Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 hands-on review

Flip off the old block

£949

Until now folding phones have only really been for people who have far too much money. £1600? Sure. Damage the fragile screen after six months? Just buy another one, the bank account made that much in interest last month.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 lowers the entry price for foldable phones down far enough it can compete with the normies of the phone world: the straights, the glass faces, the rigid Randalls.

It starts at £949. Not cheap, not utterly ridiculous either. However, it is just as far removed from the classic foldable design as your average flat phone. You see, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 trades on style, a cute look and the appeal that made flip phones so popular back in the 2000s. And that means it gives off one of the best first impressions of any flexible phone to date. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 is a flexi phone that isn’t just for nerds.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3: Design and display

This is not the first time we’ve seen a flip phone, rather than a flexi phone determined to make you open the thing up like a broadsheet newspaper. Samsung released the original Galaxy Z Flip in 2020, Motorola the Razr in 2019. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 is easily the best-looking of the three. Something happened to Samsung phones this year. The Galaxy S21 series’ use of bold shapes and colours that are punchy but desaturated at the same time gave us some of the best-looking and most recognisable phones of 2021.

This Z Flip3 has some of that same special sauce. The real impact here is seen when the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 is closed or half open. It’s a makeup compact phone, and when you open it up fully much of the visual interest is lost.

Still, this isn’t a phone you need to open up every time it’s used. Samsung puts a full colour 1.9-inch screen on the outside. It will show you the time and date, and presumably basic notification alerts. You can also use it to take pictures without opening the phone up at all.

Double tap the power button and what the camera sees is pasted onto the front screen. Press one of the volume buttons and it takes a picture. Swipes on the mini display also let you switch between the two cameras, and from stills to video, a bit like GoPro’s action camera interface. In return you get better selfies that can be taken off the cuff.

Elements like this, the somewhat lower price and the neat-looking design mean the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 is first foldable phone we can imagine in the hands of someone who can’t name their favourite sub-reddit, or exactly what processor the phone has.

The usual little folding phone issues remain, though. While the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 has a 120Hz Full HD OLED screen with a 6.7in panel, you can’t miss the slight deformation caused by the fold line in the middle when there’s bright overhead lighting.

You’ll also need to be careful with this inner screen, as it is much easier to damage than a standard glass-topped rigid display. Thankfully, the outer is tough. The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 has top-tier Victus Gorilla Glass over the front display, aluminium sides, and the housing is IPX8 water resistant. That’s the best waterproofing you can get in a phone like this, flexible or not.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3: Features

Samsung is trying to make folding phones more approachable with the Z Flip3. The first worry was it might cut down some of the specs to make that happen, but there are no budget bits here.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 has the same Snapdragon 888 CPU as today’s top Androids. This is actually better than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s Exynos 2100 brains in our book. Power is not cut down, as it was in the Motorola Razr.

Most other features are the typical fodder you find on other top Samsungs. There’s no microSD slot but you get at least 128GB storage, 256GB with the higher-end version. The software uses Samsung’s usual OneUI top layer. And while multi-tasking seems less of a necessity that it does on the tablet-like Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3, you can still run two apps at once or have one floating above another in a window.

There is, as usual, no headphone jack. And instead of an in-screen fingerprint scanner, there’s one on the side.

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3: Cameras

Is the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 a no-compromise flip phone that doesn’t cost much more than the original price of the Galaxy S21 Plus? Not quite.

Its cameras are not on the same level. On the back you get a 12MP primary camera and a 12MP ultra-wide.

We haven’t had a chance to road-test these properly yet, but a few snaps suggest the main camera’s images may look a bit softer than Samsung’s very best. The ultra-wide has a fixed-focus lens too. There’s no zoom, which would no doubt have pushed the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 price back up into the realms of people who shop for designer moccasins.

Inside you get a 10MP selfie camera. But we’d probably only end up using this for video calls, given the outer cameras will offer better images, and let you feel like a style YouTuber while you take pics.

Comparisons

Is the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 that different from the Galaxy Z Flip? Contrary to what you might guess, there was no Z Flip 2 between this new phone and the flippy original. They are pretty similar, but the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 has a much better chance of at least modest mainstream success. It arrives at £300 less. You only get half the storage, but that price drop is a big deal. This is a better-looking phone, and the oldie doesn’t have the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3’s neat selfie camera screen, just a tiny wee 1.1in one for notifications.

How about the Motorola Razr? No contest, the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 wins again. It’s cheaper, more powerful, and you could argue the Motorola took its throwback approach a little too literally. Motorola’s Razr is based on the original Razr feature phone from 2004, you see. It may have appealed to gnarly tech reporters in their 30s and 40s, who pine for the 2004 days when pints cost tuppence and penny sweets really did cost a penny, but the Flip3 is more likely to appeal to those who already consider Lady Gaga retro.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 looks way more modern, particularly in the way the screen blends into the outer design when not lit.

The Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3: Initial Verdict

Samsung has finally made the cost less than astronomical, finally infused a bit of actual style. So will people who aren’t die-hard nerds, crypto-mining rich kids, ultra-early adopters — and other types most people hope not to sit next to at a dinner party – actually buy one? Honestly? No idea, but the intelligent design touches, the cute factor, and that you can spend the exact same amount on a normal flagship phone give the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3 the best chance to break through of any bendy phone to date.

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