Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 Review: Feels Less like a Gimmick but There Are Still Problems

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 Review: Feels Less like a Gimmick but There Are Still Problems
The inner screen of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3. It does attract some fingerprints, and it's a challenge to get all the lint particles off it once they get in the little gap between the screen protector and the bezel.

Folding screens sounded like science fiction just a couple of years ago. But now that Samsung’s third-generation folding phone, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3, is here, it feels like a comfortable reality and I don’t know how we lived without them.

There are still a lot of kinks in the Samsung Galaxy Fold3, but after two weeks with the device, it feels less like a gimmick than it did two years ago and more like a glimpse into the future of phones.

You can check out all the specs, Australian release date and prices here, and how to score a free TV with preorders here.

Thinner, better, faster, stronger

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3
The front screen of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3. It’s not cracked, that corner is just where the screen protector partially came off when I put it in my bag. Image: Alice Clarke.

Last year’s Fold 2 was a lot to hold and I’d frequently get a cramp in my hands when just using the front screen, and my hands are reasonably large. This year, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 folded is just a few mm thicker than an iPhone 12 Pro Max in an Otterbox case. Of course, the flip side of that is that, once unfolded, it’s now a touch thin and uncomfortable to hold. That’s one of those things that’s impossible to win.

Another concern about last year’s model was the complete lack of water or dust proofing. In that regard, it was a phone designed for lab conditions, not real life. Real life has rain and sand, and a phone that can’t handle those things won’t survive long. This model still lacks a dust rating (which makes sense, given the hinge), but it does have an IPX8 rating, allowing for splashes and being submerged in up to 1m of fresh water. You absolutely shouldn’t take it swimming deliberately, but accidentally spilling the occasional glass of water on it is no longer a death sentence.

The large, pretty screen was made for gaming and productivity, and the SnapDragon 888 processor is designed to accommodate that. I found it loaded games quickly, and they all looked incredible. In particular, I noticed that Forza Street was much smoother than on my old Note 20.

The battery life has also been greatly improved. I found I could get much more than a day out of it, despite watching plenty of YouTube and obsessively chasing those Audi credits in Forza Street on it. In average, non-lockdown circumstances, I could imagine easily getting two days use before absolutely needing to charge.

It’s also important to note just how much more solid the phone feels. The hinge seems deliberate and strong, with the new Armor Aluminium doing its job. While I did somehow rub the pre-applied screen protector off the front screen just by putting it in a bag, the screens feel much more durable. Samsung used Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the front screen and back of the phone, which is reportedly extremely durable. That glass is also really slippery, and the Fold3 without a case is desperate to slip off any surface it can. It’s slid off my couch and bed onto my hard wooden floors countless times so far, giving me a heart attack every time, and yet it doesn’t have a mark on it.

The inner screen is now made out of a thin, folding glass, which sounds like magic and feels less like a toy than last year’s plastic screen. This new durability, supported by the screen protector (which you shouldn’t remove), is how the phone now supports specially designed S Pens. Unfortunately, although I held off completing this review for as long as possible, Samsung hasn’t been able to send out any review S Pens yet, so I haven’t been able to test that for myself. But it certainly sounds good, and should be good news to any Note users mourning the death of that line.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 screens

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3
The weird aspect ratio on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 isn’t right for every app, including Forza Street. Image: Alice Clarke.

This is why you get a Fold3 — to have more screen real estate and more options of how to view your content. It’s truly wonderful to be able to quickly reply to a message on the front screen, and then open up the phone to view a video, presentation, game or multiple things at once with the excellent iPad-esque multi-tasking.

Both screens look incredible. The 7.6” 22.5:18 AMOLED Infinity Flex Display is responsive with vibrant colours, deep blacks and white whites. The under-screen camera makes for a pixelated section, but it’s better than the black hole that it used to be. Being able to multi-task by putting apps in different sections of the screen makes the most of the large space. Having a video on one half and notes in the other has been great for work, and I assume would be fantastic for studying.

I also really enjoy being able to have the screen half-folded so it can be its own stand while I still use it.

Yes, the crease is still there — it’s going to be a long time before that’s innovated out — but you honestly don’t notice it when you’re using it. It doesn’t affect how the screen looks at all when it’s on, and it’s frankly nice to run your fingers over as a nervous habit.

The cover screen is a 6.2″ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display that looks even better than the main screen — a touch crisper and brighter.

Both screens still have the 120Hz refresh rate, which makes everything look smooth and wonderful.

Here’s where we get to the problem, though: the aspect ratios are weird. We’ve all gotten used to 16:9, or even 18:9 and 19:9. More importantly, developers have gotten used to those aspect ratios and made their games and apps to fit them. The 24.5:9 of the front and 22.5:18 unfolded screens are just a bit weird. Some apps make the most of this, for example Township (my guilty pleasure) just crops the tablet version of the app to make it look great and give more surface area on the inner screen. But games like Forza Street have brief moments of looking how you’d expect, yet spend most of the time with most of the information cut off on the sides, and everything super zoomed in on the inner screen and tiny on the outer.

The other problem is that the front screen is just too narrow to type comfortably on. My thumbs are too large for these itty bitty buttons, while the typing experience on the inner screen is too big. After two weeks, I’ve adjusted a bit more to the inner screen typing, but still feel like I need one of the dialling wands from The Simpsons for the outer screen.

As the Fold becomes more popular, more app makers will design for its eccentricities, but for now it’s just irritating.

Another weird thing is that whenever you open or unlock it, it goes to full brightness for a second. That’s fine most of the time, until you can’t sleep and open your phone to read a book, burning your retinas and waking your partner in the process. Hopefully that’s something that can be fixed with a software update, because in a dark room it’s something akin to being flashed by the memory eraser from Men in Black.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 cameras

The back of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3. Image: Alice Clarke.

Samsung makes great cameras for their phones, and these are no different. All up, this phone has five cameras — three on the back (12MP Telephoto, Wide Angle and Ultra Wide) and two front cameras: a 4MP under display camera on the folding screen and a 10MP Cover Camera.

They boast the same Single-Take skills seen on the Galaxy S21 — a Director’s View that allows you to take videos showing both the front and back cameras for fun reaction videos and a Night Hyperlapse that I adore.

The photos are solid, reliable and always look great. You have to put in real effort to take a bad photo with it. I still slightly prefer the photos taken on the Galaxy S21 and the iPhone 12 Pro Max, but those are two phones that focus on the cameras, while this is a phone that focuses on screens and also has amazing cameras.

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3?

If the aspect ratios were a bit less weird, or apps were better able to accommodate them, and the price was a bit closer $2000, I would call it a must-have. It’s certainly something to be strongly considered for Note users looking to upgrade. It’s an amazing phone, a marvel of technology and great for hardcore users with cash to splash. Perfect for business travellers, whenever they exist again.

Folding phones now look extremely viable for the future, and that is where phones are going. It’s up to you how early you want to get in on the trend.