, as the box includes just a USB-C to USB-C cable. The maximum output is 15w, which does make this a slow phone to charge. A full 0-100% charge took just shy of 110 minutes, with 50% taking around 40.
If you prefer wireless charging, the Z Flip 3 can charge at 10w. A full charge here took double the time it took when plugged in.
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Should you buy it?
You crave something different: There’s no doubting the Z Flip 3 is unique and it feels like something genuinely new. Or at least a new version of something old.
Specs are what you want: The Z Flip 3 is more than fast enough, but it can’t compete with the best for camera quality, battery life or charging speeds. If these things are key, your money is better spent elsewhere.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is such a fun phone and it’s the first foldable that I would be happy to recommend. It’s not quite the device to make foldables mainstream, but things are heading in the right direction.
The improvements to durability, the far better cover display and the brighter, faster internal screen make this a hefty upgrade over the previous model and a great alternative to Samsung’s other phones.
If you value design and want something a little different to the typical candy bar phone, then this fits the bill. If things like camera performance and battery longevity are key you might still do better with the iPhone 12 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus. You can even get the S21 Ultra for roughly the same price as the Z Flip 3.
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Used as our main phone for the review period
Reviewed using respected industry benchmarks and real world testing
Always has a SIM card installed
The Galaxy Z Flip 3 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, which supports 5G.
Unlike the Galaxy Z Fold 4 the Z Flip 3 does not feature S Pen support.
The Galaxy Z Flip 3’s internal screen features a variable 120Hz refresh rate.
All the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 specs
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