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Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 hands-on review

We get our hands on the brand new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold, which flexes its foldable might by adding Wacom pen support to its Galaxy Z Fold line.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an important phone that proves foldable screens aren't too delicate for pens. After sketching on the Z Fold 3, it isn't as smooth and flat a surface as Pro artists will need – the Galaxy Note 20 and S21 Ultra deliver on that front. That said, the phone's ability to flip from tall to tablet with an unfold, while delivering flagship specs and a fantastically optimised interface is a serious treat, and proof that foldables are here to stay, and can fit into a creative workflow.

For

  • Two in one design
  • Pen input work feels natural
  • IPX8 water-resistant

Against

  • Pen only works on inner screen
  • Cameras aren't best-in-class
  • Prominent Fold line in display

This is a hands on review of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, to give you the chance to see what the new foldable phone/tablet is all about as soon as possible. We’ll be expanding and upgrading this review in the future with more information and a score.

Foldables are seen as delicate, expensive phones, so the Galaxy Z Fold 3 really does have a point to prove. After all, the original Galaxy Fold made headlines for being fragile, and last year’s Galaxy Z Fold 2 cost in excess of £1,599 when it launched, which, for a phone that isn’t water-resistant and lacks pen support – a handy tool for creatives – could be very difficult to justify. 

The competition is also straggling way behind Samsung, with no other mainstream smartphone to tablet foldable available in the UK or US.

With the Z Fold 3, Samsung flips the script on the folding phone category though. The first of its kind to benefit from IPX8 water resistance, it also features S Pen support bringing its pen input in line with the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Note 10 Plus. That means a Wacom digitiser and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity – just like on a Wacom tablet, only this is on a pocketable big screen you can fold and and stow away at will.

The Galaxy Z Fold series is looking more appealing to creatives than ever before. When you consider everything else the Z Fold 3 can do – run apps like Autodesk Sketchbook, act as its own ‘tripod’ when taking photos, project a desktop view to a monitor or TV, and run apps like Adobe Lightroom with a tablet UI – this could be the foldable that changes the game for creatives, not to mention one of the best smartphones of 2021.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: design

Before we go into specifics, let’s talk about how this foldable works. On the front is a cover screen that can be used when the phone’s closed just like a traditional smartphone. 

With a hinge on the left side, open it up from the right, and inside is a tablet screen. Now, this isn’t an iPad size display, but at 7.6-inches, it isn’t much smaller than a 7.9-inch iPad Mini. In turn, its extra screen is definitely handy, whether you are split-screen multi-tasking, sketching, or just enjoying one app across the whole inner display. 

Pick up the Galaxy Z Fold 3, and for a phone with moving parts, you’ll be delighted with how solid it feels. When closed, the front of the phone enjoys a tall smartphone screen with a 25:9 aspect ratio. The iPhone 12 Pro clocks in with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio as a point of comparison, so the front screen is much longer than any other mainstream smartphone. 

While its narrow screen in portrait/wide screen in landscape means the Fold 3 is great for cinema-screen movies, it can definitely be a bit awkward for big thumbs to type on when handling it in portrait as the keyboard feels a tad squished.

Now, by its nature, the Z Fold 3 is a thick phone – it’s effectively a sandwich with two slices of screen, one atop another. Measuring 16mm at its thickest point, it’s over double as thick as an iPhone 12 Pro on the hinge side, so it definitely isn’t one for fans of skinny jeans.

Despite its size though, the Z Fold 3 definitely feels manageable, and when you open it, it also feels elegant, slender and special; instantly justifying that heft. As for the back of the phone, there’s a gorgeous, matte finish that repels fingerprints fantastically well, with colour options including black, silver and a super dark green.

Specifications

Size: Folded: 67.1 x 158.2 x 16mm (hinge side); Unfolded: 128.1 x 158.2 x 6.4 | Weight: 271g | Pen: Wacom Digitizer with 4,096 levels | Cover screen: 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (2268 x 832) | Main screen: 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X (2208 x 1768) | Storage: 256GB | Battery: 4400mAh | Connectivity: 5G; Bluetooth; WiFi

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: price and availability

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 costs the same as its predecessor, the Galaxy Z Fold 2. Starting at £1,599 or €1,799, the phone will be available to pre-order from 11 August 2021. US pricing and availability is yet to be confirmed.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: screens

Both of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 screens are high-quality, you’d expect nothing less from Samsung. After all, it’s Samsung that makes screens for everyone from Apple to OnePlus. That said, the foldable screen feels a bit less colour-accurate off-angle than the main display. Head-on, it’s striking and brilliantly bright, but to the side, blue tones can creep in.

The screens are display menus, feeds and apps as smoothly as butter, with an iPhone 12 Pro-beating 120Hz refresh rate across both. That means menus glide, and the phone feels super responsive. 

With a sharpness of around 380 pixels in every inch of screen (PPI), while neither display is the sharpest on the block (the iPhone sports a PPI of 460), both still hit that ‘Retina Display’ mark, so you can’t make out any pixels, even when you peer right up to the front or inner display. 

Also of note, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is the first phone to feature an under-display selfie camera on the inner screen, removing the need for a notch (a la iPhone) or punch hole (a la Galaxy S21 Ultra). While you can make out where the camera lives – there’s a moire effect when certain colours are displayed atop it, it’s very cool we’re finally seeing this tech see the light of day. One day, a smartphone’s design could be all-screen. 

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: pen integration

Samsung has a long history of integrating its own brand of stylus, the S Pen into its tablets and smartphones. For the first time, this year, its Galaxy flagship, the S21 Ultra also supports the tech, which is usually reserved for the Note line of smartphones. 

The S21 Ultra and Note are traditional digital pen canvases – they're firm and for the most part, completely flat. The Z Fold 3, however, isn't; at least not its inner screen. Vertically, down the centre of the inner display is a crease, which creates a slight bump for a pen gliding over it. As we sketched, we noticed ourselves having to account for this, and the crease bump did make its way into our finished doodle. 

While the experience of writing on the bigger inner display is significantly more enjoyable than doing so on a more traditional smartphone, for anyone planning to pen their next masterpiece on a Z Fold 3, you will want to try it in a shop if you get a chance before you put down £1,599 on it to see if that crease is workable for you. 

Warnings aside, for casual note-takers, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 will be a dream. Its new S Pen (sold separately) is a treat to use as it's bigger than past iterations and easier to hold. The phone also supports Air Commands, so you can do some handy stuff with the pen at a distance, like use it as a remote camera button, pause and play music with it and more.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: cameras

With three 12MP cameras around the back, one wide, one ultra-wide, and one telephoto (with roughly 2x optical zoom), the camera set up on the Galaxy Z Fold 3 is similar to that of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, and there’s a 10MP selfie camera on the front, and a 4MP under-display selfie camera inside.

While the specs of the new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3’s cameras are nothing new, the phone does sport a few party tricks to help you get the best from them. Half-open the phone, rest it on a surface so it’s perfectly still, position the cameras at your subject and you can enjoy a blur-free long exposure shot. That means everything from light trails to great pictures are a reality, even in the dead of night if you’re prepared to dip into the phone’s Pro Mode.

The phone also packs fun modes that take advantage of both screens when filming or photographing – you see what you’re shooting while your subject sees themselves in the cover display. In addition, the phone captures video at up to 4K resolution at 60fps.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: everything else

As for the specs, you can expect flagship might inside the Z Fold 3, with a Snapdragon 888 processor powering it, as well as stacks of storage for all your file, apps and photos – either 256GB or 512GB, in addition to an ample 12GB RAM. All that means you’ll never run out of space unless you really love hoarding giant files, and performance should fly. 

Running Android, app support is excellent on the Galaxy Z Fold 3, with most of Adobe’s mobile solutions available for iPhone also available on the Fold 3. That includes the excellent Lightroom and Photoshop Camera. 

Samsung has also customised the interface to take full advantage of the phone’s inner display, with split-screen working easy to fire up, and a handy floating window feature, so you can work across as many as three apps at a time. 

With its 4400mAh battery, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 should last all day; after all, the original did with similar specs, and it powers up both wired and wirelessly for added convenience.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3: should you buy one?

If you’re a fan of the Samsung Galaxy Note series because of its pen support, or have an iPad Pro and wish you could enjoy Apple Pencil-a-like input on the go, then the Galaxy Z Fold 3 should definitely be on your consideration list. 

It’s expensive at £1,599, but it’s not a huge amount more than a 512GB iPhone 12 Pro Max, which costs £1,399, and delivers a much more avant-garde design, as well as a richer feature set. 

There are some sacrifices Samsung makes with the Fold 3, specifically its camera – it’s good, but not best-in-class, and naturally, the phone is thick when closed. Additionally, illustrators may not get on with the crease in the middle of the screen, as it definitely does affect drawing on it. 

For casual note-taking or doodles and mock-ups on the go though, the Z Fold 3 is a well-executed indulgence that is easier to recommend than any foldable before it – hats off to Samsung for pushing the creative tech envelope once again.

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The Verdict
0

out of 10

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an important phone that proves foldable screens aren't too delicate for pens. After sketching on the Z Fold 3, it isn't as smooth and flat a surface as Pro artists will need – the Galaxy Note 20 and S21 Ultra deliver on that front. That said, the phone's ability to flip from tall to tablet with an unfold, while delivering flagship specs and a fantastically optimised interface is a serious treat, and proof that foldables are here to stay, and can fit into a creative workflow.